Cover letters for the rest of us

May 4th, 2010 Posted in jobs, me, reflections | 6 Comments »
275/365 - form letter

Creative Commons License photo credit: jypsygen

While I was looking for a job I read a lot of advice about cover letters, yet I never felt entirely sure that I was doing it “right.” There are lots of examples, but I found few examples specific to the library world.*

In hindsight, I’m pretty sure there’s no one “right way.”  However, I’m sure there’s a right way for YOU. Looking at other people’s examples might help you find your way. I know it helped me. What also helped me:

  • getting feedback from the ALA Placement Center at Midwinter ’10
  • getting feedback from friends, colleagues, and family

You’ll need to highlight your own skills and accomplishments, obviously. But I think it’s also important for you to find your own “voice.” I’m not sure I found my voice until I had written 30 (or so) cover letters.

I wrote a different cover letter for each application I sent, because every single job ad is different. Each of the cover letters I’m sharing landed me an interview.

It’s important to address the job requirements directly. I frequently copied and pasted the requirement wording directly from the job ad, like in this example:

I also played around with being less rigid, but when I did so I made sure to use lots of the same words that were used in the job ad, and I still explicitly addressed the ad’s qualifications:

This job was particularly suited to my background and experience. I was offered an interview just after I had accepted my new job, even though I applied to this job several months earlier.

There’s a lot to say about cover letters, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Mostly, I wanted to share some examples of cover letters that got me an interview. None of these cover letters were for the job I ultimately got, however. That example will be in another post.

What kinds of difficulties do you have with cover letters?

* Colleen Harris, librarian at University of Tennessee Chattanooga, posted cover letter examples online. I met Colleen at Internet Librarian 2008, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t kept in touch. Her blog, Guardienne of the Tomes, is going to my feed reader immediately.

All you want is an interview

May 3rd, 2010 Posted in jobs, me, reflections | 6 Comments »

I was finally offered a job(!*), and I want to share my job-search experiences. What worked for me may not work for you, but – in the spirit of “more information is better”– I hope this helps you clarify how you’ll approach the job search.

I want to write a series of posts, but for now I’m just going to do a scattershot approach:

  • During my job search I didn’t post job-related content on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, or other social networking sites. The LIS community is small. I chose not to broadcast where I was interviewing, where I was traveling, etc. This was difficult, and you might choose differently. I will expound on this later.

  • Instead, I frequently chose to tell a few select people about my upcoming <résumé submission, phone interview, in-person interview, offer, etc.>. I chose to tell certain (few) people because I was looking to them for advice; or maybe they could cheer me on or send good vibes. They may have been super close friends who I trust. Or maybe I needed a place to stay; or perhaps they knew the library director well and could make a phone call. In other words, I was picky about talking with people, and I used my contacts. This will be the topic of a future post, because I don’t think you can underestimate the power of networking. It’s how I got my job, actually.  I’m also extremely lucky – my contacts are my friends pretty much to a person. Do not underestimate the power of friends and contacts.

  • I wrote a different cover letter for every single job to which I applied. I’m guessing I applied for 120+ jobs. I will be posting cover letter samples here eventually, because I don’t think there are enough good examples out there.

  • I rarely (if ever) revised my CV based on the job description. I frequently revised my résumé based on the job description. There’s a difference between a CV and a résumé. You might want to consider having both (I will post both of mine eventually, and I will explain the differences, and I will admit what I did wrong).

  • I used a ton of resources for job ads. In addition to all the “usual suspects” (RSS feeds, Twitter, LIS job websites and listservs) I bookmarked library web sites where I particularly wanted to work. I dug deep. You’re (probably) a librarian. You know how to do this. So DO IT!  I’m guessing I checked 60+ resources daily. I will post more about this later too, along with a list of resources I used.

There are so many more tips I want to write about, but I think it’s super important to address the subject of this post – “First, get an interview.”

Really and truly, you want an interview. In fact, you want lots of them. People get hung up about details in the job description, so they end up saying (or thinking) things like:

  • “I don’t want to live in Mississippi.”
  • “I’ve never created instruction plan.”
  • “Catalogers aren’t interested in Reference, so I don’t want to be hired as a cataloging librarian.”
  • “I can’t live in a small town.”
  • “I really don’t want to live in Mississippi.”

We read job ads, and we react all knee-jerky. We decide why we we won’t like the job. Or maybe we save the job ad to re-read and apply later. When we go back to the job ad we think, “That’s not really for me.”


Do NOT take yourself out of the running. (Trust me: you’ll have plenty of other people willing to do that for you). All you want is an interview. An interview doesn’t mean you’ll be offered the job; it just means you get an interview. An interview doesn’t mean you have to take the job even if it is offered to you; it just means you get an interview.

An interview gives you an opportunity to talk about what’s important to you. An interview gives you the opportunity to understand who you *might* work for. If absolutely nothing else, you get the opportunity to practice interviewing. And even that is worth a whole lot. What’s really cool? After enough interviews you become confident, self-assured, and they become FUN. Really!

Let me repeat myself yet again: An interview doesn’t mean you’ll get the job. But an interview gives you a better chance at getting the job. So all you want is an interview.

I’d love to hear any job-related questions you might have. I’ll answer them honestly, and I’ll do my best to answer them quickly.

*(Starting July 1, 2010, I will be the Academic Resident Librarian at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. YAY!)