Further Questions: How Can Candidates Changing Library Types, or Fields, Best Present Their Skills?

This week’s question is inspired by a Twitter follower.  This person is transitioning from corporate to academic libraries and is looking for tips on presenting his skills.  This week I asked people who hire librarians:
Have you hired someone whose previous work was at another type of library, or in another field altogether? What made them a good candidate?
Cathi AllowayWe have had some candidates for jobs in our public library who had worked in different settings.  We are most likely to interview or hire someone who is switching library types/settings when they:

  • Do research on our setting (public library) and be aware of some of the biggest trends and issues in the field.
  • Demonstrate how their experience applies to our setting.  For example, “I selected mathematics materials for our college, and understand how to stretch collection dollars and buy the most popular and needed materials….”  or “my faculty senate experience has given me valuable insights.  I have some understanding of how elected officials and library trustees perceive libraries and how to garner support for library activities…”
  • Provide reasons for the setting switch that go beyond just needing employment.  “I am interested in public libraries because I like to work with people of all ages in a community….”

– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library

Laurie Phillips

Yes, we have hired people from both corporate and public libraries. Success is all in how you present yourself. Learn as much as you can about academic libraries and what is expected in the job being advertised. Then take your skills and show how well they fit with some adaptation. I am often more impressed by someone who can sell how well they fit a position when, on the surface, they may not have relevant experience. It’s all about selling your transferable skills and understanding of the environment.
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Thanks for the question.  Most of my experience was in a special library/archive when I started full-time in a public library.  The things this candidate will want to focus on in the interview are the skills common to all types of libraries, particularly customer service.   No matter the type of library, we all have experience with irate patrons, with patrons on a deadline, with patrons who can’t print.   Also, be up front in the interview if you don’t have experience in an area.   Say truthfully that you would need more training in [task, say database instruction], but that you do have some experience in [task that requires similar skills, like presenting to the CEO, or at conference].

Is there time during the “transition” to get more experience in the new field before the application process is complete?: work a few hours a week at a local academic library, just to get one’s feet wet, or attend a conference perhaps.  I would even see signing up for an online class as a commitment to the career shift.

Very few of the positions in my library absolutely require past library experience, so we have candidates from many industries.  What makes someone a great candidate here are commitments to public service and to being part of the team.  A candidate with those qualities can beat out someone who has more years in a library but a not-as-great attitude.

Good luck!

– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian, Neill Public Library, Pullman, Washington

More important than type of library (although related) is familiarity with the classification(s) used in the position being filled, e.g., a public library cataloguer being considered for an academic position would need to demonstrate knowledge of LCC.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

I just hired someone a couple of months ago with no library experience but over ten years of customer service experience. I generally hire job candidates with previous library experience, from any type of library, but customer service is just as important! If you are planning to make they move to academic library, do your homework about they institution and include examples in your presentation that show your understanding of academic culture.

– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries

Thanks as always to our hiring librarians for answering this week’s question!

If you are also someone who hires librarians and are interested in being a regular participant in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thanks for reading! Billie Jean is not my lover, she’s just a comment.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public, Special

3 responses to “Further Questions: How Can Candidates Changing Library Types, or Fields, Best Present Their Skills?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  2. Pingback: Further Questions: How easy is it to switch between different types of librarianship? | Hiring Librarians

  3. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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