Further Questions: Does your library/organization value longevity or variety of experiences more?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is:

Traditional hiring advice cautions against being a “job hopper.” And yet, switching positions often provides a lot of benefits – broader experience, more connections, better pay, etc.  Does your library/organization value longevity or variety of experiences more? When you hire, are you on the lookout for “job hopping” and if so, what are the signs? Bonus: Can you share a little about your job history (positions/length of time) and rationale for changing positions (or not)?

There is some more discussion on Twitter and a little bit more on Facebook (if you’re part of the notorious #ALATT).

Anonymous: I think we have always been wary of job hoppers. Will this person stay and be invested in our organization? Will they connect here and stay or always have one foot out of the door? Our librarians have faculty status, so once you’re tenured, it’s a lot harder to think about moving, since there is stability. Money is always, of course, an issue, and career development. I personally was lucky enough to be able to develop my career at one university. If I were still doing the job for which I was hired many years ago, I wouldn’t still be here. I’ve been given many opportunities to grow, develop, change, and move up in the organization. But, when I had the opportunity to apply for the position of director of the library, I found that the upper academic administration did not value my longevity and wanted someone who had experience elsewhere. While I understand that, I didn’t feel like the breadth of my experience here was understood or valued. I know a lot about what’s going on in other libraries and the field. I just haven’t worked at other libraries. So, my answer would be, it depends on who is making the decision. 

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: As with so many things, it depends on the position, the candidate, and the library’s needs at the time. If they seem like a potentially excellent employee, I’d rather have them here for a relatively short time than settle for someone who seems like they will stay long-term but doesn’t bring much to the table. In just a year or two a great employee can bring in a lot of new ideas, programs, skills, and enthusiasm that can have a ripple effect on other staff too. 

All that is true for most positions, but there are some where expected tenure is a bigger consideration. For anything that requires a lot of specialized technical skill, or long-term on-the-job training, having to do that all over again comes with a bigger financial and adminstrative cost. The same is true for jobs performed by only one person at a time — if there’s no one else in that department to share the load in the event of a vacancy, we may be less likely to risk hiring someone who has only stayed in positions short-term. 

My advice to candidates with a lot of short-term jobs on their resumes is: just tell us why! We understand that people usually have to take what they can find before they get into the field or position they really want to have. If you’ve worked 5 different non-library jobs in the past 5 years, but your dream has always been to work with children in the library, etc., the “job hopping” isn’t necessarily a red flag. On the other hand, if you don’t seem particularly interested in this library position, and can’t give a good reason why you left the previous jobs, it may give us pause. Even saying you left for better schedule or pay is a good explanation; just don’t leave it at “it didn’t work out” or “I didn’t like it.” It’s also important to make a connection between the other jobs and the potential library position. Customer service work in retail or food service is great experience for working at a circulation or reference desk. Working in a call center shows you can stay calm talking to upset customers. Working in a day care or school gives you skills that can transfer to working in a children’s department. But it’s important to make those connections explicitly, because the person reading your application or interviewing you may not. 

Finally, we hiring managers, especially those in mid- or late-career, also need to remember that the job market is not like it is when we started out.  The days when you could get a job you liked, stay in it for years, and count on regular incremental salary increases that outpaced increases in the cost of living, are long gone, and that’s never been the reality for workers under 35 or so. For younger workers, often the only way to get a salary increase has been to wait for a higher level opening in their organization, or to find a job elsewhere. Just something to keep in mind.

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I feel like the most recent questions are walking endorsements for thoughtful cover letters!! A CV or resume can put a spotlight on frequent job changes which can happen for lots of reasons. I have noted before that having a military spouse or family members of any age needing care are just two of many reasons why people may change jobs more frequently than what someone might consider usual.

Use your cover letter to provide some context to the degree that a hiring committee needs to know. If you are really “job hopping,” say something about how your skills and experience benefitted from the moves. A search committee may wonder whether frequent moves are an indication of lack of success rather than some other motivation. Whatever the reason, if you have moved around a lot it can help to include references you trust from some of the places you have worked who can support your application if you reach that stage of a search.

I admit that I have become much less apt to assume anything about a candidate just based on dates I see on a resume. A committee certainly does not need a long explanation. Nor should a candidate feel obligated to provide details that may also skirt the boundaries at least of unethical if not illegal. Tell us how your experiences have helped you become a candidate we want to know more about.
My job history doesn’t look anything like I expected. I got my first job one month out of library school in fall 1992. I expected to stay for about 4-5 years. In year 5 I was promoted to Head of Public Services. In year 10 I was promoted to library director. I always tell people that I made my moves by staying in one place, at a very small college. I was happy there and had also established a personal relationship and had other reasons to stay.  Then – 22 years later – my partner and I felt a need to make a change. At that point thinking about moving was incredibly scary and much later in my career than I thought I would make a change. I only applied for one job (we were focused on one geographical area and I wanted to stay at a particular type of institution). I got the job and we moved in 2014. That was 8 years ago. It will be my last move.

The move provided me with opportunities to grow and learn that I would never would have had if I had stayed where I was. I think staying where I was for so long and moving when I did have ended up being the right things for me. I am not built to be a job-hopper. Some people are.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: To attempt to clearly express my opinion I am going to comment on each sentence. 

Traditional hiring advice cautions against being a “job hopper.” The way I would like to comment on this is to say “yes, but…” 

  • I realized early on in my career that “hopping” meant different things to different people. It is important to define; therefore, within an organization, an office or department and within a hiring group – what hopping actually means in the context of the job or department hiring. In fact, logically, in some organizations “hopping” might be valued in one department or for one level or one type of position as well as “hopping” might not be seen as a problem. In my opinion; however, for librarians, “less than a year” or “barely over a year” is a hop although my caveats would be:
    • Did someone move within an institution? between or among departments?
    • Were the hops always on an upward trajectory? 
    • Is there an indication that “hopping” was part of the job? (ex. learning various areas? participating in projects? any indication of ‘floating’? 
    • Does the individual in a job possess unique experiences or education they are asked to share broadly?
    • Was hopping ‘unavoidable?’
      • Did the organization downsize and let recently hired go? 
      • Did organization’s merge? 
      • Did manager’s change?
      • Were there external reasons? (Pandemic issues? facilities issues? weather related environmental issues? relocations required?)

And yet, switching positions often provides a lot of benefits – broader experience, more connections, better pay, etc. There ARE many reasons why someone might be moving between or among positions or organizations including opportunities that arise heretofore thought not possible? Benefits or salary significantly better? Are there advancement possibilities? Simply a better match of work roles and responsibilities? A different management style? Or something not typically thought of..flexible work hours needed? A workspace with windows needed? Organizations DO need to have the discussion as to what IS hopping and – if it is present given their definition – and if it – upon review – acceptable for the position available.

Does your library/organization value longevity or variety of experiences more? When you hire, are you on the lookout for “job hopping” and if so, what are the signs? So it depends and it depends. Hiring committee chairs in my organization DO work with hiring teams to discuss what is needed, what is acceptable, what to look out for when reviewing resumes and applications and often – after members have chosen who they want to interview – discuss how each individual’s resume and application matches individuals to the job descriptions and team needs. But to specifically answer:

  • Identify team and organizational needs for the successful candidate as to experience – types, lengths, etc.
  • Look for unexplained gaps within hops.
  • Ask about gaps that are later filled in with hops that indicate issues on your list to avoid.
  • Avoid *extremes* – that is – in assessing “look for many years at one organization with no indication of maintaining professional development or training activities” and for only one type of experience ever, look for an indication of  maintaining professional development or training activities.

The obvious answer to applicants here is – odds are you will need to – at some point – identify all positions held and why you have left those positions. Get a headstart on this and if you don’t want to address things through the application OR the resume, write a paragraph and put it in your cover letter…identify positions, timelines, reasons for applying, reasons for leaving, etc. Invite questions for more specificity or clarification. 

Can you share a little about your job history (positions/length of time) and rationale for changing positions (or not)? I am probably the wrong person to ask about this. In my first job I stayed almost 4 years although relatively miserable and then moved within the organization to a larger library in a position where – although the title was not much different, it was definitely a step up and that was clear to any reviewing roles and responsibilities. I was there for 3 years – happy – but then left to get my PhD. After my PhD I went into a different part of the profession – graduate education full time – and stayed four years – happy – then returned to practice based on relocation needs. All explainable. Then – I have been with my current organization since – and I’ll let you do the math – 1985. While here; however, I have moved up within the organization. Since 1985; however, I have applied for one external job which I did NOT get – then after that – this organization was head and shoulders financially above others – the variety and changes kept me as well as the flexibility. It’s obvious from this, I am not a hopper – but after interviewing dozens and dozens of people over the years, supervising as many people as I do and answering questions from not only my own employees but from colleagues I have some basic recommendations. 

  • Don’t create a 20-20 hindsight that is simply incorrect about why you moved around or up or out or your titles when you moved, etc. In this day and age, reasons for leaving, people to call, postings to read, interview videos posted to the web – catch you in fabrications every time.
  • Do NOT – and I have said this twice before in this forum – let a work coach or resume service hide content, invent or spin reasons beyond recognition. 
  • Address job hopping somewhere – even if – as stated above – it is only to invite questions in cover letters about work history. Show a willingness to explain job paths. 
  • Don’t create one “worklife” representing yourself on an online network site that contradicts the worklife on your resume or application. At best it will look sloppy and at worst it will look deceptive. 

Finally – I don’t believe some recommendations such as “you must stay two years in each job” or “you must stay five years before you can call yourself an expert in an area” or “don’t move from type of library to type of library without spending a significant amount of time at each.” I believe you should be honest and explain yourself or offer to explain yourself in your cover letter, in an enquiry email or at the top of your resume. Transparency or the offer of transparency is critical to success. 

 If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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