Don’t Tell Me Librarianship Was Your Dream. It’s a Great Job, but It’s Nobody’s Dream.

John_Winter_Jones Librarian at the British Museum


This anonymous interview is with an Academic 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?

Authenticity, confidence, and character.

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

Plenty. I’ll divide this into sections for clarity:

Application Packet Dealbreakers:
1) Bad grammar, spelling, punctuation.
2) Excess use of needless or corporate language (“utilize”).
3) Windbaggery.

Interview Dealbreakers:
1) Bringing a friend or significant other to the interview.
2) Lack of confidence.
3) Lack of eye contact.
4) Demonstrated lack of formative experience.
5) Someone who tries to be what they think I want them to be. I don’t want a candidate to pretend; I want to see who a candidate really is. I am more likely to hire someone authentic and confident, and throw away the application from the disingenuous, spineless, unsure person. Be real.

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

I am tired of seeing the excessive use of passive voice, and statements like, “I am uniquely qualified to fill this position” / “I am the right person for this job” / “I am perfect for this.”

Keep it short, keep it cogent, and be genuine, above all things.

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

Some indicator of their authentic self. I had one person put “roller derby” in her special skills / interests section. I hired her.

Don’t centralize this; don’t stick your hobbies in the middle of the resume, but DO put it at the bottom of a sidebar.

Another thing I don’t see in resumes often, and I wish I did: better formatting. I like a resume to be arranged visually like a website. A header with personal information. Employment history on the left side (2/3 of the page) with a sidebar on the right side of the page, including educational experience, special skills, and personal interests.

I like resumes that are one page long, and formatted according to the rule of threes (described above).

How many pages should a cover letter be?

√ Two is ok, but no more

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√ Only one!

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√ .pdf

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√ No

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?

Let the guise fall. Do not fake anything. If you have no library experience, and rather, spent the past ten years with a traveling circus, I’ll consider you if you’re confident, interesting, and genuine about it.

Ask yourself, “What do I REALLY think?” and share it. Be completely straight about it. Look me in the eye and tell me who you are and what you really think.

This kind of authenticity and confidence is not taught in schools nor is it necessarily encouraged in our culture, but when I find it in people, I hire them and encourage its development. The best jobs are those where you can be yourself and say, again, what you really think. Don’t waste my time with disingenuous behavior or silly edifice. I’m not interested in that.

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

1) “I love books / I love libraries.” This is hackneyed. Ugh.

2) “Ever since I was a little girl/boy I’ve wanted to be a librarian.” This is almost always a lie. Librarianship is often a second-choice field. It comes after people spend a couple of years trying to be an artist/ conservator/ writer etc. It’s a practical career for an artistic or literary type. So don’t tell me it was your dream. It’s a great job, but it’s nobody’s dream.

3) Too many people put on their insincere, nervous, aiming-to-please interview face. The interview face is just a barricade between me and full understanding of a candidate. It is a problem to fix, not an asset. Please do away with the interview face. Just be straight with your interviewers. Don’t try to tell them what you think they want to hear.

4) Don’t chew gum, wear paisley, show up late, etc. There are standards.

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

It’s less formal and more individualized now. I have twenty minute, informal conversations with candidates and make decisions based on my intuitions about that person.

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

Don’t be afraid to be genuine and confident. Let your authentic self show through as much as possible. Finding a job is like finding a partner: if you’re honest, you will attract those who like you for who you really are. If you are dishonest, you will find yourself unhappy in an ill-fitting situation. So know who you REALLY are, let it show, and have faith that things will work out for the best.


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

10 responses to “Don’t Tell Me Librarianship Was Your Dream. It’s a Great Job, but It’s Nobody’s Dream.

  1. Mae

    I love that paisley is a dealbreaker for this person. “There are standards”. Hilarious. I want to work for him/her.


  2. The anonymous hiring manger’s comment “’Ever since I was a little girl/boy I’ve wanted to be a librarian.’ This is almost always a lie. Librarianship is often a second-choice field… So don’t tell me it was your dream. It’s a great job, but it’s nobody’s dream” is not always the lie he makes it out to be. I know I couldn’t wait until I could get my library degree; it was my dream. I knew what I wanted to do long before I could take college level courses and planned accordingly.

    Plus, I went the straight from high school to college to graduate school route as did many of the people I graduated with in my library program. It was not our second choice field! It was our first choice field!

    Granted, if the answer to the question “Why do you want to be a librarian?” is left with what the hiring manger quoted, I could see a problem because no one elaborated on the why. Those of us who chose the library path as our first choice do have good reasons and it’s not all because of our love of books and/or reading. For example, I detailed some of my reasons on my blog ( We also want to help people and see service to others as important.

    Sorry for the long comment!


  3. WorkingLibrarian

    Just the title of this interview made my blood boil. Excuse me?! Since when is being a librarian not a dream job?!?!?!

    I will admit that I sort of fell into the library world; I had just interviewed for a job I did not want, and I went to the public library to kill time before being able to go home. When I came walking in the door, there was a help wanted sign for a circulation clerk. I swear, angels were singing and a shaft of beam came down and lit up that sign. “I could work at a library? *I* could work at a library?! How very cool is that?!”

    I applied and was hired the next day. I’ve been here five years and am now working towards my master’s degree in librarian science. No, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian but that’s because it never occurred to me that you could be paid to work in a library. Once I found that out, there’s been no looking back.

    Other than this comment, I really liked the input from this academic librarian. I just wish she actually thought her career was one worth being in.


  4. Meredith

    Be authentic–as long as the authentic you doesn’t wear paisley, get nervous at interviews or consider being a librarian your dream job! According to her statements, this hiring manager bypasses a lot of introverted people in order to hire extroverted roller derby circus performers. I think she is concentrating too much on showing how hip and decisive she is and too little on finding great people.


    • Mel

      Agree! Hiring by intuition? Really? I would think experience & skill would be a better indicator of fit than how hip and cool one happens to be, according to one person’s impressions and preconceptions.


  5. This person is saying that just because librarianship is often a second career, it’s not a dream job? People are allowed to make mistakes and change course. I had a two year degree in photography, and worked as a custom framer for several years, but when I had the idea to become a librarian, it lit a fire under me. I went back to school to get a four year degree, just so that I could study librarianship in graduate school. This is my calling, my passion, my dream job. Maybe this person is correct about some candidates, but please don’t assume that every person who calls librarianship their dream is exaggerating!


  6. meg

    The title and the comment about librarianship never being a dream job is unsettling for me. I am young. I am straight out of undergrad. I went directly from undergrad to graduate school. This is my dream job. I did not fail in another job and discover I love libraries.
    Okay, so maybe it took some people a few trial and errors but this is not the case for everyone. I am not alone in this either. I think a better comment would be to be honest with yourself. I should not have to hold back on saying this profession is my dream in the event of thinking I am being unrealistic. This is where I want to be for the rest of my life. in the library.


  7. Kayla

    This makes me a bit angry. My goal is to become a librarian because that IS my dream job. I guess that could change because I’m only a freshman in college, but I’d still like to pretend that I can be authentic in an interview by, um, telling the truth..? I worked at a library when I was in high school, and even though it was the lowest position, I still had a great time working on the children’s floor. It was so rewarding, and I generally don’t even like kids. So, yeah, my dream job is to be a librarian.
    Sorry for rambling.


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