In October I wrote a post called “Interviewing for a Cataloguing Position: A Two Way Street“. In one of the comments, I was asked if I could write something on cover letter and resume writing.
While there’s a lot of information available in our profession about this, I found that, in the end, it wasn’t until I found my own personality and “voice” within my cover letter that I finally received call backs for interviews.
It isn’t an easy thing to do, applying for a job. You’re nervous, wanting to fit in as much information as possible, follow all of the rules and tips you’ve been told and read about and STILL, once you hit send, you find that error, misspelling or incomplete sentence. It happens to all of us. But, what stands out in a cover letter is the homework you’ve done on the position or organization you’re applying to, and your personality.
Hiring is an interesting thing. I may be hiring a cataloguer, but it might be your experience as a professional musician or freelance writer than really attracts me. If you don’t pull out some unique tidbits about yourself and figure out how it fits into the position you’re applying for, you may miss out on a fantastic opportunity.
For instance, an applicant with a background as a musician tells me you’re creative, dedicated and self-disciplined. A freelance writer tells me you’re good at description, editing and pulling out interesting facts/details that will benefit a bibliographic record. While at first your background may not appear relevant – many times, it is. But I like to read about how YOU feel your background makes you a unique and better candidate that someone else.
The worst thing an applicant can do is summarize his/her resume. If you’ve provided your resume, I can see what you’ve done. But, how does it apply to what we’re looking for? Can you address a need that you’ve recognized in our system?
It takes a bit of homework and extra effort, but the work pays off. Once you hit on a “voice” in your cover letter that works for you, you will find that employers will start to call. It won’t happen over night, but it will happen.
In the meantime, I’ve created a Sample Cover LetterSample Cover Letter with comments in the margins. Feel free to take a look at this cover letter, with my own opinions on what I think are important. All of these comments helped me find my “voice” and I went from not receiving any phone calls for interviews, to receiving a phone call for almost every place I submitted a resume.
And, in addition to your cover letter, here are a few things you should think about doing while looking for a job:
1. Book reviewing. Get yourself out there and publish! Not only do you build your professional book collection, but you’re learning about other professionals’ work in the field and practicing your writing skills.
2. Submit articles to journals on professional areas of interest. Whether it’s a short piece for a small journal or a large, scholarly piece, try submitting an article for publication. This alone will impress future employees. If you aren’t sure how to do it, try to collaborate on an article with a professional working in the field.
3. Attend local conferences and/or workshops and make it a point to network.
4. As crazy as it sounds, offer to work for free for a week or two. In a non-union environment, this is a great way to make connections, learn, show off your own knowledge and, not only gain a potential reference but, perhaps even a future job.