NextGen: Five Tips To Stand Out
By Leah Massar Bloom — Library Journal, 9/15/2008
Before you even get to the interview phase in your job search, there are many opportunities to impress a potential employer—but there are also many opportunities to fall flat on your face.
I’ve now served on four librarian search committees, and in my prelibrarian life participated in the hiring of a new research associate in the consulting field. There, someone once promised to leverage his “three ears of professional experience.” This alone might not have disqualified him. Many other missteps in his résumé and cover letter certainly did. When writing a cover letter, you want to stand out but for the right reasons. Here are five things, based on my experience, to bear in mind when applying for that job.
If a job posting asks for a cover letter, send a cover letter. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many applicants send a résumé with a sentence-long email saying, “Attached is my résumé.” That’s not a cover letter.
Likewise, if a job asks for a writing sample, references, or anything else, along with the initial application, provide them—don’t make them “available upon request.”
Perhaps most important, don’t send a cover letter or résumé that you clearly prepared for another job. We once advertised for a position with reference, collection development, and instruction duties and received cover letters and résumés with elaborate descriptions of cataloging projects. It’s possible these applicants had relevant experience. But we didn’t see it.
And, remember, format counts. If your résumé isn’t professional-looking, employers may wonder if you know how to be a professional.
Years ago when applying for a summer internship, I spent an entire paragraph talking about my editing experience. I submitted the résumé and cover letter without showing it to anyone else and noticed the next day that I had a typo in the very paragraph detailing my wonderful editing skills.
By all means, run a spell-check. But remember, spell-check doesn’t pick up misspellings that form real words. So have someone else proofread your materials, too. Keep in mind that most library schools (and many undergraduate institutions) offer résumé review services to alumni. Take advantage of the opportunity to have a professional look at your materials.
You’d be surprised how many applicants have told us they are perfect for an academic librarian job because they love to read. Sorry, that’s not relevant experience. I’m guessing most librarians love to read, so why waste a sentence of your valuable cover letter space on that?
Also, when you say, “Although I don’t have X experience,” you may be telling the search committee why you don’t deserve the job. Instead, just tell us about all the experience you do have—assuming, of course, it’s relevant to the position. No applicant will have every characteristic a job ad mentions, so focus on what you have to offer.
And, please, don’t mention what book you are currently reading.
Don’t name your famous mentor or professor. In some fields, perhaps it does matter whose lab you worked in while in school, or who your professors were. But in our field, it doesn’t impress potential employers to bring up your professor and how influential he or she is in the library world.
There are two potential problems here: first, it makes you sound like you’re trying to share some of the limelight. Second, if members of the search committee don’t really know the “famous” person, they may feel stupid; you don’t want them feeling bad in any way while reading your application! If your professors come up in an interview, talk away.
Further, don’t expound on your library philosophy in your cover letter. It simply isn’t beneficial to use the limited space there to explain why the shifts going on in the library world are so fascinating to you. Just tell us why you’d be good for our library and the position.
Don’t tell us how it would be “nothing less than honorable” to work in our library. I love where I work, and I want to hire people who want to work here, but “nothing less than honorable”? That’s laying it on a little thick.
Tell us you’re excited about the position and the institution. Tell us why. But don’t write things we know—or might suspect—you don’t really mean.
There are lots of ways you can stand out from other applicants in the job application process, but the best way is through a well-written cover letter and a professional résumé that offers brief but substantive descriptions of your experiences. You’d be surprised at how few applicants do that.
|Leah Massar Bloom is Natural and Social Sciences Reference Librarian at Purchase College, State University of New York. To submit a NextGen column, please send it, at approximately 900 words, to Andrew Albanese firstname.lastname@example.org|