The Application Process: Keywords and Addressing the Requirements in the Job Advertisement

Earlier this week, I mentioned that I was graduating in May, and as such, I’m in the market for a job. Let me be real: Job hunting is not fun. In fact, I’d rather spend a day stuck in the DMV than work on applications. That said, it’s a necessity, so I’m sucking it up and getting on with it.

Back in November, SNAP conducted a chat on applications and initial interviews (Storify here). The fourth question was what the application process was like, and were there any particular challenges? Thank goodness for this question, because the responses let me know I was not alone. Some choice words from other chat participants included “horrible,” “mind-numbing,” “one long primal scream/panic attack,” “soul crushing,” and “DESPAIR AND HELL AND CRYING.” Yep, in all caps. As I was staring at the computer screen earlier this week, trying to convince myself to focus so I could get a particular application over with, it was nice to know I had some camaraderie in my misery. There’s unfortunately not a workaround for the application process, unless you’re sticking to small nonprofits that won’t have an HR department to filter “qualified” candidates. I cannot tell you how excited I was to email one resume and cover letter directly to an executive director. Hallelujah!

By this point in our careers, we’ve obviously heard the standard advice for applications, resumes, and cover letters – proofread, make certain the name of the library is correct for the job for which you’re applying, customize the resume to the organization. Etc., etc., etc. However, these things are worth reiterating, particularly because actual research has shown that search committees rank “failure to proofread the documents submitted” and “[f]ailure to tailor the documents to the position” as the top two reasons for job candidates being rejected. The third reason was “[f]ailure to meet the requirements of the position.” However, there’s wiggle room there, depending on the situation.

Government applications are notorious for their bureaucratic nature. University applications are nowhere near as tedious, but during a recent UNC SCOSAA resume review panel, Matthew Farrell, the digital archivist at Duke University, told attendees to make certain to match the words on our resumes and in our cover letters to the language used on the job announcement. There’s a story that went with his point, the gist of which is that HR departments rely on the language of the announcement when culling down the applicants, and they don’t know archival jargon. Therefore, they probably won’t know that two terms mean the same thing, and it can block your application from moving on to the next stage. While government applicants have been told for years to “repeat the keywords, repeat them again, and repeat them again” on applications, this is true to a lesser degree on applications to university jobs, too (though with less repetition required).

If you read In the Library with the Lead Pipe, you may have seen “What Not to Do When You Apply to Jobs.” There is a piece of advice in that article that says under no circumstances should you summarize the job application in your resume. However, the next paragraph says that you should absolutely state how you meet every requirement listed in the job ad. From two HR managers writing for ACRL’s blog: “It is important to highlight your experience, education, skills, and talents. However, keep in mind that the search committee is looking for a person who meets their organizational needs.” (Emphasis mine.) That, of course, ties back to Farrell’s advice. In part 2 of Kate Crowe‘s series for this blog, she also stresses the need to address every requirement.

There are mixed messages about whether or not cover letters matter. What everyone can agree on, though, is that you have to have one. I believe that if you have to write one anyway, it might as well be good. One site I love, but tragically hasn’t been updated since July 2014, is Open Cover Letters, and I actually have a single favorite cover letter. It’s this one. Truthfully, I don’t have the guts to start a letter out with claims I can predict the future, but I can certainly appreciate the effectiveness of the writer’s humor. The way he lays out his qualifications for the position is succinct, but effective. It takes all of a paragraph. Also, there’s no shyness about weaknesses either. If you read the third paragraph, you see the sentence about not working in a public library before (though, there is some experience in an archive, and the fourth paragraph drives home the desire to work in the public library setting) followed by the admission that he has never used Drupal (and in the fourth program, you see the promise to audit a web design class).

Finally, I wanted point out some wisdom from “Why I Won’t Hire You” from the perspective of a search committee member: “All your experience is in public/special libraries and you did not do a good job reminding me that most of the skills are the same or transferable. Yes, yes, I know we are all the same. A librarian is a librarian and so on. But the resumes I am looking at from academic types look like my resume. I understand them better. You have to make me understand you better and not assume that I will translate your experience for you.” (Emphasis mine.)

So, now that you’ve proofread, made sure to use the right keywords, and made your case about how you match every requirement listed in the job advertisement, you’re sure to get to the interview stage, right? Not necessarily. I found out last night that I didn’t get a job I had particularly wanted. I thought my skill set matched up so well, it was in an area of archivy that I love, and, to boot, it was close to my family! I had laid out specifically why I fit the job, and I had researched the collections and discussed them in my cover letter. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough this time.

What I do strongly believe, though, is that I will eventually make it to the top of the pile of resumes for a job that is yet to be determined. It might be an arduous process to get there – which it is for many people – but I’m going to keep customizing my resumes and cover letters and using the right keywords until I get there, because hopefully that will reduce my travel time to the final destination of full-time employment.

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One thought on “The Application Process: Keywords and Addressing the Requirements in the Job Advertisement

  1. Pingback: Rocking the Phone Interview | SNAP roundtable

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