I’m back. With Resume and Cover Letter Tips.

Hi again, readers! I took an unscheduled break from blogging while there, but I’m back and ready to dish some more.  Especially since I’m on “vacation” this week and yet I can’t go outside because of the weather.  Blecch.  Hope you’re all staying cool, wherever you are this week.

During my blogging break, I finished a draft of my syllabus for my fall freshman seminar, knitted up a storm, and read two new huge books by two of my favorite authors, George R.R. Martin (A Dance With Dragons)  and Anne Easter Smith (Queen By Right).  No spoilers, though, I promise.

Let’s get back to job hunting.  If you haven’t already, take a look at Mr. Library Dude’s excellent post on Library Schools and Library Jobs.  Fun fact: Mr. Library Dude and I have never actually met, but he had my current job before me.  If he hadn’t decided to move to another job, I wouldn’t have mine.  And he gets major props for passing on all of his very-well-organized files.

Resumes and Cover Letters are, in a way, one of the trickier things to write about. There’s no shortage of advice out there on how to put either document together, and a lot of it, while it may not be explicitly contradictory, does vary depending on the person giving it and what industry they’re in.  Therefore, I’m simply going to make a list of points that worked for me.  Make of it what you will.

– You need a cover letter.  You may have heard that people don’t read them anymore.  This is true in some fields.  It is emphatically not the case librarianship.  Most of us, even those who work primarily in technical or IT services, have some contact with the public.  Even those who don’t have to be able to communicate with colleagues.  Communication is a big part of our field, and your cover letter is the first clue to the hiring committee whether your can do it clearly or not.

– Your cover letter needs to be unique for each position you apply to.  Period. This is your chance to show the employer how your skill set matches up with their needs.  Don’t rehash your accomplishments  at past positions.  That’s what your resume is for.   Show how the skills you used to reach these accomplishments will serve this new employer.

– Regarding your resume, keep those past accomplishments that you list relevant to the new position you are applying for.  Unless my library is also a fast food restaurant, I don’t really care that you can bun more hot dogs per minute than any of your  coworkers.  For non-library experiences and accomplishments, make sure you make the skill connections explicit.  It’s fine to mention secretarial work you did, for example, as such work often requires good writing and communication skills, and you’ll need those in the library – but make it clear that that’s the reason you’re including it – as proof you have such skills.  Here’s a more relevant library example.  Are you familiar with a Course Management System such as Moodle or Blackboard?  Don’t simply list this in your computer skills section.  Explain how you have or could use that as a librarian.  Have you been an embedded librarian in a class?  How do you use these tools in library instruction?

– Most people will advise that you need an individual resume for each application, as well.  While it’s a lot of work to keep writing all of this stuff, I managed it by having three “master” documents – a CV and a resume for academic library jobs (some will ask for a CV, some for a resume, so you need to have both prepared), and a resume for public library jobs, and then I tweaked/moved around items based on the requirements of the particular job I was applying for.

– Cover letter length will vary based on position type.  In the academic world, people tend to write longer (up to 2 full pages) cover letters, while in other fields, this is seen as less acceptable.  I tried to keep my academic library letters to about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pages and my public library letters to one page.  No matter what the type of job, remember that, given the state of the library job market, there are likely to be upwards of 50 or even 100 applicants for every position.  Depending on how much time the committee has, your letter may only be skimmed on the first pass through.  Don’t make them search for important information.

– Format your resume.  The “wall of text” approach will get you thrown in the garbage fast.  Remember, however, to stick with conventional formatting schemes and bullet styles that can be read by many email and word processing programs.  Proofread and edit.  And then do it again.

– Don’t waste space on your resume with “references available upon request” (everyone already knows this), or an “objective.”  It’s not 1995, and hiring committees don’t want to read your vague statement of buzzwords.  A well-written cover letter will accomplish the task in much clearer fashion.

– Don’t waste your time (or the committee’s time) applying for jobs that you are not qualified for.  If a job listing says “MLS or equivalent plus 3-5 years library experience” and you’re a recent library school grad, you aren’t qualified for this position.  (The exception might be if you’re an older student and had worked in a library prior to your MLS education).  Don’t piss off the committee by sending them an extra application to read (they’ve got enough work to do already).  Of course, sometimes ads aren’t so clear cut.  It’s nice when they divide their qualifications into “required” and “desired,” but this doesn’t always happen.  Use your best judgment, and you may even reach out to them and ask for clarification, but don’t find yourself on someone’s blacklist down the road because you sent them a pointless application now.

– Apply only for jobs that you’re truly interested in and would consider taking if offered.  Once again, there’s a bit of gray area here, because it’s certainly possible to be interested in a job, and then go on an interview and not like the work environment or find the attitudes of potential colleagues off-putting. But if you’re not willing to move to a certain country/state/city/town, don’t apply.  It’s a waste of your time and theirs.  Put your energy into doing a better job on applications for places you’re actually interested in working.

– Follow the instructions in the ad.  You would not believe how many people eliminate themselves from job searches just by “demonstrating” that they can’t follow simple instructions.  If it says “no phone calls,” don’t harass the contact person with calls.  If it says you need to fill out an online application form with their HR department, along with sending in a cover letter and resume, then do it.  Yes, a lot of these forms are appallingly redundant.  No, there’s nothing you can really do about it.  When you fill out said forms, spelling and grammar count, just like they do on your cover letter and resume.  If you’re asked to include a writing sample, a website sample, your references, transcripts, or any other documentation, you need to include them.

– More and more places are asking for references up front.  If they’re specified on the job ad, make sure you include them.  If you’re asked for “three professional references,” professors don’t count.  Ideally, all three professionals are library professionals, but at the very least, at least one should be a person who has supervised you in a professional work environment.  Pick people who really know you well and can give an honest appraisal of your work.  Be aware that in today’s lawsuit-happy environment, some companies prohibit their employees from giving references beyond the dates you worked there.  Check with your references and find out what they’re able and willing to share before you include them.

– This should go without saying, but if you’re going to use someone as a reference, get their permission to include them first!  Not only is it courteous, but it gives you a chance to screen for possible disasters.  If someone seems unsure about giving you a reference, ask them about their hesitation.  Better to find out and correct a negative behavior before you find out that your reference is giving you less than stellar reviews.

– Send in your materials on or before the deadline date.  If one isn’t listed, get the materials in as soon as possible.  Show that you can be prompt and on time.  If you find an ad for a dream job, and the deadline date is past, you might consider contacting them and asking if they would consider accepting an application late.  Explain that you’re really interested in the job and just saw the ad, and would like to apply if they’re still willing to take your application.   Whatever you do, don’t get in the habit of sending late applications out – it makes you look disorganized.

– Don’t be surprised if you never hear from most of the places you send applications to.  It’s sad, in someways, that as applicants, we’re expected to be on our best behavior and be as courteous as possible, but said courtesy is often not returned by employers.  Very few will contact you to let you know your application has been received and/or is complete.  It’s great when they do, but don’t expect it to happen.  Some employers will never contact you.  Some will contact you to let you know you didn’t get the job, but only after a candidate has been hired, which can be several months after you initially sent in an application.  Some will contact you once they’ve selected candidates to interview, and let you know that you’re no longer under consideration.  And, of course, some will contact you asking to set up an interview (we’ll tackle that in the next post).

Keeping Yourself Sane While Job Hunting

As anyone who has spent time job hunting can tell you, the process has a nasty way of threatening to take over your life.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in searching for new leads, obsessively trying to make contact on LinkedIn and at networking events, feverishly churning out cover letters and resumes, and checking your phone and e-mail every ten minutes to see if you’ve gotten the all-important call back.

Important, of course, but it can also make your life miserable.  More importantly, the more you slip into panic mode, the more likely it is your work will suffer.  If you’re cranking out five cover letters and resumes a day, but they’re all mediocre, you’re not likely to make any progress in your search.

With that in mind, here are some tricks that helped me maintain my health and sanity while job hunting:

Organization

This is key.  First, whenever I found a job I was interested in applying to, I printed out the posting right away.  If there was absolutely no way to get to a printer, I would email myself with the heading “job posting” and print any such emails as soon as I got home.

Once the posting was printed out, I printed the due date at the top with a bright pink marker.  I then filed the post in a folder, organized in order by due date.  For jobs with no date listed, I assigned an arbitrary date of one week after I saw the posting.  Due dates were also entered into my day planner.

When it came time to work on an application, I took the top item out of the folder.  After perusing the institution’s website, I would staple any notes I had made to the position description.

Once an application was complete, the position description and notes went into a new folder (“completed applications), organized in alphabetical order by institution, easily accessible in case an interviewer came calling.

If I received an interview, phone or in person, I retrieved the posting and notes from the completed applications folder, along with a copy of the resume and cover letter from my computer, and put all of these things in their own folder, so they were all together and accessible when interview time came.

In addition to organizing your job search, make sure you’ve got the rest of your activities organized, as well.  This is especially important if you’re finishing up school.  Make sure your assignments are also entered in your planner.  If you don’t have a planner, start one for free using an online application like Google Calendar.  Schedule time to complete your reading, papers, presentations, group meetings, and anything else you need to fit into your life along with your job search.

Downtime

However hard it may be, you have to spend some time not focusing on school or your job search.  Both tend to demand attention and suck up a lot of your time, but not having some downtime to relax can be very detrimental.  There are any number of things you can do to spend some time away from work, school work, and your job search.  Read a good book.  Exercise.  Meditate.  Try a new restaurant with friends.  If you have a hobby such as knitting, scrapbooking, painting, etc., schedule some time for it.  Spend at least a few hours a week focusing on yourself and things you LIKE to do, rather than things you HAVE to do.

Someone to Talk To

Actually, I’d recommend two someones.  One should be a friend or colleague who has good grammar and writing skills and is willing to read and comment on cover letters and resumes.  Even when you write a new letter and resume for every application (which you should be doing), they all start to sound the same after a while, and when this happens, it becomes easier for the brain to miss corrections that need to be made, or to gloss over things as we proofread.  A fresh set of eyes is quite useful.  Pay the person with food or beer or an IOU, but find somebody who can give you honest feedback.

The second person should have nothing to do with your job search whatsoever.  This is the person who will listen to anything and be supportive – the person you go to when you need to bitch, or need a reassuring thought.  This might be a trusted friend, parent, or supportive partner.  It might be a professional counselor or therapist.  The point is that this is somebody who will listen when the going gets tough (which it almost certainly will).

Once you’ve figured out a basic method of organization for your search, you’re ready to begin searching in earnest.  Next week (or soon thereafter), we’ll cover my favorite sites to find job postings.

The Ethics of Innovation Webinar

While most of my posts so far have focused on job hunting, it’s not my intention to focus on it exclusively.  So today, I want to talk a little bit about the webinar I attended yesterday, “The Ethics of Innovation,” which was co-sponsored by OCLC and Library Journal (LJ).  But before I do, since I know many of you found this blog looking for job-hunting information, it’s worth that there are a good number of free webinars in the library world, and to attend most of them, all you need to do is register ahead of time.  They’re a great way for new librarians and library students to hear about some of the current developments and trends, and also to network with existing librarians.

So, moving on to the actual webinar….Moderator Wayne Bivens-Tatum (Princeton), and panelists Gary Price (ResourceShelf.com) and Liza Barry-Kessler (Privacy Council, LLC) led a great talk about the crossroads that libraries find themselves at, and the constant ethical questions that are raised by ongoing innovation, particularly with regard to technology.  There was also a good discussion on Twitter – you can search for the hashtag #ethicsIQ.

Some of the take-away points and questions that were raised:

Today, libraries play many roles.  We aren’t simply distributors of information.  We can be publishers, technology consultants, content gateways, service providers, social hubs, and gatekeepers.

  • By gatekeepers, we don’t mean in the traditional sense, where we protect the books and other physical objects.  Rather, we mean that we want to share information with users when and where the user wants it.
  • By technical consultants, we don’t mean that we turn into the help desk.  However, we are able to assist users with basic tasks such as setting up email accounts, navigating a typical webpage, and printing documents.
  • Users expect innovation and will go elsewhere to find it if they don’t feel that libraries are keeping up.

With regard to library services, increasing the ease of use unfortunately tends to also increase the ease of misuse.  For everything wonderful technology can provide, there are also potential negatives – the largest being having private information such as user data fall into the wrong hands.  This leads to the question of what are we required to teach our patrons about ethical use of resources?  How do we walk the line between being a content provider and being the copyright police (which most agreed was a bad idea)?

  • Given that most electronic and digital materials aren’t stored in our physical library spaces, what are our ethical responsibilities regarding the use of these materials?
  • How can we partner with our vendors rather than playing cops for them or ignoring ethical violations all together?
  • Computers in libraries have raised a number of “pass-through” ethical issues.  Library computers are often used to access non-library sites, where users engage in behavior such as spamming, cyber-bullying, and illegal mass downloading.  Does the library have any responsibilities in these areas?

To what extent are libraries responsible for what patrons do with the information that they access from our resources?

  • This one raised a lot of discussion on Twitter.  Some people felt that librarians’ primary responsibility was to find the patron the info, and that we can’t be held responsible for what the patrons do with it.  Others advocated a more pro-active approach…while we certainly can’t, and in my opinion, shouldn’t, be held responsible if a patron does something illegal with information obtained in a library, we can and should be part of their education regarding copyright and privacy practices (and I said education, not policing, lest I find myself mis-interpreted).
  • The traditional view of libraries and privacy focuses on protecting user privacy and user data with regard to internal library resources.  A more educational view of libraries and privacy focuses on educating users about privacy issues that affect them inside and outside of the library.

It’s really important for libraries and librarians to know and understand their vendor contracts and licenses.  You and the vendor should have a clear sense of your library’s goals before you agree to any contracts.  You should also understand what the vendor’s goals are.  As Gary Price pointed out, vendors aggregate and collect TONS of user data, which is highly valuable to a number of people for a variety of reasons.  Understand what they are doing with your patron data before you sign anything.

Libraries should have an ethics policy/strategy, and it should be evaluated and updated regularly as new technologies emerge.  Too often, we only look at these policies once every ten years, or after a problem has surfaced.  We could probably save ourselves a number of headaches with more consistent updates.

Ethical issues and legal issues are not the same.  We can all point to laws that are or have been unethical, and we often engage in behavior that is technically illegal but we don’t find it to be unethical.  The presenters offered the example of sharing a PDF of a journal article with a friend who works at another library or college that doesn’t subscribe to a particular journal or database.  Many of us would do this without hesitating – we’d look at it as helping a friend out.  But, in the eyes of the law, it is piracy, of the same ilk as DVD piracy…something most of us would probably refuse to engage in.

If anyone else attended the webinar and wants to share their impressions, I’d love to hear them.

A Year Before You Graduate…

I think the best piece job-search related advice I received during library school was to make sure I didn’t wait until the last minute to start compiling a resume and look at job ads.  In fact, Louise Robbins, Professor at UW-Madison, said at a workshop that you should start reading job ads and tweaking your resume as much as a year in advance of completing your library degree.

I found this to be important for several reasons.  First, by examining job ads a year before you go on the market, you can tell if the courses you’ve completed thus far are in line with what employers are looking for, and what you might still need to add to your grad school experience.  For example, I really didn’t want to take a cataloging class, but after seeing a number of ads for reference and/or instruction librarians that were blended positions requiring, at the least, some knowledge of cataloging principles, or in many more cases, reference and instruction jobs that also included cataloging duties, I realized that it wasn’t a class I could or should skip.   Job ads will also give you a sense of what level of technology skills various types of employers and libraries are looking for.

With a year left in school, you don’t need to be exhaustive and read every last job ad that comes out, but checking the Chronicle of Higher Education weekly for a month or surfing ALA JobLIST a few days a week is time well spent.  You can surf JobLIST for free, and you can probably find the Chronicle in your school’s library databases.  You can also probably find a hard copy in any number of offices around your campus.

The other thing you should start doing well in advance of graduating is compiling your resume and/or C.V. (Academic Librarian and Archivist-types: you’ll need both.  I’ll talk about the differences in a later post).   When I started library school, I had come straight from another graduate program, and I hadn’t updated my resume since I was looking for undergrad student work (think MS Word 98 layouts).  My C.V. was in slightly better shape, but it still needed some work.

Workshops and feedback are among the best ways to start tweaking your resume.  During my first semester at SLIS, I attended a resume workshop which was hosted by SLIS director Louise Robbins, Wisconsin Writing Center Director Brad Hughes, and a recent graduate of the program (whose name has unfortunately escaped me).   Louise handed out a great packet – recent graduates who had successfully gotten jobs – and she included the job listing, the cover letter, and the resume of the applicant, and she had one each for academic, public, school, and special libraries.  During her portion of the workshop, she talked through several of the points in each letter and resume, and what she did and didn’t like in each one.  If I remember correctly, the academic example belonged to Andy Burkhardt, and I liked the layout of Andy’s resume so much that I used it to inspire my own redesign.

If your library school is offering resume or C.V. workshops, by all means, attend them.  Workshops offered by your school’s career center are also valuable, if less discipline-specific.  Once you have a working resume or C.V., have it critiqued by a professional in the field who regularly reads resumes and actually hires people.  If your LIS program offers this opportunity as a workshop or consultation-based service, take advantage and sign up for an appointment.  If you aren’t able to have a face-to-face consultation with someone, consider the ALA New Members Round Table Resume Review Service. (You do need to be an NMRT member to use the service, dues are quite reasonable for students).

Getting a grip on job ads and the mountain of expectations they often contain, and starting to organize your resume in a way that highlights your ability to meet those expectations is not an overnight process, and getting a head start well in advance of graduation will save you from many a stressful headache as graduation draws near and the search goes into high gear.

Library Work Experience

If you’re currently in library school, you’ve probably already discovered one of the profession’s dirty little secrets.  That promise that there would be plenty of jobs available soon?  That there are all of these aging librarians out there who are going to retire at any minute and leave plenty of jobs open for recent graduates?  Yeah, it’s all a myth.  The truth is there are far more librarians looking for work than there are jobs available.

At any given moment, there are roughly 200 positions listed on ALA’s JobLIST website.  There are 62 accredited library schools in the country, each graduating anywhere from 15-60 students per year.  You do the math.  Of course, half of the positions listed aren’t entry-level anyway, so that leaves even fewer positions for folks looking for a first job.  Certainly, JobLIST isn’t the only place you should be looking for listings, but you get the idea.

I don’t want to get too heavily into the debate of whether or not LIS programs are simply admitting too many students for now.  From their point of view, they have to admit students–students who pay tuition–in order to satisfy the demands of their parent institution.  Fewer paying students lessens the program’s worth in the eyes of bottom-line-focused administrators.  The problem is, fewer students would also mean a better job market for those that do make it through.  So don’t be too hard on your LIS program – they’re caught between a rock and hard place.

Instead, I’m going to focus on what you can do to improve your chances of landing a job by sharing some of the things that made me successful.

I’m going to start with the single most important item – library work experience.  By the time you graduate, you MUST have some library work experience on your resume.  The degree alone isn’t going to cut it – not with so many job seekers out there.  At minimum, you’ll have completed a practicum/field project/internship, etc. as part of your library degree, but you shouldn’t stop there.  Look for as many opportunities as possible to get involved in library work.

This may mean taking a low-paying/minimum-wage part-time position as a shelver or circulation worker to get your foot in the door.  If you already have a full-time job you can’t sacrifice while you are going to school, think about volunteering.  Plenty of libraries, both public and academic, rely on a steady stream of volunteers, particularly in these lean times, to keep things running smoothly.  If you’re wondering, I did both circ/shelving and volunteer work.  The point is, you need to set foot in a library and do some work there before you graduate.

Most of the applicants on the market will have at least some work experience in a library before they graduate.  If you don’t, you’ll be way behind from the start.

Keep in mind, particularly if you’re on a large university campus, that you likely won’t get a library job simply by firing resumes at the online student work website.  There are  too many students applying, and you’ll just get lost in the shuffle.  I tried this route during my first semester in library school and got nowhere.  During second semester, I walked up to the desk, asked who hired circulation workers, and asked to be introduced to that person.  Forty-five minutes later, after presenting my resume and having a brief interview, I had a job.  If you are persistent without being pushy, good things generally happen.