This week I asked people who hire librarians:
What was your last job hunt like? What was your biggest anxiety, and what did you learn? Did having been a hiring manager influence you to employ any new strategies?
My last job hunt was successful! I needed to relocate to get closer to my partner’s family to help provide care and support for his aging parents. I had been looking within a 150 mile radius when my present job opened up right in their community. Because I was happy in the job I was in at that time, I didn’t want to trade a good situation for a poor one.
I had worked here two previous times in my career (and if that isn’t a firm lesson in leaving jobs in a pleasant way, I don’t know what is!) so I had the advantage of being familiar with the library and community. In terms of being a hiring manager, I simply practiced what I preached. I studied the board notes and webpage and stopped by the library to “feel” the atmosphere after I applied.
It was clear to me that the library was moving ahead in exciting directions with a veteran staff and I believed I could bring some real tangibles to help them. I was highly motivated to land the position. I read the posting carefully and chose examples of my work and initiatives that best fit what they seemed to be looking for as I prepared for the interview.
My biggest anxiety once I committed to applying was worrying that my age would be a disadvantage. As it turned out, the hiring committee was looking for someone with enough experience to help the staff learn to work better as a team. I learned that knowing my capabilities and preparation served me well in the interview and at the end I was offered the job (always take the last interview slot if you have a choice!).
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
I haven’t done an actual job hunt since I came here 23 years ago. My job has evolved so much over the years – it’s so different and I love all of the parts of it. That said, I have applied for a few jobs over the years, for various reasons. After Hurricane Katrina, I thought briefly about leaving New Orleans and applied and interviewed for a job in my home state. My biggest anxiety was that I would have to make compromises in my personal life. I have a great life here, live in a great place, and have friends who are like family. Going “home,” where I have actual family, would have been quite different. I wouldn’t have had the singing opportunities I have here and it would have been a big adjustment to small town life. A couple of things – while the job title sounded good, the reality is that it was a job that I didn’t really want. Because I have been through so many searches, I can write a great cover letter, and I did a decent job interviewing, but it became quite clear to me that it wasn’t the right job for me because the focus was in an area where I don’t have as much interest. I’ve done more work in that area since then, but it’s not what I ultimately wanted to do. I also would have been taking somewhat of a step back in benefits, I would have had an office that wasn’t private (not ideal if you supervise people), and I might have lost my faculty status, which is very important to me. When the director, who is a friend, called to say that they were not offering me the job, I was neither surprised or disappointed.
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans
My last job hunt took quite a long while because I wanted to stay in the same metro area, so I had to wait for suitable jobs to become available here. Over the course of 2 years I applied for 6-8 jobs, had phone interviews for 4, and in-person interviews for 2. I was offered one other job before I accepted my current position. Because I knew it might take a long time, and because of other issues, I didn’t tell anyone at the job I held that I was looking. That probably caused the most stress. However, I did a good job of keeping my mouth shut about it all. In my applications, I asked that my references not be notified without contacting me first, which had generally worked for me in the past. Due to the HR procedures at my current institution, my references were contacted without notifying me, and it was a definite surprise for them. It all worked out, and I got the job, but I gave some feedback about this situation, and hopefully in the future it won’t happen again.
Being a hiring manager has definitely given me insights into how the process can work at various institutions. I have more patience for and understanding about delays caused by factors outside the control of the library. The process can just take a long time.
After 2 full years in my first full-time library job out of grad school, I started keeping my eye out for something closer to home (I’m from the West Coast but had been working in the Midwest). At that time, I employed some of the application strategies I had refined when I was first applying for jobs in grad school—before finding my first library job, I applied for at least one job a day, every week day, for three months; I’ve so got cover letters down!
I wasn’t in a hurry to move, so wasn’t really concerned, until I was let go from my library under rather dubious circumstances. I was later involved in a court case instigated by a number of other employees also dubiously fired that same day, and the “downsizing” was overturned. I was anxious that I needed to find a new library fast, as I doubted I would be allowed to perform meaningful work at this library; it would really look bad if my budget was taken away. Despite our reinstatement, many people were still in fear for their jobs, as well. And I was especially worried that, despite my firing having been illegal, it would reflect poorly on my work and negatively affect my prospects.
When it came time to talk about that incident with a library offering me a job, I was honest about the facts without over-sharing—I certainly didn’t want to seem like I was bad-mouthing managers, directors, or libraries involved. –A good reason to keep a copy of all your mid-year and annual reviews.
Fortunately my unemployment period was very short; my plan, had it gone on a bit, was to stay active in my state and district-level professional organization; look for opportunities through the ALA, participate in some committees perhaps; and work at any library in any capacity—I interviewed for a part-time position 90 minutes away. I wanted it to be obvious to anyone that looked at me that libraries were still important to me. These strategies would also have given me many librarians outside of the original organization who could speak to my qualities.
My application strategies, which I learned from other supervisors and which I now suggest, are:
1. Tailor your resume to each position, to reflect the job description. Don’t think you can copy off 50 and staple them on. (And skip the “objective” part. Lame or fake, pick one.)
2. Find correlations you can use to build yourself up. I’d never been in a supervisory capacity before, but I had led committees, worked in groups, and managed the floor in a retail setting.
3. Write your cover letter from scratch: you won’t accidentally leave in another library’s name, and it will be custom-written for each job.
4. Find out who is on, or at least leading, the hiring team and address the cover letter appropriately. Call the library to find out. If you really can’t find out, I much prefer “Members of the Hiring Committee:” over “To Whom It May Concern.”
5. If you have specific library/ies that you want to work for, find out where they advertise. City or county departments may have restrictions and requirements about where they can and can’t post; not everything makes it to the ALA Jobs page.
6. If you’re still waiting to hear from a library, be proactive about letting them know any changes to your resume, website, phone number, etc.
Having now spent time as a hiring manager, I don’t think my job search strategies will change much from my earlier tactics.
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.
Thank YOU for reading! I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime, Played it till my fingers bled, Was the summer of commenting.