Further Questions: Why is it Taking So Long?

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.

What are the different hiring stages at your organization and how long does each typically take? What are the factors that can lengthen the process? At what point in time (if any) should a candidate contact your organization to check the status of an application?

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: We generally allow a month from the time that we advertise until we sit down as a committee to review applications. There is usually a date by which your application will receive full consideration, so don’t expect to hear before then. We do a full review of applications as a committee, and that usually will take place the week after the closing date. Once we agree on candidates for first round interviews, we put our calendars together to determine when we can interview people in a given week. Depending on schedules, holidays, etc., that could be a week or two in advance. We then contact candidates for that first round and make sure we have questions written for that round of interviews. We conduct those interviews, then meet shortly after that to decide on candidates for the next round. In the case of our most recent search, we had to re-advertise nationally and it got held up, so that meant that we could only notify candidates before the holidays that we would be inviting them for a second round. At that point, we and the dean have to agree on our availability for the second round because those interviews are essentially all day. That may be a week or two in advance, especially since the person will be asked to do a presentation and we want to give them time. In our current process, we are then inviting our top choice to campus so we can meet each other face to face before anyone has to make a final decision. That will depend on availability for travel. So, all told, it could take 3 months or so from start to finish. We’ve done it more quickly over the summer, on a very tight timeline, but the longer timeline is more likely during the school year. With faculty hires, the new hire then has to provide transcripts, written references, and the contract has to be prepared. Academia moves slowly…

Anonymous Federal Librarian: The federal hiring process can be incredibly frustrating and confusing. Most government agencies post their open positions on USA Jobs. Most postings are open for two weeks. It’s after that, where everything gets chaotic with no set timelines. In a perfect process, the job gets posted for two weeks and then closes. A week after that, the hiring manager will get a list of candidates and resumes that have been certified. If a candidate has been certified, they will get a notice from USA Jobs that says they have been referred to the hiring manager.  In my agency, I have about three weeks review resumes with the hiring panel, decide who to interview, complete the interviews, conduct reference checks, and submit my ranked list of candidates.  HR within a week will usually certify my ranked list. Then within a week after that, they will notify the top choice candidate. The top choice will usually have 48 hours to decide. If they decline HR will reach out to the second-choice candidate until there are no candidates left on the hiring list. So, if I submit a list with two names and both turn it down, I either must wait to repost the position, or I can go back and select a candidate that I didn’t rank. Candidates not selected in theory should be notified within a month of the interview that they were not selected, as their status will change in USA Jobs.  That is what is supposed to happen, however that is almost never the reality. I have applied for positions and been notified that I made the certification list and not received an interview, and my status doesn’t change. I have applied for positions where I either turned down the position, withdrew from consideration, or was not selected where my status never changed. I have applied for positions, known who got the job and my status on USA Jobs still says reviewing applications. When I go into my profile in USA Jobs the job I’m currently in and have been for almost two years still lists as “reviewing applications.” A little digging shows I got the job. Yay! In my last hiring action, I was given the cert lists (depending on how the position was posted we may get more than one) and all the candidates turned down the interview on one of the lists. I went back to HR to get more candidates, only to find out the candidates that ended up on that second cert list had their status change in USA Jobs from “not qualified” to “sent to hiring manager” . I blame that on a totally incompetent HR person. I have also applied for multiple government jobs where I didn’t hear anything for months and then after I had accepted another position, the hiring manager reached out to me for an interview. One thing of note is that if you do get an interview and then don’t hear anything, as a hiring manager we aren’t allowed to talk to the candidates about anything regarding the hiring process. The hiring manager isn’t being mean, we are just not allowed to discuss it.  There is an HR contact on each posting and all communication goes to them. If the hiring manager replies at all, they will most likely direct you to the HR person.  It’s painful to me not to respond to candidates and I do want to talk to them, I am just not allowed. The bottom line is the federal hiring process is difficult, and painful, but people can make it through it.

Federal Hiring timeline in a perfect world:

Weeks 1-2 job open for applications

Week 3 candidates are certified and sent to the hiring manager

Weeks 4-6 Hiring manager and hiring panel review resumes, conduct interviews, conduct reference checks, and make a selection.

Week 7 HR reviews and certifies selection

Week 8 top choice candidate is notified.

Week 9 If ranked candidate accepts, they will go through the security clearance process or firm up a start date

Week 10 Candidates not selected will be notified in USA Jobs

Final note, the above timeline almost never happens.

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: Our hiring process takes longer, and has more steps, than applicants may realize. I expect this is the case for a lot of public sector employers. All things considered, it can be almost a month from the time a position closes to the time a final job offer is made. This is our timeline:

  • Job posting closes: applications are routed to us by the county Human Resources department, which can take a couple of business days.
  • Applications reviewed and candidates contacted for interviews: this can take a week and sometimes more. We use a three-person interview panel, and try to do all the interviews in one block to simplify scheduling. We give the interview candidates a couple of business days to return calls or messages. 
  • Background and reference checks: leading candidates have a background check performed by HR. Sometimes this comes back within a day, but other times the agency has to review paper files and it can take a week or more. 
  • Drug test: the county-required drug test is scheduled only after the background check is returned. Similar to the background check, this can sometimes come back the next day, but can take up to a week depending on how busy the lab is. 
  • Start date: once all of those screenings are clear, we can officially offer the position and set a start date. New employees start every two weeks, and we have to send new hire paperwork to HR before the start date, so if it cuts too close (like getting the drug test results back on a Thursday or Friday before a Monday start date) we may have to push it back two weeks. 

Every once in a while everything aligns perfectly and a new employee starts as soon as I’d like them to. Most of the time, though, it takes longer than we’d like, and certainly longer than the applicants would like! We do tell interviewees that the process can take a while, and we only notify the other interviewees that they weren’t chosen once we have a final offer for someone. This is relevant when the first-choice applicant doesn’t work out and we move on to another candidate. For example, with our timeline above, you might interview on day 5 after the position closes. Another candidate may go through the background check and drug test, but then get a job offer somewhere else and decline our offer on day 20 after closing. We then start over with the next choice. By the time we get to a job offer with them, the other interviewees may have been waiting over a month to hear that they weren’t chosen. 

To be clear, I am not a huge fan of this process. Very often that second-choice interviewee is a great applicant who we want to encourage to re-apply for another position, and it can be demoralizing to wait that long only to be told you didn’t get the job. I know from my own job-hunting experience that the stress and anxiety of waiting for the phone to ring begins the moment the interview is over, even if you know the hiring agency has a long process to go through. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to speed it up since we are relying on multiple other departments and agencies. 

With all that in mind, it is totally fine for an interviewee to call or email a week (or whenever) after the interview and ask for an update. When that happens I try to be upfront about where we are in the process. On the other hand, if you applied but did not get an interview, there’s not much to gain by contacting us; all we can really say is “we are moving forward with other candidates.” 

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: Hiring stages on my campus include review of applications, phone interviews, campus interviews, reference calls, recommendation, offer. I have not done a faculty search since 2017 so I don’t know whether we are doing in person interviews or not. My most recent staff search included on-campus interviews but those are also local searches with little to no cost associated with them. Missing from this list is the prework of getting approval to fill the position, writing the ad, and putting a search committee together. Also missing is the time search committee members need to complete assessments in the search portal after each stage before moving to the next. How much time each phase takes really depends, these days, on how large the applicant pool is. A search with 50 candidates will take longer than one with 10. Ads that indicate a date when review of applications will begin are very helpful.

For a library faculty member I always hope the process won’t take more than about 8-10 weeks. Much of this depends on keeping the search committee on track and on the sheer challenge of scheduling people’s time for interviews (search committee members and candidates). Weather (I am looking out my office window at a foot of snow that fell yesterday) can definitely be factor up here in the northeast. Toward the end of the process making an offer, waiting to hear a response, and some negotiations may create delays if you are not the top candidate.

If I am chairing the search (which I do for staff but not faculty) then I always try to tell candidates about how long it should be before they hear something either from me or HR. I also encourage them to get in touch if they have questions. I think candidates should wait until the amount of time has elapsed that I indicated before getting back in touch, at least to ask about the status of the search. If you are not given some sense of when to expect to hear something, ask! I’d give it about two weeks at least after each stage before following up if you can. I also hope that most search committee chairs would be patient with candidates calling after two weeks to ask about status.

As an interesting twist, our university system HR is now offering to read and create a smaller first round pool of candidates, and to create questions and do the phone interviews. I declined the offer last fall when we searched for an ILL coordinator (hourly, benefitted, non-exempt staff position). I think part of the motivation for this is to keep searches on track, perhaps manage searches with large numbers of candidates, and ensure uniformity. I don’t know of anyone who has done this yet on my campus. HR is very helpful in handling communication with candidates who don’t progress at all in a search and for lots of other pieces of the process including onboarding. For now, I still like to read all the applications and manage as much of the process as possible.

Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library:

This is so out of my hands that I really don’t think I can answer!  I tell HR that I need a job posted, they post it and send me applications.  Then I interview and tell HR who I want.  Then HR does their background checks.  I follow up to make sure results have been received in a timely manner.  Usually, I make a decision very quickly after interviewing people.  So if they have been interviewed they should know within days that the job has been offered to them.  I don’t think we ever contact people who weren’t offered the job.  But I would say that if you haven’t heard in a couple of weeks to contact the HR department.

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, on Post at post.news/hiringlibor discarded on the median of the freeway. 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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