How do I articulate my career goals?
April 20, 2019 2:29 AM   Subscribe

I've just finished my master's in library and information science (yeah, I know), anyway, I'm now starting to apply for jobs and I'm stumped by what to write in a cover letter for an academic library internship. I'm supposed to write statement regarding my career goals and interest in academic librarianship. I don't have any career goals beyond "get a job in a library" so how am I supposed to articulate something more than that?

I know that the libraries are a tough field to crack and I have experience working in a school library (my day job), so I haven't really allowed myself to have any "goals" related to specific types of library jobs because I've been told I should just take what I can get in the field, because it's so tough.

I mean, I think working in academic libraries would be nice. There are lots of opportunities in academic libraries to provide cutting edge services and, for example, I love doing cataloging and related bibliographic services, and those positions are more likely to exist (in my experience) in academic libraries. I really don't know what they would like me to say, that I've always dreamed of working in an academic libraries? That it's a calling? Same thing with my career goals in general, like... do they want me to say a position I want in the future? Because I don't know!

I probably won't get this position anyway, because I haven't actually worked in an academic library (although that isn't a requirement), so it's probably a long shot. I would like to give this application a shot, though, any advice?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think talking about being excited to provide cutting services is a great thing to talk about in cover letter like this. I would specifically advise against saying things like it being a calling or “what you’ve always wanted to do”, because those are vague.

The goal in your cover letter is to connect your skills, experience, and interests to the opportunity the are offering. Be as specific as possible. Try to relate projects in your day job or in your course work to the internship description. Do a little digging to learn the kinds of innovative services this library is providing and write about how you hope to get experience with them, and the contributions you think you could make toward pushing them forward.

And try to get feedback on a draft of your letter. Do you have former classmates currently working in academic libraries? They might be a good source of feedback. If your school has a career service, they are another good potential source for a place to talk about your career goals. It’s important to practice articulating those goals and to practice writing these letters. Good luck!

(Source: I am an LIS professor but maybe not your LIS professor (IAALISP/MNYLISP))
posted by ewok_academy at 4:35 AM on April 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

AskaManager has great advice here. She also frequently posts well done ones if you do a search.
posted by edbles at 4:58 AM on April 20, 2019

I really don't know what they would like me to say, that I've always dreamed of working in an academic libraries? That it's a calling? Same thing with my career goals in general, like... do they want me to say a position I want in the future?

That’s a good opportunity for you to show that you understand the kind of work done there and you are genuinely interested in the job. After you lay out what you bring to the table, you branch out from that with “I would like to expand my skills by getting experience in [things the library does]” and note why this particular job is a good match for getting those experiences. It’s ok if your real goal is just to get the job—we’ve all been there! But imagine there is a candidate who has a burning desire to work in that particular library—what would that person say about why they’re applying? What is distinctive about this job, that you couldn’t get from another academic library; what is distinctive about academic libraries, that you couldn’t get from a related field?
posted by sallybrown at 5:54 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

The central question I want every cover letter to answer is, why you are going to do well in this job. You love cataloging? Why? How’s that tie to experience, schooling, hobbies, anything? Show a little depth about what you know and love about cataloging. Sure, tomorrow you might write a cover letter saying how much you love the reference desk. It’s ok, we contain multitudes.
posted by advicepig at 7:07 AM on April 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

You might learn a bit more about the user community (including any recent recruitment/retention efforts), or specific collections that are relatively unique to this place. Is there anything in there that motivates you, or that you feel like you connect with on a deeper level? Even if you were okay with *any* job in that library, you might still aspire to help parts of their specific community, or to further collections in a specific area that they focus on.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:29 AM on April 20, 2019

In my decade of hiring new librarians at an academic library, what we look for is that they understand the field, can tie our requirements to their experience, and that they want this job—the job we are advertising for.

For your statement, I’d spend an hour or so researching the issues facing cataloging librarians and the school in general so that you can write in context. I’m thinking of the decrease of traditional in-house local cataloging and the increased need for knowledge of metadata and scholarly communication, cataloging in shared resource environments (are they in a consortium or do they have multiple campuses?), and maybe generally how the work of catalog librarians affects the larger library. For career goals, you can talk about contributing to the field through research and publication, getting involved in professional organizations, becoming a leader in your specific area of interest. I think they are probably looking for evidence of sustained commitment and engagement rather than for you to name specific future jobs.

Is there a job ad for the internship? Does it list minimum and preferred qualifications? Structure your cover letter with an intro and a conclusion paragraph. In between, each paragraph addresses each of the qualifications. They want “knowledge of metadata standards”, you write “my interest and experience with metadata standards includes Dublin Core and XYZ and stems from my coursework where I completed Project ABC”. Do some research on the library, so if they say something like “experience with professional organizations” you can say something like “my experience in this co-curricular or extracurricular organization would translate well to working in groups like [their consortium or state library association]”. You can consolidate some of the bullet points/paragraphs if it makes sense, but you want to address each qualification so that you get through the initial round of screening.

Also—is this something your school could help with? Career services, or one of your professors? Could the alumni office put you in touch with a graduate doing a similar job? The field isn’t that bad and academic positions are absolutely within reach. Don’t count yourself out!
posted by stellaluna at 11:23 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here you go. A couple years out of date, but should give you some ideas.

Don't be apologetic or pessimistic about your career - the library job market is, from my perspective, as strong as it's been since the recession, and your school library experience is valuable. There will be folks applying for this internship who have no paid library experience. You mention "cutting edge services" - if you're good with technology, you have an additional edge.

Make sure you're taking advantage of services from your state or regional library association - show up at conferences, sign up for carer services, and get your foot in the door. You've got this!
posted by toastedcheese at 1:44 PM on April 21, 2019

I also play a role in hiring new academic librarians (though for closer to six years than a decade) and I'm a supervisor of new librarians as well. stellaluna's advice is excellent and I'm going to expand on it a bit.

First, take a look at the requirements and desired qualifications of whatever position you're looking at, whether it's an internship or permanent position. In your cover letter, write about how a) your previous experience, b) coursework, or c) genuine interest factor into all of the required qualifications and the relevant desired ones.

We have a rubric for our searches and applicants are assigned points based on how well they address our qualifications (preferably in the cover letter but we'll also dig into the CV if needed). A truly amazing number of people have relevant experience or coursework but fail to tell us this. So a new grad will go pretty far in our application process just by walking us through how their coursework and interests align with our job requirements.

Just connect the dots for us; we're busy people and so much happier when you make it easy to figure how your experience fits into our applicant pool.

Second, you do need to muster up some enthusiasm for our actual job. Whether it's connecting with (and reading!) our strategic plan or discussing a sentence in our job ad about our philosophy towards metadata or RDA or whatever, you need to convey that you read and connected with what we have to say about our library and campus. That's a factor in our rubric, too. It's also really easy to tell when it's new grad hiring season (now, btw) and cover letters are being generated without a lot of thought or energy. Those applicants don't make it far in our process.

Finally, academic library jobs aren't that hard to get. So believe in the experience and knowledge you have to offer and that you will being enthusiasm and energy to the job and just apply to what appeals to you.

Feel free to MeMail or email me with a cover letter or questions. I work with new grads on the regular at ALA or other large conferences and am happy to help you. Plus, we're hiring.
posted by librarylis at 2:07 PM on April 22, 2019

Also, your career goals can be to get really deep in your expertise of [whatever job is about] through learning from peers, professional development and training, and reading. We don't need a library full of leaders; we also need deep experts. Those two, leader or expert, are the typical career goals of mid-career librarians. So that's an easy thing to put in that section.
posted by librarylis at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2019

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