We work with the Public All Day; They Need to Hear You Speak

Belmont Branch Construction, 1956This anonymous interview is with a public librarian who has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring committee at a library with 50-100 staff members.


What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?

People Skills: I want staff that enjoys working with the public as well as with other staff.
Desire for growth: I want to hire staff that are interested in moving up in the organization; or interested in developing their own unique skill sets as a professional. A library is a place of learning, so demonstrate your curiosity!
Trainability: I want to know if you will be able to learn the skills necessary for the job, and willing to learn from your peers.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?

Sloppy resumes/cover letters: I get a lot of resumes that it is obvious that they just tweaked a template or copied it off the internet, or filled in some online form. Please take the time to make a comprehensive, personal resume/cover letter.
In the interview: if you are too quiet for me to hear you clearly. We work with the public all day; they need to hear you speak.

What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?

For some reason people seem to include that they are physically in good health a lot in their cover letters.
Having no demonstrated interested in libraries. I’ve had applicants with pharmacy tech. degrees and no experience apply; if that is your background please include some information as to why you want to work in library.
Education without any experience, please at least volunteer at a library or do an internship/practicum at one.

Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?

Include customer service experience! I hire for the circulation desk and sometimes don’t hear about a person’s customer service experience until I pry it out of them in an interview. I’ve had people with and an MLIS only talk about their education; if you were a waitress, bartender, worked retail I want to know because it shows me how you work with people.

How many pages should a cover letter be?

√ Two is ok, but no more

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√ As many as it takes, but keep it short and sweet

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√ .pdf

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√ Other: If you have one make sure it shows that you could grow in my organization.

If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?

√ As an attachment only

What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?

Be interested in working with the public, excited is even better. Show me that you are not only interested in the job but also the organization. Bonus points if you show that you are interested in the community. Be enthusiastic about librarianship and aware of recent developments in libraries in general, keep up with your current events.

What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?

They treat it more like a question answer session than a conversation. Feel free to think about what I am asking you, and elaborate on your responses. If there is a natural segue into something  you are interested or know something about than feel free to talk about that.
I like long interesting interviews where the person is comfortable talking to me.
They don’t dress appropriately. Iron your clothes, wear something business like. Don’t come to an interview with me in khakis and polo. Libraries are business casual, but management here tends to be less casual than regular staff so you don’t want to underdress for the interview. If you can walk through the library at least once to get an idea how staff dress, step it up a notch from that or if you see someone in management match their level of dress.

How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?

I hire for the circulation department, library subs, and other management. Since I came on board we look more at customer service skills and trainability over just education. Also for entry level jobs we look more closely at a potential growth path for that employee.

Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?

Be willing to move, jobs are hard enough to come by without limiting yourself to a specific location.


Filed under 50-100 staff members, Circulation, Entry Level, Management, Original Survey, Public, Substitutes/Pool

8 responses to “We work with the Public All Day; They Need to Hear You Speak

  1. About being willing to move –
    Could this or another respondent weigh in on applying to places when you can’t afford the interview costs, but you could afford to move there. That is, one relocation is cheaper than who knows how many road trips and hotels for interviews. I tend to think I shouldn’t waste either party’s time by applying someplace when I know I can’t afford the interview travel, but one hiring manager suggested I should reconsider the practice. What do others think?

    • Rebecca

      For professional level jobs we first conduct phone interviews, those who make it to the next step have their travel expenses covered for the inperson interview. For para-professional jobs I’ve had applicants from further away do a phone interview first, and if they are one of my top choices after I conduct in person interviews with locals I’ve done video conferences with them.
      So I would say you should be applying for jobs if you are interested in moving to where they are.

      • Thanks, Rebecca! I always wonder if it would be acceptable for me to suggest a Skype conference if I couldn’t afford an interview. Of course, if I was a finalist after the phone and first face-to-face interview, I would travel.

    • Elena

      I have had two separate out of state libraries offer to do Skype interviews, and one did a more in-depth phone interview instead of an in-person. There are disadvantages to remote interviewing, but it’s something most employers seem willing to tackle for good candidates!

  2. Aimee

    “I want to hire staff that are interested in moving up in the organization; or interested in developing their own unique skill sets as a professional.”

    I found this to be a very interesting comment because the “Library Career People” blog told me specifically not to mention how I want to grow professionally. Also, interviewers consistently become very negative any time I mention any skills or desires for professional growth, let alone pursuing an MLS, that go beyond the level required for the shelving and circulation positions I typically apply for.
    Apparently, it conflicts with showing a desire only for the job you are interviewing for, rather than acknowledging the reality that it is being used as a stepping stone to something else just like any other position in any other industry.

    • Rebecca

      Maybe it is different depending on region. I have always worked at libraries in the midwest, and not the populated midwest but WY & SD. There is a strong grow your own mentality here, where we have gotten used to professionals not wanting to move to our area so instead we focus grooming the staff we can get into professional possitions. I am currently working witht two of my most recent hires, one a page and another a part time circulation clerk, on continuing ed so they can move up.
      Perhaps this is just my own personal preference when interviewing.

    • Rebecca

      P.S. I should have also mentioned that it is equally important to me that you show interest in the job that you are applying for, not just the position you are working towards. I wouldn’t want an applicant who seemed like they would quite if they didn’t move up fast enough.

      • Aimee

        Rebecca, I’m also originally from the Midwest, so that might explain why I find the reaction so strange. Yes, the page or circulation position is eventually stepping stone to something else, but I WANT it to be with the same institution if at all possible. I’m probably just not articulating that in the right way, and that is likely part of why I’m getting the negative reaction. (A little more usually leads to me being warned away from library science because of the small pool of jobs). Thank you for helping me consider this from another direction.

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