Further Questions: What’s the Most Important Part of a Resume?

This week I asked people who hire librarians:

What’s the most important part of a resume and why?

Laurie Phillips

I’d say probably your succinct description of what you actually did in each job you have held. That’s where we glean more information about your actual experience. There are sometimes little tidbits there that can make a candidate more appealing. Obviously, you may expand upon how your experience and qualifications match the job in your letter, but there’s still a lot that we can pick up on from your resume. People who don’t bullet their actual responsibilities under each job are missing out on an opportunity.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

 To me, one of the most important parts of a resume, isn’t technically part of the resume at all, but the cover letter.  Often when one puts together even a good, persuasive resume, it can still be too dry and data oriented, but often not explanatory or humanizing enough.  Cover letters should discuss some of the pertinent highlights of one’s career, how they apply to the position in question, and should often explain why the applicant is applying for the position.  This is especially true if he/she is seemingly going from a higher position to one that is considered “lower”, such as Head of Reference to Reference Librarian, or some other seeming backward movement in one’s career.  The Reference Librarian position may be more challenging or interesting than the Head of Reference position depending on what type of institution the library is in.  Some search committees could make assumptions about why someone is applying for a job, and they may be erroneous.  So an excellent cover letter can help clarify questions before they are asked and/or a candidate is automatically eliminated from the pool.

After the letter, I would say a detailed explanation of current and up to one or two previous positions should be in the body of the resume.   If an applicant doesn’t have pertinent experience, especially if the position isn’t an entry level one, they may not be up to the demands of the  job for which they are applying.  The most important thing in both the cover letter and experience in a resume, is to make the applicant stand out in some manner.  The best way to do that is to be clear and detailed, but concise enough to allow the search committee to see why an applicant should remain viable.

– Sharon Britton, Library Director, BGSU – Firelands

Complete and accurate current contact information.  Languages which can be catalogued.  Why seems self evident to me.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

I read a resume carefully. While all of it is important to me, the least important is “job goals” or “career objectives” because if I am reading a resume it is for a specific job. Those silly statements like, “a challenging position where I can best show my personal skills,” really mean nothing. Everything else, I look at and consider.

And since you mentioned resume let me add that I want it on plain paper – no flowers, no scent, no deckled edges, no color, just plain white paper and written in clear, 10 to 12 point type, no fancy fonts or script.

The cover letter can be on personal stationery. But the resume needs to be, for me, workmanlike and to the point.

– Dusty Gres, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System

Marge Loch-WoutersThe most important part of the resume is a clear listing of your experience as a worker/volunteer.  It’s important not to exaggerate. Try to include relevant experience but skip work experience that isn’t remotely germane (really I’m glad you were a bartender but what does this have to do with a Technical Services position?).

Don’t be concerned with gaps in work history. We have all been struggling since 9/11 and the 2008 economic freefall. You join the many Americans who have experienced employment gaps during this difficult decade. If you feel you need to address this, the cover letter is where that belongs.

Finally, if you feel your work/volunteer experience or experience with the clientele is weaker than you would like, sit down and think of your real strengths/skills (creativity; quick to learn; dependability; etc) and consider listing them so the employer can get some sense of you.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Petra MauerhoffGenerally speaking, the work experience section is the most important part to me. However, it has to be tailored to the position for which I am hiring.
I want to see that candidates have experience doing work relevant to the position for which they are applying. That means, if I am hiring a cataloger, I’d like to see cataloging experience.
I don’t want to have to search the resume or cover letter to see if the experience matches what I am looking for, it should be emphasized with the application.
If the application is from a new grad, then highlighting course work and/or special projects related to the skills required for the position helps. I understand that new grads generally have limited work experience, but if they make an effort to show that they have done something related to the position, it helps a lot.
I like to see each position held in the past listed with bullets for relevant responsibilities and skills used/acquired.
 Some elaboration on skills specifically related to the posted position in the cover letter is always great. It shows an understanding of the position for which they are applying and shows that they are paying attention.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System
Readability, standard format. I want to see your past jobs first. I don’t care, on a resume, about your goals or objectives. Also, make sure it it is up to date. The new task you did yesterday may be exactly what I am looking for.
– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP
I would say that the most vital information to get across to a hirer on your resume is your skills.  In particular, the key skills you have that match those that will be needed in the job you’re applying for.  A close second would be your achievements – that is, the outcome of using your skills.
Whether those skills are communicated in a separate skills section, or incorporated within your career history section, isn’t so important.  What is important is to ensure that your career history section isn’t just a dry recitation of a list of duties.
It is not advisable to make the assumption that the reader will see “5 years working as Subject Librarian at XX” on your resume and think “that means this person must have the skills I need”.  That is like doing some research for a patron and handing over to them pages and pages of research results, instead of synthesising it into one page of key ‘so what’ analysis points.
Instead, make sure that your skills stand out.  A good test is to hand your resume to a colleague or friend, and ask them to tell you what your main skills are.  If they can’t work it out, or come up with different ones to those you were expecting, perhaps your resume needs a rework.
– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. 

If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  Please leave a comment after the beep. 



Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public, Special

3 responses to “Further Questions: What’s the Most Important Part of a Resume?

  1. Aimee

    I was both surprised and relieved by this posting because so many job advice articles say NOT to include job duties on resumes because they should be obvious. That has never been the case for me because my jobs always grow, within 2-3 months, to include much more than their original responsibilities.


  2. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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