What is the latitude and longitude of Portland? How I got the job

by Karly Szczepkowski

What is the latitude and longitude of Portland?  How I got the job

karlys2I graduated in December 2008 in the midst of a horrible economy. I was interested in non-traditional positions and came across a job posting that is a perfect example of an employer that doesn’t know it’s looking for someone with an MLIS. The job posting was for a business researcher and the duties included researching companies, analyzing information and writing reports. A bachelor’s degree was required, preferably in business or economics. Where did I find this job? On Monster. Seriously, the big huge job board. There was no L word anywhere in the job ad, but I found the post interesting and believed I had the skills and experience, so I applied and was later called for an interview.  When I arrived the hiring manager held up my cover letter and said, “we wanted to speak to you because of this.”

What did I write?

To begin, my cover letter was completely customized for the position. I create a new cover letter for every job I apply to, starting with a blank sheet of paper. Starting from scratch is my secret for ensuring I don’t leave in the name of the company from a previous cover letter.  I included all the standard information at the top: name of company, date. If a job posting indicates who to send the cover letter to, I include that, otherwise, I just write “Dear Hiring Manager.” I don’t call around and try to find out who the hiring manager is. I know that’s common advice and I’ve seen people do that when I served on hiring committees. I’ve also seen them get it wrong.

After the salutation I included a brief statement, “I’m applying for the position of Business Researcher at [Name of Company].” I followed that with a sentence about my education and then, “the below table further summarizes how my skills meet your needs.” And then I created two columns, one titled “[Name of Company] Requirements” and the other titled “My Qualifications.” I then picked up the requirements listed in the job ad and for each one I included a sentence or two on how I met that requirement. I finished with a sentence on how interested I was in the opportunity and how I could be reached.

That technique really impressed this hiring manager. It turned out he had a PhD in economics and was looking for someone that could demonstrate analytical thinking. My letter demonstrated that.

Now, should you adopt this approach? Not necessarily. It works for me because that’s the way I think – that’s who I am, that’s how I communicate. You need to adopt an approach that works for you and how you communicate – and where you want to work. I’ve heard some hiring managers want to read a well-crafted letter. This approach wouldn’t work for them. I probably wouldn’t be a good fit for that type of work environment, but maybe you are, so you need to remain true to yourself.

Having said that, the approach I just outlined, creating two columns and in one listing the job requirements and in the other listing how you meet those requirements, could serve as an excellent template for crafting your letter. It can serve as an outline and then you can string it into sentences and paragraphs for a well-written, completely customized cover letter.

Back to the interview. The hiring manager also said he called me because of my previous work experience and bachelor’s education, but admitted he had no idea what qualified a librarian to be a researcher. Now I’d heard that some employers don’t realize the skills we have, but this was the first time I’d actually encountered it. So I told him about my coursework and how it included secondary research and organizing information, than I gave some examples from reference class. I talked about having to find the answer for all sorts of questions, including, “what is the latitude and longitude of Portland?” I continued, “but before you can answer that question you need to ask, is that Portland, Maine –“ and he interrupted me to say, “or Portland, Oregon?”

He got it. And I got that job.

Karly Szczepkowski is a Research Analyst for the Division of Development and Alumni Affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.