Applying for Jobs is a Job in Itself, seriously.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I am still amazed at the number of students, especially in library school that do not understand that applying for jobs is hard work and might as well be a part time job. So much of this will sound redundant or obvious to those who know what they’re doing, but I have been asked by a few people before what I’m doing to get jobs, so here are all my “secrets” spilled.

Writing the Resume & Cover Letter

There are plenty of articles that actually talk about how to format and what to specifically include in a resume and cover letter, so I am not going to go over those. Instead, a few pointers:

  • write both, even if they do not specifically ask for a cover letter, write one anyway. (Okay, some job posting systems have nowhere for you to include a cover letter, but they are the rare exception.)
  • cater both to the specific job posting. Don’t just highlight different things. On a resume, consider including different experience, courses you took in school, skills and interests as might fit.
  • try to cover all the qualifications both required and preferred. Cross off each qualification as you cover them, making sure you cover all of them in either your resume or cover letter.
  • use specific examples whenever you can. For example, to show you know how to write documentation, mention a specific set of guidelines you wrote, even if it’s just internal for staff.

As Joe has kindly reminded me, if for some reason you don’t meet all the qualifications, you could leave it out (if it is a minor one), or talk about why you’d still be a good fit despite not meeting every single qualification (see Joe’s comment below for an elaboration).

Do Some Research

So before you even begin to write, or if you get a little stuck, you might do a little research. You might ask people you know if they have any “inside” information. I frequently ask about what specific systems a library is using, so that I can speak to them, especially if I have any experience with them. Any information can (and should), of course, also be used for the interview.

Read What Others Have Written

One of the best things I ever did while I was in library school to improve my cover letter and resume was to read what others have written. I started with the samples our co-op office gave us, but then asked specific people who got multiple interviews for the student job postings if I could get a copy of theirs. I was happy to send mine in return and they even gave me a couple of tips!

There are lots of example cover letters, including Open Cover Letters, which is specific to libraries. However, it’s hard to know whether they worked or not, which is why asking specific people you know tends to work better, because you know if they got the job (or interview) or not.

Get Potential Employers to Read It

You can ask almost anyone to read your application over. Friends and family can certainly help, but if you are applying to a specific area, ask your supervisor (even if you are at a volunteer job), or anyone you know who does hiring in the field. In our co-op program, attending a one-on-one session was mandatory to go over your resume and cover letter, and that also helped a lot. I also once had 3 librarians read over a single application. Whether you get the job later, well it gave you extra practice.

Don’t be Afraid to Recycle & Reuse

While everyone says not to use a stock resume or cover letter and I totally agree, don’t be afraid to rejig what you’ve previously written. For example, that one guideline is the best example of documentation you did, and the way you express that is already well written. Go ahead and reuse that 1 sentence. If you can do it for one example, then of course, it will apply to others. It is possible that your cover letter is a mosaic of previous cover letters, but that’s okay as long it is still catered to the job you are applying for.

Make it Personal Whenever Possible

You are not just applying to a job, but to an organization or team. Why not mention if you’ve met one of the team members and heard them talk about the cool projects they do? Or why you would be interested in working on one of the particular projects. Even better is how you think you could contribute. Maybe you’ve met the hiring manager before, and you can remind them where. Simply knowing you have a personal connection to someone in the team or department can make you much more memorable. Just make sure you think it would be positive things people have to say about you!

It Takes Time (and Practice)

Based on what others have told me, if you are not taking at least 1 hour for each application, you have probably missed something. I don’t remember the last time it took me less than 2 hours. It’s not even the writing time, so much as thinking of the best examples and wording based on the specific organization, job requirements, and focus of the position.

Take your time to write, then get someone to read it over, send it in and prepare for the interview!

5 thoughts on “Applying for Jobs is a Job in Itself, seriously.

  1. Nice post. The one other “secret” that I’d share is that it doesn’t hurt to apply for jobs that are a reach for you. If you have all of the qualifications but one, and you sincerely feel that you can meet that qualification in some way, don’t be afraid to apply.

    *Don’t* claim qualifications that you don’t have. Instead, be upfront about the fact that you are a perfect fit for the position despite missing a qualification, and be prepared to talk about why. If they want a tech skill that you don’t have but you’re very strong at teaching yourself as you go, tell them that. If they want X years managing a department, and you have X years managing student workers, don’t sit back and hope that the employer will assume that it’s equivalent. Tell them why it’s a fair substitute for the thing you lack, and from there bring the conversation back to how great you are.

    If you can’t tell them what you want, and why they want to give it to you (i.e., what they’ll get out of it), they really shouldn’t hire you.

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