This is a Small Field, Guys, I Probably Know and Like Your Old Boss

A Bookmark would be better, Illinois WPA, ca. 1936-1940This anonymous interview is with a public librarian who has been a hiring manager at a library with 10-50 staff members.

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

Previous experience (does NOT have to be library experience, but something related to customer service, books, kids, technology…)
Positive attitude, friendly demeanor (you deal with a lot of difficult people in this job, and you always have to have a smile on your face)
Willingness/ability to learn new things (this is hard to suss out, but totally necessary to the job)

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

MLS with no relevant experience. Why did you go to library school. I ask you. (Same for people with eighty million degrees in random fields.)
Also, the stink of desperation. Please stop calling. I got your resume.

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

I’m tired of NOT seeing cover letters. If you’ve spent the last twenty years in grocery store management, you’re gonna need to explain why you suddenly want to work in a public library.

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

Honestly I’d love it if people had some kind of online portfolio or blog or something. It’s nice to have some evidence that you’re “creative and motivated” other than your say-so.

How many pages should a cover letter be?

√ Only one!

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√ Two is ok, but no more

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√ No preference, as long as I can open it

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√ Other: I don’t care, as long as it’s not pointless

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

√ I don’t care

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

Be easy to get along with. We have a very collaborative department, and if you seem difficult, I’m not going to hire you.

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

Derailing the conversation
Giving really brief or trite answers
Badmouthing previous employers (ALL THE TIME. This is a small field, guys, I probably know and like your old boss.)


Filed under 10-50 staff members, Original Survey, Public

5 responses to “This is a Small Field, Guys, I Probably Know and Like Your Old Boss

  1. A CV for an academic librarian had better be more than one page long, unless they are fresh out of library school. That’s what CVs are for — your “life”: résumé versus curricula vita — don’t confuse the two.

  2. JD

    A few years ago I decided to dedicate my evenings and weekends to studying library science through a distance learning program, despite having no professional experience in the field. I had been a journalist for several years and was ready to transition out of the world of news reporting and editing, but I wanted to continue working with the kinds of information and research tools that I had used as a professional, and I wanted to continue interacting with the public and with people who were eager to learn, and librarianship seemed like a great way to do that. My online classes gave me the opportunity to learn about the field while still earning a paycheck as a journalist (a paycheck that gave me just enough money to pay for rent, utilities, food, gas, and classes) — only near the end of my MLS program was I able to step away from my reporting career (a career that demanded well beyond 40 hours a week) to get some volunteer/intern experience.

    Mr. or Ms. Interviewee, some of your responses typify the kind of pissy attitude often displayed by former and current public library underlings in my MLS program. I don’t want to discount the importance of real experience in a library, but there’s a mindset among the industry’s more narrow-minded professionals that the only LEGITIMATE librarian is the one who worked their way up the ladder from a 16-year-old page to a work-study shelver to part-time circulation assistant, and that anyone who hasn’t done that prior to pursuing a library science degree is merely pretender who doesn’t really “get it” and is ruining the industry for everyone else. I agree with you that 20-Year Grocery Veteran should share his story in a cover letter (and probably doesn’t deserve a call back if he doesn’t write one), but your tone — “you’re gonna need to explain why you suddenly want to work in a public library,” and the hint that someone shouldn’t be going near a library school if they haven’t worked in libraries — sounds needlessly suspicious and, yes, elitist. (“I was into libraries before the New York Times told me they were cool,” etc.) You’re all but accusing this kind of applicant of pursuing an MLS for all the wrong reasons, and I wonder what experiences have led you to make that kind of assumption.

    Does Grocery Veteran deserve a job simply because he’s completed an MLS program? No.* But the fact that he made time in his busy schedule to pursue the degree does mean SOMETHING, so unfold those arms a little bit and don’t immediate assume this man is trying to muscle his way into your little fiefdom without paying his dues. You don’t have to hire him or even interview him — especially if his experiences don’t match your priorities — but you also don’t have to dismiss his interest outright because you believe he didn’t bleed, sweat, cry, and starve as much as you did back in the day. And whether you realize it or not, that’s how you sound.

    *This obviously raises a lot of additional questions, most notably: If an MLS degree doesn’t mean that much to hiring managers — if they don’t view that as an important indication of a person’s commitment and desire — then why are we even bothering with making an MLS a priority at all?

    • Anonymous

      I am a librarian, and I have hiring authority. I’m not the final word, but my yes or no does carry weight. I tell you this so that you will understand my perspective. Like you, I worked 40+ hours per week while pursuing my MLS after deciding that I wanted to pursue an alternative career. I don’t think that the best candidate has to have worked his/her way from a 16 year old library page, but please understand that when ANY entry level (not shouting, but there is no way for me to use bold) position is posted the employer is flooded with applications. There has to be some way to eliminate people from the pile, and often (fair or not) those that do not have library experience will be put usually put in the “do not consider” pile. Organizations (not just libraries) today have faced staffing cuts, and the staff don’t always have the luxury of taking the time to provide extensive training, so someone that has actual library experience will often be considered for a job over the person that does not have library experience. BTW, the interviewee didn’t say that library experience was required, but that relevant experience was. As former journalist, I assume you have research skills as well as experience interviewing people. These are transferable skills that certainly would be welcome in a library, but I have seen more than a few applicants list their love or reading combined with a 4.0 GPA as their only qualification for a position. It’s up to you to sell your previous relevant experience and match them to the job requirements. Don’t assume all hiring managers will make the jump-they won’t. I once got an application from someone who told me they were qualified because their parents were librarians. Seriously. I got a letter recent in response to a position in which she said she would bring “mad technology skills” to the position. Other than an MLS, this was the only thing she was bringing to the table.

      I am not defending the person who gave this interview. He/She can do that for themselves. However, I want people looking for library positions (especially those seeking a first professional position) to have some insight into the frustrations of hiring managers. You have no idea the number of applications that come from people that don’t even meet the minimum qualifications.

    • The original interviewee!

      Look, here’s the thing. I’m sure you’re great. (I also started out at a newspaper! Funny thing.) But as Anonymous points out, there are ninety million applicants for entry-level jobs, because there are TONS of people getting their MLS. I do question people who drop $20,000 (or more) on a library degree when they’ve never worked/interned in a library because:
      1. Very few people without library experience really understand what we do here. I am so tired of “I loooove reading!” I don’t care. Do you love helping people? (How about impatient people, or people who smell or complain or make you uncomfortable?) Are you prepared to spend most – I mean that, especially at the level I’m hiring for – of your day signing people up for e-mail and Facebook accounts? With a smile on your face and in your voice? (Most people are not. I want people to know what they’re getting into.)
      2. Surely they knew how bad the job market was when they started. Why spend all that money when you lack experience, the thing that could get you a job? People who get an MLS without work experience often – this may not be you! – decide that libraries are their “dream” when (see above) they lack a strong sense of what the work is really like. That concerns me.
      3. I would rather hire someone with no MLS and a wealth of experience in childcare, retail/customer/food service, or customer-focused IT than someone with an MLS and no relevant experience (which is what I said).
      At least in public libraries, work experience is so much more important than library school. Working at a daycare prepares you way better for this job than library school does.
      4. As for the grocery store guy – I’m not discounting him because of his grocery store career, I’m discounting him because when you send out a resume to a position that’s not in your field and then don’t explain why, I’m going to assume that you don’t want this job, you want ANY job. And I’m in a position to be picky about stuff like that.

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