Dozens of attendees gathered in the ALA JobLIST Placement Center at the 2015 Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco on Saturday to learn tips on how to get a foot in the door when applying for jobs.
The one-hour, standing-room-only program—titled “The Key to Getting Interviews: Great Cover Letters and Résumés”—was led by ALA Human Resources director Dan Hoppe, who has received thousands of résumés and cover letters over the course of his 18-year HR career.
A cover letter, he says, is a “call to action” and should be tailored to the position for which you’re applying. He says he can tell when an applicant “shotguns” out a generic cover letter. “At the end of the day, it’s not specific for what a hiring manager may be looking for,” he says.
Hoppe discussed the three key parts of every cover letter: the introduction, the middle body, and the conclusion. The first paragraph ought to clearly identify the position you’re applying for, whereas the next section should accurately describe what you have to offer the prospective employer, including specific qualifications that match the position. Hoppe suggests concluding every letter with a thank you and reiterating your interest in the position.
If you’re unsure about the salutation, Hoppe says, “‘To whom it may concern’ may be the best catch-all you can have.”
To follow up on an application, he recommends waiting until at least five days after the job posting has expired to confirm receipt, if you haven’t received one already. “[It’s] the real world, folks: If you don’t hear from us, we’re not interested,” Hoppe said. “To constantly bug and bug and bug someone just doesn’t work.”
Do a little homework and be ready to address why you want to work for a specific employer. The tone and tenor of a cover letter shouldn’t be too confident, but not too casual either, he says. Avoid a word like “expert,” and don’t make unsubstantiated “boasts.” An applicant should be able to back up bold assertions that he or she will significantly improve an organization, by demonstrating that he or she has done it before and giving examples of how those successes will translate into the open position.
When applying online via email, always attach the cover letter and résumé (or CV); copying and pasting text often leads to formatting errors. CVs—unlike résumés—are generally three pages long and are meant to spotlight your accomplishments. They should list coauthors, copresenters, etc., in order to “give credit where credit is due,” says Hoppe.