Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting a job, Part 1: The dreaded resume and cover letter

So I mentioned last Saturday that I would write a post soon about getting a job including interviews, resumes, cover letters, etc. I did that so that I would force myself to actually write it and not put it off. I'm partially chickening out. I'm only going to cover resumes & cover letters this time. I'll talk about interviews, electronic application, and the waiting game in later editions. Breaking it up should make it easier. This isn't specific to libraries, but it's still professionally important so I think it should be addressed here.

Nobody particularly likes writing about and marketing themselves. It goes against everything our mothers ever taught us about not bragging and being modest; and you don't want to sound too full of yourself either. But it is a necessary skill that must be acquired. So...

Learn to write a good resume. You will be writing one and updating it a lot. Resumes are not just for the job hunt but for other things you'll apply for such as grants and professional opportunities. I was never able to attend the few workshops offered during undergrad or grad school and I paid for it. I had no one to ask for advice (literally, no one seemed to know) so I broke down and bought a book.

The book I bought is called Same Day Resume : write an effective resume in an hour which is part of the "Help in a Hurry" series from JIST Publishing (a new edition is coming out in November). I liked it because it had a lot of examples of resumes, cover letters, and straight-talk instead of flowery inspiration. It taught me how your resume needs to look good not just sound good. It also has a good worksheet to help you figure out what to write if you're new to this. My favorite quote, and best bit of advice is from page 9, "This will be your resume, so you can do whatever makes sense to you. There are few resume rules that can't be broken if you have a good reason." No matter which book you go for, I would buy instead of borrow so that you can highlight and make notes.

I, personally, wrote a resume that was an amalgam of chronolgical and functional. Since I hadn't been out of school I needed to emphasize my library related jobs a bit more so I classified the ones that had library skills under "Library Related Experience" and then the other jobs under "Other Experience." I then listed more job duties/skills under the library related experience than under the "other." I also utilized years only for the duration rather than Month and year since some of the jobs were not very long and I didn't want to emphasize that.

As for Curriculum Vitaes (CVs), I have no idea. I've never had to write one and would rather not if I can avoid it. Their meant for faculty library positions and from what I can tell they're like resumes only a lot longer and in-depth.

Learn to write a phenomenal cover letter. For each position I applied for I spent an hour or more on each cover letter. That may sound like overkill, but in some ways your cover letter is more important than your resume. Spend time with it, rewrite it, and make it so that it truly reflects everything you want to say about yourself, what you can do for them, and why you want the job. Honing your letter writing skills now will also serve you a lot in your professional career. Many people are horrible letter writers these days due to the speed at which they write. My biggest tip for writing a good letter: Read it aloud like you were delivering it as a speech. This will often catch things that don't flow well or just feel awkward. You slow down more if you're reading a loud for an audience to reflect meaning and intonation. Remember your potential employer is reading this for the first time and you want to be polished so take your time and prepare.

Hope this advice helps someone out there. Have a good weekend.


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