Cover letter advice from a meme, really? Yes, really!

The image is a tumblr thread.
User hlwim asks "ugh how the blank do you cover letter?

user merylisk responds by posting the famous Luke Skywalker quote from Return of the Jedi, "Greetings exalted one. allow me to introduce myself. I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight and friend to Captain Solo.

I know that you are powerful, might Jabba, and that your anger with Solo must be equally powerful. I seek an audience with Your Greatness to bargain for Solo's life.

With your wisdom, I'm sure that we can work out an arrangement which will be mutually beneficial and enable us to avoid any unpleasant confrontation.

As a token of my goodwill, I present to you a gift: these two droids. Both are hardworking and will serve you well."

User siderealsandman replied:
1. Polite greeting (Greetings, Exalted One)
2. Self-introduction (I am Luke Skywalker)
3. Establish Credentials (Jedi Knight)
4. Explain how you learned about this opportunity (Friend to Captain Solo)
5. Establish purpose (I seek an audience with Your Greatness to bargain for Solo's life)
6. Show what you can bring to the organization (I present to you a gift: These two droids. Both are hardworking and will serve you well.)

I’ve seen this meme a couple of times now and I love it, because it’s not wrong, this really is the basic structure of a cover letter and I love the idea of using a Star Wars quote to teach people that basic structure. It has all the pieces you need, even though it’s not necessarily as lengthy as one would expect and the pieces aren’t necessarily in the same order. It’s a great example to just show someone how it works. Cover letters are specific to individuals and to positions. The cover letter I write for one position won’t be exactly the same as any one else’s and it won’t even be the same as I use for a different position. A good cover letter is a marketing document that tells a story, a story about why the reader should want to talk to you about the position they’re hiring for. I decided to try following the meme’s advice to build myself a cover letter, let’s see how I did. I’ll show you each piece and then leave the full letter at the end of the post so you can see how it all combined.

1. Polite Introduction

Dear Dr. Jane HeadLibrarian,

You don’t need to be anywhere near as fancy as Luke, you definitely don’t need to call the hiring manager exalted one, unless you happen to be applying to a job with royalty or religious leaders who happen to go by that title. You’ve got two basic options, you can use the title of the hiring manager as listed in the job ad, or you can do a little digging on the organization’s website to see if you can find the hiring manager’s name.

2. Self-introduction

I am Lauren Bourdages,

Always open your cover letter by stating your name just like Luke! I know you think you shouldn’t need to because your document had a header with your name, or you’re sending it by email and that should have your name to it. Really though it’s always polite to introduce yourself in the first sentence.

3. Establish Credentials

MLIS student in my second-to-last semester with seven years of experience working in copyright in an academic library environment.

As you’ll see below that statement appears in my first line similar to Luke’s use of the title of Jedi Knight. I do it that way because that’s my most relevant credential and experience for this specific job add, but I do have a lot of other academic credentials and work experience that comes into play. This is where Luke’s example becomes less helpful because most applicants will have more than one credential or piece of employment experience that makes them qualified for a position.

My final semester at the University of Alberta (UofA) will be fall 2021, and I will be taking a course on Instructional Practices in Library and Information Services. By the end of June 2021, I will have also finished the third level of their Graduate Teaching and Learning Program in which I am developing a course design portfolio, including creating a course on information literacy. In addition to my current part-time, online studies in the MLIS program at the UofA I have a Library and Information Technician Diploma from Conestoga College and both a BA and a BEd from WLU.

I like to include important supplemental bits of my education because all of my education had helped contribute to who I am as an employee and job candidate. I always tailor this so that it showcases the pieces of my academic background that are most relevant to the job ad.

4. Explain how you learned of this opportunity

As I said step 3 is where Luke’s template really makes it clear that it is a skeleton of an actual cover letter. Unless the ad specifically asks you to include this information, or you’ve got an internal connection to name drop, you can save the real estate and use the space you’d save for step 6 instead.

5. Establish Purpose

I’m very excited to be applying to the position of Copyright Librarian at the Generic University (GU) Library.

You need to establish your primary purpose early on by telling the person reading the letter which of their open positions you are applying for. They need this context so they can figure out if you match what they want.

I hope that after reviewing my attached resume that you give me the opportunity to meet with you and discuss my experience and skills as they relate to the position of Copyright Librarian at the GU Library. I would like to thank you for your time and consideration, I wholeheartedly look forward to having the chance to speak with you about this role and the GU community.

The other purpose you need to establish is that you want to meet with them to discuss this position. I like to include this at the end of my letters as a call to action for the hiring manager.

6. Show what you bring to the organization

Luke didn’t really do that, he showed them what he could give to the organization instead which isn’t really the same thing if you want to get technical.

The main this here is that this step should actually be what makes up the bulk of your cover letter. In and around the other four to five pieces you want to be sure you’re going through the job ad and hitting the notes about what they’re looking for and how you and your specific experience can provide that for them. Use your school assignments, work and volunteer experience here. Don’t just regurgitate your CV/resume pick stories that either don’t really have a place to live on your CV or that need a broad explanation than a line on the CV can adequately show off.

With these six steps you should be able to put together a pretty decent customized cover letter that should help to land you more interviews. Now here’s the one I came up with using this structure as a guide. Remember don’t try to take this as a whole or reuse any part of this, this cover letter is unique to me and my experiences. It uses my voice. You need to find your own voice to highlight your experiences.


Dear Dr. Jane HeadLibrarian,

I am Lauren Bourdages, a queer MLIS student in my second-to-last semester with seven years of experience working in copyright in an academic library environment. I’m very excited to be applying to the position of Copyright Librarian at the Generic University (GU) Library. Copyright and open licensing first captured my interest as a teenage writer and digital artist; however, since 2014 when I was hired as a Reserves and User Services Associate at the Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) library, I’ve transitioned that hobby to become the driving point of my career in libraries. With that in mind I’ve found ways to incorporate copyright, scholarly publishing, and open access/education into my graduate work and research wherever possible including writing a copyright focused research paper on the potential to use Traditional Knowledge labels to include Indigenous Traditional Knowledge in OERs, which I presented on at two conferences in late 2020.

My final semester at the University of Alberta (UofA) will be fall 2021, and I will be taking a course on Instructional Practices in Library and Information Services. By the end of June 2021, I will have also finished the third level of their Graduate Teaching and Learning Program in which I am developing a course design portfolio, including creating a course on information literacy. In addition to my current part-time, online studies in the MLIS program at the UofA I have a Library and Information Technician Diploma from Conestoga College and both a BA and a BEd from WLU. As an online student who also works full time, I am self-directed, something I’ve become even stronger at thanks to working from home since March 2020. It’s been a challenge to supervise and mentor the staff working in our course reserves office in a remote context, but I’ve developed processes to streamline it such as creating a small group chat on Microsoft Teams to mimic the assistance we provide each other in an open office; starting a tracking spreadsheet that acts similarly to a wall we normally use to track which courses need to be worked on and who is working on them; providing weekly statistical updates to the library’s senior administration to assist in staffing decisions; and setting up a biweekly copyright review meeting with the Manager of Instructional Design.

Recently, my colleagues recognized my service-oriented focus and my ability to build partnerships within and across university departments, and so I was nominated for an employee achievement award for collaboration. I would bring this focus and passion to the students, faculty, and staff at GU by helping faculty to improve their teaching practice, and ensuring student success through library instruction, research assistance, and outreach. I am user-centered first and foremost and am always looking for creative solutions to ensure my users get what they need.

One of the most valuable classes I have taken in my MLIS program is Indigenous Library and Information Studies in a Canadian Context. In addition to my research paper on Traditional Knowledge in OERs I worked closely with the Truth and Reconciliation Report, paying special attention to the calls to action that relate to library services and education. The other major project for this class was a toolkit designed to teach other library professionals how to work with the Indigenous Peoples in their communities to begin the process of decolonizing subjects in their catalogues. For this work the instructors invited my partner and I to join them as guest lecturers on Indigenous metadata to be used in future courses. Between this coursework and my role liaising with Indigenous faculty members to provide their course readings at WLU, I feel ready to work more closely with groups of Indigenous Peoples across Canada.

Based on what I’ve read about the copyright services on the GU library website, I believe that my experience, education and interests make me an excellent fit for providing the services at GU, as well as working to grow further services in copyright. I am especially excited to see that you already have an OER program in place at GU. OER is such an evolving area in copyright and teaching and learning, which has made me excited as a library professional. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of learning in this area, including developing a business case for the creation of an OER program at a mid-sized university, as part of an assignment. I hope that after reviewing my attached resume that you give me the opportunity to meet with you and discuss my experience and skills as they relate to the position of Copyright Librarian at the GU Library. I would like to thank you for your time and consideration, I wholeheartedly look forward to having the chance to speak with you about this role and the GU community.

Ms. Lauren Bourdages, BA, BEd, MLIS Candidate

© This cover letter is NOT covered by the CC License for the blog, I reserve all rights to this cover letter. Lauren Bourdages (2021)

In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) is currently working towards her MLIS part-time, online, through the University of Alberta, she expects to graduate in Spring 2022She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright, open education; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and recently finished a stint as a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat | about.me/laurenbourdages

4 replies

  1. Really helpful, Lauren! It’s been years since I’ve written an actual cover letter so I’ll be using your advice when I begin my librarian job search in less than a year from now!

    Like

    • I wrote one for the first time in three years last year so this is only my second one of in four years. That’s why I wanted to do it! Practice so I’m ready if and when the perfect opportunity arises! You can also check out Ask a Manager, that blog changed my whole outlook on resumes and cover letters and helped improve my interviewing too.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s