Cover Letters – Best Practices

by Mary-Michelle Moore, Head Editor, INALJ Vermont

Cover Letters – Best Practices

MaryMichelleMooreYour cover letter may be as important, if not more important, than your resume in a hiring packet.  It is an initial writing sample as well as your introduction to the search committee.  Many people create a boilerplate cover letter to send out with their application materials rather than personalizing each cover letter to the specific job.  Instead, use these cover letter best practices to ensure that your cover letter represents the best of your abilities.


  • Find someone to address it to. If a name is not posted in the job ad, see if you can find the library director or the head of the department. Don’t be afraid to call the library and ask for the name of the head of the search committee. If it is still unclear who to address the cover letter to after a little research try “Dear members of the search committee” rather than “To whom it may concern” which can come off as cold and generic.

  • State the job title, the position number (if available) and where you found the listing. This lets the search committee know where their advertising is being seen.

  • Address the job description point by point in the cover letter and how you meet the requirements. Print out the job ad or put it in an open window as you work. Go down the list of requirements and explain how you meet them – checking them off as you go down the list.

  • Use the same terminology in your cover letter as the job description. This helps the search committee make a direct connection between your skills and the position they are trying to fill. It also means if they decide to do a keyword search of your materials your cover letter will pop to the top of the list.

  • Highlight specific skills in your cover letter – don’t assume the search committee knows the work environment you’re coming from. The search committee is looking at many applications, help them understand how your background translates to the position they’re filling. Many skills will be transferable from job to job, even if the environments are not identical.

  • Elaborate how skills from non-library jobs can be applied to the job you’re trying for. For example, after I graduated from college I took a position as a telemarketer for a few months to strengthen my customer service skills. I had a supervisor tell me he called me for an interview based on that one line in my cover letter.

  • Make the cover letter long enough to cover your career to date (usually 1-2 pages) – if you’re just out of library school, talk about other positions or volunteer work you’ve done if it helped you gain the skills required for the job.

  • Keep personal information out of the cover letter, it’s always better to share too little than too much information.  First and foremost, address the job and how you meet the qualifications. However, if you are relocating a long distance you may want to briefly mention your willingness to make a relocation so the search committee doesn’t think you applied to the job erroneously.

  • Thank the committee for considering your application and end on a positive note. Closing with “I look forward to speaking with you” or “If I can answer any questions about my qualifications, please let me know” will leave the search committee with positive feelings toward you as an applicant.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Try reading it out loud to yourself to catch missing words, awkward language or strange leaps in logic. Always have someone you trust read your final draft.

Lastly, pay attention to formatting, use the same font and size as you used in your resume – the two documents are supposed to complement each other. Make sure your name is on all pages of the cover letter, the same way you would with your resume in case it gets separated during review. Keep these cover letter best practices in mind and your next cover letter will be sure to impress.


How to stay afloat in the academic library job pool by Teresa Y. Neely (2011)

What do employers want?: A guide for library science students by Priscilla K. Shontz and Richard A. Murry (2012)

Open Cover Letters