Cover Letters for Information Jobs
No matter the type of information job that you are seeking, the field has some basic recommendations for cover letters.
First, examine the job posting and dissect it. Look at what skills and traits seem to be the central focus. Once you look at the top five or so, chose two or three skills/traits that are also your strongest. Focus your letter on those skills and build your narrative in support of those aspects.
Because the discipline often looks for such a wide variety of skills, you can not address everything in a cover letter, so try and focus on the institution’s most important skills that also match your abilities.
Selling your strengths is important and blanket statements fall short. It is not convincing to say, “I have strong people skills.” The statement needs support. In what ways are you good with people? Give examples. Think of anecdotes that illustrate real situations that show your skill.
For example “Your job posting cites that you are looking for someone with strong people skills. I have six years experience in customer service. In this capacity I have often solved tough problems such as…… and I worked with the customer by….”
Professionals in the field often comment about limitations that they see in cover letters. Below are some tips from potential employers.
Nancy Bartlett, Associate Director, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan gives this recommendation:
“A good cover letter tells a compelling story and demonstrates equal measures of passion and results. A good letter does not simply repeat a resume in narrative form. It instead matches the applicant’s qualifications with the essential needs of the posting. It convinces the reader that this applicant has the skills, education, and life experience to enrich the institution and accomplish the work required.”
SLIS Alumni, Cathy Russ, Director of Troy Public Library, breaks down her advice into two clear categories:
- Please pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, mechanics. If you have a sloppy cover letter or resume, I am going to think you will do sloppy work on the job.
- You do not have to give me your life story in your cover letter—save something for the interview! I would like to know what you are most proud of, what you think should be highlighted. The cover letter should be no more than one page.
- Be familiar with forms of address, i.e. “Dear Ms. Russ,” and show appropriate respect. I get “Dear Cathy Russ” a lot and it’s just weird.
- The best cover letter is one where we get a sense of who you are. Don’t be afraid to be you—just be the best version of you! The best cover letters I see are the ones where I feel like I’ve gotten to know the person from tone, style, etc.
- I love when people talk about what they are proud of, what they’ve accomplished, what they hope to do, what they enjoy. It feels so positive and also gives me a sense of the person.
- The best cover letters/resumes are focused and it is clear that the applicant knows what he or she wants, not just the job but that you want to be a Youth Services Librarian.”
Developing the terminology for describing your skills can be a challenge. Consult a thesaurus or a solid career building site. Look at this one for a start :
As a summary, be sure to include:
- Be concise but spend a few sentences on each of the skills/traits that you have chosen to highlight.
- Include some reference to the institution and its accomplishments, trends, publications, grants received, something that shows that you are aware of their organization.
- Express why you want to work there, specifically.
- Close the letter professionally and mention your hope to further discuss the position.
Feel free to contact your Career Advisor for one-on-one assistance.
Kim Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org