Hack your job application materials: streamlining the process

It was inevitable, no matter how hard I tried not to think about it. Staring down my fourth and last semester of library school, I knew it was time to get started on the job search.

There have been many excellent posts on job-hunting here at HLS and I encourage you to check them out! Additionally, In The Library With A Lead Pipe has also published a job-hunting editorial that I have found very helpful. The UW-Madison iSchool also has a specific job hunt toolkit that has been developed for current students and recent alumni, and it really has been a godsend, so I would recommend checking to see if your program has developed a similar set of resources. Most importantly, as I geared up to start the process myself, the first thing I knew I had to do was set up an organization system. 

Keeping track of everything:

I took a lot of cues from Jennifer Eltringham’s post on keeping your job search organized when organizing my own. In addition to keeping separate folders for the application materials, I kept a document in each folder where I pasted the entirety of the original job ad. Often ads are taken down after the deadline is passed, and it is very helpful to have a copy saved that you can refer back to when preparing for interviews or notifying your references! The other two folders in my “job hunting” section of my Google Drive are an “applied” folder where I move materials as I submit applications, and a “master documents” folder, where I keep all of my application material templates. 

The master documents:

There are always horror stories making the rounds about applicants putting the wrong organization’s name in their cover letter, or leaving important pieces blank. You really do not want that applicant to be you! I like to highlight the spots where I need to fill in information for individual positions in a nice bright neon color so I am sure not to overlook them.

Photo of the first paragraph of a cover letter, with spots for the "[position]" and "[institution]" highlighted in bright blue

So why use master documents? You’ve probably heard that it’s important to customize your application materials to include keywords from the job ad. Depending on the institutions you’re applying to, some job ads ask for a CV, whereas some ask for a resume (and it turns out that the two are different). 

Librarianship is also my second career, so I have a bit of experience that spans multiple industries. If a job ad is specifically asking for leadership experience, my former work leading a team of lifeguards at the local pool might be relevant, but if the job is specifically looking for experience teaching information literacy, I might want to pick something else to highlight (read more about the value of non-library experience). 

Taking the time to write out all of your most relevant experiences, and keeping them in a master document, means that you can copy and paste the ones that best fit the job, ultimately saving you more time than starting a cover letter from scratch for every application. 

How I use the templates: 

When starting an application, the first thing I do is make duplicates of my master cover letter and CV and put them in a folder labeled for that particular job, along with my text version of the job application. 

I then customize each document according to the institution, using keywords from the job ad and cutting or modifying each experience to make sure it’s clear how I fit the required qualifications. I was advised by an alumni of my program that it is important to make it extremely obvious that you are tailoring your application materials to the job. Often applications are screened by HR before they even see the hiring committee’s desk. While you don’t want to copy and paste the required qualifications from the job ad into your cover letter verbatim, make sure you pick out the most important keywords and use them. Job-hunting is time-consuming no matter how organized and efficient you are, but the easier you make it on yourself, the less soul-sucking it will feel.

While writing out every accomplishment you’ve ever done is a lot of work up front, having that bank of experiences to draw from and modify has made my application process much smoother. In addition, you don’t have to wait until you’re ready to start applying for jobs to start writing down experiences, and building up your templates. 

Do you have any tricks or tips for hacking job applications? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo by Brandy Kennedy on Unsplash

Robin Gee is the Community Manager of Hack Library School, and a student at University of Wisconsin Madison, focusing on instruction and reference in academic libraries. You can find them on Twitter at @robinmgee 

1 reply

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 )

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