This interview is with Jacob Berg, who is the Director of Library Services at Trinity Washington University. The Sister Helen Sheehan Library has fewer than ten staff members, and supports the diverse community at Trinity with materials and instruction, nurturing lifelong learning skills and intellectual freedom. Mr.Berg has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring committee. He blogs at Beerbrarian, or you can follow him on Twitter at @jacobsberg
What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?
Initiative – Has a candidate identified a problem, found something lacking, and then worked on a solution?
An ability to learn – Has a candidate found her/himself in unfamiliar situations, then adapted or evolved and flourished.
Personality – A sense of who the candidate is. The job search, including resumes and cover letters, can be a very dehumanizing process. If a candidate can somehow rise above that, it’s a plus. It allows us, the hiring committee, to picture the candidate in our organization.
Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?
Typos and poor grammar, people who take the process too casually. I was once on a hiring committee that interviewed a candidate for library director who wore a t-shirt. Don’t do that. I want applicants to very badly want a particular job.
What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?
Platitudes about enthusiasm, hard work, and teamwork. Everyone writes this, which is in many ways the same as nobody writing it. Show, don’t tell, and please don’t use those words, especially the first one.
I am not a fan of passive voice, either.
Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?
Retail experience is underrated. Librarianship is about customer service, so prior experience in a retail or a service industry is a plus as I see it.
People also skimp on the computer skills. If a candidate knows html, or even their way around a database, say so. Even applicants light on library experience have been a consumer, a patron, a customer of libraries before, right? Put that to work, though it probably works better in a cover letter.
How many pages should a cover letter be?
√ As many as it takes, but shorter is better
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?
Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?
√ Other: No. I do not understand objectives at all. If you’re applying for a job where I work, isn’t your objective a job with my organization?
If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?
√ Other: I definitely want an attachment, but putting it in the body of the email in addition is fine.
What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?
Be confident, come in prepared, and have a sense of humor.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?
Too many applicants come in unprepared. They haven’t done, or haven’t articulated that they’ve done, background research on the library, on the institution. Please please please go to our website and poke around. Tell us what you liked, what works, as well as what doesn’t.
Look at the mission of the institution; it’s something we take very seriously, and there are hard days when that mission, those goals, seems like all we have. Let us know how you can help us with that mission, and achieve those goals.
How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?
We’re looking more for “fit” now. We’re a small library, and we’re looking for people who can learn, bonus points if it’s quickly, and get along with us. I think in the past we’ve been more focused on skills, but many of those can be taught, and experience happens along the way. This isn’t to say we don’t want strong personalities, or people who are the opposite of us, but we want a good mix. Much more of the interview is now about finding that fit.
Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?
The jobs are out there. I know the market stinks, and it might take longer than you’d like, but please do stay positive. I just had two part-time staff members leave to become school media specialists, which is why they got MLISs in the first place. It took them many months, but they got there. On the other hand, I had another part-time staff member leave librarianship to teach English. It happens. But overall, keep the faith. Please.