Application Packages

The problem at hand is the following: a few months before graduation, a Ph.D. candidate usually sends hundreds of application packages to different universities, research institutions and companies, with the intention of gaining a profitable job. We all agree that the process is certainly painful: gathering reference letters, writing one (or several) research statement, teaching philosophy, and original cover letters. The aim is to make you stand out from the rest of candidates.

While I will not give you any hint on successful statement writing, or superb composition, I would like to show you how to accomplish the task of mass-producing a high-quality set of cover letters for all the jobs of your choice. The final product will comprise several copies of letters that look something like this:

Notice the structure of that letter: opening, a formal job request, short introduction, a big paragraph (where I may or may not include any text that makes the letter more personal), and finally a closing. Note also the fact that the letter carries the official logo and footer of the University. All this was accomplished directly in \LaTeX, without the need to purchase special paper, or signing personally each letter.

We start by gathering the proper logo online from the official pages of the University, and your signature. For the latter, sign on a blank piece of paper with a bold pen (like a Sharpie), and take a photo of the signature:

Crop the signature from the photo, and by playing with exposure, saturation, contrast, brightness and color, manipulate it until it looks like a proper signature in black ink, over a perfectly white background:

For the next step, you need four \TeX files:

  • A class style defining the overall look of your letters,
  • a master file that runs the process of creation of the documents,
  • a data-base with the addresses and other particular information for each of the positions that you are applying, and
  • a cover letter form, where you actually use your creativity and composition prowess, to make a point across.

The cover letter form contains several variable fields, that must be filled with the data from the data-base. Upon compilation of the master file, we put it all together to obtain a different cover letter for each of the positions.

Let us go over the four documents in detail:

  • Class style: cover letter style for University of South Carolina, sclet.cls. It places the logo in the top left corner, the words “Department of Mathematics” and “College of Arts and Science” in the top right corner, a footer at the bottom of the page consisting on a burgundy horizontal line, followed below by the contact information of the University of South Carolina. It also indicates the margins of the document, possible font sizes, forces a justified alignment of paragraphs, etc.
        \ifin@ \@tempswatrue \@break@tfor \fi}%
      \if@tempswa \else \PassOptionsToClass{#1}{letter}\fi
    \ProvidesClass{sclet}[2010/12/05 University of South Carolina letter class]
    \font\deptfont=pplr at 10truept
    \font\headfont=pplr at 10truept
    \definecolor{burgundy}{rgb}{0.50196,0,0.12549} % rgb: 205 138 42
    \newif\ifcolorlogo \newcommand{\ColorLogo}{\colorlogotrue}
    \newcommand{\deptname}{\headfont {\sc Department of Mathematics}}
    \newcommand{\schoolname}{\headfont {\sc College of Arts and Sciences}}
      \\ \raisebox{-1ex}{University of South Carolina
        $\bullet$ Columbia, South Carolina 29208 $\bullet$ \telephonenum\
        $\bullet$ Fax: \faxnum } }
      \else  % home address
      {\raggedright \toname \\ \toaddress \par}%
               \ifcase \@ptsize\relax
               \ifcase \@ptsize\relax
               \ifcase \@ptsize\relax
    \telephone{803/ 777-4224}
    \fax{803/ 777-3783}
  • Master file: It could not be simpler.
    Francisco Javier Blanco-Silva\\
    My address\\
    City, State, zip code}
    \textwidth = 6.25in
    \textheight = 8.5in
    \input cov.tex      %the cover letter form
    \input Addr.tex     %the database
  • Database: The variable \cov is defined, as an entity with several fields (say 5 for the purposes of this example). The first entry is the address of the position, the second entry is the opening of the letter, the third entry is the name of the company/department, and finally the fifth entry is an optional paragraph. The collection of all possible positions is stored in the file Addr.tex, that looks something like this:
    \cov{     %
    Hiring Committee\\
    Department of Mathematics\\
    School of Life\\
    Springflied, ST  50505
    {Dear Professors:}%
    {postdoctoral associate/part-time instructor positions}%
    {the Department of Mathematics of the School of Life.}%
    Romani ad multas terras navigant aut ambulant. Saepe Romani in Europa
    terras occupant. Hae terrae tum sunt provinciae Romae. Prima provincia
    Romae erat Sicilia. Sicilia est insula. Multa aqua est circum Siciliam.
    Romani ad Siciliam navigant et terram occupant. In Sicilia sunt multi
    agricolae,et agricolae Siciliae Romanis cibum et praedam donant Provincia
    Hispaniae est paeninsula. Provincia Hispaniae ad Romanos cibum et praedam
    portat. Iulius Caesar Romanis fabulas pugnarum in Gallia in Commentarii
    de Bello Gallico narrat. Etiam Caesar ad Britanniam navigat et pugnat, sed
    tum Britannia non est provincia. Postea, imperator Claudius ad Brittaniam
    navigat et Romanis terram mandat. Etiam Romania est provincia Romana.
    Romani Romaniam provinciam Daciam appellant. Romani, vias et fora in
    provinciis aedificant. Etiam provinciis linguam Latinam mandant.  In
    provinciis Hispaniae, Galliae et Romaniae hodie linguae sunt "Linguae
    \cov{ ...  %one occurrence of \cov per position
  • Cover letter form: The file cov.tex, where we define the entity \cov, and start a letter in the usual \LaTeX way.
    %First paragraph, declaration of intentions
    This letter is in regards to the formal submission of my application
    for the {#3} currently open at {#4}
    %Second paragraph, introduction of myself and my work.
    I completed my doctorate in [...] and many questions remain open.
    %Third paragraph, I sell myself a little
    I have a very ample experience in teaching: I have had the opportunity
    [...] All these are also available at \url{}
    %Fourth paragraph, I get a little personal.
    %And closing.  Give contact info.
    I look forward to discussing the qualifications for the position
    further. [...] Thank you for your consideration.


The LaTeX Companions Third Revised Boxed Set: A Complete Guide and Reference for Preparing, Illustrating and Publishing Technical Documents (2nd Edition) (See all Technical Writing References)

  1. January 6, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Ingenious! Thanks for sharing.

    • January 13, 2011 at 1:12 am

      Thanks! Glad to have you around.

  2. Season An
    May 15, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Hello, just hopped over to this webpage from stumbleupon. It’s not an article I would normally read, but I loved your thoughts on it. Thank you for creating a blog post worth reading!

  3. February 29, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Very helpful and time saving. Thanks!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: