I’ve had very good correlation between successful hires and composers of excellent cover letters

Black and white photo librarian sits at desk in an alcove under a vine, woman stands speaking to her
Image: Great Kills, Librarian and patron at desk From The New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Branch Manager

Titles hired: Library Assistant, Library Assistant Specialist, Youth Services Specialist, Adult Services Specialist, Branch Supervisor

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ The position’s supervisor

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Other: The online application system does a very minor amount of screening, but still lets a lot of people through who don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

Applicants must apply online. Positions are open until filled. Interviews are scheduled after a sufficient number of promising applicants have accumulated. During COVID, Interviews were by Zoom. We are starting to move back to more in-person interviews. Interviews are with the manager (myself), the supervisor (equivalent of an asst. manager), and the HR director. The same questions are used with all interviewees for a position. Those applying for positions requiring programming are required to do a presentation. The manager makes the final selection with HR input.

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

We always ask for cover letters, but very few people actually write them. If a candidate writes a thoughtful cover letter, assuming they meet the minimum job requirements, they almost always end up at the top of my list of people to interview. I’ve had very good correlation between successful hires and composers of excellent cover letters. I’m also impressed by people who come to interviews obviously very well prepared. For example, they previously visited the library and researched our services. I had an entry level candidate who had no library experience. While interviewing, I noticed he had a notebook with the Dewey Decimal System written out in detail. He never referenced it, but I noticed his preparation and it did influence my decision to hire him.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

People who don’t use proper capitalization, punctuation or grammar in their applications. People who can’t work the required hours or meet the minimum job requirements. People who give problematic sounding reasons for leaving their previous jobs, particularly when that same reason is listed multiple times. People who are out of school, yet still have tons of job turnover (particularly yearly turnover).

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

How well they’ll work with the rest of the team. There are indicators, but in the end, its always a gamble.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant

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?

Revealing personal information that isn’t relevant and reflects poorly. Poorly handling questions like “What are you working to improve?”

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

More so than in the past. If you are asked to do a presentation, be prepared to screenshare. Nothing you try to hold up to the camera will look good.

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?

Give solid examples of how your current skill set relates to the position you want. If the position you’re after is a stretch, say it requires programming skills and you’ve never programmed, make it clear to me that you’ve researched the topic and learned about professional resources that will help you grow and succeed in the position. I had a para-professional who wanted to become a youth programmer. She made an effort to get involved in anything she could that was remotely youth related. She sought advice from coworkers who were programmers. She practiced doing storytimes at home and filmed herself so she could self critique. Despite limited programming experience, she was the clear choice for the job. If a candidate keeps getting shot down for promotions, they should talk to HR and get advice. If there’s a clear problem area, they need to work on it. I’ve dealt with a person who applied for tons of jobs, but interviewed terribly. The fact that they never changed their style or seemed to learn from their experiences, made me concerned about how teachable they would be if given a promotion.

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?

We use a numerical metric to score responses to questions. I would like to see us advertise our positions more widely.

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

Asking questions is good. It’s fine to ask about things like schedule and benefits, but also ask some thoughtful things about the job. Examples: library goals, training process, management style, etc.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200


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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 100-200 staff members, Midwestern US, Public, Rural area, Suburban area

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