Writing your ALA Emerging Leaders Application

This past year, I participated in the ALA Emerging Leaders Program. I was on Team C(at) with my super awesome teammates Daniel Ransom, Kyle Denlinger, and Mari Martinez. We worked on a social media project for ALCTS, and wrote a white paper of best practices for their social media. It was a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with. We went through the IRB process together, designed a survey, and took the most epic cat photo ever.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Emerging Leader’s Program is geared towards LIS professionals and students who have less than 5 years of experience in the field. It’s meant to jumpstart involvement in ALA and give people the chance to work on a project for various divisions. It also gives you the chance to meet other ambitious, early career librarians. If this sounds like something you’d want to do, I highly recommend it! I’ve been getting quite a few emails and questions about the application process so I thought I would take a moment to just say what I thought worked for my application. I can’t say that there is a one-size fits all recipe for a successful application; I really don’t know what the selection committee is looking for except that you need to be in the first 5 years of your career. These tips are just what I thought worked for me, and also what I learned from asking other past Emerged Leaders.

Be succinct in your responses but eloquent. This is so hard to do, but if you can get to the point but also effectively illustrate your point, that’s probably the best route. I’m assuming the selection committee doesn’t want to read through a bunch of text just to get an answer that could be one paragraph. Just to give you an idea, I responded to some of the essay questions with just one paragraph; the longest answer I gave was 3 paragraphs.

Don’t just tell them, show them. Do you have a project at work where you demonstrated leadership? Did you work on a volunteer project that was led by you? If you can refer to a tangible project or effort that you have done either in school, in a volunteer position, or at work, that helps show people what you’re capable of. Sort of the same principle for cover letters. I tried to also make my answers personal and have a narrative too, so my responses wouldn’t be cookie-cutter or incredibly dry.

Reflect on your lifetime experiences. For questions about your own leadership philosophy, you might want to think about what inspires you to be a leader. I have very limited leadership experience in the workplace. I’ve never been a manager or a supervisor, so I had to really reflect on my past experiences to craft my own philosophy of leadership. Prompts that helped me were: what did I think was inspiring in my favorite bosses? what did they do that I would want to emulate in my own leadership? what inspires me to work harder for someone? If you’re not sure of what your philosophy is, reflect on what you think a good leader is and hopefully that’ll get you on the right track on crafting your own philosophy.

Ask good people to be your references. I would not skimp on who you ask to be your reference. I asked someone who has worked with me at my workplace on many projects to be a reference. I also asked a librarian who was a chair of a NMRT committee that I was on, who also was a past Emerging Leader to write me a letter. Both of them are people that I also look up to, so it meant a lot to me that they were willing to recommend me for the program. Consider asking people who can really speak to your leadership potential.

Highlight unique skills. Are you a programmer? Are you a kick-ass project manager? Are you really good at throwing parties? Whatever your unique skills may be, you should absolutely highlight them. This program is about group work (whether you like it or not), so if you can make a point of what great things you can bring to the table, you should!

Get a cheerleader! Bryce wrote a really great blog post on writing an Emerging Leader application and one of her tips was get someone to cheer you on throughout the process. Bryce was my cheerleader! She emailed me a lot of GIFs when the announcements came out. Related to this, reaching out to others who have done the EL program is a good way to figure out if this is something you want to do, and get advice.

For those who are applying to the EL Program, I wish you all the best application writing. You can consider me your cheerleader.

Additional articles/interviews that might yield more information and advice: