Will this job search never end?!
March 12, 2006 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out the proper wording for a cover letter.

In 2004 I interviewed for and was offered a position at a university library. I ended up turning it down because it wasn't the right fit for me at the time. I took another position at my current university, and worked there until the grant funding for my position ran out in December. Now the first university has another position open that's much more in line with what I want to do than the first position was. When I apply, do I mention in my cover letter that I've interviewed there before? Interviewed and been offered a position? Just not say anything and let it come up later?

Further info:
1. The head of the search committee is not someone who was on my previous search committee, so there's no obvious way to word things, like "you may remember me from the interview for Position X in September of 2004."
2. I left things on good terms with everyone I interviewed with the first time. I just took the other position because it more closely matched what I was looking for. So I don't think there would be any feelings of "she didn't think we were good enough the first time, so screw her!"
3. This position is in a different division of the library than the original position was, if that makes a difference, but it's a small school, so presumably everyone knows each other.

Anyway, what do you think, does mentioning I had an offer from them before make me look like a better candidate, or will it just make them think about whether I'll turn them down again?
posted by MsMolly to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why not just spill the beans? Something along the lines of: I had applied for and received an offer at your library, which I had regretfully declined because of X. X being the truth, malarky, or something in between that makes it seem like you made a reasonable decision in turning down the position in the past.

Stating what makes the position considerable now, as well as giving insight in to whatever personal change or growth, if any, may add to your credibility as well.

Good luck!
posted by herrdoktor at 7:57 AM on March 12, 2006

Not addressing this obvious concern is almost certainly a mistake. If you leave it out, they'll find out anyway and wonder why you didn't mention it. Clarify your intentions and if you're really serious about wanting the job now, say so.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:06 AM on March 12, 2006

I don't think you're under any obligation to bring it up, and it sounds like everything was handled professionally the first time around. Hiring and application information probably isn't kept longer than about 6 months for candidates that don't become employees, and in a university setting, so many names flow past their faces—all those students!—yours is unlikely to stand out. If you really think you're going to miss out on an interview opportunity because of it, listen to herrdoktor above, but otherwise silence is golden.

Now, if you do get to the interview and the question comes up, just answer it honestly. Or bring it up yourself. You found a better fit for yourself, and now they've got a better position for you than they had before. If you were qualified enough to have an offer made the first time, you should be even more so for this spot.

posted by phrits at 8:11 AM on March 12, 2006

I'd bring it up, just tell them what you told us. I actually think it makes you a stronger candidate since they wanted you the first time around and it sounds like you have good reason for having chosen the other job that time.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:31 AM on March 12, 2006

I wouldn't mention it in the cover letter. The cover letter is a sales pitch. You don't want anything in the letter to distract the reader from the core message, which is "I, MsMolly, am superstar qualified for this position, and this sounds like my dream job."

Remember: your qualifications have changed, you are not the same person as you were in 2004. You also do not want to confuse the reader. You demonstrated in 2004 that you were not committed to that institution. Regardless of the reasoning for that decision, it may cause doubt in the reader's mind. Your current qualifications should be sufficient.

Be completely honest later if the issue comes up. You can even bring it up yourself, if you want.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:39 AM on March 12, 2006

If you think that you declined on good terms, I would put a line in. This might encourage the new search committee to ask people on the old one about you, which is a great way to help them start taking your application seriously.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:49 AM on March 12, 2006

Yes, mention it. One line: I interviewed in XXXX and was offered the position but was unable to take it up for YYYY reason. Since then my skills have improved in ZZZZ ways.

At the very least this gives you a point of commonality when it comes to the interview, always helpful.
posted by unSane at 10:16 AM on March 12, 2006

I wouldn't mention it in a cover letter. You want the focus to be on your qualifications -- not some old saga. Nobody may even remember you. Get past the first stage(s) and then address it if need be. I don't think it's that big a deal.

Remember...the cover letter is about what YOU can do for THEM. Don't get derailed.

Good luck.
posted by bim at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2006

Here's another vote for mentioning your past application and offer in the cover lettter, particularly if they may receive many applications for the position. It differentiates you from the crowd.

It also distinguishes you from candidates that may be applying for every library job that comes along. You have specific knowledge of the library, the university, and presumably the position, and you seem inclined to accept this position if it's offered. I think it strengthens your application significantly.
posted by Snerd at 11:44 AM on March 12, 2006

One line at the most -- but I'm of a mind that cover letters are a specific genre of document, and as bim says, you don't want to get "derailed."

It's true that the fact that you received a previous offer from that library is a differentiating factor. But I'm not sure that getting the cover letter tangled up with the history of your previous application/offer/demurral is a worth creating that type of distinction.

This is certainly a subject that would naturally come up in an interview -- and that you might feel you should bring up yourself. What I wonder is whether your previous contact with the university and library has put you in a position to make a more informal contact with someone there (presumably not on the present search committee) who might have good vibes toward you? And that this person might be inclined, if notified that you're interviewing, to tell the search committee chair "Oh, make sure you take a good look at MsMolly's application -- we wanted her for X position a couple of years ago...she'd be great."

Since you don't mention it, perhaps you don't have this option -- in which case I could see mentioning it in the cover letter, but I reiterate my agreement with those who say don't let it detract from your central case: "I'm the best person for this particular job, and here's why." If your history with their institution directly serves that short-n-sweet case, it's relevant. If it's not so clear, I'd save it for the back-and-forth of the interview, and look for other channels to convey the fact of the connection.
posted by BT at 12:11 PM on March 12, 2006

I'd call someone from the first go-round (you kept the contact information, no?) and tell them about your interest and just ask for their advice - don't ask for an intro or any "secrets" - just "I'm very interested in this position; do you have any advice with respect to the process at your school?". Not only can this certainly not hurt you, but you may be able to bypass large parts of the interviewing crucible.

It's who you know, not what you know.
Better lucky than good.
Etc., etc.
posted by sachinag at 12:17 PM on March 12, 2006

Couldn't you say, "Since i last met with your library/team/whatever in 2004, i've been improving this and that skill, and learning these programs and methods, bla bla bla..., and feel confident that ... (all those things) make me a more perfect fit for your needs."?

turn it into a positive---they have you on file, so know about it anyway.
posted by amberglow at 1:12 PM on March 12, 2006

At first blush I was in the "skip it on the cover letter" camp, but the more I think about it when I'm looking at resumes when hiring at my academic library, I'm looking for stuff that sets the candidate apart.

The line In 2004, I was interviewed by "Interviewer" at "Institution" for the position of "position." I was offered the position, but had to decline for "Reason". Since then I have always kept an eye on "Institution" in hopes of securing a position there that is better in line with my professional skills and goals. I believe "New Position" to be that position.

I would then check with Interviewer and see if they had any thoughts about you. In a way, this would be like sneaking over to the second or third round of resume sorting for you. Depending on what Interviewer says, it would pretty much ensure that you would at least get a phone interview. At said phone interview I would ask you more about your choice, so be ready to have a good answer.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:12 AM on March 13, 2006

Response by poster: Heh. Reading the responses to this thread was like listening to the debate that was already going on inside my head. "Yes, include it because..." "No, they won't care." I'm not going to mark a best answer, because it seems like it's pretty much a judgement call whether to include something like this or not. What I ended up doing was including a line towards the end of the letter (after I had, hopefully, already wowed them with my qualifications) that said, "I met [Person X] when I interviewed for a position in [Other Department] in September of 2004, and I was very impressed by both the Library and the Digital Projects group." Person X was someone on my previous search committee who will also be working closely with this position. So now they know that I've interviewed there before, can ask Person X about me, and I can provide further details if necessary later in the interview process.

Thanks for all your help guys!
posted by MsMolly at 3:17 PM on March 14, 2006

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