Importance of a good cover letter

I’m so excited to finally be writing this post! I’ve been planning it since before I got a job offer, but wanted to wait until I was actually employed before writing and posting it.

A while ago, I wrote a post about resources for getting help with your cover letter. Now, I’d like to drive home the point of just how big of a difference that can make!

In my job search, I applied to a total of twelve positions. I submitted four of those and was working on the fifth when the graduate student association for my LIS program sent out an email about a “Resume Network”. It’s a service offered to Mizzou’s LIS students (and I think to job-seeking alumni) by Mizzou Libraries librarians. So I sent in an email and got matched up with an awesome librarian that had experience in serving on hiring committees and knew how to help me sell myself for the type of job I wanted to get.

Here is an example of what I submitted for one of those first four positions. It was addressed by name to the Dean of the library, who was mentioned in the job ad. This was actually a point I was unsure about on some positions – if it doesn’t say who you will report to, and especially if it’s a large library system, to whom do you address the cover letter? I tended to address it to the Dean, though I still wonder whether that was the most effective approach or whether I should have addressed it to the Hiring Committee. Either way, I used “Dear Mr./Ms. So-and-so” as my (redacted) greeting.

This first letter isn’t terrible. In fact, I didn’t cringe nearly as badly as I had expected to when I read through it for the first time since sending it out! This was before I started saving a copy of the job ad, so I can’t look back to see how well I addressed all of the required qualifications, but I did try to address them. I included a section on my experience (or tried to shine a positive light on my lack of library experience), a section on teaching, and gave my “I am an excellent candidate” pitch. But there’s nothing stellar about this letter.

I didn’t get so much as a tiny nibble from those first four applications. I think I’ve actually received the official rejection letters from all of them, so that’s nice compared to some that don’t bother to contact those that didn’t get to the interview stage… But that’s not much consolation if you’re still out there looking for a job!

In working with the wonderful Resume Network librarian, she suggested that I do more to highlight my teaching experience. Instead of referring to “a notable amount” of experience, which the reader can then look at on my resume or CV, she suggested I describe the different settings in which I have taught. I’m coming to librarianship as a refugee from a PhD program in anthropology – I didn’t realize that I should spend that much space talking about teaching as a TA or grad instructor because most of my friends have more (and more impressive) experience than I do… Of course, she also suggested that I feel free to use a page and a half, while I had previously been trying really hard to limit myself to one page.

So, here is the cover letter that I submitted for the job I wound up getting. Some of the differences are a matter of addressing a different set of required & preferred qualifications. But the Resume Network librarian helped me get a different perspective on my experience and think about how to concisely give concrete examples addressing qualifications, including stuff that I take for granted. For example, again coming from academic anthropology, it’s weird to think of collaborating with a couple of professors to publish an article as being something worth mentioning, because many of my friends do that all the time. She pointed out that many of the people in the applicant pool for a librarian position won’t have had that experience, so it’s worth highlighting in the cover letter.

So, now it’s my time to brag. I applied to eight positions after getting help revising my cover letter, of course tailoring it to each position, but using her suggestions and perspective when I had to write a new section. I actually had four phone interviews, though two of those were for different positions at a single library. I got a phone call for a fifth phone interview, but had already received the offer for my current job, so thanked them for their interest but did not waste their valuable time. And I never heard anything from the last one I submitted, but I don’t know whether that means I didn’t make the cut, they just haven’t gotten that far, or they googled me and saw my twitter posts about having already accepted a job. (I finally withdrew the application from consideration once I got internet turned on at my new home, but it’s been long enough to assume they weren’t going to call!)

Regardless of why I haven’t heard anything from the last place I applied, that’s still better than 50% of applications leading to phone interviews since getting help (and a new perspective) on my cover letter! That’s a HUGE improvement over the 0% return rate that I was getting before I got help.

So, if you are looking for a job and haven’t already done so, go get help revising your cover letter! Again, I posted some places to connect with reviewers over here. If you are a current student or recent grad, I highly recommend also checking with your library school program. I did my entire consultation via email, so don’t assume that being a distance student means you can’t participate in your school’s grad student organization’s resume review service. Of course, I should plug NMRT’s Resume Review Service as well, but I haven’t used it so don’t know how well they match you up with someone that has experience hiring for the type of position you want to apply for.

If at all possible, I do recommend getting help from someone that has experience on a hiring committee, evaluating candidates for the type of position you’re seeking. There are a lot of Career Center type options out there, but not all fields are equal in terms of what they want to see in your cover letter. If your library science program doesn’t offer a comparable network and you are not a member of any of the organizations that offer resume review services, then I would recommend contacting either someone at a library you’ve worked at or one of your professors. Ask if they know anyone with experience on hiring committees that would be willing to help you out. Librarians love to help people!!!

** I should note that these were all positions for which I met the required qualifications and that I was excited about. My husband has a full time job, so I was not desperately applying to anything and everything. That’s definitely a factor in getting the 50% response rate — but that was true of the positions I applied to before getting help on my cover letter, too!

3 thoughts on “Importance of a good cover letter

  1. Hi Angela,

    Kyle Denlinger posted a link from the Mizzou LISGSA Facebook page to your blog. I am the brand new Professional Development Chair of LISGSA and I am trying to get some events together, like a resume workshop, for the SISLT students. Would you mind e-mailing me back the name of the librarian you worked with? I am curious to see if she might be willing to put on the workshop for us.
    Rebecca Vogler
    *Removing your email address so you don’t attract spam!

  2. I’m a bit behind in my blog reading, but I wanted to thank you for posting this. Right now I’m still working on overhauling my resume, but I’ll keep your cover letter tips in mind for when I see a position I want to apply for!

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