Further Questions: What are your current candidate pools like?

Every other week or so, 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 about candidate pools and is inspired by a discussion with someone who hires librarians:

In your more recent hiring processes, are you seeing more or fewer applications than in past searches? Can you estimate the percentage of people who applied that met the requirements? Are candidates preparing their applications in the way you’d like (ex: cover letter answers the ad)? Are there any recent trends you’ve noticed in candidate pools?

Anonymous: What candidates? We put out a call (we are located in a very populated area) for adjunct positions and got 4 applicants. The last time we put out a call in 2019 we got over 30 applications.

We are considering changing our screening process and ditching just about all requirements except that they have a MLIS by the time of hire.

Our process has a paper screening team and an interview team and one trend is that folks are applying to in-person positions even though they are out of the area and want to be strictly remote. Another fun trend is that the applicants have no availability for example, we were hiring for evenings and weekends (as stated in the job posting) and two applicants that got to the interview phase were not available to work evenings or weekends.

I hope these trends stop being trends soon.

Celia is running across the finish line of the Clarence Demar Half Marathon

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: 

I am intrigued by this week’s question because it presumes that we have any candidate pools, i.e., that we are doing searches. I did run a search last fall for an ILL position (non-librarian) after the incumbent left for another job. That required quite the sales job before it was approved. In the past eight years I have lost five library faculty positions and four staff positions. Each position was eliminated. There is very little hiring happening on my campus at all. The search we did last fall, which would only attract a local applicant pool, had fewer candidates than in previous searches and no candidates from more than 15 miles away. In previous searches for the same position we had candidates from up to about 75 miles away. Anecdotally I would say the same is true for staff searches elsewhere on campus and for some faculty searches as well. Even with only a handful of faculty searches I know at least two have been unsuccessful and one other changed to a two-year contractual faculty hire when a full-time candidate was not identified.

Candidates for all positions here have to complete a required form online. Without each required component (cover letter, resume, etc), the application cannot be accepted. Each hiring committee also identifies minimum qualifications that appear in the ad. If a candidate submits an application and does not meet those, they are usually eliminated before the search committee sees applications. So there is not way to know, without asking, how many applications overall were submitted (in our last library search I insisted on seeing every application regardless and got some resistance from HR but they eventually allowed that).

So it feels as if we are getting fewer applications which means a small pool may have fewer really qualified candidates which results in fewer choices. If the right choice is there, then fewer is fine. If not, then the next steps become more complicated.

Anonymous: In technology & systems focused hiring, we are seeing rather small candidate pools! If you have these skills, it continues to be a great time to get a job – there isn’t much competition and there are a lot of jobs. For the last position I hired, we had maybe a dozen applications, and less than half of them met the minimum requirements for the position. Almost everyone prepared their application materials in accordance with the job ad, but that is almost always the case here.

The trend here is that applicants are able to be picky; there are a lot of jobs, but many of them are underpaid. There aren’t a lot of systems librarians out there, since that specialty isn’t taught in library school, so qualified candidates can be discerning. So, if you are offered one of these jobs – negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, and then walk away if you don’t get what you’re worth.

Anonymous: If we use HR, we only see those candidates who meet the requirements, so I can’t really speak to that.

We are finding, though, that fewer candidates are addressing the ad as we would like them to. We have to really dig in the resume to find some of the things we’re looking for. If you really want a job, then you need to do that for us. Relate your skills and experience to *this job* not just a job.

We’re getting a lot fewer candidates, even though we’re advertising tenure-track faculty librarian positions and advertising with salary. Ultimately, we’ve ended up with good pools, although smaller. Many candidates are just applying for everything and not taking the time to personalize the application. That’s a waste of your time and ours.

It’s not clear to me at all why applicant pools are smaller these days. We have wondered if it’s timing, lack of interest in relocation, or other factors. It feels like candidates don’t understand the difference between a tenure-track library faculty position and a one-year extraordinary (non tenure-track) contract. That leads to some disappointment when you come to the interview stage and there’s a lack of understanding. 

Amy G, Head of Adult Services: I am definitely seeing fewer candidates – qualified and otherwise! It’s hard to talk about what percentage of candidates meet the requirements of the job, as some of the positions I hire for have looser qualifications than others, but if I had to put a number on it, I’d say 25-50%. As an example, the last time I was hiring a part-time librarian, I received only 3 applications total for the position, and only two of those candidates had the required degree. (Fortunately, we did end up hiring one of the two qualified candidates!)

I would say it’s about the same percentage of candidates preparing their application package the way I’d like as it always has been: it’s just that the candidate pool is smaller. Of course, this means the candidates that DO meet my preferred specifications (a cover letter that addresses the job description, all requested materials, etc.) stand out even more.

Headshot of Alan Smith, who wears glasses, a tie and suspenders

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: This is a timely question, because our candidate pools are as small as they’ve ever been. 

We’ve always had small pools for Librarian-level positions. For these positions maybe one-third of applicants meet the basic requirements. We have been very fortunate, though, and have always been able to find at least one excellent candidate out of those pools, but increasingly we have to extend postings to look for more candidates. Finding the right person takes as long as it takes, but the longer a recruiting process drags on, the more likely it is for that right person to accept another offer. Interestingly, applicant pools for positions requiring an MLIS have always been small at our library, but over the past year, our pools of paraprofessional candidates have also gotten smaller. 

Julie Todaro, Dean, Retired: Our current candidate pools are an interesting mix and do vary – as, obviously, most probably do – based on the position being advertised.

Librarian – manager

Always the smallest pools among all librarian applicants, these pools typically include a moderate number of applicants (fewer than 15-20.) Many, and sometimes most, do not have any supervisory experience which means – by HR definitions – they have not hired/evaluated and “signed timesheets.” Rather than moving; however, to identify related training or education, etc. or even related activities or similar roles (project management, volunteer organization, etc.), they do not specify their roles in previous organizations and instead “wing it” – resulting in confusion at all stages of consideration. They also do not have any facility renovation or construction and while that is totally understandable – general facilities management areas are not defined at all if present. Several other places where manager applicants are lacking includes their identification and differentiation of public vs. tech services experience as well as activities, descriptions or discussions of their managerial views or researched practices on the importance of equity and ensuring diverse workplaces. 

What we do find is that applicants have variety of experiences such as work coordinating projects and often broad experience representing “a little of everything” as they often come from smaller workplaces with very few staff.

Librarian – entry level/frontline

While pandemic numbers were much smaller for everything, we consistently had higher applicant numbers in this category and they continue to grow. And although I think it will be a few more years before the numbers reach back to their highest number – 50-60 – this number still only represents 10-15 viable applicants given posting requirements and preferences. Going forward, applicants must; however, begin to demonstrate their experience and abilities to use technology for instruction, varieties of pedagogy – specifically – active learning techniques for teaching in online environments, a broad experience with software for connectivity, communication and online learning, team expertise for any venue and above all – flexibility. And – outside the academic area – applicants should articulate their expanded or new skills in varieties of delivering reference services, tours of facilities and adult and juvenile programming (book clubs, literature discussions, story times, etc.)


Something unanticipated in our organization was the incredible number of support position applicants who appeared to be committed to the application process, interviews and offers and then either turned down the job at offer or soon thereafter. While many of these applicant pool decisions would be – realistically – because of unacceptable salaries or counteroffers, at least half were not. So – although problematic for the organization – we should all want employees to wholeheartedly begin the position to build a good foundation for longer term employment – no matter what “longer term” means to the environment in question. 

Finally – no matter the position – organizations have to work harder to attract applicants to build the best pools and identify (genuine) organizational benefits. In addition, hiring managers need to have done their homework to bring competitive opportunities for new employees to the applicant table.

If you’re a job hunter I have a survey for you! Will you please fill it out?

If you’re someone who hires LIS workers, the current survey is still open. There’s also a mini survey on cover letters.

And if you’re in either or neither of the above categories but you have your own personal professional website, here’s a survey for you!

Other ways to share your thoughts:

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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