on reading cover letters and resumes

The invaluable Swiss Army Librarian posted some Notes on Reading Resumes a few weeks back. At my library, I am also on a committee that is evaluating 40+ applications for a single position. Some of them are very good. Some of them are very bad. Many of them need. . . help. And so in the interests of providing some of that, I thought I’d make a few notes of my own.

  • File format does matter. Like Brian, I think PDF is the best choice you can make at present, as it will be sure to preserve your typography and spacing and such, and it’s fairly standard. If you have Microsoft Word 2007, you can save any document as a PDF. If you don’t have Word, and don’t have money, Open Office is free and will let you do the same thing. We got one letter that came as a text file, without about two words per line. It was so unreadable that I’m not sure anyone on the committee took it seriously.
  • I am biased toward people with some kind of web presence. No, I don’t think it’s a requirement, but it is an excellent way to demonstrate your fluency with technology and to show off any nifty work you’ve done — tutorials, pamphlets, reading lists, videos, whatever — that doesn’t necessarily fit well into a standard letter/resume. Again, it’s not necessary to have money to do this — I’ve seen some excellent portfolios that used Google Pages, Weebly, or wordpress.com, among others.
  • Appearances matter. Be consistent in your formatting, and use standard (or at least semi-standard — as Brian notes, doing a little bit of spiffy design work is a good way to show off your computer aptitude) professional typefaces. Comic Sans on a resume just does not inspire me to take you very seriously.
  • When applicable, say something in your letter about why you want to move to the place where the job is as well as why you want the job itself. If you’re moving from one suburb to another, this isn’t probably as important, but for jobs out here, I’m always a bit worried when people don’t say anything about wanting to live in the rural West. We are over 100 miles from a mall, an interstate highway, or a Target, and that’s a problem for a lot of people.
  • As with most things, some of how your resume comes across will just depend on who’s reading it. Brian likes objectives; I don’t. There’s not much you can do to anticipate who will read your resume or what reaction they will have, so when it comes down to it, do what seems right to you.
  • Specifics really help a letter. Don’t just say, “I ran a summer reading program.” Tell us how many kids participated, what ages they were, how many books they read, any other detail that will help show us what it was really like.

There is a lot of information out there on resume and cover letter writing. If you are in school or are a recent graduate (or sometimes even a long-ago graduate), your school will have an office of career services that should be able to provide you with everything from resume help to mock interviews. At the very least, ask some friends to look over your materials, as another eye can be useful in catching typos. And lastly, let me make one additional plug for social networking in general and for the Library Society of the World in particular. There are several LSW FriendFeed room denizens who are starting library school and/or new jobs, and I know they’ve gotten a lot of help from the people who hang out there. We’d be more than happy to help you, too.

8 comments

  1. Angel

    This is very good information. When in the market, I have been asked once or twice why I want to move to X or Y area. Addressing it in the cover letter may then be useful, but any applicant should be ready to answer that. It’s part of doing the homework. I keep telling myself I need to make an online portfolio (besides my blogs), but things keep coming up. Maybe I will finally get to it. I am certainly sharing this post.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  2. Susan Mark

    Additional ways to print to PDF — you can download from Google Docs to a PDF. I’ve also used Bullzip PDF printer, which was free. I know there are other free ones out there. I think I found out about Bullzip off of the Lifehacker blog, a site I’ve found tremendously useful for finding out what programs to use for various things.

  3. Julie

    Thanks for this. While I currently have a job as a librarian, the hours are a minimal and I’m constantly looking out for ways to supplement. I revisit my resume every month or so, have never thought about having an online portfolio. Will have to check this out.

  4. Frances

    Good information. I absolutely agree that applicants should explain why they are interested in the place in which a job is located. As Laura points out, northwest Wyoming is not everyone’s idea of an ideal location. If you don’t have a desire to live in a remote rural area, a big city, a suburb, etc… please do not waste a potential employer’s time. Remember to personalize your application letter. I have seen letters that are so generic and lacking in character, I have no desire to meet the applicant. Also, again echoing Laura, proof read and proof read again and then give to a reader. I have seen applications that express the desire to work at library X when the application has been sent to library Y. Very bad form.

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  7. Monica

    Completely agree with these suggestions! After sifting through about 30 applications for a single librarian position, I would just add:

    - Don’t include too many unasked-for extras in your application(while your work evaluation from 2003 may have been positive, you don’t need to include it in your application packet)

    - Try not to ask the hiring committee too many questions that could be answered by quickly browsing the institution’s website.

  8. laura

    Excellent additions, Monica — we got several application packets that included photocopies of every certificate the candidate had ever received, seemingly since college (e.g. “Completed ___ Training Webinar”).