How to apply for a job: resume & cover letter advice

by Tiffany Newton, Head Editor, INALJ Missouri

How to apply for a job: resume and cover letter advice

TiffanyNewtonI’d assumed that anyone with a bachelor degree knows how to apply for jobs, but I was surprised by how many graduating students asked me for help at the reference desk at an academic library. Usually when applying for jobs, there is an application that you must fill out. They may or may not ask for a resume and cover letter, but these may also be included.

The Application:

Many applications are available to fill out online. (An online form that you fill out then click submit.) Sometimes they’re downloadable, and if it is an editable pdf, go ahead and just type your information in. However, I’ve run across many applications that are not editable. Some aren’t even pdfs. In those cases, I print them off. If the application has color on it, try to print it in color. Then I read the instructions. Some applications call for a certain color of ink, Be sure to use the correct color.  If you have neat handwriting, fill it out neatly in the required color. If you still have a typewriter around, and want to use it, that is acceptable as well.   Another option is scanning the application then editing it online if you know how to edit non-editable pdfs.  Details matter!


The Resume:

Put your name, address, phone number, email address and portfolio URL (if you have one) on EVERY page of your resume. Or put your name and page numbers at the bottom.  This is for two reasons: lets say they print out the resumes, then  the pages get seperated. They might see something very awesome on the second page, but will have no way of knowing who’s information it is. The second reason is if it’s very long, and they decide to read the electronic version, they will have to scroll all the way back up to the top of the first page to see your information. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to match your resume with your name.

It’s okay to go over 1 page for your resume, however, make sure the last page is at least half filled. If there is just one or two lines on the last page, either delete some previous information, or include a bit more to make the most efficient use of your space.

On all the dates on your resume, put at the very least the month and the year. Don’t just put the year. Yes, I know, saying you worked somewhere from 2011-2013 sounds a lot better than “December 2011-January 2013” because it looks like 2 years experience rather than just 1 year 1 month experience, but including all the information looks more credible to future employers, especially when they call your references and find out.

This shouldn’t have to be said, but use spell checker, and let someone else look over it before you send it out. You don’t need an objective unless you have something very unique. an objective of “Seeking a career as an academic librarian” is vague and sort of obvious if the you’re applying at a university library.

Never put “References available upon request”  If there’s extra room on the last page of your resume, go ahead and put in 3-4 references, phone numbers, and email address.   If there’s not enough room on your resume, create a new document, with all the same headings, entitled “References” List 4-6 references, their contact information, then a brief paragraph about how you know the person and what they can vouch for. An example would be “I’ve worked at xyz company with Mr. Smith for 4 years. He can vouch for my cataloging and metadate skills. It was under his supervision that I’ve digitzed and cataloged over 10,000 documents for the library.”   This is another way to add some more details that you might not be able to fit into the resume or cover letter.

Cover letter:

I recommend that your cover letter should have the same heading as your resume: name, address, phone number, email, and URL, preferably in the same format. Again, this helps with uniformity, so they can know at first glance your cover letter and your resume both belong to you — because they both have the same heading.

I’ve read lots of advice on cover letters and most  say cover letters should be one page only. I generally try to stick to one page, however, there have been a few jobs that I just couldn’t fit everything I wanted to say in 1 page.  If the cover letter goes over 1 page, just like the resume, be sure the second page has at the very least, your name on the top or bottom. Also be sure the second page is at least half filled to make efficient use of your space.

As for the content of your cover letter, read over the job posting and circle 3-4 key requirements and duties that you have. Be sure to talk about those in your cover letter.

Also, look up the organization’s mission statement. Find out what it is, and if practical, include it in your cover letter.  My introduction is always something like, “I am interested in applying for the Digital Resources Associte at the Johnsonville City Library. I feel I would make a great addition to the team at your library to help promote reading, information, and entertainment to the surrounding communities.”  The mission statement in this case talked about promoting reading, information and entertainment to the surrounding community.

I also look up the local newspaper and see if the library has been in the news in the past few months. I don’t always include this in the cover letter, but if it talks about future goals of the library, I definately include how I’d like to help accomplish those goals.  Finding these articles and past information about the library also helps during an interview.

I always end my cover letters with a thank you, and something like, “Please feel free to contact me at your convenienance by phone or email to discuss my qualifications further.”


Depending on various factors, you’ll want to actually submit your documents differently. If the deadline is very soon (within the next week) you should definatly not rely on postal mail. if there is no email address listed to email the documents, try to find a phone number and call them to ask about an email address or a fax number. Sometimes, as long as the application is postmarked by the deadline, they will still take it, and if they won’t accept online or faxed applications, go ahead and send it via postal mail.

If you want to fax your information, but do not have a fax machine (and don’t want to pay to do it at a local business) Hello Fax is a free, and easy way to fax things from your computer. You can also recieve faxes through this site with a paid account. There might be other sites similar to Hello Fax, I’m just most familiar with this one.

Also check to see which format is required for submission, if sending it via email. I usually send my applications in pdf documents, but occassionally, there will be requests for Word files, or “Send everything in one single pdf” requirement. To save your Word Documents as a pdf, just go to file, then save as… then change the format to a pdf.  Be sure you have Adobe Acrobat on your computer.

Also, When emailing documents, be sure the file names are something fairly neutral, and that they contain your name. I always use my last name, what the document is (cover letter, resume, application, transcript, etc), and the name of the organization or library. Some examples are:

  • newton_coverletter_MU
  • Newton_resume_wichitapublic
  • newton_application_albany

This way of naming actually does two things. It helps me keep everything organized, with a quick glance, I can review each document sent to the organization before an interview, and it helps me know if I’ve already applied for a job at that organization before. (I also keep a spreadsheet of jobs applied for as well). This also helps the search committee stay organized and keep all my files together. They get hundreds of applicants and if every titles their resume “myresume.pdf” the search committee might have a difficult time sorting through everything.

When sending an email, be sure to attach everything that is required in one email. Also, be sure to include the job title in the subject. Do not send a blank email. I always write something like, “Hello, I would like to apply for your assistant director position. I have enclosed my resume, cover letter, and application for your consideration. If you need any further information from me, please let me know.”

So, in summary

  • Have someone else proofread your documents before submitting them.
  • Include the same heading on all documents
  • Keep the filenames uniform
  • Follow the application instructions
  • Make the cover letter personalized for each position or organization.
  • Be friendly in your email.
  • Call ahead to ask for a fax number or email address if none is listed.

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