Be Realistic about How Many Applications Job Seekers are Forced to Put Out

This post originally appeared on March 4, 2013. A follow up with Ms. Becerra-Licha will post in just a few moments.
Sofia Becerra

This interview is with Sofía Becerra-Licha, the archivist at Berklee College of Music, a new position charged with formalizing the archives under a grant from the NHPRC. Ms. Becerra-Licha  earned her MSLS with a concentration in Archives & Records Management from UNC-CH (August ’12), where she was a Spectrum Scholar (2010-2011), a Carolina Academic Library Associate  (2010-2012), and was heavily involved as a student leader. She also holds a master’s degree in ethnomusicology and double-majored in music and Spanish as an undergraduate. Ms. Becerra-Licha was hired within the last two months, but prior to that was looking for a new position for six months to a year, in Academic libraries and Archives, for Entry level positions. This new grad describes her  internship/volunteering experience as:

2 years as a graduate assistant in public services at a small branch library. 1 year in a copy cataloging graduate assistantship for a large audiovisual archives. Two semester-long internships/volunteer positions: archival processing (papers) and original cataloging (music). Two months as a volunteer, cataloging videos. All of these positions were part-time and in academic libraries/archives.

She is in an urban area in the Northeastern US and was willing to move anywhere. Ms. Becerra-Licha is a member of the American Library Association (ALA), Society of American Archivists (SAA), and Music Library Association (MLA). She is currently documenting her first year on the job as a contributor to the SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) roundtable blog series “A Year in the Life.”

What are the top three things you’re looking for in a job?

Interesting work and/or responsibilities

Congenial colleagues

Salary proportionate to local cost of living

Where do you look for open positions?

Professional listservs and websites

Do you expect to see salary range listed in a job ad?

√ Yes, and it’s a red flag when it’s not

What’s your routine for preparing an application packet? How much time do you spend on it?

First, I reread the job description carefully and decide whether I meet the minimum requirements, as well as whether it sees like a genuinely good fit for my interests and skills. Next, I add the position as a possibility on my job applications spreadsheet, which includes fields for deadlines, number of references, and any special instructions. Based on the ad, I decide which references make the most sense for this type of position and contact them, including a few sentences about how my qualifications match up against the requirements and anything else particularly distinctive about the opportunity or my experience in relation to it. (And of course, I always include the caveat that they’re welcome to refuse if they have any reservations whatsoever, no questions asked!)

Simultaneously, I briefly research the institution and area to confirm this would be a liveable option, and to get ideas for connections I might mine for the cover letter. Assuming I don’t need to update my résumé, I draft the cover letter, potentially borrowing phrases from previous letters if I have applied for similar positions, but otherwise spending 30 minutes to an hour on the letter alone.

Overall, I would say an average application packet takes a couple of hours, but the length will depend on the demands of the process. I mostly applied to academic library positions, so another 30 minutes to an hour could go towards having to fill in a lot of the same information again on a general HR site, sometimes requiring the creation of an online account with that system. It’s hard for me to gauge because I rarely worked on a single application exclusively. I imagine I’m not the only one who tended to chip away at tasks in between other responsibilities, as I was taking classes full-time and working part-time.

Have you ever stretched the truth, exaggerated, or lied on your resume, or at some other point during the hiring process?

√ No

When would you like employers to contact you?

√ To acknowledge my application

√ To tell me if I have or have not been selected to move on to the interview stage

√ To follow-up after an interview

√ Once the position has been filled, even if it’s not me

How do you prefer to communicate with potential employers?

√ Other: Email to acknowledge application and any status updates; phone to follow up after an in-person interview. If I interviewed in person, then ideally phone notification once the position has been filled (but an email is definitely better than nothing!).

Which events during the interview/visit are most important to your assessment of the position (i.e. deciding if you want the job)?

√ Tour of facility

√ Meeting department members/potential co-workers

√ Meeting with HR to talk about benefits/salary

√ Other: Information on the area, touring the surrounding area, housing information, etc.

What do you think employers should do to get the best candidates to apply?

Think critically about the job description, particularly the required skillset, rather than recycling from old job descriptions or throwing together a massive wishlist. Be clear about the application process, requirements, and timeline. Avoid requesting an excessive amount of supplemental documents upfront.

What should employers do to make the hiring process less painful?

Be realistic (or at least understanding) about how many applications job seekers are forced to put out and take this into consideration when asking for additional materials, particularly from references. If at all possible, avoid collecting redundant information in time-consuming ways (such as requiring registering for a website or having to enter every single job, when such information is part of the required resume). Above all, communication is greatly appreciated. I understand the back-end is complicated, inevitable hold-ups abound, and there are valid reasons why many details cannot be disclosed. But whenever possible, even something like a generic update on a website saying, “we are now at the phone interview stage” is more charitable than silence. Please follow up in some manner with anyone you interview, whether in person or on the phone, via skype, etc. Professionalism goes both ways.

What do you think is the secret to getting hired?

Being persistent, remaining connected and productive, applying selectively, and honestly, having a bit of luck.

This survey was co-authored by Naomi House from I Need A Library Job – Do you need one?  Check it out!

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Filed under Academic, Archives, Job hunter's survey, Northeastern US, Urban area

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