Tips for Writing Amazing Cover Letters

by Rebekah Kati, Head Editor, INALJ North Carolina

Tips for Writing Amazing Cover Letters

RebekahKatiCover letters are an essential part of the job application.  In the cover letter, you have the opportunity to explain your interest in the position and how your qualifications relate to the job. Do you have non-library experience that could be relevant to the job?  Irregularities in your employment history?  Completed a fantastic internship?  The cover letter is the place to elaborate on these things and more.

Yet, cover letters are extremely difficult to write.  Conventional wisdom says that they should only be one to two pages, but condensing one’s professional duties and accomplishments into this space is challenging.  Sometimes the job posting is longer than the cover letter should be!  Of course, you can always look at sample cover letters for inspiration.  One of the best sites for library and information science cover letters is Open Cover Letters.  For more information about this resource, please see Leigh Milligan of INALJ Pennsylvania’s wonderful article. You might also want to review your old cover letters for inspiration.  Once you have written cover letters for many positions, you may find that you can reuse parts of a cover letter in another.

Before you start writing your cover letter, make sure you save the text of the job posting so you have it if you need it later!  On a few occasions, I have wanted to refer back to the job posting to prepare for an interview, only to find that it has been taken down.  Don’t let this happen to you.

The most important thing to remember when writing a cover letter is that it should be unique to each position for which you are applying and address all the required qualifications in the job posting. 

  • I like to copy and paste the required and preferred qualifications from the job posting into my cover letter template so that I have them handy in my workspace.
  • As I address each qualification, I delete the job posting language from my cover letter, ensuring that each part has been addressed.
  • Each sentence of the cover letter should be relevant to the job posting in order to maximize the available space.
  • Opinions vary as to the proper length for a library cover letter.  I try to keep my cover letters to one page, but one and a half to two pages is likely acceptable as long as the information presented is relevant and concisely stated.

Don’t be afraid to elaborate on your qualifications and experience, especially if your experience is not library-related.

  • If possible, use similar language as the job ad when discussing qualifications to make the connections between your experience and the job easy to identify.
  • Search committees will read a lot of cover letters and they may not make the connections between your experience and the job ad that you would like them to make.
  • If you are reusing parts of your old cover letters, make sure that the reused parts are relevant to the new job and that all references to other employers have been taken out.  The most reusable parts will likely be generic, such as statements about organizational and communications skills.

Have someone read over your cover letter, especially the first few that you write.  If you are still in school, your university’s career services department may offer this service.  Of course you can also ask friends and family to help.  Writing a good cover letter takes a lot of practice and frustration, but it will eventually pay off and become easier.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 18.5 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website, KhanMoving.com, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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