So you’ve perused the job listings and you’ve found the perfect job for you. Now what?
First of all, read the job posting carefully. Make sure you’re actually qualified for the position. In this economy, I know it’s terribly tempting to apply for anything and everything, but resist the temptation. If you’re in a desperate frame of mind when you’re filling out applications and writing your cover letters, your potential employers will know, and it will turn them off. After all, they can afford to be more choosy since the market is flooded with applicants with similar degrees and experience.
Which takes us back a step. What have you done to set yourself apart? Have you done any internships? Worked in relevant part time positions? Have you taken workshops in management or using and creating databases? There are so many people graduating from MLIS programs these days that you absolutely must find what makes you unique and express that in your cover letter and resume.
Before I became a librarian, I worked in early childhood education. I had several years of experience working with 2-5 year olds and I also had taken coursework in Early Childhood Development including Music for Young Children. That’s another thing–I play guitar and sing, which is not a prerequisite for being a good children’s librarian, but I think a little of the Maria von Trapp factor is always a good thing. My extensive background with children, coupled with some part time positions that I’d taken, added some oomph to my resume that other applicants wouldn’t have. During more than one interview I was told that it was my background in preschools that set me apart and got me the interview–and often the job.
So figure out what sets you apart and mention it in your cover letter and list it on your resume, if appropriate. Make sure your cover letter is brief, to the point, and addresses the specific requirements of the job you’re applying for and how you meet and/or exceed those requirements. Let some of your personality show through. A lot of times, when it comes down to choosing between equally qualified applicants, employers will choose the person they actually want to spend a large amount of time working with.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you should bust out your wacky fonts or glitter. Use a clean, normal font in 12 point so that it is easy to read. Your personality should come through in your writing, not the way your letter looks. The tone of a cover letter should be professional but not stilted. If you’re a terrible writer, find someone to help you–a friend or colleague, or even the many websites that offer cover letter templates. Use them as a starting point, not your final product.
Make sure you find out who to address the letter to. Most ads list a name–make sure you use that name. If you’re unsure of gender, try to do some research so you use Ms. or Mr. correctly. If you absolutely don’t know, just use the person’s full name, ie, Dear Terry Smith.
Google yourself and make sure there’s nothing out there on the web that will embarrass you. Lock down your personal stuff and have plenty of professional web presences available to the public. Have a twitter account related to your professional goals, and perhaps even a blog or linked-in account. If there’s nothing on the web about you, that’s almost as disconcerting as all those drunk photos from college. It seems to say, Why, yes, I am internet phobic and have no idea how to use it as a medium to develop personally or professionally.
For the love of god, don’t use an AOL email account with a stupid user named like “poohlover56.” Get a g-mail account with some permutation of your first and last name.
Send the cover letter and resume the way that they want you to. Chances are if they list an email, they want you to email it to them. If they tell you to mail X number of hard copies to a person, do that. Do exactly what they want.
Have any examples of awesome cover letters or sad panda cover letters? Send them to me, with details obfuscated. Examples are helpful to the learning process.
Next: the interview.