I think the most difficult part of a resume isn’t the resume at all. It’s the cover letter. While it is often acceptable to extend a resume beyond 1 page to accommodate the many accomplishments in your life, the 1 page cover letter seems to still be a hard-fast rule. During my time on search committees I saw a lot of cover letters. Some were frustrating, others were acceptable, but few were outstanding. Here is the thing, if I think about the people who actually got an interview (phone and in-person), were often the ones with the best cover letters.
The worst cover letters were short and briefly rehashed what I would find in the resume. They would have the following info:
- Who I am
- What I am applying for
- How I found out about this job
- Contact me if you want to set up an interview.
Most of these things should be on a cover letter. I would argue that you probably don’t need to say how you find out about a job unless you feel there is something special about it. Did someone important suggest you apply? Was it from a source they may not know about? Keep in mind, if they want to know how you found out about the position, they may ask you in the interview. Other than that I do expect you to mention the other three points. What makes these cover letters the worst is that they provide little other information.
The OK cover letters are ones that do the above and then rehash their cover letter. They may mention they have done instruction for so many years, provided reference services, or whatever else they have done. It is simply a re-hash. There is nothing special about it.
The best cover letter I ever read, and the one I tried to mimic when I started a second job hunt, was a two page cover letter that really expanded on the resume and told a story of how this librarian got to this stage in her career. It talked about specific project and her involvement in said projects. It addressed elements of the job description that may have not been easy to fully communicate in her resume. Finally, it explained a bit of her point of view: teaching philosophy in that care. She talked about her approach to instruction and her understanding of changes to library instruction.
When writing a cover letter I really like to read these things. The resume is merely a checklist of what you have done, but there is no way to set context. For example, for 4 years I supervised student at the library information/reference desk. That’s what my resume will say. Most people will understand what that means at a fundamental level. If I apply for a job that specifically asks for me to have supervisory experience, I would use my cover letter to explain that for 4 years I supervised about 20 students a semester for over 100 hours a week of desk coverage. I would share about how I managed to deal with students working during hours I was not present. I would explain how I trained them to provide user support at the primary service point in the library. I would do it all in about 4-5 sentences. The goal would be to help the search committee understand that I didn’t just sign off on a time-sheet for a couple students, but that I was responsible for running a major service point in the library.
This is why you should re-write each cover letter for each job. You should look at what each job is asking of you and then tell them the story about you in that context. If the job in question doesn’t require supervisory experience, I am not going to give them the story about supervising. I m going to give them they story their job description requires. Yes, many times you are applying for similar jobs. Yes, you may use the same story over and over. That is fine, but when I am on the other side of this process I want to read more than a re-hash of your resume.
If you decided to stick to that 1-page rule, remember that you have all that white space. I am going to read a well written cover letter that looks like more than a resume re-hash. I may skim over all resumes no matter how amazing they are. I am going to look for specific things. Use that space to tell us, at the very least, why you are the best candidate for this job. Tell us the story of your career.
Next time: Remember!