Editorial: What Not to Do When Applying for Library Jobs
This week we decided to do a “collective wisdom” post about job hunting mistakes. This is an issue affecting every librarian, whether you’ve got a job, you’re in the market, or you’ll begin looking five years down the road. We’ve all made errors in selecting jobs to apply for, drafting our cover letters and resumes, and during interviews. Once we realize what we’ve done, we promise ourselves never to repeat them again and create strategies that work for us. Many of us have also been on the other side of the table, interviewing great candidates who are amazingly well prepared, and also some applicants who fail to put their best foot forward. This group post is our way of pulling together our collective experiences as both interviewees and interviewers and offering up some practical advice to our readers. We welcome your thoughts, advice, and questions.
Before you look for a job, while you’re still in school or if you’re getting curious about another facet of the library profession, it is most advantageous to you to schedule informational interviews. Ask engaging and meaningful questions to show your curiosity about the institution/organization. Ask about work duties, ask about the organizational culture. Really get a feel for the place and decide if it’s something to keep on your list for a place of employ in the future. When it’s all said and done, write thank you notes to the people who took the time to speak with you. They will remember you when you return for an interview and in the future you can talk about this experience in your cover letter. If it’s not some place you want to work, you can still occasionally email these people and “update” them on your professional life. You never know, they might have some inside skinny about jobs in that area. Currently, I am employed in a library where I conducted an informational interview two years before I eventually landed an actual interview at the institution. Colleagues with whom I work everyday are people who received thank you notes from me while I was still in graduate school. -Emily
As You Consider Applying
Don’t worry about your inexperience. While many hiring employers look for applicants with experience in the job for which they’re hiring, some don’t. I, for one, would rather hire someone who demonstrates the desire and capacity to take on a new job. They bring a fresh perspective and an eagerness to learn that those hired laterally often don’t. -Joan Bernstein
Don’t apply for a job for which you have no qualifications. You are wasting the time of the people reviewing resumes and your own! They may remember you, and when they do it might be a time when you are qualified. Sadly, by then you may have annoyed the wrong people. -Derik
Along those same lines, think hard before applying for a job for which you are extremely overqualified. Many libraries won’t hire someone with an MLS for a non-Librarian position. There’s less of a danger of inciting quite as much ire, but it’s still a waste of their time and yours. -Ellie
Don’t go out for jobs without learning about the organization first. For the most part, the people who have hired me, and, to some extent, the people I’ve hired, are people I know. It isn’t that I’ve ever benefited from nepotism, at least not that I know of, or hired folks because I knew them, but the dynamics of filling open positions, even in the best of times, encourages employers to be risk averse. There’s usually high demand (many current and potential applicants) and low supply (usually just one or two open positions), and there are significant opportunity costs associated with making the wrong decision. The way to reduce a potential employer’s sense of risk is to get to know them in advance, or, at the very least, make sure mutual acquaintances advocate in your behalf. I look back at the times I attempted the job application equivalent of cold calling and shudder. -Brett
Don’t forget about your needs. Focus on yourself and your future working life. If you know you don’t want to commute an hour and half in the car each way to work every day, don’t apply for a job that would require this commute. Likewise, if you know you are qualified for a position but it sounds like you’ll hate the work, don’t apply. It’s tempting to make these sacrifices, especially in our current economy and with the seeming scarcity of library jobs in certain markets (like Portland), but it’s just not worth it. You’re better off poor and happy rather than miserable at your job or hating your commute. (I’ve done both and have vowed never to do either again.) -Emily
Don’t develop an emotional attachment to a job listing. This seems to have occurred most often for me when I applied for a job that seemed perfect, usually because I hadn’t done my networking, so I romanticized the position and employer. Emotional attachments also seem to accompany the reach applications, the feeling of, “it would be great if they hired me,” rather than the, “I’m going to be really great at this job the moment I start.” -Brett
Don’t use valuable space in your cover letter to summarize the job description/announcement or rehash facts from your resume. The people reading the letter know what they are looking for, so you should focus on why you are the person that fulfills those qualities. Show them how, with narrative that won’t be found on your resume: details, story, analysis, anything that might be relevant, interesting, and positive. -Derik
I agree with Derik that it’s a bad idea to summarize the job description in the cover letter, but on the other hand if you don’t address every job requirement listed in that description and explain how you meet it, you’re also missing out. Your search committee members may be reviewing one hundred or more applications, so you can imagine how tempting it is to look for excuses to eliminate candidates from the pool. The cover letter can easily be a make or break element in that initial application review. If you don’t manage in the first page of the cover letter to make it clear how well you fit (and hopefully, exceed) all the requirements of the job in question, your application may get tossed into the backup pile pretty quickly. -Kim
But don’t bank on your cover letter either. Personally, I read every cover letter that comes in and place an extreme amount of importance on applicants’ writing skills. I barely skim the resumes. But I know others who do the opposite. Make sure your resume is just as perfect and tailored to the specific opening. Don’t bank on your beautiful resume formatting either. Chances are you’ll have to put it through some terrible online form that will destroy it. When that happens to me I always clean it up as much as humanly possible for the form, which usually means removing all of the formatting, and then email a PDF. Speaking from the hiring side, I’ve only ever received the ugly forms, so either no one else is sending a follow up email or HR isn’t forwarding them. Take the time to make the online submission look as nice as you can. -Ellie
Don’t pretend it’s all about you. The “cold call” application also seems to lead to other mistakes I’ve made myself and see all the time in others: telling employers why you want a job or how it will benefit you rather than demonstrating how well you understand the organization and how useful you’ll be in helping the organization achieve its aims. If they don’t know you already, it’s natural to try to introduce yourself (see also: the only thing I’ve ever learned from Seth Godin). In my opinion, introducing yourself is almost always a mistake. Don’t say anything about yourself until you’re asked, in person, and you’re sure they’re really interested. And then keep it brief, something I’m not good at, especially when I’m nervous or eager. -Brett
Don’t overestimate your qualifications. One of the strangest resumes I ever received came from a plumber who applied for the Head of Reference position. I guess “MLS degree” didn’t mean anything to him, so he thought it couldn’t be important. While this is an extreme example, I think it’s important to not over-analyze your qualifications. Obviously, you should be in the right ballpark, but even if you’re not sure you’re the perfect applicant, go ahead and give it a shot. It’s the employer’s decision who to interview; don’t do that job for him by ruling yourself out. -Joan Bernstein
Don’t lie or exaggerate (excessively) in your cover letter. You may get called on it and look the worse for it. If you claim something is your research interest, be ready to answer questions about that interest with some modicum of intelligence and enthusiasm. -Derik
Don’t write application materials in times of emotional duress. This might seem pretty simple to most people, but I recently had the experience of submitting a job application at a very emotional time. In my case a family member had just passed away and the application deadline, which I had been keeping in the back of my mind, got completely forgotten. I awoke one morning (the day before the deadline) and gasped as soon as I had opened my eyes remembering in shock that I hadn’t yet drafted a cover letter for the position. Hurriedly I pieced together a draft over my lunch break and spent my evening hours “refining” the cover letter before I printed the application then drove it to the institution in order to get the application in on time. Two days later I revisited the materials out of curiosity and was ashamed to see what I had written. Sentences in my letter were missing prepositions, sentences were incomplete. To make a long story short, I should have passed on this job application opportunity and taken care of my emotional self over hurriedly applying for a job. At the very least, I should have had someone else read the cover letter before I pressed “print.” -Emily
Don’t use the same resume without revisions. Your resume should be tailored to the job that you’re applying for. It’s critical to take the extra time and attention to showcase how your skills and experience meet the job requirements as described in the position description. And remember that the job requirements are usually ordered from most critical to least critical in terms of reviewing applicants as a good fit for a position. So, if strong communications skills is a requirement that is listed first, make sure you pay particular attention to showcasing what you can bring to the position in terms of your ability to communicate effectively orally, in writing, and in interpersonal communications. If the position description requires experience or expertise with certain programming languages or software and you have that experience, be sure it makes it onto your resume. If your qualifications match the position requirements, then you’ve made it that much easier for the search committee to identify you as a qualified candidate. Make sure that there are no spelling errors, that you’ve elucidated each acronym (where appropriate), and if you have gaps in your work history, be sure to clarify why they exist in the cover letter. -Hilary
Don’t experiment with unusual organizational schemas in your curriculum vitae or resume. The search committee is going to be reviewing a whole lot of resumes and it helps them to be able to easily identify your educational background, work history, and other qualifications. If you decide that, say, grouping your past jobs by state sounds like a good idea, you’re going to drive them nuts unless there’s a really good reason to do so. And that’s just not a good foot to start out on. -Kim
But don’t be scared to try something different if it really makes sense in your particular situation. I came to librarianship from another career and with no library experience. I included a paragraph towards the end of my resume highlighting how my prior experiences explicitly related to the current position’s requirements, then briefly listed the job titles and dates. As I gather more library experience, that will come off, but at the time it showed that I was an experienced professional already and eager to apply those skills to a new field. -Ellie
Once you’ve decided to apply, here are my tips, based on my experiences from the other side of the table:
- Don’t get the name of the library wrong. Hint: use the name as shown in the job posting.
- Don’t be late! Apply on time—by posted end date.
- Don’t ignore instructions. If asked to apply by e-mail, don’t show up in person with your resume.
- Don’t omit a cover letter. Cover letters are important. Include one. It shows that you are literate (hopefully) and it spotlights the strengths that make you suited for job. You, not the hiring manager, have a stake in identifying what sets you apart from other applicants.
- Don’t generalize. Make the cover letter, and resume, position-specific. Generic applications don’t show much commitment on your part, and they communicate laziness.
- Don’t randomize your resume. List most recent experience first. The hiring manager wants to know what you’ve done recently, as well as seeing a pattern of career progression.
- Don’t be vague. Be specific about your past responsibilities and accomplishments. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t be too modest, either.
Screening Phone Call with HR
Don’t ignore HR. This is where you have an opportunity to ask questions about the position and the timeline of the search committee process. And this is where you show who you are and your enthusiasm for the job. The people who call you are typically going to be very skilled in listening for how easy you are to talk to, how forthcoming you are with answers to questions, if you’re nervous or if you’re holding back. They bring this information along with your expressed level of interest back to the search committee. If you’re in a hurry to get the phone call over, it will be noticed. Be genuine, be honest, be open, and be cheerful. -Hilary
Don’t be concise! If your phone interview runs less than a half hour, chances are you didn’t give your interviewers a good flavor for who you are. It’s incredibly difficult to make conversation with invisible people you’ve never met, and it’s doubly difficulty to put the required energy into selling yourself to them on top of it all, but if you don’t you’re going to find yourself back at square one. Think of the phone interview less as an interview where you get grilled by the search committee and more as an opportunity to state your case. Prepare your message in advance: identify two or three main points you want your interviewers to remember about you and fit those points into whatever questions you get. Make the phone interview do what you want while still answering the questions. It’s extremely challenging, yes, but if you can pull it off you’re likely to stand out. -Kim
Don’t freak out. When the people interviewing you on the other end are all in a room together with a speaker-phone, its downright freaky. There are awkward pauses and sometimes you can’t tell whether you’ve lost the phone connection. And you wonder to yourself if they are making faces at each other based on your responses. In my dark, dark past, I royally screwed up a phone interview and I will probably never apply to work at that organization again because of it. I under-prepared and got lost in my responses. However, I learned from it and modified my approach. First, don’t plan on conducting the phone interview in a setting where you’re worried that you’ll be disturbed (is someone likely to knock on your office door?, is it possible that the fire alarm will go off?). Stay home or go someplace where you are sure you’ll be left alone. If you’re using your cell phone, make sure you’ve got solid battery life. Second, take the advice in the section on “Interview Preparation” below and practice responding to interview questions. Write out your responses and practice them out loud and get them so well-ingrained that you can spout them out at a moment’s notice. I was so scarred from my previous horrible phone interview experience that I wrote my responses on single sheets of paper and color coded them based on the topic so that I couldn’t lose track of what I wanted to say. I practiced these backward and forwards, and on the morning of my next phone interview I taped them up on the walls of my apartment and practiced them again. This phone interview went super—I had a new method that worked and I had regained my confidence in being able to conduct a great phone interview. Bottom line: over-prepare for phone interviews. And remember, the people on the other end of the line also probably hate phone interviews too and those awkward silences are because they are writing notes to themselves or are trying to negotiate who responds next without talking over each other. -Hilary
Don’t be a generalist. Look up the mission statement of the library and/or institution of which it is a part. Be prepared to answer why you want to work in that particular type of environment specifically (e.g. academic, public, community college, etc.), not just libraries in general. Ask for the names of the hiring committee, find out what you can about them, and whenever possible apply what you’ve learned. Some academic hiring committees will have non-librarian faculty on the hiring committee. A particularly impressive applicant tailored her information literacy presentation to a specific assignment on that faculty member’s syllabus. Even if you aren’t able to get that specific, be sure to tailor your presentation to the appropriate audience. A presentation on advanced search techniques in a mostly graduate level science database is not going to score you many points with a community college committee. I also have to agree with the others who have mentioned preparing questions for the committee, and not just logistical questions about benefits or when you’ll hear back. You want to know if you’re going to like it here, too. Ask them what they enjoy most about coming to work each day at this particular institution or what they think the biggest challenges facing them are in the next year or so. -Ellie
Don’t interview cold. This is important: you must, absolutely must, review the materials that you sent in with your application (resume, cover letter, references, etc.) and make sure that you have the key points about each experience or qualification ready to leverage to answer the interview questions. Just as it is vital that you know your own resume and cover letter forwards and backwards, it’s also critical that you know the job requirements and that you have prepared key talking points about how you meet each of the requirements. There are tons of librarian interview question sets on the web (Google “librarian interview questions“): use them to prep yourself. Write out your responses to the questions, then say your answers out loud. Practice with a trusted friend or relative. Be prepared to use examples from your past work/classroom experiences to help illustrate what you can bring to the position or to help you answer a question. If you’ve got a list of the people you’ll be meeting on your interview, do a little investigative work on the web and see what projects and initiatives they’re involved with both at the organization that is interviewing you and in the profession as a whole (e.g., are they active in LITA, ALA, Code4Lib, SLA?). Knowing a little bit about each person will give you some insight into what is compelling to them and that will give you an edge in how you respond to interview questions and what kinds of things to chat about when you are walking with a search committee member between sessions or over lunch. And, by all means, prepare questions to ask—write them down and take them with you (Google “questions to ask in an interview” if you need ideas). You will be asked if you have any questions during your interview and if you don’t have any questions for them, then it tells your potential employer that you’re really not that interested. -Hilary
Seconding Hilary here, in particular—have answers prepared for all the standard questions along with an example from a real life situation. There are a chunk of questions you are almost guaranteed to be asked, don’t let them be the ones that stump you. -Ellie
Don’t treat every library as if it were the same. Do your research about each place you interview, and know at least a few unique projects or initiatives that characterize them. If you can drop specific references during your interview you’re going to impress the heck out of them. Wow, they’ll think, this person really wants to work here. And that’s what your interviewers want to find—the person who fits their position and their organization. -Kim
Don’t wing it. Look sharp—business casual or suit attire are expected. Iron your clothes or get them pressed. Wear kick-ass shoes. Get a fresh hair cut. You need to feel good about how you look and on an interview day, this is absolutely critical. Get sleep so that you have energy. There’s nothing worse than having to interview a candidate who looks tired, acts tired, and is slumping in their chair. Shake people’s hands and be confident when you do so. You want these people to like you so you need to offer them a genuine, welcoming, warm handshake. Shake everyone’s hand in the room, or at the very least, give recognition to everyone in the room. Have a pencil and notepad ready if you feel you need it, but don’t write in it excessively while you’re being interviewed. And don’t write down everyone’s name when you’re introduced to them during an interview session. You can always request a list of the people that you met with from your HR contact at the end of the day if you really need to have an inventory of the folks who interviewed you. If someone asks you a question, look them in the eyes when you respond. If your gaze is all over the place or is focused on the paper in front of you, that tells the people who are interviewing you that you either aren’t confident in your response or that you have poor interpersonal skills. If you’ve practiced what you’re going to say and how you’re going to present yourself, then you should be able to look each person in the eye and express your genuine self. Never, never denigrate or complain about someone at your current or former place of employment. Seriously, this is a red flag to your potential employer that you have no tact, no professionalism, and no respect. Thank each interview group for meeting with you and smile at them! It’s surprising how often nervousness will cause a candidate to keep their face unwelcoming and “frowny”—if you smile, they will smile back at you and you will feel good. Simple as that. -Hilary
If you are doing a presentation as part of your interview, don’t make boring slides: lots of text, lots of bullet points, ugly pre-made templates. Often, a presentation is a time during your interview when you will be seeing the largest number of people at once. Catching their attention is important and that won’t happen if you are reading bullet points off a long sequence of slides. Show creativity, if not originality, or at least steal from someone who shows creativity or originality. -Derik
Don’t be shy! The interview is the only chance your interviewers get to see you in action, so pull together all your reserves of extroverted energy and make the most of the opportunity. Be prepared with a list of questions and topics for small-talk to ensure that there is no dead air during your meetings. And for goodness sake, show interest in your interviewers! The easiest way to fill up awkward pauses is by asking them about their jobs and projects. -Kim
Don’t tell the committee you’re nervous. Of course you are, everyone is, you don’t need to draw attention to it. If your nerves are acting up so badly that you’re stumbling over the questions excessively, ask to take a moment to collect your thoughts, take a deep breath, a sip of water and continue. -Ellie
Don’t be late. If you are chronic late-runner, the interview is not the time to let that quality shine through. -Emily
Here are my tips for when you are called for an interview:
- Don’t come in unprepared. Study the institution’s Website. Google the institution and the person who’s interviewing you. This will demonstrate that you prepared for the interview and will distinguish you from other applicants.
- Don’t act disinterested. Be ready with good questions. You are a better candidate if you are able to engage the hiring manager in discussion. I always appreciated questions that I had to think about before I answered. This showed interest in the position and depth of thought—two definite pluses in a candidate.
- Don’t ever badmouth past employers in an interview. I always thought that if I hired that person, maybe someday he’d be saying that about me!
- Don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note. It’s common courtesy, and also an opportunity to reemphasize your skills and interest in the position.
Don’t only keep in touch with your references when you need their help. Your references will be more willing and able to provide good information about your work if they have a personal stake in your well being. Send them an e-mail at least a few times a year to let them know how you’re doing, what projects you’re working on, etc. even when you’re not looking for a job. -Emily
Don’t leave your references unprepared. Obviously, you want to ask people who you trust will say good things about you to be your references. When you apply for a job and you send your references’ names and contact info as part of your application, make sure to tell your references that you’ve just applied for this job. Better yet, tell them before you send in your application materials. Maybe they have colleagues at the organization to which you’re applying and can give you some insight to help you better craft your resume and cover letter. By all means give your references the heads up and make sure they have the resume (and maybe even the cover letter) for the job that you’re applying to as well as the job description. Tell them why you’re interested in this particular position. You want to prepare your references for being interviewed about you! Don’t leave them empty-handed or surprised when they get a call from an interviewer. Imagine the kinds of questions that they could be asked (Google “references interview questions” if you can’t imagine what these would be) and feed them potential responses by telling them about how you qualify for the job, what you like about the job, and what you like about the organization to which you’re applying. -Hilary
Don’t give lame references. If the people you list on that page are not past supervisors, professors, or other professionals who can really speak intelligently about your strengths and skills, you’re only hurting yourself. The people on your references list should easily match up with your education and work experience listed on your CV or resume. -Kim
Don’t underestimate your value. That’s one error I hope never to make or have to deal with again: not knowing your price. Knowing an organization and its expectations doesn’t just mean knowing that you’re going to be an asset, it means knowing how much of an asset you’re going to be. It means getting a starting offer for what you’re worth (and accepting it happily) or being willing to walk away if you don’t get an offer that meets your demands. There’s nothing worse than colleagues who whine about their salaries except, perhaps, being the one who’s doing the whining. -Brett
After You Land the Job
You’ve just landed a plum job. A nice little bump in pay, something more aligned with your interests, a city you’ve always wanted to live in. Time to file the resume away and unsubscribe from all of those pesky jobs RSS feeds that were taking up all of your time?
Odds are, this isn’t the last job you’ll ever have. And if you wait until two weeks before the application is due to get yourself ready for the next job, you’ll find you’ve got a lot of last minute scrambling to do.
Many library job applications include essays and a brief window of time in which to apply. Prepare the basics in advance, and when you’re ready to apply you can focus on customizing your application. Have a master resume on hand, something that you update every few months with new accomplishments (while you still remember them). Rather than including a general summary of duties, pull highlights from your monthly reports that reference specific projects.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on job postings, even if you’re not on the market. You’ll be in a better position to identify trends, compare salaries, and track which skills potential employers are seeking. You’ll also have a better sense of what you’re getting yourself into. A month or three of scanning the want ads when you’re searching for a new job gives you a snapshot of the current atmosphere. With a year or two of trend watching under your belt, you’ll spot signals that are more subtle or nuanced. Why does McLargeHuge Library repost the same position every eight months? Why does TinyTown Library have such high turnover?
By keeping your ear to the ground, you’ll be in a position to act on a good opportunity when it catches your attention, rather than settling for the best you can get when you’ve realized it’s time to move on. -Heidi Dolamore
Guest contributor bios
Heidi Dolamore lives in San Francisco with her cat, bicycle, and unpaid library fines.
Joan Bernstein recently retired as director of the Mount Laurel Library (NJ). She has spoken, written, and consulted nationally on subjects including the merchandising of public libraries and privacy protection in the library. She served as the president of the New Jersey Library Association from 2006–2007. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there’s something in the job description that doesn’t match your qualifications, address it head on and explain how you can compensate. For example, we’re looking for a literature librarian you have a social sciences background? Explain what literature background you do have even if it’s not at work, and the ways you would get up to speed if the job were yours. Give it a sentence in the cover letter. Admit it and explain.
Thanks for this post full of good advice. It’s very timely for me as I’ve got a phone interview next week. Thanks! (and Hi Heidi!)
Great advice! For phone interviews, though – I would not agree with the “don’t be concise” part. At my library, when we schedule phone interviews, we’re usually doing 5 or 6 in a row. We want those calls to only last 30 minutes tops. We tell the applicant that at the beginning of the call. Mostly it works out. Occasionally, we get a rambler or someone who wants to tell us everything they’ve ever done ever – which means we don’t get a chance to ask all our questions which usually means we’re not calling that person in for a face to face interview.
I would recommend finding out at the beginning of a phone interview how much time the search committee has scheduled and then respect that time limit.
What a great post! I think about a month ago, LJ had a pretty awful article about snagging a job. There was almost nothing helpful in it at all. Total opposite of this!
I’d have to agree that introducing yourself before a scheduled interview is a potential disaster. Trying to introduce yourself before a job is posted is a much better idea.
For academic librarian positions, interviews can be a full day or even two, often meeting many people and being asked similar questions though out the day. A tricky part of this set up (aside from keeping your energy up) is telling your story and answering questions in a consistent way in each of the group meetings while being flexible enough that you don’t sound like a robot. One way to keep things interesting is to think about who you will be meeting in each of the groups – you are usually given a list – and tailor your questions to the kinds of things that each group might care about (potential office mates vs. department heads vs. the library director and his/her advisors).
Regarding telephone interview strategies: I haven’t had to do one myself yet, but one piece of advice I’ve always considered worth remembering: dress as if you are interviewing in person and not, say, your pajamas. It will have an impact on your attitude and speech.
Regarding nerves: Whenever I get nervous in social situations I imagine that the people I am meeting are good friends of mine that I haven’t seen a while but have a genuine regard for their well-being. I found this to ease the tension and help me maintain a positive frame of mind. And who knows, if you get the job, such relationships might actually develop.
Lastly, I’d recommend coming up with a creative strategy or idea that has yet to be covered here :)
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I don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of it, but ALA has just released a seemingly useful and informative site Getting a Job in a Tough Economy. They even have a section called “What do I do if I’m laid off?” Even better they recommend ItLwtLP as reading.
Very helpful post. Fortunately, I’m not job hunting but if/when I am, I’ll keep this post in mind. One thing to add–Joan mentions don’t badmouth past employers. I also recommend not badmouthing potential employers after the job application process doesn’t result in your being hired. I shared an interview day with an applicant who later complained about the process on a public forum(on a listserv–this was a while ago). Good way to keep yourself from ever being considered by that employer.
Excellent advice. I think the only thing you didn’t cover was the appropriate resume length. I have received conflicting advice from “experts.”
Thanks for these suggestions. I’m in the midst of a job search, and these reminders are good.
Regarding the Interview: I’d add that you should make sure you know just what’s going on. I once had an interview with the Library of Congress for what I thought would have been a dream-come-true job. They phoned to set up what I thought was the preliminary phone interview. That all went pretty well.
Turns out, though, that they weren’t doing preliminary phone interviews and that it was actually the final, full, structured interview.
So I had only fully prepared for part of the topics covered; I held back a couple things, expecting to bring them up in what I thought would be the ‘real’ interview; and – despite connecting well and feeling pretty good – I didn’t get the job. (At least I don’t think so, it’s been a long time since the interview and they haven’t sent me a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letter ….)
Don’t submit a resume with an objective line that states you want to work in a different library than the one you are applying for. I saw this on the last search committee I was on. It’s good to tailor your resume to each job, but be sure to proofread!
Don’t lie in your cover letter or resume. One applicant claimed membership in an association I happened to be treasurer of. Not only was she not a member, she hadn’t been one for several years.
Thanks so much for an excellent post. I recently spoke to a class of library school students, and strongly suggested they read this, if they hadn’t already, as it contains a lot of good tips they may or may not have absorbed elsewhere…
Also make sure that you are really clear about how and why you are qualified. I have heard from search committees before that a large number of applicants fail to prove their qualifications.
Don’t fake it. If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
And I disagree about not going for paraprofessional positions if you are a librarian. I moved to a new state, had library experience but a brand new MLIS, had no contacts. The paraprofessional job gave me local references, got me working, and my employer was not shocked or upset when I found a librarian job within my first year.
It would be great to see a corresponding list of what-not-to-do’s for employers. For example, take a look at your standard rejection letter and make sure it’s polite and blame-free (“Thank you, but we had many excellent applicants” is much better than “We have decided to discontinue your candidacy”). Send letters, don’t make phone calls, since there’s nothing like picking up one’s phone to find it’s a completely unanticipated rejection call. (Caller ID helps, but not everyone has it on every line.) Remember when it was you on the other side of the equation, and act the way you wanted to be treated by others!
I am so glad I came across this, I am getting ready to embark on my MLIS. In the meantime, I have applied for several shelver positions and have assumed my 20 years of corporate experience will translate into the skills I need to have, particularly when the job posting only require high school level experience. As of yet I have not gotten a single call. I fear over-qualification has been my nemesis although I think my cover letters have conveyed my reasoning and passion for wanting to work in the ligrary system, as well as, demonstrated how my skills are transferrable. Maybe you can help me out?
Dina, if you don’t already work in a public library where they say they will promote you the MLIS is a waste of time. The library profession is particularly snobbish when it comes to letting in outsiders and they feel that only those with at least two years of “Post Grad” MLS experience can alight to the top of their lofty tower. Your 20 years of corporate (aka “real”) experience will not matter to these people. And unless you are 25 and have a subject masters in science, you can totally forget about getting a job in a university. It is almost as hard as becoming a tenured profesor.
interesting contradictions in this overall helpful piece.
3 sequential recommendations:
1. go for stretch positions. don’t fret about being underqualified- Joan Bernstein
2. for god’s sake, don’t apply for positions for which you’re underqualified – Derik
3. know what’s almost as bad as lacking experience? too much experience! you’ll piss people off if you try to get your foot in the door by applying for a position for which you’re overqualified. – Ellie
apologies for the rant.
Different people have different advice. We’ve conveniently collected it all in one place for you :)
Speaking for myself, I’m just passing on the rants I’ve heard from coworkers when they see people with MLSs applying for circulation positions. Of course there are people with MLSs in circulation positions, so not every place of employment has the same view.
I would certainly suggest addressing your over-qualification in your cover letter, since the implicit message without any further information is likely to come across as, “I want a job, any job to get something on my resume and/or to be able to move to this city and as soon as something better comes along I’m gone,” which is unlikely to add points in your favor.
Joan offered the more standard advice – go ahead and apply for everything, you never know. Then Derik and I offered our responses – a little stretch may be fine, but let’s not get carried away here…
There’s also a difference between the required and the preferred qualifications sections. Typically HR will not even pass on the resumes that do not meet the mandatory requirements (e.g. an MLS), and if they do leave the weeding of resumes to the library, they still won’t let you hire someone who doesn’t meet the stated minimum qualifications in the job description. Plus the library hiring committee will sit there sifting through the resumes growing more frustrated with each one that doesn’t meet the requirements, wondering why these people applied for something that clearly stated it required 5 years of supervisory experience when they have 0. Now, on the other hand, if the job description states 2 years experience in the preferred qualification category but none in the required, then by all means, go for it. That is probably a library like Joan’s that is looking to hire new graduates. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the preferred qualifications.
And an additional caveat – everything I just said is coming purely from an academic library perspective.
While I find the post “inspirational” and it seems that all people posting about applying for librarian jobs are absolutely “chirpy” the realty is there is no shortage and deciding to apply is a necessity. I am watching my daughter who has had much experience attempt to even land an interview. she is currently working as a paraprofessional, had experience undergrad with the college archivist, did an internship in the college library and in grad school did quite well. So please stop recruiting people for library jobs and acting so happy happy happy. I don’t need to put on my smiley face.
“So please stop recruiting people for library jobs and acting so happy happy happy. I don’t need to put on my smiley face.”
Joyce, this post is not meant as recruiting (I don’t think any of us are in the position to be hiring anyone), but as advice for those seeking jobs. We realize the job market can be tough, and offer our post as advice in an effort to assist job applicants.
Until you have a written offer or are into a recognizable progression of events (confirmed date to start, where to report your first day, forms to be processed, fingerpring procedure, etc.), you do not yet have a job. In this economic climate, which seems to be a rerun of 1971-73, 1981-82, 1990-1992, etc., interviewing and networking are part of our profession’s “practice,” so keep at it! Academic libraries’ interview committees can become discouraged if freezes are declared midway during successive recruiting cycles. They’ve invested a lot of work already, and don’t even get to meet any candidates. Hang in there, everyone!
Thanks for this post – I’ve read it three or four times since it was written, searching for new angles I should be covering (or not covering, as the case may be) in my job search.
Could you address the issue of informational interviews in more detail, maybe even in its own post? I’m job hunting in a brand new city with no network of my own. The emails I’ve sent asking for informational interviews have gone unanswered. Do you have any tips on how to even get an informational interview set up? I have started to wonder if it’s a foreign concept to most librarians (too “businessy” maybe?) or if it’s only appropriate if you’re still in grad school or a very recent grad (which I’m not). In a particularly worried moment, I wondered if it was a major faux pas to be requesting informational interviews at places which have jobs open you can’t apply for. And then there’s the question of who do you try to contact, the person who has the kind of job you’d like or the person who supervises that position?
I could go on and on about what I’ve tried so far, but those questions should give sense of what I (and others) would be interested in hearing.
For a partial answer – I would say that anything you can do to get a personal introduction helps. The informal interviews I’ve agreed to have all been students that first asked to observe me teach through someone else – either a friend or a former professor. So I’d suggest reaching out to former classmates/professors/association members/friends to get some kind of personal connection into the request.
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