by Linda Couser Barnette, SPHR
Retired HR Consultant and Current MLS Student at TWU in Denton, TX
Librarians have been or will be in the future, affected by budget cuts in the library world. For some, facing the challenge of obtaining a new position is daunting. Library staff may be experiencing the job search process for the first time in many years. Competition for all jobs is high, and the interview process has changed considerably from what many people remember from their early employment searches. However, successfully obtaining a new job can be aided with some advance preparation by candidates.
Within this article I offer some tips, based on years of recruiting, interviewing, and selecting candidates for diverse companies and positions. Some of my suggestions may seem elementary, but it was often simple mistakes made in a cover letter, resume or during an interview that prevented applicants from being selected for positions that they were actually well qualified to hold.
Tip #1: Think outside of the box. Even if you have been in cataloging or circulation for thirty years, assess all your experience within libraries and make a list of every task you have performed. After making the list, you may discover other library roles for which you are qualified to submit an application. This may be an opportunity to pursue an area you have always found interesting, but your comfort zone in your previous position held you back from making a change.
Tip #2: Practice talking about yourself with friends who will be honest with you, and will give you relevant but encouraging feedback. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and have two or three friends do the same. These will seldom be identical lists. You may be very surprised to discover talents, abilities or limitations that you have glossed over which a caring friend feels are important issues for you to address. You will then be prepared if you encounter questions related to these during an interview.
Tip #3: Read the job posting/job description thoroughly, and several times, before you develop your cover letter or tailor a resume for that position. Many HR departments use scanning software that looks for action verbs and library terms/lingo to initiate the first weeding out of candidates. A good cover letter will point out at least two specific skill sets or experience levels that were mentioned in a job description, and will then tie the candidate’s competencies to those requirements. Next, take a look at your resume and make sure those skill sets or experience levels are emphasized.
Tip #4: Network, network, network! And I am not just referring to social media such as LinkedIn. Keep copies of your resume in your car or attaché at all times and make sure you tell everyone you encounter that you are seeking a new position. Church groups, sports teams, and your children’s activities are examples of places where you are going to be in a familiar setting, and can ask for leads on openings at libraries. In addition, members of civic organizations (e.g. Rotary, Lions’ Club, Professional Women’s Association, etc) not only participate in those groups, but are often active library volunteers or even members of library boards. They will be privy to “inside information” about future job openings before they actually become public knowledge.
Tip #5: Print your information on the application. Illegible handwriting is also a deterrent to receiving a call to schedule an interview. With an HR person conceivably receiving anywhere from 200 to 2000 applications for a job posting, you want to insure that your information is accurate, up to date, and readable! And always, always have someone else proofread your cover letter and resume before sending it, as misspelled words and bad grammar are major reasons for applicants to not receive an interview appointment.
Tip #6: Dress professionally for the interview. A word of caution: do not wear a brand new outfit or new shoes to an interview. Make sure that what you wear is comfortable for sitting, bending, standing and you are not aware of it being on your body. I have had numerous applicants who tugged on their skirts, kept pushing their shirts or blouses back in their waistbands, or exhibited other signs that they were uncomfortable in their own skins. Along the same lines, minimize jewelry or hair ornaments that rattle excessively or worse, can go flying off towards the interviewer (yes, I have had to dodge a few missiles.)
Tip #7: Be very careful about employing the good old “copy and paste” method of changing names, addresses or other information in a cover letter or resume. I can almost assure you that you will not receive an interview if you send Smith Public Library documents that are addressed to Jones Public Library. Sadly, this happens very frequently as a result of applicants not considering each job opportunity carefully (refer to Tip # 3).
Tip #8: Research the library where you are submitting an application. Look at their website and make notes on the programs/services offered, the days and hours of operation, and any unusual or innovative offerings that you can mention during the interview. All libraries are proud of their services, and indicating that you took the time to learn about a prospective employer will always gain you some points with an interviewer.
Tip #9: Print off sample interview questions. Write out your answers, then find those friends from Tip # 2 again and practice answering the questions (without looking at your notes!) I have included a list of resources following this article that will provide you with a wealth of questions that you could encounter during an interview. Also, if you Google “Library Interview Questions”, you will obtain many good examples.
Tip #10: Miscellaneous suggestions --- Smile…use good manners…leave the perfume or cologne at home…do not smoke or smell like smoke…don’t get nervous and play with the interviewer’s desk items…take your own writing utensils and paper for taking notes (yes, I have been asked if a candidate could use my pen or did I have some paper for notes!). Make a driving trial run and be sure you know how long it takes to arrive at the interview destination. Arriving 15 minutes early is a good rule of thumb. When I go on interviews myself, I arrive 30 minutes early and take those extra minutes in my car to look over my information, breathe deeply, and compose my mind before entering the building.
Good luck with your job search endeavors. With my career change, I am in the same boat as many of you. We all have much to offer the profession of librarianship, and will all benefit from making the effort to present ourselves in the best light possible.
Resources for Further Information
Kane, Laura Townsend. (2003). Straight from the Stacks: A Firsthand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science. Chicago: American Library Association Publishing.
Newlen, Robert R. (2006). Resume Writing and Interviewing Techniques that Work: A How To Do It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Pollock, Ronald. Dir of Career Services. (2004). Finding the Right People: What Do Prospective Employees Really Value? Presentation to TLA Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX. Retrieved from http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~rpollock/tla2004/talk04.html
Pollock, Ronald. Dir of Career Services. (2004). School of Information. University of Texas at Austin. Interviews and Thank You Letters: Improving Your Odds for Career Success. Retrieved from http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/careers/interview_thankyou_letters.pdf
Pollock, Ronald. Dir of Career Services. (2004). School of Information. University of Texas at Austin. Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviewing, rev 2. Retrieved from http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/careers/workshop_downloads/creating_resumes.pdf
Reuland, Fred. (2010, Nov 9). University of Florida. George A. Smathers Libraries. Job Hunting for the Recent or Pending MLS Graduate ( Sponsored by LLAMA - Library Leadership and Management Association - and the LLAMA Human Resources Section), Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/2euq3lb
Shontz, Priscilla K. and Richard A. Murray. (2007). A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library and Information Science. Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.
Shontz, Priscilla K. (2002). Jump Start Your Career in Library and Information Science. Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.