Jess is the Director of Adult Services at Spartanburg County Public Libraries, where she started as a page 13 years ago. Jess has planned and facilitated hundreds of programs including dozens of author events, offered reader’s advisory services to thousands of readers, and has even managed to squeeze reading a book or two into the process.
When she’s not at the library, Jess can be found riding her horse, Max, or rapidly downing a small bag of Cheez-Its.
Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:
Our process is usually a four step test for candidates: the application, pre-employment testing, a live interview, and credit/background/reference check. I am involved in the review of applications and one of the interviewers, along with my Assistant Director. The pre-employment testing is computerized and administered by HR; it’s required for all applicants before an interview as an equalizing test of knowledge. My AD and I are responsible for selecting a top applicant after interviews, but we can (and often do) request input from our hiring specialist, who sits in on all interviews with us.
Titles hired include: Assistant Director of Multimedia & Fiction, Media Assistant, Multimedia & Fiction Assistant
Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:
√ The position’s supervisor
Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?
√ Cover letter
√ Proof of degree (if applying for an MLIS-required position)
√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc) (my department usually requests a program idea)
√ Other: Paper application (we’re working on getting it online)
Does your organization use automated application screening?
Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?
One of our recent hires came into the interview a few minutes late, which had dropped him a few points for all of us. But once he was in the room, I was really struck by his personality and his ability to take things in stride: from the jump he explained how he navigated the unexpected traffic jam he was stuck in to get to the library more quickly, and he was open, honest and expansive with his responses to our questions. One of my favorite interview prompts is “tell us what you’re watching right now and why we should watch it too”, and he gave one of the best untrained booktalks that I’ve ever seen. His passion and enthusiasm for the show (Ozark) clearly came through, and that’s a standard that I now hold other applicants to. (He’s proven to be a great employee!)
This was before I was in a position that included hiring responsibilities, but one weekend I was working the desk and a patron came in and asked my coworker and I a ton of questions about what we did–the environment, what our responsibilities were, and so on. It turned out that she was interviewing that Monday for a job in our department. I was really impressed that she came in on a Saturday to talk face to face with possible future coworkers, and she asked really thoughtful questions. My coworker and I told our supervisor about it, and she was impressed too, and ultimately, this candidate ended up getting the job.
Do you have any instant dealbreakers?
Total lack of personality, including sense of humor. It might seem weird, but it’s essential when working with patrons to have a sense of humor. Being late without warning or not showing up is a big dealbreaker. And although it isn’t INSTANT, it’s hard work for an applicant to overcome “I love to read” as an answer for why they want to work in my department.
What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?
Their true capacity for providing extensive customer service over a long period of time. That’s something we really only learn once someone is in the environment.
How many pages should each of these documents be?
Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more
Resume: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant
CV: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant
What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?
Assuming that we read at work and that the environment is quiet! We also very often talk to candidates who have never been to a program as an adult or perhaps have never really even used the library. They know nothing about what we offer. Learn what we have available before you walk into the interview! If you work at a library, the patrons think you’re a librarian, no matter what degree you have, so show that you’re ready for that by researching the place where you want to work before you’re in the environment.
Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?
As needed, yes. Sometimes candidates live pretty far away or have a medical issue pop up at the last minute, and we try to accommodate that. It’s usually over Skype or Zoom, and of course the environment is subpar. I always, always recommend to anyone applying for any job, but especially via virtual means: let your personality shine through. We can teach you how to use the ILS and the difference between HDMI and XLR, but I cannot teach you to have a good personality and an ability to let things roll off your back. Be expansive with your answers, and try to make the interview into more of a conversation. That’s especially helpful virtually, where the back and forth can be painfully stilted.
How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?
Think really hard and really broad about how your experience CAN be relevant. For example, I majored in Latin (and my parents still hold that one over my head). I never thought that my knowledge of Latin would amount to anything in the public library setting, but I’ve been sent multiple patrons over the years for reader’s advisory help because no one else knows what to give someone who just read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Similarly, I wanted to be an architect as a kid, and I ended up harnessing my drafting skills to design miniature houses that patrons could put together and decorate for the holidays, which came to be an immensely popular program.
I can’t speak for other library types, but in public libraries (or at least MY public library), we will really work with you to harness your passions and turn them into something for our patrons. Virtually anything you do that could be considered “project management” (like planning a wedding, a trip, or a big move), “data analysis” (tracking your personal budget, extensive healthcare paperwork, or tracking your car mileage), or “customer service” (helping your partner’s mother with a TV input issue, looking for a good book for a friend, or making cold calls for a local nonprofit) can all be spun into something relevant to library work.
When does your organization *first* mention salary information?
√ It’s part of the job ad
What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?
Well, we’re a southern library in a fairly conservative area, so we’re working uphill on this. But we are working on it.
Hiring staff have all gone through training regarding bias in the interview process, and that was helpful for me, especially when it comes to communicating about bias. My AD and I work very hard to reflect on our biases and openly call them out on ourselves and each other during the deliberation process. We are both operating through the lens of managing all of the past staff we’ve managed and we have to be V-E-R-Y careful about putting those biases into context.
I also try to show at least one of my tattoos in the interview setting and my AD has purple hair, so I’m hoping that is a signal that we are stylistically speaking a more open, accommodating and relaxed atmosphere.
What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?
Please, for the love of all things great and small: ask us SOMETHING. You’re interviewing us as much as we are interviewing you, and not asking any questions is a signal to me that you aren’t thinking analytically about the role, the organization, or your future supervisors.
I think it’s always a good idea to ask about our benefits package–we say on our postings that we have an excellent benefits package, but not what it entails, so that’s a gimme. I like when staff ask what a typical day looks like for the position, and what parameters are for success in the role. Asking questions about our strategic plan is nice too, because it means they know we have a strategic plan in the first place. A candidate of yore asked what the library’s ultimate relationship with the community was and how we worked toward that, which was a very smart question that showed that the candidate was thinking about how to make the library work within the larger scope of our county.
What part of the world are you in?
√ Southeastern US
What’s your region like?
√ Other: Urban city and rural county
Is your workplace remote/virtual?
√ Never or not anymore
How many staff members are at your organization?
√ Other: Currently, 189, but on a fully-staffed day, we have 229. (One branch is closed for rebuilding, and we have a lot of open positions right now.)
Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author?
For the job hunters: Don’t give up. The jobs are out here. You’re going to have to LOOK for them, though, and look beyond the typical places. There are a lot of libraries hiring right now, but not all the jobs end up on the ALA Joblist or other big sites (some of them require that libraries pay to post their positions, and we don’t all have the money for it). Do some digging, research libraries in multiple areas, and go to their actual websites.
For the survey author: So glad you’re bringing HL back. I’m very happy to see this resource return in full force; it’s been helpful to me as an applicant time and time again, and I’m happy to return the favor by sharing info from my perspective as a hiring manager now that I’m in that part of my career.
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