Further Questions: Advice for “older” job hunters

This week I asked people who hire librarians:

Just as younger librarians worry about being perceived as inexperienced and skipped over, older librarians worry about stereotypes preventing them from finding work.  Can you dispel some of this worry by sharing a story about hiring an “older” librarian?  Any particular advice for this type of job hunter?  And finally, just for fun, which do you think is a bigger disadvantage in a job hunt: youth or age?

Marge Loch-WoutersI had great luck hiring two older staffers at my previous management position. In particular, we were looking for a level of maturity to balance our team and lend perspective to our efforts.  We really looked for clues that the older applicants were movers and shakers in terms of creative ideas and energy.  It was a delicate balance because some applicants bringing in almost too much experience at a management level and it’s difficult in a non-management position to know if this applicant can blend in with the team without overtly leading it. We felt great about the hires.
Best advice to older job applicants? Stay current and demonstrate ability/knowledge in areas that are trending now – maker spaces; digital content; early literacy chops; Common Core; fiction/non-fiction blending in collections; etc. That way you can stand shoulder to shoulder with younger applicants.
Bigger disadvantage – youth or age?  That’s tough. Young applicants often lack necessary experience and hiring managers know they might have to do a lot of training to bring them up to speed. Older applicants run the risk of too much experience that makes hiring managers shy away. I have hired both demographics and just find that the best candidate, regardless of age/experience, always rises to the top.
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
Nicola FranklinDespite legislation in many countries, age discrimination (even if it’s subconscious on the part of the hirer) can still unfortunately play a part in some hiring decisions.  Employers may feel they need someone with a certain amount of experience for them to be able to do their job successfully.
This could be because they feel it will have taken a long time for someone to have gathered the range or depth of skills they think is necessary, or because they feel that someone needs a certain degree of gravitas in order to interact successfully with their patrons or other staff and may assume that only comes with age or length of experience.
It is important to challenge these stereotypes.  People learn skills at different rates – it is perfectly possible for one person to become expert in something after a year or two, while another person may do a job for ten years and never really “get it”.  Some people naturally inspire confidence, at any age, while others will never project a strong personality whatever their age.
If a certain range or depth of skill is required, or certain personality characteristics are sought, these should be assessed objectively (by test, application form, interview, role play, etc), not assumed from someone’s age.How successful a candidate is at getting a job depends much more on their attitude than on their numeric age.  I have met candidates in their 40’s who have been made redundant and are convinced they will never work again – I remember one lady being in floods of tears during her registration interview because of this worry, and it took a long while to coax her to tell me about her skills.  Another candidate, of much the same age who I saw within a week of the first person, hadn’t given such a possibility a thought and was too busy promoting her great skills and experiences to worry about her age!
As a recruiter I put forward candidates based on the match of their skills and personality to the requirements of the job, and I take off any mention of age or date of birth from CVs and resumes.  If a client asked me a candidate’s age I wouldn’t tell them – often I have no idea myself!  It simply isn’t a relevant factor.
– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.
J. McRee Elrod

We find retired cataloguers with their long experience make excellent part time distance cataloguers.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging
In a recent candidate search I ended up with two finalists who were very different: gender, age and experience. Both had much to offer.  One was a fairly recent graduate, one had been a professional for many years. Because of the nature of the position, I chose the more experienced librarian. There were several reasons.  The person had more experience in a rural library setting, in a position with a similar level of independence that the job required. And the person had done more research and was much more acquainted with the weather, the size of the community and other such factors. Finally, the more experienced candidate really wowed key members of the interview team.
My advice for the “older” applicant is this: project energy, enthusiasm and forward thinking.  Show that you’re aware of current and future trends in the profession; even better, that you have such experience. Do your homework about the institution, the job and the community.  I am surprised at the candidates who don’t. I recently changed jobs myself as an “older” job hunter.  It can be done.
I believe that age is a disadvantage in this job market.  Recent surveys show that even though older workers are less likely to lose their job they have a more difficult time finding another one.  Agism is alive and well even in the field of librarianship.  With the retiring of we who are baby boomers, employers do look for applicants who can take the institution into the future, i.e. succession planning.  Even I feel the pull of nurturing the future leaders in our profession.  As well, I think older workers are at a disadvantage especially for entry level jobs. Just my honest opinion.
– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County
I hired an “older” librarian last year.  I passed the question on to her and thought you might like her response:
As an “older” librarian who spent nearly two years looking for employment and was fortunate enough to find work in Georgia a little over a year ago, the frustrations I ran into are not unlike those of new graduates.  We apply for positions based on our abilities, experience and preferences (if possible) and wait.  And wait. And wait some more.  While age isn’t listed on applications or resumes, a look at experience gives some idea about the age of the prospective employee but if you can’t get an interview it’s difficult to sell yourself regardless of age.  Some employers want new graduates to save money, to mold librarians to their institutions’ needs or perhaps because they believe that the brand new MLS candidate will have new ideas, attitudes and energy to bring to the job.  On the other hand, if the system is established and perhaps short staffed and there’s a need for someone who can hit the ground running, the director may be looking for the experienced professional. 
Of the scores of applications I filled out for positions across the country I had only two interviews.  I was willing to travel. I was willing to take a part time position for what was essentially a full time work load.  I didn’t care where the library was located.  As a person desperately seeking employment I was willing to compromise, a lot.  When it comes down to it, my younger fellows and I had the same issue.  We really never knew what our prospective employers were looking for in spite the job descriptions.  My current director wanted someone who knew that people lie. She wanted a librarian who knew how libraries worked and could acclimate quickly. Though it wasn’t her intention, during my first week on the job I was taken from system training to running a branch with some political issues.  To me it was a blast.  To a new graduate it could have been a nightmare.  It all comes under other duties as assigned.
– Response collected by Dusty Gres, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System
Most importantly, you need to be active in the community: serve on committees, attend meetings, respond to ILL requests, BE HELPFUL!!! Why should people help you if you sit in your office all day and give nothing back? We are all busy, so that is no excuse.You also need to write. Your local chapter newsletter can always use content, apply to present at seminars and write articles that go with them.Be visible, be helpful, contribute.

Also, dress nicely all the time, get a haircut or update your look.

– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP
Donald LickleyAs a recruitment agency, we meet and successfully place candidates at all stages of their careers.
In the UK, when the Age Discrimination Act 2006 came into force, in addition to the practical requirements of the new legislation, there was much discussion in recruitment circles about ensuring that job descriptions and adverts were carefully worded to avoid discriminatory practice. Now that the legislation has bedded down and litigation activity on that front has been somewhat less than anticipated, we are a little more relaxed about vocabulary, but we have no problem in adhering to recommended best practice. Certainly we do encounter a few employers who, more or less explicitly, will not look at candidates over a certain age (ironically some law firms can be particularly prone to this).  This kind of attitude invariably comes from managers whose practical skills in managing workplace diversity in general are very undeveloped. A question for job seekers in these circumstances could be – would you want to work for this kind of manager anyway?
I can think of several candidates around statutory retirement age whom we have placed in excellent roles recently. In particular, one candidate who is in the UK on a working holiday has just completed one successful project for us in a major university library service, and is about to commence another.  Another candidate with a long career in public libraries was offered retirement folllowing a workplace restructure, but decided that they were not ready to stop working. They are now developing an impressive portfolio of temporary management roles, still in public libraries. Their feedback to us: “It’s so encouraging to find that someone of my age can get two temporary contracts through a recruitment agency in the short time I have been registered”.  The key to success is always attitude.  Job seekers with a positive, enthusiastic and flexible attitude, alongside excellent, up-to-date technical skills will always do well, regardless of age.
– Donald Lickley, Recruitment Consultant, Sue Hill Recruiting
Terry Ann LawlerUnfortunately for new library school graduates, an older or more experienced librarian generally has broader levels of skills which could really make a difference my community.  I think the older librarian has a huge benefit over the younger one with his or her added years of experience both in the library and in other fields outside of librarianship.  I would not say that it is an issue in my community for an older librarian versus a younger one to get a particular job.  I and everyone I work with have always hired the candidate with the best experience as well as the person who is the best fit for our team, regardless of age.

I would say that one of the exceptions to this would be computer skills.  If you are an older person who has not really kept up with technology, this could hurt you in terms of job competition.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Quoth the raven “CAW-ment! CAW-ment!” Thanks for reading!


Filed under Further Questions

2 responses to “Further Questions: Advice for “older” job hunters

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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