Search & Screen, or Search & SCREAM? Cover Letters and Resumes

After being on the interviewing side of things last year, it was nice to be on the hiring side this year. I recently reviewed cover letters and resumes for a search and screen committee at my academic library. At times, I wanted to do a “cover letter intervention” (perhaps, a new reality TV show?)!

This spring, I blogged about cover letters, resumes, and interviews. Also, Jenica Rogers on her Attempting Elegance blog had a must-read post on The Torment of Terrible Cover Letters. I would also encourage anyone applying for librarian positions to look at Stephen X. Flynn’s Open Cover Letters website for ideas.

Throughout the process of reading cover letters and resumes, here is the most disconcerting thing I observed:

You write well. I can tell you are intelligent. You may even have an advanced degree beyond the MLS. But your cover letter does not address the points highlighted in the job ad. Therefore, you will not make the cut.

It’s a simple as that. For all the advice out there on tailoring your cover letter, there are plenty of applicants that do not. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Tailor your cover letter!

Cover letter & resume advice:

  • If applying via email, do not write your cover letter in the body of the email. Use attachments. Or more to the point: you should follow the directions stated in the job ad.
  • Am I the only one that doesn’t like cover letters in bullet point format? I need to asses your communication skills through your cover letter. To me, a bullet point cover letter is a cop-out. I want paragraphs!
  • In regards to paragraphs: Your cover letter should not be just one short paragraph.
  • Don’t rattle off your job duties in your cover letter. That’s what the resume is for. Instead, use the cover letter to provide examples and anecdotes that relate to the position that you are applying for:

Case in point: if you’re applying for a  children’s librarian position, your resume might list doing “story times” as one of your responsibilities. However, you could use the cover letter to highlight some sort of innovative program you did with story time. Or if you are an academic instruction librarian, your resume might list “assessment” as one of your activities. You could then use the resume to spotlight a special assessment technique you implemented with students.

  • Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by writing: “I don’t have experience in…” Instead, turn it around and explain how you have transferable or related experience.
  • Appearance: pick a standard font. I would stay away from Courier–it looks like a typewriter–and it’s 2011, folks!
  • It’s OK if the cover letter goes onto a second page (which is sometimes a no-no in the business world). I prefer this over an 9-point font cover letter with half-inch margins! But if you go over 2 pages, I tend to wonder if you have problems “getting to the point.” :)
  • Make sure your cover letter and resume looks “clean” in overall appearance – I’ve seen some that look like they have been scanned in and saved electronically. They can be difficult to read.
  • I know you are wonderful, amazing, etc… But I always appreciate a cover letter that addresses my library and its needs/mission. Do your homework. Look over the library website and any parent website (university, school, local government, etc…).
  • Use common sense: Do not write, “I have experience with personal computers.” You are a librarian; having experience with personal computers is UNDERSTOOD!
  • Use “action” words on your resume (e.g., designed, implemented, initiated, managed). Google it! You’re a librarian.
  • Remember: There’s a fine line between promoting your abilities and overstating your qualifications. Be careful! Overstating your qualifications will become apparent in a subsequent interview.

So what do we do with all of these cover letters and resumes? At my place of work–a state institution (and I’m sure it’s the same with most private institutions, too), we have a strict set of protocols to follow. We use an Application Review Form that lists all of the criteria that were included in the job posting. The search and screen committee then rates each cover letter/resume based on EACH of the criterion using a scale: below average – average – above average – can’t assess.

The applicants who rank the highest are the ones that make it to the next stage of the interview process. This is why it’s so vital to use your cover letter and resume to address the various points highlighted in a job ad. So what other cover letter and resume advice would you suggest? Let me know!

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2 thoughts on “Search & Screen, or Search & SCREAM? Cover Letters and Resumes

  1. I hate to say it but spell check.

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