Resume and Cover Letter: Starting Point; Interview: Selling Point
I recently reviewed the resume that I used to obtain my current library position. After reviewing it, I realized that my resume wasn’t really all that impressive for position that I applied. What probably got the hiring manager (my current boss) to pick up the phone and call me for an interview was my cover letter.
The ad, from what I can recall, wanted an “enthusiastic, friendly, outgoing, and motivated” person to apply for the job. Trust me, I am all that and a bag of chips. (One of the few areas in which I am confident.) I had dreamed of being able to help patrons at the library desk since I was a library page at the tender age of 14. (smile) But my resume excelled in nothing but journalism and editorial experience. How in the world could I convince a hiring manager that someone who had a mostly solitary work experience background could translate into an energetic person who would “relish” (yes, I used that word) the opportunity to work with the public?
1. I sold my enthusiasm in the cover letter.
I used keywords from the ad to express to the hiring manager how much I wanted the position. It told her several things: (1) I’d read the ad, (2) I was the person she wanted because I possessed the qualifications she listed, (3) I conveyed my enthusiasm (in a professional manner, of course) for a position that requested someone with enthusiasm.
2. I referred to related work experience that was not in my resume.
Doing something like that in a cover letter is probably not recommended unless you actually have work experience in the specific field you are looking to get into. I’ve been in the work force for the past 15 years. My chronological resume is certainly not going to reflect all of that, especially if I need to keep it to one page. So older work experience that didn’t fit on the page or wasn’t relevant fell off. And since the library job was my very first job, it would look odd to throw in experience from 1995. But the cover letter was the perfect place to mention it. Most (if not all) resume and career books will instruct you to avoid (if you can) repeating information that’s already on your resume.
When I mentioned my library work experience, I specifically said that it was my first job in the work force 15 years ago and gave the exact name of the library and the city and state it is located in. Why did I do this? Again, the job isn’t listed on my resume as recent work experience so I wanted the hiring manager to know that I wasn’t making stuff up just to get a job. Listing the exact name of the library and the city and state it’s located in gives me credibility that says, “Hey, if you want to verify that I actually worked here, look up this library, and give them a call.” Not that a hiring manager would or have time to do that simply from a cover letter but it was a bold step that likely helped my case.
Also mentioning that it was my very first job from a decade and a half ago gives the hiring manager the impression that it probably will not appear on my resume. More information beyond that requires an interview.
3. I developed reasons for wanting to work in the public sector before the interview.
If you’re making a big career change, the interview will be the place where you sell your abilities to meet the employer’s needs despite what’s on your resume. I knew my resume was weak in working with people and hoped my strength would lie in my understanding of how important the printed word is to the world. But I needed to develop reasons—I wrote them out—as to why I wanted to shift from working on individual projects to working with people. And I needed to convince myself that this was something I wanted to do before I could convince my potential employer too. This all had to be done before the interview.
4. I sold my skills and enthusiasm for the position during the interview.
Truthfully (because I could lie to you), I energetically walked into the interview expecting to extol the wonders of libraries, how much I love them, and how they are important to society. The hiring manager wanted to know whether I had customer service skills. All the enthusiasm in the world couldn’t have sold her on my qualifications unless I could prove to her—through the interview—that I did.
Quite frankly, that caught me off guard. Journalists and editors need to have teamwork skills, but it’s not a field that requires customer service skills. And to be honest, I hadn’t thought much about customer service in assisting library patrons. So what did I—could I do?
I thought about my experiences as a customer and expounded upon that. I explained how I would treat others based on memories of bad customer service experiences. And as I gathered myself together (don’t let them see you sweat!), I remembered that I had retail and call center experience (which qualifies as customer service experience) and drew upon those recollections as well.
I think the hiring manager referred to my resume once or twice during the interview. My resume no longer mattered; I needed to articulate what I could offer the library with what wasn’t listed on the resume.
5. I followed up with thank-you e-mails after the interview.
A day or two after the interview, I sent the hiring manager a thank-you e-mail thanking her for her time and consideration and letting her know I was still very much interested in the position. Normally, I send handwritten notes (I have legible handwriting!) but it’s a big library, and I didn’t want my note to get lost in a shuffle of mail. (Knowing what I know about mail at the library now, sending a thank you by e-mail really was the better choice.) Always send a thank-you note either by e-mail or snail mail to a potential employer. You have no idea the kind of advantage this gives you because most people don’t do this.
Sure, it’s just a library position, but it’s a position someone else (with recent library experience) might have been more qualified for. I don’t know who I was up against, but I’m positive that my resume wasn’t what got my foot in the door—it was my cover letter. And the position goes to the person who can best convince the employer in the interview that he or she has got what it takes to meet the needs of the company.