Here’s another question from the reader who asked if current employment status matters and how the initial selection of candidate works. This week I asked people who hire librarians:
When should someone NOT apply for a position?
When one lacks the required qualifications.
If the position is in a location to which the applicant is not willing to move.– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging
Don’t apply for any position for which you can’t make the case that your skills match it. When we have openings for a teen librarian, someone with early literacy chops only or a tech services background won’t even make the first cut unless the candidate can clearly show that they have outstanding relevent experience with the clientele. That is the biggest mistake I see. If you don’t quite have the required degree or the years of experience, it is fine with us if you apply – again, as long as you can show that the skills you bring actually match the advertised job you will be considered. As always, the cover letter is where you can make your case on how your skills would answer the posted position. If you can’t make that match, you waste both your time and the time of the potential employer.– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
This seems to be a common sense thought, but if someone does not meet the qualifications by any stretch of the imagination, they should not apply. Yes, there is some room for leeway — maybe you only have 2 years of experience instead of 3, but it was really great experience. That’s fine, especially if you meet the other qualifications. I’ve seen some applications where just a couple of the qualifications are met, and those don’t get a second glance.I’ve also had a few applicants whose schedules simply did not work — this mostly applies to part-time hiring. If you are only available after 6pm, and we close at 8 … it’s not going to work. Some full-time jobs require weekend or evening hours. If you’re never available for these, don’t apply.– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
The obvious answer to this one, is to only apply to jobs for which you are well qualified (and therefore stand a good chance of being invited to interview). The problem is, it isn’t always obvious which jobs those are!Sometimes it is clear. For example, if you have recently graduated and have 1 year’s pre-qualification experience as a library assistant, there is little point applying for a job as a Library Director calling for 10yrs+ experience including staff and budget management.
On the other hand, if a role is quite close to something you have done before, or is a very similar job but in a different industry sector, or uses the same skill set in a new way, then it can be much less clear whether you should apply or not.
A good rule of thumb is, can you give specific examples of work you have done that match 70-75% of the duties listed in the job description? If you can do this for 100% of the job – in other words, you can clearly do the role ‘standing on your head’ – then employers may feel you will have no scope for development (and so may leave quickly for something more challenging) or think that you will expect an amount near the top of their salary range (and so may leave quickly for something better paid). On the other hand, if you can only show you’ve done 50% or less of the job, then hirers may decide you would need too much investment in terms of training, on the job coaching, etc.
A good balance is that you can comfortably do the majority of the job from day one, and so can contribute value quickly, while still having some room for growth and development left, giving you interest and challenge and justifying pay increases.
If you want to apply for a job that’s in a different industry sector, then there are two things you can do to increase your chances of getting an interview. Firstly, make sure you clearly show how your skills and experiences can be transferred and are applicable in the new situation. Secondly, find out what kind of jargon terms the new industry uses for the things you have done – and then use those terms (rather than the ones used by your current company / industry sector) to write about your job duties and achievements. In other words, talk their language.– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.
If you are not qualified for a position (don’t meet the minimum qualifications) and can’t even make a case for having the qualifications, don’t bother applying. If you don’t really want the job in question, but you just want to work at the library in question, please don’t apply. We will not keep your application on file for other positions. You are wasting the time of 4-6 people on the search committee.– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans
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.com.
Thank YOU for reading! As always, you are only one comment away from making a comment.
31 responses to “Further Questions: When Shouldn’t Candidates Apply?”
Maybe if positions weren’t written with ridiculous requirements or a requirement of two years direct library experience for a Librarian I position, you’d get better candidates and less chaff. Think about it.
Have you taken our survey: http://tinyurl.com/hiringlibJOBHUNTERsurvey
This is extremely discouraging and does nothing to help recent graduates. Of course we don’t enjoy applying to jobs that we know we’re probably underqualified for, but when your bills are piling up, and you don’t have a job, it’s difficult to sit around thinking what would be make the search committee’s job easier.
This elitist post makes me sick.
Wait, for real? Are you looking for a world where education, experience, and qualifications don’t matter?
Excuse me, but don’t these people get PAID to sit around and read resumes? Some people are actually struggling and one step away from poverty. They would love to have a cushy job where they can sit around perusing over people’s “crappy, unqualified resumes” and have the good sense to not whine about it online either. Good riddance. Valuing education is one thing. Being elitist is another.
None of the people interviewed here have a cushy job where they just sit around reading resumes, with the exception of maybe Nicola, who is a recruiter. Not that I would characterize her job that way. They do hiring as part of the rest of a very full librarian (or library vendor, in Mac’s case) schedule. No one has called your resume, or anyone else’s, crappy. I am sorry you are so upset. Or, I am sorry you are trolling me. Whichever it is.
They are answering a question asked by a reader in the hopes of improving YOUR chances for landing a job (as well as the chances of anyone in the whole wide world who’s reading), by giving you information that might help you direct your time and energy in more productive, job-finding ways. It’s not elitist. It’s populist, if anything.
The poster complains about recent grads who apply for a director position. That’s ridiculous. However, I was a recent grad with five years of paraprofessional experience in a large academic library. Even if my title was not a “librarian” (aka professional) position, I understood all of the workings of the department. However, I was not considered for even an entry level position because apparently those things don’t count. If that is the case (ie. that nothing prior to actually getting the degree actually counts) then how in the Hell are you supposed to overcome the “lack of experience.” I too am very offended by this elitist post and you can bet that the people writing this stuff did not have to jump through all the inane hoops that we graduates of the last 10 years.
I am sorry that you found part of my post ‘ridiculous’, but I assure you that in over 15 years of recruiting librarians I have seen applications like this – and cases where the connection between the applicant’s skills/experience and the requirements of the job was even more tenuous.
As other responders in this comments section have indicated, it may not be the actual fact of the ‘lack of experience’, or otherwise, that is the issue – you may in fact have directly or indirectly relevant experience – it is often the communication of that experience that is the problem.
When a hirer has dozens or hundreds of resumes to go through, they often don’t have time to read them ‘cover to cover’, or to sit puzzling over briefly or obliquely mentioned experiences, to try and work out whether they are likely to have given the applicant skills relevant to the position or not. As an applicant you need to make this obvious from first glance. Make sure your resume is clear, straightforward and directly spells out which experiences you have had that are relevant, and HOW they are relevant, to the job you are applying for (not just to a generic ‘library job’).
You also mention that you don’t believe that the people writing the posts had to go through the same convoluted recruitment processes you are facing. I wish this was the case! In my case, I have just moved to the USA and to get my first job here I had to go through 4 rounds of interviews, an online personality/numeric/verbal reasoning test and a 2hour observed telephone audition. I had to show how my UK experience was relevant to the US situation, and how recruiting library people was relevant to recruiting accountancy people. All this took time and effort and lots of explanation (written and verbal) – but I was fortunate in finding an employer willing to give me a chance. I hope all those reading this post find that their efforts are similarly rewarded.
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This post isn’t intended to be elitist, but to be helpful – job seekers are indeed wasting their own time applying for positions they are not qualified. If it did not happen a lot, to a ridiculous degree, you would not see so many folks in hiring positions warning you about this.
As for it being a cushy job reading others’ resumes, it’s hard work, and depressing, knowing you are facing a huge pool but can only offer one job. Reading the resumes and cover letters often isnt done on work time – we still have full time jobs to do – but are brought home, and we read them instead of making supper, spending time with family, or other things. We folks in hiring positions are very invested – both personally and professionally – in making sure we do a good job of hiring, and we take it very seriously. It’s painful when applicants (likely not the readers of this blog!) don’t take it as seriously – i.e., telling me how much you want to be a reference librarian in your cover letter for a tech services position.
You also have to remember that you as an exhausted job seeker are up against hundreds of other job seekers. The only way you have to communicate with the hiring committee is through your documents. If you cannot make the case of how your experience makes you a great fit for a position, you are up against folks who *are* making that case…and the committee decides accordingly.
For recent grads, your best bet is to address every required and desired qualification with how you meet them. That way, if the hiring committee uses a rubric (as many do, to make sure they’re following EEO & HR guidelines), you gain as many points as you possibly can as a candidate.
Jenica Rogers’s post on cover letters is a must-read for all job seekers: http://www.attemptingelegance.com/?p=922 And please remember – it’s not intended to be elitist. We wouldn’t talk about these things as problems if we did not see them *all the time*, and cringe.
You ask to address all the requirements. I see job descriptions for Librarian I positions (I do have 1.5 years experience) with 15 minimum qualification bullet points, and requiring experience in every tool and standard I have ever heard of. This is ridiculous. How does anyone, show of a library director, have that kind of experience? Ok, I can certainly write a letter where I make a case for how my experience applies to every point, even if indirectly, but that letter would be three or four pages long. I constantly hear advice to make your cover letter short and sweet. So what are we to do?
Look, I think most of us feel for those folks who look at applications. It really makes me happy to know that actual librarians look at my application rather than a robot or HR person with zero library experience. I think you have to understand that for those of us who spend hours on our applications and “do everything right” without progress, we want to hear something more constructive. Hearing “don’t apply for a job you’re completely unqualified for” or “don’t send a cover letter with lots of spelling errors” is unhelpful, and frankly a little insulting.
I don’t think this post is elitist and I’m glad to see it up on the site. Like I said, I really really appreciate all the effort librarians on the hiring end put in, but we put in a ton of work too. I personally try to research just about every library or archive I apply to and spend hours perfecting my letter, only to get no response at all. What I would like to know is how make my hard work more effective. Perhaps someone could give advice for folks who are applying for that Librarian I position rather than a Director position?
Hiring committees list 15 bullet points because they are looking for the pink unicorn librarian. Their ideal candidate doesn’t exist in the real world. At the end of the day, search committees will hire an imperfect candidate who is missing one or more of the ideal qualities for the position.
I don’t think anyone who contributed to this post was trying to be elitist. In my case, as Emily mentioned, I wanted to give an honest answer to those folks who are out there job hunting day in and day out, and to give insight into my process. Job requirements are posted in order to narrow down the field of applicants, which is necessary when you sometimes get hundreds of applications. And no, this is not a cushy job and I’ve got lots to do.
It’s unfortunate when lack of experience is the sole reason cited for not hiring an applicant. In any field or industry, there is always the issue of trying to get experience but not being able to obtain it because one can’t get hired without it in the first place. This is not unique to librarianship by any means. But, when folks are competing against each other and the one who is hired just has more experience, how else do you describe why the others weren’t hired? Sometimes that is all it comes down to.
Many folks who graduated with an MLIS (or some form thereof) in the last few years have been able to find employment, myself included. I think much of it is being in the right place at the right time. Those areas that are extremely competitive are tough to crack, and those areas that aren’t as desirable have positions that remain unfilled because folks don’t want them — speaking in terms of the position and/or location when I say “areas”. It’s a tough process, and I sympathize.
Perhaps those who have just graduated or are soon to graduate should look at these posts in a different way. When I was in library school I had a graduate assistantship that put me in the library doing reference work. When I graduated I had excellent experience. I also knew that the jobs I applied for were not cushy jobs where I’d be sitting around reading resumes. Those of us who have worked for many years know what is required in the positions we post and know what skills will best suit the needs of the job.
I regularly get applications from first time librarians who have never held a job in their lives. Why would I consider a person with no work experience over one who has work experience? For example — if I get 2 applications for an entry level professional position and one of them has never held a job and one has been a waitress for 2 years, I first ask myself, “Which one will probably have more skills that will be useful?” “Which one understands the importance of coming in on time?” “Which one has customer service skills?” Both of the applicants may have skills learned in library school. Both may be dependable, but only one can demonstrate that on paper. And only one can demonstrate on paper that they have customer service skills. I will probably interview both candidates, but I will initially be more interested in the person with a work history.
I also have been a mentor in the ALA Mentorship program. Both of my mentees had weak resumes, not because they were inexperienced, but because they couldn’t write a good resume. One had few library skills, but lots of experience as a medical receptionist, dealing with sick, grumpy people over the phone. Her resume barely mentioned this, but it was great experience for public library work. Once she started highlighting her customer service skills, she had much better luck securing interviews. The other mentee had good experience but the resume was all over the place — cataloging, reference, youth services all got equal billing no matter what the job was. He had trouble getting an interview too.
If you are unsuccessful in landing an interview, look over your life and your resume.
I am, honestly, shocked that you get applications from MLS grads with no work experience. When I was in grad school, I had two internships, and every single person I knew in the program, no exceptions, either did an internship or worked in a library or archives (sometimes both!). In my last position, I hired a handful of interns. All of them had done several internships prior to mine. Most of the applicants had either completed an internship in the past or worked in a library in some form. I wonder if it is because a) I live in an urban area with lots of museums and libraries to intern in and b) I live near several library schools. I cannot believe that MLS grads have no experience at all. And if you have non-MLS folks applying to library jobs, they probably are not reading this blog for advice.
I am so frustrated with the catch all advice of “get more experience.” How can we? I feel like we pigeonhole archivists and librarians (archivists especially, I’ve found) into their subfields and it seems impossible to get out. For example, lets say the bulk of my experience is in political papers, but maybe I don’t want to limit myself to just those jobs. So how can I convince someone that my experience with political papers applies to a position working with church documents, or business records, or whatever, when there is probably another applicant who has direct experience in that field? Or has worked with MARC and Dublin Core, when I’ve only worked with MARC? The responses from those on the hiring end make it sound like it honestly doesn’t matter how great I make my cover letter or resume because MARC + Dublin Core > MARC. And a mediocre application where the applicant meets all the qualifications will get put above a thoughtfully written document of someone who really could do the job with maybe an extra two or three days of training.
Biff said, “Maybe if positions weren’t written with ridiculous requirements or a requirement of two years direct library experience for a Librarian I position, you’d get better candidates and less chaff. Think about it.”
If I could have new graduates understand one thing about public libraries it’s that most of us are required to work with our City/County HR department and have very little control over how the requirements are written. I’ve worked for one library system that had it’s own HR department and it was amazing. We could set the requirements, see all the applications and really choose the best candidates.
In my current library, we are a city department and must abide by all of the HR rules, many of which are quite antiquated. Trust me when I tell you all that I want your paraprofessional experience to count (I was burned by the same thing in my past), I want to see more than 3-5 applicants, and I want to be able to recruit whenever I have to hire and not just when the list expires. Truth be told, the only flexibility we have is with PT hiring and no one wants to move to Nebraska for a part-time job with no benefits.
There is incredible pain on both sides of the issue.
Well then, what do you recommend? Should we stretch the truth about our experience just to get through the system? Should we apply for part-time positions and hope for the best? Is there a workaround or is it hopeless?
I have been a librarian for more years than I want to count :-), but I remember how difficult it was when I was straight out of library school, and literally had a suitcase full of rejections. (I kept them to show some people, like my family, that I was indeed applying.)
The problem of not having directly related qualifications until you actually get a job is a real one, but it’s NOT hopeless. As a couple of other posters have stated, you need to address how whatever your experience is, even if not directly related to the job, can be of benefit to the employer. If you have only worked in a store, but not a library, make a case for your public service skills, or give an example of how you turned a bad situation in your job into a good one with the end result of a happy customer. It may not get you the job, but it shows initiative and imagination.
It isn’t easy, and the pool, especially in this economy may be huge, but you have to keep trying. Also, as much as it may not be what you want to do–use contacts. Or ask if you can do an internship or volunteer at a library. It isn’t exactly the same, but you can then honestly say–“not stretch the truth”–“I volunteered for 2 years in Name a library, and I gained the following experience.:” But truly, if you don’t even come close in any way to meeting at least some of the qualifications in a job description, in order to even make what experience you have *anywhere* sound valuable, then you are going to be frustrated.
And honest, I am not the slightest bit elitist, but I too have gone through huge pools of applicants feeling like I’m playing God with peoples’ lives, and it is not a good feeling believe me.
I literally do all of those things. I am also very impatient. My last position ended only a few weeks ago, but I had been applying for many months prior to that point. It’s hard to not feel like your application does not just go straight from your computer into the trash on the other end. Almost everyone I knew in grad school worked at least one internship, if not more (I had two, plus archives experience in undergrad and library experience one year between undergrad and grad). Yesterday, I worked on two applications. I spent probably two hours on each one, writing and rewriting the cover letter, adjusting my resume, contacting people I had not spoken to in years because they had connections to the organization. When my job ended, I called a local museum the next day to set up times to volunteer. But, I think the majority of people do this. Then, I look at job ads for mid-level positions I should be qualified for (at least in the number of years experience required), and the qualifications list is endless. “Must have experience with MARC, Dublin Core, EAD, XML, ContentDM, Fedora, DSpace, Photoshop….” I don’t even understand how one library can possibly use all those things. What frustrates me the most is that it takes like a day to learn any of those things, but I am convinced (particularly from this post) that because my resume does not say that I know Dublin Core, ContentDM, and Photoshop, it gets thrown out. Am I qualified for that position? Am I not? I don’t want to waste my time or yours, but I’m honestly not sure. Practically speaking, the only thing that stands between me and perfect qualifications is probably a week on the job.
1. Jenica Rogers’s post on cover letters is a must-read for every jobhunter (including seasoned ones).
2. I will note that we do not, indeed, get paid to read your applications in our cushy offices. We do that in addition to our more-than-40-hour-a-week jobs that we get paid to do, and we do take it very seriously, since the opportunity to hire someone new for our team comes up rarely, and has a huge impact on our organization. Many of us take applications home and read them there after-hours instead of spending time with our families. I promise you, hiring folks take this just as seriously as applicants.
3. None of these responses is elitist. Think about it – if these were not persistent issues in the applicant pool (i.e., applying with no relevant experience or failing to express how you are qualified or terribly written letters), it means we see this a lot, and it is not helping applicants to do this.
4. Perhaps the most useful advice I can offer to job hunters is that due to HR and EEO office requirements, many search committees use the required and desired qualifications from the job ads to create a rubric, whcih all applicants are scored against. The better you can (concisely) address how you meet each of those in your (interesting, grammatically correct and proofread) cover letter, the better position you are in. Those folks who are completely unqualified get zeroes across the board and fall out of the pool compared to more qualified applicants.
Best of luck to all.
Everything that Biff, disgruntled, and others have posted here is absolutely true. Their viewpoint needs to be acknowledged. I am an “underemployed” librarian, and so in many ways I am one of the lucky ones. (I am seriously considering returning to school to become an RN, because I find that librarianship is becoming more and more ludicrous with each passing day.)
But I must say, please don’t shoot the messengers. Since we have to play the “game,” isn’t it better to know the rules?
In an ideal world, everyone would be given a fair chance to have the job they need. Libraries would strive to “grow their own” by considering entry level candidates and training us properly.
Since we are stuck in the real world, I want Emily and her panel of library experts to know how much I appreciate them. I am so grateful for this website and the information it provides.
Although I am completely frustrated and fed up with librarianship as a career, I visit this site regularly because I want to learn, and I pray that one day I will obtain a decent library job.
Even though I sometimes fume when I read what the experts say, I am incredibly thankful that they give their time and perspective. Many of us feel this way. Please understand our frustration, and continue to help us with your “tough love.”
I don’t think people are trying to shoot the messengers. Believe me, I am so grateful that anyone would share their views and try to give us some advice. I think what some job hunters would like to see is some more thoughtful advice. Ok, I am now convinced that there are people out there who, for some bizarre reason, apply for positions significantly above their qualifications, but can the rest of us get some advice too? What do seasoned librarians and search committee members have for those us who qualify or mostly qualify for the positions we apply for (and at what point are your qualifications enough? When you hit 80% of the points? When you hit 100%?).
Every year, I feel like it is harder and harder to make a living as a librarian, and we’re told to accept it as the norm and the way things have to be. That is just sad.
Agreed. I just noticed on a more recent Hiring Librarians question, only 2 members of the library panel responded. It was probably just a coincidence, but I also believe that this post ruffled some feathers on both sides of the issue. I really just wanted to express some appreciation for those who are trying to help.
I also wanted to comment on something you posted before. You mentioned pigeon holing. Yes, it does happen in our field, and I have witnessed it firsthand. I believe that search committee members and hiring librarians pigeon hole applicants frequently. “Oh you’ve worked in public libraries, then you really don’t want to be a cataloger,” or “you have only worked in archives, then you really aren’t interested in reference.” They completely forget what it is like out there in unemployment land, and how sometimes you have to take what you can get.
The same is true for graduate assistantships. Yes, they are wonderful-if you get one. My library school graduates around 200 librarians every single year. In a given year, there may be a maximum of 10 assistantships. So, are the other 190 students up the creek without a paddle? Or similarly, what if you aspire to become a reference librarian, but you are only able to obtain an assistantship in library research? What happens then?
Anyway, dmzz your thoughtful and well written posts here demonstrate that you have everything a potential employer is looking for in a professional librarian. Keep your chin up. I think you (and I) will one day soon find the job we are looking for.
Aww, Frustrated, that is so nice of you to say. Just wanted to make a further point about pigeonholing, and perhaps someone who knows the other side of things can comment. I’ve had older librarians ask me “Well, what do you really want to do? Do you want to do reference? Do you want to work in a school? A museum? Cataloging? Archiving? Digital resources?” and I honestly want to say “Probably most of that.” I did not go into library science to work in my tiny corner of the world and never do anything else. I fell in love with this field because I knew there were so many directions I could go in, and most of them would make me happy, and challenge me in ways. I think it is a real detriment to the field when hiring committees second guess a candidate’s genuine interest in the position only because it is different from their last few jobs. Isn’t this supposed to be a dynamic field, full of exciting change or flexibility? At least that’s what my iSchool brochure said :). I can only imagine the kind of new perspective a corporate librarian could bring to a public library, or a museum archivist could bring to an academic library. We would learn so much more from each other if we allowed for this sort of movement in the profession.
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It’s very near impossible to “only apply for positions for which you are qualified” when the vast majority of even entry level positions specifically request full-time professional level experience. How the heck is a recent grad supposed to already have 1+ year of full-time professional level library experience? This is extremely disheartening when you make a point of working part-time all through school and doing numerous internships to gain experience and you *know* you can perform all the functions of the job but you are overlooked anyway. These requirements seem to exist for no other reason than to screen out new graduates, even those who are more than capable of performing the role. My hunch is that screening out new graduates is the easiest (and yet still an arbitrary) way to thin a pile of resumes and thus makes the job of the search committee easier. I can write immaculate cover letters, volunteer for months to gain more experience, and so on ad infinitum but none of that removes the fact that I haven’t gotten a full-time “real” librarian position yet and thus can be dismissed because apparently there’s no way anybody whose done paraprofessional work (even 5+ years of it) could ever handle such lofty responsibility.
And yes, I know this is combative, but when you add the fact that most recent grads are adults with bills who now also have trouble getting paraprofessional positions because they are “overqualified” I don’t think being combative and resentful is unreasonable. All I’m asking for is a fair chance based on my actual skills and not some arbitrary numerical designation.
Lesley – I’ll note that often the ad will say “1 year of professional library experience or equivalent” – that is to weed out folks who have never stepped foot inside a library (and surprisingly, there are many). I think you could easily make the case that your part time work and internships give you the needed experience, and if you can make that connection, you’d be considered ‘qualified’ by many hiring committees.
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