Cover Letters: They’re Kind of a BIG DEAL!
by Natalie Browning, Senior Assistant, INALJ DC
Cover Letter. Letter of Interest. I dare you to find a job posting that does not require you to write a letter about your qualifications. Sending in a resume is not enough; the hiring committee wants to see not only that you meet the qualifications for the job but that you also have good communication skills.
I have been job searching for a while now. I’m no expert. I don’t have hiring managers knocking down my door, or even attempting to find where my door is… But I have done some things to try to help with my job applications. I follow INALJ regularly (of course!), I have a “Job Searchin’” board on Pinterest, and I get daily emails from The Muse. However, I always dread writing the cover letter.
Sometimes, I just want to write how I really feel. For example:
Dear potential employer,
While I know I do not possess the many years of “progressively responsible experience” that you require, I am a fast learner who can perform the job duties listed and more. I have an ALA accredited Master’s degree in Library Science. Yes, right now I work part-time, but I often work without supervision and perform tasks beyond my actual job description.
Did I mention my 4.0 in grad school? I know a lot about reference, a tiny bit of cataloging, and I have some knowledge of managing digital libraries. This is all theoretical you say? Well my library school program required me to interview library professionals, complete a practicum/ work in a library setting, and even create my own library classification scheme (any other UNT grads out there? Professor Enoch’s SLIS 5200 Information Organization- I should have gotten some kind of award for passing that class- where’s my medal?).
I know I can learn the skills required of this position, and exceed your expectations in my performance. I am passionate about library services and making sure that patrons receive the information they request. Please call me for an interview. Or email me to let me know you received my application. Or email to let me know if I’m not being considered. JUST PLEASE TALK TO ME!
Thank you for your time and consideration,
A recent MLS grad
Anyway, that probably sounds desperate. And a little vague- I’m not going to reveal all of my library superpowers out on the open internet, but I think you get the point. And if you were in a library school program similar to mine, I’m sure you feel the same way. If you have trouble writing cover letters as well, here’s some advice that has helped me write my professional cover letters.
Here are two general career sites that I’ve found helpful (Disclaimer for the Guy-brarians out there, the these links are from Classy Career Girl and GoGirl Finance, but the advice is in no way geared only towards women):
Well, I didn’t follow these directions in my example cover letter above as the first “best kept cover letter secret” is to send a customized cover letter for each application you submit. This is great advice to follow for real cover letters. My two favorite tips come at the end of the list, and I certainly made use of those in my parody cover letter: Keep it conversational and show your personality off. Brag about yourself and talk about all of your awesome achievements!
A good cover letter should have a solid introduction, explain why you want to work for the company/library, explain your qualifications, and include follow up details (“PLEASE TALK TO ME”). While you shouldn’t beg for contact like I did or admit in your first line that you do not have a certain qualification listed, it is important to show (remember this from college English courses? “Show not tell”) that you’d be a good fit for the company atmosphere.
For library specific cover letters, there’s Open Cover Letters.
There are so many cover letter examples here. Feel free to tweak some aspects of these letters that are relevant to your applications. INALJ loves Open Covers Letters- so much so that it’s linked at the bottom of the webpage. There’s also an interview with Stephen X. Flynn, founder of Open Cover Letters, and at the bottom of the interview there’s a link to other INALJ articles that mention Open Cover Letters. I think it’s becoming apparent that cover letters are kind of a big deal!
Speaking of other INALJ articles, be sure to check out some of these amazing articles from INALJ volunteers that I’ve found helpful:
Rebekah Kati’s Tips for Writing Amazing Cover Letters
Leigh Milligan’s Open Cover Letters
Scottie Kapel’s 4 Steps to Impress in Your Cover Letters
And, shout out to my INALJ DC Senior Editor, Mary-Michelle Moore, with Cover Letters – Best Practices
Lastly, the biggest tool that has helped me in writing cover letters is using Tag Crowd to see my word frequency. I’ve found that I have a tendency to repeat myself (did you notice how many times I used the phrase “Open Cover Letters” in the paragraph above?). This tool helps me remedy this tendency and be more concise in my writing. This was originally proposed as a resume tip here. Here’s an example of a tag crowd from one of my recent cover letters (a real one, not my ranting parody example):
I hope you’ve found some of these tips helpful. There is so much advice out there that it’s hard to know which pieces to follow. Ultimately, though, make sure your cover letter shows the hiring committee who you are… in perfect grammatically correct sentences. Happy Writing!
Natalie Browning is a Library Assistant at a local community college in rural Virginia. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA, and she received her MLS in August 2014 from the University of North Texas as part of the Virginias cohort program. She has worked in both a public and an academic library, and loves answering reference questions (even the challenging ones.) Outside of the library, she loves reading mystery and YA novels, quoting How I Met Your Mother and Gilmore Girls episodes, running (ha! maybe walking) colorful 5ks, and hanging out with her family.