Further Questions: How Do I Balance Professionalism with Personality?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

One challenging aspect of job searching is knowing how to balance professionalism with personality, especially since personality can be intertwined with determining “fit.” What aspects of the job searching process, in your opinion, allow for a candidate to exhibit more personality–CV/resume, cover letter, interview, interview attire, etc.? What is your advice for candidates struggling with this issue, and how do you strike the balance from the other side of the table?

I would advise professionalism in application materials since you do not know who is looking at them, it may not even be individuals you would be working with on a day to day basis so “fit” may not be a factor at this point. I would recommend the same regarding dress since you would be likely to meet with many people on your interview day that again, you may not be working with on a day to day basis.


I do think the interview (phone screening or in person) and presentation are when you would show more personality but you are still putting your best foot forward at an interview so personality with professionalism. You do want to make sure you are comfortable with your future co-workers as well so being yourself is important so you can determine if you “fit” with their culture too.

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

Jessica OlinYou definitely want to shine in your cover letter. I look at resumes/CVs to see if you meet the basic requirements, but I really study the cover letter. Also, and this advice is something you’ll hear everywhere, you want to be the best version of yourself in the interview. I know it might seem easy for me to say thing since I’m on the hiring side of the interview table, but when I was on the applicant side I felt the same way. Comments about baking or Doctor Who or whatever you find interesting, if you can fit it into the interview, are a great way to feel people out. Finally, when it comes to interview attire, don’t mess around much. A little bit of flair like a cool tie or nifty earrings is good, but dress professionally otherwise. And please, no overboard cologne or perfume – you never know what allergies the interviewer might have.

– Jessica Olin, Director of Parker Library, Wesley College

angelynn kingI for one am always pleased to see a little flair in dress and a little creativity in answering interview questions. Application materials, however, should always be conservative — you don’t know how many layers of screening they’ll have to go through, or with whom.



– Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

Laurie Phillips

This is a difficult question to answer. Part of it is, how much personality is too much? If there are things about you that might distinguish you or that would be something to talk about with people, by all means, include them. As an example, I worked as a ride operator as an amusement park while I was in college and early grad school. I left it on my resume for my first professional job search and everyone I interviewed with wanted to know about that. It was an ice breaker! I would say, in the cover letter, be careful that your letter is not too informal or unprofessional, but it’s certainly okay to highlight things that show your personality. As for the interview, with us, you’d have a chance to talk less formally with committee at dinner. As far as dress, I’d say yes, you can absolutely show a little personality with that. But I am less stuffy and probably had iridescent or purple fingernails and wore 4 inch heels on my last round of interviewing people.
– 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 us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

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2 responses to “Further Questions: How Do I Balance Professionalism with Personality?

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