Be Who YOU Are; Not Who You THINK the Employer Wants You to Be

by Ruth Lincoln, Head Editor, INALJ Washington, DC
previously published 8/6/13


How to Stand Out: Be Who YOU Are; Not Who You THINK the Employer Wants You to Be

ruth.lincolnEveryone wants to stand out in the job-application process, and we’re often told personalization is the best course:

  • Tailor your resume and cover letter for each job.
  • Make your cover letter about the employer, not you.
  • Research the organization.
  • Prepare ways you can improve the organization. 

Taken separately, these are all great tips for any position (library-related or otherwise). Do these, and you’ll show you’re not just applying for any job; you want THIS job. More generally, you want your application to stand out among the “I’m applying for [insert position] at [insert institution].”

But follow this rubric too closely, and you can lose the most important piece of your application: YOU.

It might seem simple (my name’s on the application), but your personality, enthusiasm, and confidence aren’t reflected in listing your name, address, and phone number. They’re embodied in your experiences and stories. They’re what make you memorable and set you apart.

I started thinking about this after attending the #ala2013 session, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Finding Your First Librarian Job”. There were lots of great tips, but Library Dean Suzy Szasz Palmer, Dean of the Greenwood Library, Longwood University’s advice really resonated with me:

alaac13 advice

Many job seekers are deterred if they don’t meet all the ad’s qualifications. The panelists all agreed their job descriptions reach for the moon. That is, they’re not expecting an applicant who will meet all their required and preferred qualifications. They know nobody is perfect.

It’s easy to see through an applicant with disingenuous history and artificial enthusiasm. Your strongest cover letter isn’t the one in which you stretch to meet all the qualifications — it’s the one that shows your genuine enthusiasm, confidence, and honesty. 

So how do you stand out among a stack of imperfect people?

Show Enthusiasm

In your cover letter, show what drove you to apply. What about this job excites you?

I like to copy/paste the job description, read slowly, and highlight the responsibilities that really resonate with me. Take those highlighted passages and consider what experiences and stories you have that embody that role. Yes, think about why you’re qualified, but pay special consideration for what you hope to learn from that responsibility.

Consider what duties you’re excited to learn more about and what prior courses or work experiences might prepare you for it. Of course, 2-3 years experience in a role is nice, but a willingness to learn is a huge asset to any employer.

You might not have a passion for every job responsibility — and that’s OK. Focus on the most exciting ones, and your passion will resonate.

Bring Confidence

This is not the time to be humble (another wise piece of panelist advice). Brag about your experiences and accomplishments. They took hard work, and you should be proud!

Think about what positions or projects really connect with the job description. What memories stand out? If a moment doesn’t spring to mind, consider at what point in the project did you feel proudest? Who was there? What’s one story that you’ll always remember?

Always, Always Be Honest

There are a lot of uncontrollable variables that go into any job search, but this is one simple area where you have complete control.

Be who you are. Tell the truth. Show your personality, enthusiasm, and confidence.

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