Beginning with the Cover Letter

Cover letters may be one of the most difficult pieces of professional writing of our careers. The primary goal of a cover letter is to give potential employers an impression of who you are, inform them of the qualifications you possess for the position, and how you present yourself and communicate your thoughts. Most importantly, this provides you with an opportunity to show why you want a position at this institution and what you can do for them. Conveying these essential characteristics will help move your name to the keep pile. The challenge of expressing the reasons why you are qualified and should be considered for this position will be easier as you practice writing cover letters. Moreover, these one to two page documents will help you stand apart from the other applicants by highlighting your unique characteristics and skills.

 

Every cover letter should be unique for each job you apply for. Creating a template helps stabilize the structure of your cover letter. If there are a few sentences that really speak about you that are applicable to all jobs then you can keep those. Most of the content will change with each position you are applying for. Editing your cover letter for each job will show that you have taken the time and effort to thoroughly read the job description and qualifications required for that position. Tailoring your cover letter will be proof that you researched the institution and that you are a strong, confident candidate for the position.

 

Cover letters synthesize your resume with a position’s job description. Clearly and sincerely stating your purpose for applying to a particular job will help the search committee notice you because you connected the dots yourself instead of leaving it for them to put together. Each successive cover letter will be easier to write because you will know what to look for in the job description. Some job descriptions will explicitly state what they want you to address in your cover letter. Typically, employers want you to discuss what I stated earlier—how you meet the qualifications, what can you do for them, and why you want this position. Show detail and explain why you chose certain jobs and tasks to represent the qualifications they ask for. Through this document you have the potential to leave a lasting impression on individuals who could be your future coworkers.

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Job Descriptions as a Reference Tool

The job announcement is a valuable resource for identifying the skills and knowledge required in the current job market. Being able to decipher and understand what is expected from a job description will be vital as we begin applying for our first professional positions. The application process can be daunting, but using the materials made available by a job posting will give you an advantage to create a customized, specific cover letter and resume that will synthesize the skills required by the position and the skills you possess. The responsibilities and qualifications presented in job announcements can help shape the courses and jobs we choose to do while in graduate school.

Job announcements are not standardized but can offer useful insight into what prospective employers seek in their candidates. Also, the wording of job descriptions provides an indication of the duties and qualifications’ importance. The wording can be purposively vague which can be a chance to think creatively about what those qualification or job responsibilities might mean for that position and institution. In order to aggregate and utilize the information in the job descriptions, one can manipulate the information to facilitate its usefulness. After accumulating job postings in the areas and departments you wish to work in, organizing the information into an excel spread sheet is an excellent way to make the information accessible. The excel spreadsheet, or whatever manner you choose to organize the information, can be as detail specific as you want. For example, the  types of information you can extract from the job announcements are programs, technical skills, languages, responsibilities, and knowledge required for those positions.

A comparison of the requirements for different positions reveals nuances about tasks and the commonalities between them. This information can help you think about how to phrase your cover letters and resumes. Exposure to job announcements will help familiarize you with library and information science jargon and acronyms. It can help provide contextual evidence about what the culture and structure of the institution or library is like. Most job announcements provide a link to their institutional website which can be used to begin research the library, their mission statement, policies, and organizational structure.

Once we start applying to positions, creating a list, similar to the one above, of the title of the position, name of the institution, department the position is responsible to, location, the benefits offered by each employer, salary, the types of materials required for application, and the projected start date of the position is worthwhile because it will help you keep track of the positions you applied for. You can also add when you submitted the application, the reference you used, the date of your interviews, and any comments useful for future applications. This list can be individualized based on what the applicant wants from the jobs they are applying for. Job announcements not only provide insight into what type of employee an institution is looking for, but these descriptions can also be used in your career exploration.

Get Involved! Not Overwhelmed!

At a campus such as Indiana University and in a city such as Bloomington, it is easy and tempting to want to say yes to every gleaming opportunity. The myriad chances of working at historically rich institutions that are instrumental in their subject fields is tantalizing. Once this realization sinks in, the decision and calculation of how much time can be devoted to various interests, jobs, and projects must be done. The wonderful nature of librarianship is that it connects to and has tendrils in every field. Any activity has the potential to help make a library science student an exceptional future librarian. Translating course work, student jobs, internship, volunteer, and student organization experience into skills and knowledge for a job in the librarian profession is difficult but rewarding.The key essential to balancing academia with work and extracurricular actives is knowing your limits and shaping each opportunity to work for you.

Courses available through the Library Science program are a blend of pragmatic, hands-on learning and theory and history of field. Most of us will settle on a specialization or focus, but the students who haven’t declared a formal specialization have the ability to select the course that fit their goals. Even though a specialization narrows our choices of courses, we can still explore other topics that might interest us by auditing courses. Auditing courses affords students a chance to absorb and participate in the course as much as your schedule allows. Here are a list of courses for Indiana University’s Information and Library Science Department: http://www.soic.indiana.edu/graduate/courses/index.html

A fulfilling and challenging way to become involved and gain invaluable experience while studying for a Master of Library Science is working in the many libraries and departments and with collections housed at IU. The positions available are in various departments within the library where students are able to learn and develop professional skills required in employers’ job description. If a library or an institute does not have any available positions inquire about volunteering or interning with them. Volunteering and interning establishes your interest and willingness to give your time. These activities can yield interesting and erudite projects that one might not be able to accomplish during traditional jobs.  From all of these experiences, you are increasing your confidence and knowledge of the library science field. Here is the link for IU ILS Internship course: http://www.soic.indiana.edu/graduate/courses/index.html?number=z605&department=ILS

Another chance to get involved is with ILS Student Organizations. Most student organizations are student chapters of national associations. They help students prepare for committee work, working as a group, and expose them to different types of institutions through tours. Like many national associations, student organizations create workshops and conferences that allow students to gain experience in their own backyards. With student organizations, one can discover the amount of time they want to involve themselves and try to balance school, work, and organizations. Here is a link the ILS Student Organizations: http://www.soic.indiana.edu/career/students/find-job-internship/resources/ils-student-organizations.html.

Get involved with the opportunities and projects you want so you can learn and experience the library profession!