I’m sure that we can all agree that writing cover letters is the worst. Any MLIS grad can probably relate to how frustrating it can be. Like when you’re excited about a job that is just a little off of where you usually plant your applications, and you just can’t get the mix in your letter right.

Recently, I found a posting that looked like it was written for me (except for a few things I’d have to pick up on the fly, but hey that’s what comes with new jobs). I sat down to write the cover letter, and bim bam boom a few hours later I was still staring at only a few sentences.

Now, there is a lot of pretty straight forward cover letter advice out there. The problem is that the questions involved are far from formulaic and almost demand existential guesses: Why do I want this job? Why will you want me for that job? And so on. With that starting point, boiling my work and school life down to a tasty demi-glace of a letter leaves my mind annoyingly blank.

Looking for something to renew my efforts, I found this helpful reminder:

Hiring is an interesting thing. I may be hiring a cataloguer, but it might be your experience as a professional musician or freelance writer than really attracts me. If you don’t pull out some unique tidbits about yourself and figure out how it fits into the position you’re applying for, you may miss out on a fantastic opportunity.

For instance, an applicant with a background as a musician tells me you’re creative, dedicated and self-disciplined. A freelance writer tells me you’re good at description, editing and pulling out interesting facts/details that will benefit a bibliographic record. While at first your background may not appear relevant – many times, it is. But I like to read about how YOU feel your background makes you a unique and better candidate that someone else.[source]

I really agree with this.

The bottom line is a) cover letters suck, b) there is no easy formula, c) you have to walk a fine line between being yourself and hitting an employer’s sweet-spot… plus sometimes it feels like your future could depend on getting it right. A perfect storm for procrastination and writer’s block.

But there is hope! What broke my torpor was a brief set of emails I shared with a friend who had worked in a similar job. This brief exchange did a lot to shake loose why I want the job and why I’d be great at it. There are no guarantees in job hunting, but there is some sense of satisfaction when you feel like you’ve finally turned out something worthwhile.