Further Questions: Since it’s impossible to address everything in a cover letter, what portions of the ads should be focused on?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

Job advertisements are often long, especially in academia, and often contain a lot of information including a position description, qualifications (desired or required), salary, schedule, etc. Since it’s impossible to address everything in a cover letter, what portions of the ads should be focused on? What tips do you have for breaking down large ads? Feel free to bring in examples from past job ads.

Laurie PhillipsIn our case, we need the person to address all of the required qualifications and any desired that they meet. In academic searches, we expect longer letters (1-2 pages). Don’t make us dig through your resume to find out if you meet the qualifications. We also look at the letter for writing skills. I’m currently conducting a search and I can tell that the people applying are not used to applying for academic positions because the letters are way too short and don’t address the qualifications. The other thing I absolute need to hear from you is why you want THIS job, not just A job. I want to hear that you understand what this job entails and that you are excited about that.

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

angelynn kingStart with required qualifications, then preferred qualifications, then address any specializations mentioned (languages, subject background, technical skills, etc.) The position description is often somewhat generic and includes many duties that may not be important or even performed. If you have an MLS, the committee will assume you are functional in all the basic areas, such as cataloging and reference, but if the ad says they’d really like someone who is bilingual and can program in Java, that’s what will make you stand out.

-Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

Christine Hage - Dark backgroundI often wonder about libraries that spend big bucks on print advertising. It is slow as you have to fit into a print publication’s schedule and still add 3 or 4 weeks for folks to apply.  It can be very expensive and you unless you run it multiple times people may miss it. I occasionally pay to advertise a non-library type job (facilities manager, accountant, IT manager) in the regional newspaper. When I want a person with an MA in early childhood development I post on The Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children’s job posting list. When I want someone with YA experience I post to PUBYAC.  Otherwise, I advertise through listservs like our state library listserv, PUBLIB, library schools, library systems, and on the pages of recruiters.

If I believe there is someone on staff that I’d like to promote, I only post the position in-house and only for a week.  If there is not a strong in-house candidate I post in a broader forum and in-house candidates can apply, just as anyone else can.

My postings refer candidates to the library’s website where they get a full job description and are asked to attach a cover letter, resume and to fill out one of our job applications online.  If they can’t do that, they don’t have the minimal tech skills for any job we offer and/or can’t follow instructions.

I usually get 20 or more applications and I seldom interview more that 7 or 8 people.

So generally I don’t pay for job postings.  I want people that are looking online, are hooked into the profession and for the most part already live in our area.  We’re fortunate here in Michigan to have two library schools and I don’t remember the last time I hired someone from out-of-state.

– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

Marleah AugustineI would suggest focusing on those parts of the ad about which you feel you can be most strongly convincing. Since an application, resume, and cover letter are all about selling yourself, pick out those pieces of the ad — especially in the description and qualifications — that you can most support with examples from your own experience. A vague cover letter is not going to speak as well about you as one that truly outlines examples about HOW you can meet the needs of that library and that position. Salary and schedule can be discussed in an interview. Focus on selling your skills and you’ll likely be better off.I would suggest focusing on those parts of the ad about which you feel you can be most strongly convincing. Since an application, resume, and cover letter are all about selling yourself, pick out those pieces of the ad — especially in the description and qualifications — that you can most support with examples from your own experience. A vague cover letter is not going to speak as well about you as one that truly outlines examples about HOW you can meet the needs of that library and that position. Salary and schedule can be discussed in an interview. Focus on selling your skills and you’ll likely be better off. – Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Celia RabinowitzIn my opinion, and as someone who has read  A LOT of cover letters, one of the most important things to address in a cover letter is something not explicitly addressed in the job ad.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

First I would advise that you not spend a lot of time on the academic credentials.  If that is clear on your CV/resume (and it should be) there is no reason to repeat that information in your letter.  If the ad includes specific qualifications (required or desired) address some of those by using short examples if you can (from work or even a library school course).

Be selective.  Again, don’t write a lot about what is clear from your resume.  Be sure to refer to specific required qualifications and then tell me something your resume does not.  Most important – please, please, tell me why the job at my library interests you and why you think you make a good candidate.  Be sure that I can tell you took time to learn something about my library and institution.

I want to finish reading your letter wanting to know more about you. Meeting specification in the ad is important, but telling me about who you are and why you want this job might just clinch the deal.

– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH.

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 us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.

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One response to “Further Questions: Since it’s impossible to address everything in a cover letter, what portions of the ads should be focused on?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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