Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Word about Cover Letters

My library recently conducted a successful search for an instruction librarian, a faculty position with duties involving reference, subject liaison work, and the coordination of our instruction program. We made a terrific hire, but the search committee read through a lot of less than stellar cover letters during the review process. In looking back, there were a few things I wanted to share. If you are looking for a job, I hope this is helpful.
  • Even if the job ad doesn't specifically tell you to do so, please address the specifics of the ad in your cover letter or online application. I'd like to see something that says why you want to work at my institution and what appeals to you about this job. It's not hard for us to spot generic letters that you're sending out to every place with a job announcement. Do your homework, and make us feel special! (At the very least, double check the job title and contact information before you submit the document. We're embarrassed for you if we know you didn't update the letter before sending it to us.) 

  • If you are currently in a geographically distant location, it wouldn't hurt to say something about why you would like to relocate. If this is your first professional job, that's fine. If you'll be closer to your family or your alma mater or your favorite beach, that's fine, too. You don't have to reveal personal details, but please indicate that you're aware there will be a move involved. If you've always wanted to live in middle Georgia and love hot, humid summers, say so! Otherwise, we may wonder why you'd want to leave your current area, but we might not put you through to the phone call or interview stage in order to ask you.

  • If you are currently employed in an institution that is markedly different from the one you're applying to, tell us why you'd like to make a change. For example, 
    • what would you see as the advantages of working at a small private university if you work in a large research institution?
    • do you like wearing a variety of hats instead of being pigeonholed into one kind of job all day?
    • is the position a logical career move, perhaps from a staff to a faculty status or becoming a department head?
    • do you want to work closely with a small group of colleagues?
    • does the smaller institution have a reputation for innovation or something that intrigues you?
Remember, job searches are expensive. We can't afford to bring every qualified candidate to campus for an in-person interview, so tell us what you think we need to know. Don't leave us wondering why you want to work with us; specify why you'd be a great candidate and why you'd love the job. It's ok to show some personality in your cover letter. Your goal is to make it to the next round of phone calls or in-person interviews, at which point we'll be talking to the candidates who rose to the top of a heap of applications. You can make our search a little easier by standing out from the crowd!

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