Job postings and position descriptions are a major problem

[Librarian Belle da Costa Greene, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing slightly left]

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library

√ Archives

√ Special Library 

Title: Archivist

Titles hired include: Archivist, project archivist

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel 

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ A whole day of interviews

√ A meal with hiring personnel 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes 

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

Online applications go to HR who conduct an initial screening, they send applications onto the hiring committee which is almost always chaired by the supervisor for the open position.  The hiring committee always includes multiple staff from across departments with some knowledge of the work the incumbent will be performing (supervisor, curator, someone in a parallel or very similar position within the unit, someone with a tangentially related job in another unit). The committee goes through bias awareness training with HR.  The committee reviews all the applications and discusses them. In the searches I’ve been involved with, we go around the table and discuss each candidate and generally rate them as a yes, maybe, or no, though there is no formal rubric for this.  We go through the yes’s and maybe’s and narrow down to a few people we want to bring for a phone screening.  After the phone screening we narrow the finalists who will be invited for a full day interview.  The full day interview includes interviews and lunches/events with various configurations of staff from various units.  The committee collects feedback from staff on the candidate.  The committee meets to make a decision.  It’s generally after the full-day interview when we check references for the candidate we want to make the offer to.  HR reaches out to make the offer and handles the salary negotiations, sharing info about benefits, etc. 

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

Their cover letter was exceptionally well-written and told a compelling story about their career and why they were a great fit for the position.  It was truly impeccably written and the entire application package included a good mix of quantitative info (# of collections worked on, quantifying budget and workflow efficiencies) and more qualitative information about what they enjoyed about the work, their working style, and what it’s like to have them as a colleague.  One thing that really impressed me was that the cover letter included tidbits of how their colleagues would describe them and their accomplishments.  “I’m well-known within the department for my XYZ skills.  My colleagues have asked me to review documentation because of my expertise, and I am frequently asked to liaise with XYZ committees and units.  One colleague described me as “our resident XYZ expert.”  That kind of thing. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

If it’s clear from the CV and/or cover letter that they do not understand the job they’re applying for.  Something like applying for a cataloging position and spending the entire cover letter talking about how much they want to focus on exhibits and instruction. 

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

Honest assessment of their working style – not in terms of productivity but things like preference for oral vs. written communication, their preferred management style, the type of training they need and how they would like it delivered.  In my experience people are so eager to please that you can’t get a good sense of this from the questions we ask.  There are lots of vague answers which makes it difficult to gauge the type of training and onboarding they would actually need and whether it’s realistic for us to provide that in the way that would make them most likely to succeed. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more  

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more 

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

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Not doing enough research about basic subject knowledge and core competencies for the position.  Not anticipating or being prepared for behavioral type questions “tell us about a time when…” “Tell us how you would hypothetically handle this situation…” 

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

Yes, we do Zoom interviews.  It can be hard to get the same degree of connection, so it can feel a little awkward.  Not much specific advice but don’t be afraid to ask for questions or clarifications.  

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?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves.  I honestly don’t have much advice for paraprofessionals or folks in this situation because I think the problem is absolutely on employers and hiring managers, not on the applicants themselves.  If you’re switching between library types you can definitely emphasize the functions which are the same and the skills that are transferrable.  If you’re a paraprofessional you can emphasize the degree to which you worked independently, and perhaps any areas where you have leadership or were asked to consult or offer your advice on workflows, documentation, etc.  Those are both indications of professional growth and expertise and ability to move into a professional role. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

HR does a training about this but in my opinion it is inadequate. 

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

I love when candidates have done a bit of research and ask about specific initiatives going on at the library, if they have a sense of recent projects we’ve done or know what our standards and workflows are, at least at a very surface level.  I also like questions about training and onboarding and the possibilities for cross-training and professional development.  It’s good when someone shows initiative and interest in a particular area, a willingness to be more involved professionally, or even offers feedback or suggestions if we’ve mentioned a particular challenge or ongoing issue.  

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200 

Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author? 

Job postings and position descriptions are a major problem.  They need to be clearer, more specific, and more transparent about a lot of things. I’ve personally applied for jobs where the job description listed every possible archives/library function under the sun, it seemed like a generalist job with “additional duties as assigned” thrown in for good measure, only to get to the interview and realize that the employer had a very specific focus for the job (95% one function or task) and they use a boilerplate job desc or just include all those other things so you can’t make the case that you’re being given tasks outside your scope.  Also, be transparent about salary, benefits, hours, and onsite vs remote work time from the get go.  

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.


Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 100-200 staff members, Academic, Archives, Northeastern US, Special, Suburban area, Urban area

2 responses to “Job postings and position descriptions are a major problem

  1. Victoria

    This is an excellent interview! I absolutely agree with the final thoughts about position descriptions. I’ve read some that don’t make sense, and it is difficult (if not impossible!) to apply for the job because you can’t be sure what they are looking for in a candidate.


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