Category Archives: Further Questions

Further Questions: Would You Hire Someone with an MLIS for a Paraprofessional Position?

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.

Would You Hire Someone with an MLIS for a Paraprofessional Position? (E.g. assistant, clerk, page)? If so, under what circumstances? If not, why not? Bonus: if you have *opinions* about the term paraprofessional, please feel free to air them here.


Amy Tureen (she/her/hers), Head, Library Liaison Program, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: 

Of course I would hire someone with an MLIS for a paraprofessional position! People apply for jobs for all sorts of reasons, it’s not my role as a supervisor to gate keep or second guess why someone with an MLIS would want a paraprofessional role.

As for the term itself, I have no particular feelings about it one way or another. In the context of “professional” versus “paraprofessional” the term “paraprofessional” means the role does not require a professional licensure, whereas “professional” means that some form of industry-specific professional accreditation, whatever it may be in a given field, is required. Some people mistakenly assume that the use of the word “professional” implies a skill level, rather than an accreditation required for a role, so I certainly wouldn’t mind changing both “paraprofessional” and “professional” to terms that are less easily misunderstood and/or weaponized.


Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College: I have hired candidates into paraprofessional positions.  My college is relatively rural, and for reasons I’m not entirely sure of it has always been a much greater struggle to attract library technicians.  If I post for a full time permanent librarian I get 30 or 40 applicants.  For a library technician position I’m lucky to get 3 or 4 people with a library technician diploma.  So often it is just out of necessity. 

While hiring someone overqualified does have the potential for problems, my experience has been very positive.  Sometimes it is giving a librarian actual experience in an academic library that will help them move up and on in a couple of years, another time it was librarian taking a part time paraprofessional position as a way to ease into retirement. 

As long as one is clear about job duties and boundaries, it can work out well.


Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: Absolutely!

In general, a lot of people are overqualified for the positions they are in. Libraries are no different. The job market has shifted recently but your location and local library options may be limited since most libraries have more staff positions than librarian positions.

Our library has had several staff members who hold an MLIS, including me, over the years. I was in a staff position while I worked toward my MLIS and, for a time had my degree until I was hired in my current position. I would have had to move if this position wasn’t open when it was.

I personally prefer the term “staff” versus “paraprofessional”. While paraprofessional indicates a level of work that is assisting professional workers, to me, it sounds like the position is in relation to someone else, which bothers me. In reality, however, my staff member’s position is a fairly true “assistant” in that her work is assisting me in my work.

I have had a couple of staff members in that position who have had their MLIS and one who was working on his Master’s in IT. I knew that they likely wouldn’t be in the position long term, which was fine. While they worked for me, they were able to do some higher level work however, that is a fine line to walk. While staff members may be capable of doing higher level work, you want to make sure they are not doing what would be considered professional level work for staff level pay. So while I try hard to not exploit workers by labeling work as “experience” for them, I do have conversations with them about work and what they are interested in and whether there is higher level work that they would want to work on. While I don’t want to exploit them, I also want to make sure they are getting some job satisfaction if they have something they want to pursue. The one working on his Master’s in IT was able to use his Access database skills to create a usage statistics database for us. (Sadly, when he left, there wasn’t time/staff for it to continue to grow.)

A great example of this is with one of my staff members who had her MLIS and I saw a need to document library liaison training and we wrote a training handbook together. She was interested in training so she took on the role of introducing the handbook at a collection development retreat to library liaisons. It was shortly after that event that she was hired an instruction librarian. After she had moved onto a librarian position, we were able to collaborate on a book based on the work we did on our handbook, which was great.

Of course, there is potential for judgement and/or resentment. For the staff person I co-authored a book with, she and I had graduated together. She could have been frustrated about not having a librarian position and take it out in various ways, trying to undercut me, out-shine me, sabotage me, etc. but, thankfully, she didn’t.

In my experience, around two years is a good amount of time if the person is actively looking for a librarian position for them to find something and move up. After two years, it can feel frustrating and they may start feeling stuck. It might be useful to be aware of that and have some honest conversations. In the end, I want my staff members to do their best and if they want to move up (or, move on), I will do whatever I can to support them. Knowing the future goals of your staff is helpful so you can try to help them achieve them.

It is also important to recognize that some people have re-considered their positions in all kinds of careers. Some people willing to take a pay cut and a lower position that requires less responsibility and the opportunity to “leave work at work” and forgo some of the daily headaches that can come with upper management positions.

So, someone my look “overqualified” on paper, but they may be looking to get a foot in the door or just get in a position they will enjoy while they look for the right thing. Alternatively, they may be looking to scale back and want a better work-life balance.

If you have an MLIS and are hired in a staff position, I would encourage you to talk to your supervisor (maybe not on day one – but as you build rapport) about what you want to do in the future (assuming this information didn’t come through in the interview – if it did, build on it). After you have learned the position and are on top of everything, you might see areas in which you could contribute – maybe to a committee, or to a project that you would enjoy. Just make sure you don’t feel like you are being exploited because it is important to recognize those feelings early before it affects how you feel about your work.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I currently have two staff members with an MLS in PAT positions. These are salaried Professional/Administrative/ Technical positions. They are Access Services Manager and Systems Manager. Neither requires the MLS and neither is a library faculty member or has the title “librarian”. I also had an MLS-holder in my ILL coordinator position which is an hourly-benefitted non-exempt position. That person was an alum (former library worker) and stayed in the position for about two years before finding a job that compensated her for her credentials.

In two cases the hire had an MLS before starting the job. In one case the person earned their MLS while working here and continues in the same position. The degree did provide the opportunity for the person’s salary to increase. In all cases we selected the right person for the job knowing they were over-qualified. We knew the ILL staff member needed a full-time job with benefits, she was familiar with the library, and campus, and we hoped that she would eventually find something else (which she did). The other two individuals in the more skilled positions may be here longer even though they are not recognized or compensated as library faculty.

I would consider hiring someone with an MLS again for any position for a number of reasons. Jobs are not easy to find, individuals may be re-entering the workforce, needing to say in the geographical area, or more interested in a staff position than in being library faculty with all of the work that entails. My biggest concern with almost any staff hire these days is that people do ask about opportunities for advancement and my staff has been reduced to the degree that there are even fewer opportunities than in the past for changing positions at least inside the library. And, I am also unable to send any staff off for professional development (budget was eliminated about five years ago). So I would like to get those two PATs to ACRL, ALA, or other conferences and would be happy to do that but have no resources. That has implications and consequences that go beyond just helping them stay connected to the profession.

I am not a fan of the term “paraprofessional.” I’m not sure I have a reasonable substitute other than just saying staff member. The college makes clear distinctions between the PAT staff and the Operating Staff (those hourly paid full-time folks). The status gap is really between faculty and staff. I am a staff member, not a faculty member. So we refer to library faculty and to staff. There are differences between expectations for PATs and Op Staff folks including level of education, workloads, etc. People are aware of those and we don’t refer to people as either PATs or Op Staff unless it’s necessary. So I don’t use the term paraprofessional at all. I think it would add confusion and isn’t necessary.


Anonymous: We have hired multiple staff with an MLIS for paraprofessional positions. In my department, they are all library assistants. Two have been at the university for decades, two are recent hires. For the latter, both want or need to stay in the area. I can’t promise promotions, but if they are interested in moving up, I will work with them to give them the opportunity to do so. I believe that, if someone with an MLIS wants a library job and decides to apply for a paraprofessional position, that’s their decision. But I have one librarian in my department who strongly disagrees. They regularly mentor MLIS students to only apply for librarian positions. I have told them that making such a pronouncement doesn’t account for an individual’s life situation.

I have worked as a page, a paraprofessional, and a professional in librarianship. I’m not sure that any of the wording for positions that don’t require an MLIS is adequate or fair. The responsibilities of these positions have changed SO much in the last decades that the title needs to change with it. Calling them an assistant or paraprofessional feels incomplete.


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: I am currently considering doing this very thing! I have had part-time people with their MLS working in “paraprofessional positions” – though in a small library we wear so many hats the lines really blur! I would look for someone who is willing to gain experience in libraries even though the position doesn’t require a degree. In the case I am considering the person actually was a director at one time, took time off due to family health issues and is wanting to get back into library work but not necessarily as a director. My biggest factor, with all new hires, is how well they will work with current staff and are they willing to do anything that is needed.

I like the term “paraprofessional” as it lets people know that the person has experience but not necessarily the education. (And education does not mean they can do the job better than someone with experience!)


Jennie Garner, Library Director, North Liberty Library: We’ve hired candidates with MLS degrees to fill part-time support staff positions multiple times. As long as they are able/willing to work the required hours and interview well, we are happy to welcome them to our team. There is no guarantee, just because a candidate possesses an MLS, that they have practical knowledge of day-to-day library work or the skills that sometimes requires. Having new staff at various levels of education and experience can further bring new eyes to our operations. I ask new staff to bring forward questions about why we work the way we do and offer new approaches that may help further operational goals. Some of our best services have come from new staff with innovative ideas at all levels.

It is often a win-win situation when we hire an employee with formal library training and are able to offer someone the chance to hone their library experience. The reality is that working in a library and developing those soft skills often differs from the training we receive in grad school coursework. As part of onboarding, all new staff spend time with each full-time staff person to help them gain insight into the work we do and the services we provide. Additionally, I ask new staff members if they have particular areas of interest and encourage them to share that with us if they’d like cross train. If someone is interested in youth services, collection development, or other areas of librarianship, we try to offer them opportunities to perform tasks related to those positions. My goal as an administrator is to create a learning environment and give staff prospects for growth. Helping someone achieve new skills adds to a positive work culture.

We don’t use the term paraprofessional. All of our staff members are expected to deliver professional customer service and are able assist our patrons with their needs. Patrons care about receiving good service and I’d hazard a guess that they consider all of our staff to be librarians. In 25+ years of library work, I’ve never had a patron ask to speak only to someone with an MLS. We regularly receive compliments from patrons about our staff – part-time and full-time with various backgrounds and education levels.


Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Well, we have both hourly positions and administrative (professional staff) positions that are not librarians (or library faculty). We have applicants with an MLIS for both. They often think that it’s a stepping stone to becoming library faculty. I can say that sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. We will consider someone with an MLIS for either type of staff position, but more likely for a professional staff position. In fact, we’ll soon have a position open for which we fully expect to receive applications from people with an MLIS. For hourly staff, it’s less likely that there is mobility within the organization and I think we’re pretty aware that someone with an MLIS wouldn’t stay long in one of these positions. If someone with an MLIS has no academic library experience, it’s possible, but I think we’d be more wary. For professional staff positions, it needs to be clear why the position is not library faculty. I don’t want someone to be angry or resentful about their status when they have the degree. 


Heather Backman, Assistant Director of Library Services, Weymouth (MA) Public Libraries: I would consider hiring someone with an MLIS for a paraprofessional position, but they would need to make a good case for their planned longevity in the role as part of their initial application (this is what cover letters are for!) and during the interview. I don’t feel great about that on one level, knowing that the job market for degreed people is often tight. But the unfortunate reality is that as a manager, I need to do my best to avoid frequent turnover, and I would expect that most MLIS holders would greatly prefer a higher-paid, degree-required position and would probably keep job searching. If my new hire leaves before or just as they are starting to hit their stride in the job, that’s a lot of time and energy we’ve invested in hiring and training someone – not to mention the burden on other team members who may have had to carry a heavier workload while the position was not filled or the person was still learning the job – that has now gone to waste. Unless it becomes clear that someone I hire is just not the right fit, I hope that new employees will stay with us for at least a couple of years, so an MLIS holder applying for a non-degree-required position would have to convince me that they would want to stay for that amount of time.

And yes, I *do* have opinions about the term “paraprofessional”! I do not like the divides that can exist in our profession between degreed and non-degreed workers, and I think the term is often used to emphasize the difference between people’s education in a negative way. The ability to pursue higher education is often a function of privilege and resources rather than talent, intelligence, or hard work. The people I’ve worked with, by and large, have done solid work, contributed meaningfully to their libraries, and demonstrated commitment to customer service and giving patrons a great experience regardless of whether they wanted or had been able to earn an MLIS. I prefer to refer to people who work at my libraries as “[department] staff” or “the team” rather than “librarians” and “paraprofessionals”, to emphasize that all have equal value as workers. If there’s a real, meaningful need to talk about people according to their educational level I’ll say something like “(non-)degreed positions/staff.”


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

Would You Hire Someone with an MLIS for a Paraprofessional Position? (E.g. assistant, clerk, page) If so, under what circumstances? If not, why not? Our goal is to find the best match for the job AND given the fact that there is no such thing as “overqualified” in HR terminology – we do not exclude applicants – given level of education. Interestingly, many people do not understand that a master’s in librarianship or information science, etc. does NOT prepare you for every job in the organization. For example – having worked on a circulation desk prepares you for circulation desk work NOT the master’s. And this applies to professional positions as well – that is, your systems personnel positions might require (given the software or hardware expertise needed or the level of knowledge needed) additional education or experience in technology rather than library and information science education or training.

(And I am adding the heading/question)…..Are there any examples of problems when someone with an expanded or additional or different degree has been hired in a position other than the one that is the best match for their credentials?

Sadly yes, I have seen examples where additional or different education can cause problems and – I should say it doesn’t always happen…but….besides the usual accreditation issues for academic libraries….

  • We are in a profession where many consider themselves for most of our positions – and understandably so – in a “helping” profession. It is difficult; therefore, when someone who has been educated or trained to be in that helpful mindset is then not allowed or supported for providing a specific service.
  • In the absence of well-defined public services desks, users not reading or understanding signage, single service or one-stop desks, no name tags OR “name only” name tags or a lack of distinguishing other clothing or designation, clients or patrons are upset when it isn’t clear what some can and can’t do at near or similar desks.
  • Understandable resentment builds up when someone ends up doing some or many parts of other people’s roles and responsibilities when they may well be being paid significantly less.
  • Administrators do not “see” vacancies or “need” as readily when multiple levels of people populate desks.
  • Users often identify everyone in a library they see behind a public service desk – a “librarian” and this might communicate people are NOT doing what they are supposed to be doing if people are having to wait for someone to come out to assist when it appears that someone is already there….
  • If managers let others – no matter the credentials – perform tasks that are not in their position description – issues of “keeping current,” “staff development,” “training,” etc. are problematic as not everyone can or should be trained on everything.
  • Tech issued to librarians (iPads, laptops, etc.) – for example – might not be available to all employees, therefore, staff – with credentials different from their position requirements – will not get issued technology to assist users.

And finally our HR department follows strict guidelines for placement on scales. If we hired someone – with a master’s – for a librarian position who had been in a classified position before at another location or even internally – because is they were not hired to work as a librarian before, their placement on the scales is not counted as “professional experience after the master’s degree.” So – for us – it doesn’t help the candidate get placed higher, thus get a salary bump.

Bonus: if you have opinions about the term paraprofessional, please feel free to air them here.

From the list above it’s clear why I don’t offer these experiences – but here are general thoughts as well. Although I have no specific control over my institution’s official titles, we do not use that term in my institution either formally or informally. But it isn’t enough to say “I don’t like it” or “my experiences have shown…” so the “why” of that isn’t as clearly explained…but here is a list with additional information focusing on terminology.

  • There are several definitions for “paraprofessional” so users, clients or patrons may very well see them in a wide variety of ways and – given people’s experiences – previous work with those considered paraprofessionals cause confusion.
  • Many people view “para” as a “lesser” term for a designation.
  • A number of definitions or phrases in definitions are not particularly complimentary. For example some include:
  • an unlicensed person
  • a person who can work in the field but is not a “fully qualified” professional
  • Many definitions as well as postings say assists a professional in “daily tasks” which most may see as boring, repetitive roles and responsibilities.
  • Basic templates for designing postings are lengthy and confusing with much ambiguity as to professional vs. paraprofessional.
  • Our profession has much ambiguity among professional roles and responsibilities, and having another category of uncertainty may cause confusion in compensation, etc.

So – I am not a fan of “too-generic” titles or two specific ones…functional titles should correspond to what HR “counts” as rational for making compensation decisions.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, or left in the attic of your childhood home. 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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Further Questions: Who hires librarians?

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.

Can you share with us the composition of your most recent search/hiring teams or committees – number of committee members, their roles in the library, etc.? Are there stakeholders in the hiring process who should be involved but are not, or are only involved minimally (i.e. attending a presentation or meal with the candidate)? How is their feedback treated?


Anonymous: I’ve just convened a search committee for a Health Sciences Librarian at a small liberal arts college. I am chair as Director of the Library, our tech services librarian is also representing the library and there are two health sciences faculty members on the committee as well. 

While the search committee will select the finalists, other constituents such as the library staff, members of the faculty library committee, health sciences administrators, etc. will be involved in the final, on-campus interview stage. Any one involved in this stage will be asked to share feedback with the committee, which will be used in the final deliberations.


Heather Backman, Assistant Director of Library Services, Weymouth (MA) Public Libraries: Applications for open positions are reviewed by myself, the library director, and the department head who will supervise the new hire. For department head openings, applications are reviewed by myself and the director. Interviews are usually conducted by the same set of people who review applications, plus an HR representative who serves in an advisory role (no decision making authority but she does share her impressions of candidates and we value her input). The director technically has the final authority to decide on a hire, but in practice he, I, and the department head all work together to choose someone, and he will often rely on the department head’s preferences.

Occasionally other library staff will sit in on interviews if they have a particular connection with the position being hired for, and their feedback is also taken seriously. For instance, when I was interviewed, the department heads were there, and when we recently were hiring for a position that would work very closely with one particular front-line staff member, that staff member sat in on interviews (though she didn’t review applications with us).

The other stakeholders involved in our hiring process are the Mayor and his chief of staff. The Mayor (usually via his chief of staff) must sign off on all new hires, and technically he could veto our choice or direct us to hire someone specific, though so far I have not encountered a situation where we were unable to make an offer to our preferred candidate. Neither of these people meets candidates. Usually their involvement comes down to signing an approval form forwarded to them from HR.


Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries:

The composition of the search committee and the interview schedule vary depending on the level of the position being filled.

  • For hourly staff, generally positions that don’t require an MLS, the supervisor and one other person from the department comprise the search committee. The candidates meet with the committee, with the other hourly staff in the department, with any other stakeholders, and with HR. Feedback is requested via our standard survey form. Department librarians or staff outside of the department are unlikely to meet with the candidate, unless they would interact with the person in the position.
  • For librarians or other salaried positions that require an MLS or other advanced degree, the search committee generally includes the supervisor (usually department director), a librarian from the department, and a librarian from another department. When possible that last person will be someone who would interact with the candidate if hired. Depending on the role of the position being advertised, the candidates may meet with employees from outside the department. I will often ask people from outside of the department to have a meal with the candidate or give them a tour of the library, so that the candidate can meet a variety of people. All of our candidate presentations are open to the entire library staff. Feedback is requested via our standard survey form.

Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College:

As we are a small college and a small library, hiring committees are always the College Librarian and 2 other library staff members – a librarian and a library technician for librarian positions, or 2 library technicians for library technician or student work study positions.  This works well for us. 

Many years ago we did have HR involved, but as they don’t really know anything about library operations their presence didn’t really add anything to the selection process.


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: We use a three-person panel for almost every hiring decision, whether it’s for a librarian, paraprofessional, or support staff. The panel consists of the manager who will supervise the person hired, myself, and a third person. The third person is usually our Chief of HQ Library Services, but can also vary based on the position (like including our Children’s Services Manager if the position will be working with children at a branch). The odd-numbered panel is helpful if there’s a split decision, but in such cases the tiebreaking vote goes to the manager who will be directly supervising the new employee. 

If a candidate is applying for a promotion in-house or at another branch, we will talk with their current or former managers here to get input. Information gathered this way doesn’t go on a formal score sheet but does give us useful context and can help us narrow down what to ask in an interview. 

Finally, when hiring departmental or branch managers, I like to get input from the employees who will be working under the new manager. I don’t have them involved in the interview itself or have them review applications or anything (that gets complicated very quickly when almost every management-level opening has internal candidates, including current staff of the hiring department), but general preferences: would you rather work for someone with experience doing a certain type of program, with a background in a different type of library, with longer management experience, etc.? Even if those considerations aren’t ultimately the deciding factors, they help us know what to emphasize during orientation and training with a new person.


Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: For librarian/library faculty, the search team is generally chaired by the faculty supervisor for the position. There will generally be three people total on the search. Our current search is chaired by the department head and includes the one other faculty librarian in the department, plus another librarian from outside the department. We try to include anyone who is a stakeholder, but it’s not always possible, especially if a staff member in the department is applying for the position, or may apply. The candidates generally meet with the other library faculty, any staff in the department, and the Dean. If it’s a staff position in a leadership role, it will include a mix of library faculty and staff who are stakeholders or who would collaborate with the new person (peers). If it’s a support staff role, it will usually be chaired by the department head or director, and include any staff in the department who are interested, plus another person from outside the department who works with the person in the role being hired. 


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: It has been my experience that small and medium size public libraries do not have the staff, time, or resources to conduct extensive, multipart interviews for most positions. As an example, a circulation clerk interview will be conducted by two to three staff members. The interview committee may consist of the direct supervisor, a person who is not a direct supervisor but is on a higher level in the organization, and/or the director.

What has worked for us as a medium size library (by South Carolina standards) is to include a non-employee in the interview process for specific positions. These positions are ones for which require a degree of expertise not broadly found in a small to medium size library, such as branch manager, information technology manager, youth services librarian, bookkeeper, etc. This non-staff member of the interview committee could be a director from another library, a state library staff member with expertise in a specific area, or someone in the county’s human resources department.

For public libraries with branches, the inclusion of a “stakeholder” from the area can be a real benefit to the library and the community. Including a Board member who represents the service area of the branch can be helpful. The Board member is attune to the area served by the branch and can provide some useful insights into the community. The Board member has an opportunity to be involved, in a limited and appropriate way, in a personnel decision for their community. It provides a degree of management transparency for the Board member, and the Board as a whole, that can build Board confidence in the library’s management (which can pay off later when that inevitable difficult situation arises).

There are some very good reasons for doing this:

1) An outside expert can provide questions that can help determine the candidate’s level of knowledge or experience and not be dazzled by a lot of babble. This is critically important when hiring for say an IT position or a branch manager.

2) Especially if there are in-house candidates to be interviewed, a person from outside the library can be perceived as neutral or unbiased. This actually works to the committee’s benefit as it may require the staff who are on the interview committee to truly justify their ranking/choice.

3) A diverse interview committee may be easier to achieve by including someone from outside the library on the committee.

The inclusion of a non-staff person as part of certain interview committees can make a difference for a small or medium size library. I has for my medium size library.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

Can you share with us the composition of your most recent search/hiring teams or committees – number of committee members, their roles in the library, etc.? Our Human Resources department has – for many years- been very strict about our hiring committees and all related processes including specifically – hiring committees for staffing table positions (all faculty, professional technical and all classified staff.) With the introduction of our newest Enterprise Management System, the same prescribed elements remain for committees but additional restrictions have been placed on advertising and hiring hourly employees (our hourly academic Librarians, our hourly instruction librarians and any hourly classified employees now have to be posted through the online system as well.)

But depending on the focus of committees and time of year we are trying to hire, things vary and – with special permission from HR – we can substitute levels of employees, locations or the number serving given the past two years. But if no exceptions are needed, at least six representatives to sit on committees are:

  • Faculty Librarians – Members to include the direct manager, representatives from the staffing table classified staff with whom they might work, at least one and maybe two peer faculty librarians, the campus manager (if available) and in addition and based on availability – a classroom faculty member either from the campus where the opening is located or based on availability. If the timing is not good for finding a classroom faculty member, we try to ensure that the peer faculty librarian who serves is also – for example -also a teaching adjunct for the college or someone with expanded curriculum experience/classroom instruction.
  • Classified Staff – Members to include – depending on their functional areas – a classified staff member representing public or technical services, administrative assistant w\ork or secretarial work – where the opening is AND – if possible – representatives from several campuses – since – at certain times of the year – classified staff move among campuses to assist as needed.
  • Professional/Technical – Members to include professional/technical employees with similar or exact expertise in specific or related areas or roles and responsibilities as well as the specific or related departments (such as both instructional and institutional technology experience.)
  • Administrative Assistant – Membership in the committee also always includes an administrative assistant – from either the campus with the opening or an available one – to manage communication and paperwork, etc. They are also counted as a member of the committee.

All committee membership must include membership that is: balanced in gender, ethnicity, race, and until last year – all members needed to have been with the college at least 6 month – but as of last year, that is now not required. Members; however, must go through a training (or have attended the online training within a year) and if requested by the Chair – online training AND a HR representative will present to the committee on the need for confidentiality, consistency needed, legal vs. illegal questions, etc.

Are there stakeholders in the hiring process who should be involved but are not, or are only involved minimally (i.e. attending a presentation or meal with the candidate)? This is the disappointing part to me….faculty librarians have had and continue to have the requirement to present to the committee (and then any observing attendees complete an evaluation form.) A few years ago – they decided the teaching presentation was no longer open and I think that is a big loss. The committee; however, can take the candidate to lunch – but my approach is any shared meal needs to be after the interview.

My disappointment stems from the fact that I think the broader teaching audience was an integral part of the process. I liked the fact that we could then invite others (faculty librarians, staff from the campus where the vacancy is located, etc.) and then a small reception after the presentation to meet and greet. It is a loss to lose it as part of the process.

How is their feedback treated? As a committee, we choose the questions and the order in which we will ask them – based on recent question sets which – at some time – were approved by HR. Committee members then get copies of the questions with spaces between each one so that notes from each member can be taken in a more standard format, then discussed uniformly. Members also decide in advance of the interviews the weight or importance of each question/answer so that we can compare not only the answers but based on the importance of the question, how individuals answered the most important questions.

We use feedback and discussion to choose and rank three candidates. If the Dean is the chair (and we are hiring a head librarian) references are checked and we indicate rank but after we discuss and rank, we then each complete an online form.and why and send the list to HR. If a frontline faculty librarian is the focus, the three finalists are turned over to the Dean/me and I interview (with the committee chair) the top candidates asking the finalists the most important questions identified based on the opening. Then we rank or re-rank, references are checked and forms are completed and the packet is sent forward.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, or hidden on a slip of paper inside a carnitas burrito. 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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Further Questions: Does a candidate’s social media presence ever influence your hiring decisions?

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.

A lot of the interaction I get with blog readers nowadays has been on Twitter, and with all the upheaval (in other words, the terrible new owner) I’m exploring other options such as Mastodon. This leads me to this week’s question:

Does a candidate’s social media presence ever influence your hiring decisions? Do you Google applicants, or look through Twitter or LinkedIn, etc? Any hair-raising stories or do you think it’s not something for people to worry about?


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media sites have allowed us to, in a sense, share ourselves freely with the world. By making such information readily available to the public, you should expect it to be examined as part of the hiring process.

Social media technology has allowed all of us to share ourselves with others in ways not possible a few decades ago. There is no ethical dilemma I can see as the information was made available by the candidate for anyone to see. The burden is on the candidate to control their social media presence and content.

What you discover in a search could solidify your decision to interview or not interview a candidate. You never know what you will discover about a candidate.

A candidate for a high level position in a library I worked for submitted an application in which the candidate indicated current employment in a particular management position. When a routine look at that library’s website revealed the individual was not employed by that library, a red flag was raised. Further investigation, via a Google search, revealed a single reference noting this individual was employed in the top leadership role in a library in the recent past. That job was not included on the applicant’s application or resume. A second, and more serious, red flag was raised.

Because that candidate had all the proper credentials on paper, an interview was offered. Knowing about the previous, unnoted job going into the interview, the candidate was asked some questions in such a way the candidate realized we knew of the job. The candidate then admitted that as we knew about the short stint, six months, at that job, “this is what happened.” When the candidate’s references were called, it was revealed the candidate wasn’t totally candid.

The lesson learned here was, “yes, sometimes jobs just don’t work out.” Many have gone into a job only to leave after a short time, going on to success in another job. My advice to a candidate is don’t try to hide a previous job, hobby, activity, or belief in this age of Google and social media because it will likely be discovered and come out in an interview resulting in an awkward moment when you have to explain it on the fly. Interview situations like this do no end well for the candidate.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The HR department at my college is very clear in instructing search committees not to look for job candidates’ social media presence. Obviously that doesn’t mean people don’t ignore the instructions and check anyway. I’ll admit that I don’t think I have ever checked on the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media presence of a candidate. I’m just not that interested. Of those, a peek at Twitter might be the most tempting. It (for now) is the most open. People opt in to follow without any gatekeeping so anyone with an account knows they can be read or followed by anyone they don’t block. But really I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time when considering candidates.

I’d like to be able to say it’s not something people should be concerned about but I am not sure that’s true. Which is why it is probably a good idea to have a policy or practice in place of not checking social media for candidates. I don’t want to read their diary and I’m really not interested in what they had for dinner last night or where they went to party last weekend.


Anonymous: As a library director, I almost never checked somebody’s casual social media presence unless there was something really in my face. We all make mistakes when talking to friends and I never felt it was relevant. I would, from time to time, look at a Linked-In profile in case there was a detail that might be illustrative. It never, to my memory, disqualified anybody.

There was one time, however, that was outside of librarianship. I am on the Alumni Board of my Alma Mater. We had voted to give a “Young Alumni Citation” to  who we thought was a deserving recent grad. I hadn’t heard of this gentleman and I wasn’t on the committee for that award. So I did a quick Google Search to satisfy my curiosity. I was certain that I would read of great things that would be a credit to our college. That day there were headlines in the local paper that he had been arrested for defrauding the city he worked for. We quickly withdrew the award. At least he hadn’t been notified of the award yet.

Protip: Don’t steal from your employer.


Anonymous: I don’t think a person’s social media presence (unless it has some murder-y, rape-y, or blatantly hateful stuff to it) should matter or influence anyone’s hiring decision. This all looks good in writing, but who is to say that I wouldn’t look someone up on Linkedin or FB/Insta/Tweeter/TikTok/ETC.

I mean if one is posting to social media and their accounts are not private, I say it is totally acceptable.

At my first library job someone discovered that I was in a bunch of rock bands. I was not hiding it, nor had I left it behind; it just wasn’t something I wanted to bring up to my new colleagues. Some folks gave me grief about it.  There is nothing on social media that I am aware of that I care if people see. I think that to use social media (even LinkedIn) one must have their thesis statement, thought process, intention, whatever you want to call so that the way you are represented works for them. My kid is very sophisticated with the way they use social media. Nothing is put up without consideration and they are very aware of what they support or criticize. I was in college when FB became a thing and I watched people expose themselves to this faceless platform and share painful and embarrassing secrets to whomever they had “friended.” 

If there is something upsetting about the candidate then maybe it does matter. But maybe it doesn’t matter if there is a drunk photo of them at a college party from 9 years ago. 

Personally a candidates social media presence has never been an issue, even the (over) 40 student workers that I have hired in my tenure as a librarian. 


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

Does a candidate’s social media presence ever influence your hiring decisions? 

Speaking as a Dean and as a college manager who abides by the college’s hiring guidelines, we do not include a social media search be conducted in the vetting process or during the committee process as part of the vetting or hiring decisions. AND – a social media presence absolutely does NOT and has not – for me as Dean or for me as an individual committee member – contributed to any final decisions.

Do you Google applicants, or look through Twitter or LinkedIn, etc? 

I do review the application and resume content closely (obviously)… AND if I have questions I can’t answer, I will do a more thorough web search to find answers if at all possible. Examples:

  • I visit any links on the applicant’s resume or application (ex. blog, websites, an organization’s website they may reference.)
  • I compare titles if they are unclear – by going to – if there is one – their current place of employment.
  • I try to – if there is a question in my mind and I require supervision for the position – see if anything is in the resume, etc. specifically says the person/their position supervises people and – if possible – how many. (If I can’t tell, and it is required, we will email to ask a possible candidate if and if so how many people they supervised (ex. signed timesheets.)
  • If a candidate’s email address does not indicate their name in any way, I will try to match the email addresses to make sure the content I am looking at is for the specific candidate. 
  • Although professional association activity is not required, it might be important for aspects of our position such as leadership experience, project management, training, etc. so I might look to see if a membership also includes activity.
  • Although publication is not required, I will read any publications based on citations or links on an applicant’s resume. 

If selection committee members wish to share information about an applicant with me or the committee, I typically ask them to wait until we are through with our first round of interviews. I also ask them to – if at possible – limit their information to content that will help us match a candidate to the job. 

Any hair-raising stories or do you think it’s not something for people to worry about?

Not for our hiring processes, no!  


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.us, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via old fashioned postal mail. 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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Further Questions: All About Cover Letters

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 a multipart one again, with bullets.

Does your organization ask for cover letters?

  • Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them?
  • In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter?
  • How many pages should a cover letter be?
  • Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)?
  • If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both?
  • Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening?
  • Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application?
  • If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters?
  • What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)?
  • What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)?
  • Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters?

Answers are below, but I also created a new mini-survey! If you have hired at least one LIS worker and would like to share your views on cover letters, please take it at this link. I am trying something new with this survey and will be letting folks view responses directly, rather than posting here on the blog. So, please don’t share information that you consider private.


Christian Zabriskie, Executive Director, Onondaga County Public Library: I see people put a lot of stress and worry into cover letters and I have a formula that I think everyone should follow, it’s useful and makes the process less stressful.

Paragraph 1 where did you hear about the job from

Paragraph 2 what specific skills that are listed in the ad can you speak to

Paragraph 3 what instances in your career have allowed you to display these traits

Closing “I look forward to discussing how I could benefit your organization” because you always want to imply that of COURSE you are the answer to the problem. 

and that is it. 

I promise you that employers spend less time reading the cover letter than you spent writing it. Stick to the facts and speak to the job ad. 


Anonymous:

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them? I ask for them in job ads.

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter? To give the applicant the ability to expand upon their skillset and how that skillset matches up with the posted position.

How many pages should a cover letter be? One. (I would prefer it to be one page, but it’s not a deal breaker if it extends into a second page. However, if its one giant wall of text that extends into multiple pages, I will think less of the candidate.)

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)? PDF, but docx is okay. I’ve had issues with docx files showing markup/track changes in personal files. To eliminate that, I personally use PDFs. 

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both? Attachment.

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening? Yes! Use it as an opportunity to shine and show off (but in a succinct way).

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application? Equal.

If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters? We do not have automatic screening.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)? Cover letter is the first look I have at someone’s communication skills. Having the ability to communicate well is specified in our job ads.

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)? Poor grammar and punctuation- not good!

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters? This is the place to show/expand upon things in your resume and how they connect to and enhance the requested job skills. It’s a great tool, use it!


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: 

For City Department Heads I would think all applications would have a cover letter. 

For my staff positions – I am just grateful if their resume is readable and doesn’t have spelling errors!  (My favorite: list your degrees – BS in Education!)


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: 

Does your organization ask for Cover Letters? Yes, although we call it a letter of application. 

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them? We ask for a letter of application in the ad. 

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter? You should use the letter of application/cover letter to explain how your credentials fit the job as posted and the qualifications. A little more explanation than what’s in the resume is very helpful. Too often, people who are applying think these things should be obvious in their resume, but they often aren’t and it’s very helpful to us when you pull out aspects of those positions and experiences that directly apply to the position. I guess that wasn’t one brief sentence, right? 

How many pages should a cover letter be? As long as it takes. Don’t detail everything on your resume. Just cover what’s being asked for in the ad. 

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)? We’re okay with .docx but you’re running the risk that formatting and fonts may not translate. We will probably create a pdf from your Word document if you don’t send it as a pdf. Creating a pdf locks in the look of your letter and other information. 

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both? No. it’s unnecessary. The committee doesn’t even see the email. The documents (which should be named so it’s clear from whom and what they are, or we have to do that for you) are saved to a shared folder/drive for the committee. 

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening? Absolutely. To my mind, that’s the point of the letter of application. You’re addressing the ad. 

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application? Probably equal or more. If we have to pick through your resume to determine if you’re qualified, then you haven’t done your job. The letter is your opportunity to show your communication skills and to show how the job is a great fit for your skills and experience. 

If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters? We don’t have automated screening.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)? Again, addressing the qualifications. Let’s say you don’t have academic library experience, but you have other higher ed experience. Talk about how that’s relevant. Or it’s a public-facing position and you have retail experience (especially retail management). If you’re trying to shift from one type of librarianship to another, address that in your letter. 

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)? I actually like it when someone shows me that they fit the qualifications even if they don’t have direct experience. Being enthusiastic about the type of position, showing that you know something about it and would fit with the institution and the work is really important. If someone doesn’t write well, or doesn’t use the letter in ways that they could/should, it weighs against them. 

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters? Address the ad!


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My institution does require a cover letter and I am personally a huge fan. That said, I have learned to develop different expectations among cover letter expectations for part-time positions, full-time hourly paid staff, professional staff, and library faculty. Here are some thoughts:

  • All applications are managed through an online system. Job ads indicate that a cover letter, resume/CV, and the names of references are required and each piece is uploaded into the application system.
  • A cover letter’s goal is to provide information about who a candidate is and why the job they are seeking is the right one for them and the employer.
  • Cover length depends. For many part-time or hourly positions cover letters are usually around ½ to ¾ page. For other positions, including library faculty, I prefer not more than two.
  • I don’t have a format preference but I do prefer narrative/text over bulleted lists.
  • I only see the application in our online system and it also requires completing a long form with lots of questions and information about previous employers, eligibility to work, etc., I see the cover letter and other items as attachments at the bottom of the online form. In the old days I preferred the cover letter and resume as attachments.
  • I do prefer that people give an indication that they know which job they are applying for. Forgetting to remove the name of the last place the person applied is not a good look. And I’ll admit to being a bit picky and expecting applicants to refer to my institution as a “college” and not a university.
  • Again this really depends. Cover letters for some positions look very generic and don’t include much that contributes to making a decision unless the applicant is very careless and has proof read well, or submits an unusually detailed letter. For library faculty positions the letter carries (for me) at least as much weight as a CV because I expect each of those items to do different things (they don’t always, but I always hope they will).
  • Automatic screening – this is a very interesting question. My sense is that the only screening is to verify that it is part of the submitted package. I don’t think anyone in HR is reading the letters before they are posted for review. The form that applicants complete is intended to verify minimum qualifications which is really as far as HR will go in assessing candidates.
  • I am going to combine my responses to these last three bullets. Nothing is specified about the cover letter. Certainly, for library faculty, I expect applicants to address the three main components of the position (teaching, scholarship, service) and also to say why they are interested in the specific job available at our specific library/college. A letter that stands out does just this. One of the things I find most frustrating is a cover letter that reads like a CV with complete sentences and transitions. I want a cover letter to provide an example or two, tell me something about the candidate that I won’t learn in the CV, or tell me about the candidate’s ideas about how they will contribute to a new work place. A really good cover letter makes me want to have a conversation with the person applying.

Last thoughts: I know it is increasingly likely that people are applying for multiple jobs which is time consuming. So it is tempting to craft a cover letter than can be repurposed. I think you can do that and still be sure you leave yourself the time to make sure your potential future colleagues see that you are applying for this specific job at this specific library.


Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries:

Does your organization ask for Cover Letters? Yes.

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them? We specifically ask for a cover letter “that clearly addresses how you meet the listed required and desired qualifications of this position.” [Quoted from our job ads]

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter? For me personally, to respond to items in the job ad not already covered in your resume or CV.

How many pages should a cover letter be? 1-2 pages

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)? No.

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both? Applications cannot be submitted via e-mail. They can only be submitted by our online system.

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening? Absolutely.

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application? Equal. The cover letter shows me that you can adequately communicate in writing and that you have read the job ad and are responding to it directly.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)? I want to see items from the job ad addressed that you cannot include in a resume or CV, such as more detail about how you meet a specific qualification or an example from previous experience that aligns with an item within the listed job responsibilities.

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)? Bad ways: Spelling errors, poor grammar, incorrect position title or institution name (yep, I’ve seen both). Good ways: Concrete examples of how you are a good fit for this position; addressing every point in the required quals.

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters? While you don’t have to re-write your cover letter from scratch for each job you’re applying to, make sure that your letter is applicable. Triple check that you have addressed all of the qualifications, that you have entered the correct position title and institution name, then have someone else check it. If you’re not sure how to address something from the ad, ask someone!


Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College: My organization asks for cover letters.  

The purpose of a cover letter is to tell us why you want to work for my organization, and why we should hire you. (Resume shows us your qualifications, cover letter shows us why those will fit with our job posting).

Cover letters should be one page, a separate attachment, and a pdf format.

Cover letter absolutely has to be tailored to the job posting.  And if you attach the wrong cover letter you automatically are on the reject pile. (I’ve seen this a few times, so pro tip – name it something more than ‘cover letter’)

 A cover letter that stands out is one that really shows why you want to work for my organization and why your skills & experience match with the position. It needs to be upbeat and enthusiastic!  Also if you are applying to a position in a different city from where you are located, mention why you would like to relocate.  I run a library in rural BC, and if someone is applying for the position from a big city far away, say Toronto, I want to see something about why you would want to make the move. (Often big city people struggle relocating to rural areas, and I want to hire someone who seems like they will stay.)

Cover letter is very important, so spend time tailoring it to the specific posting, and if it requires you to move, mention why you would like to relocate.

Sincerely hoping to never see another applicant attach the wrong cover letter,

Gregg


Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian, UConn Library: My organization asks for cover letters, and in my experience that’s typical across academic libraries. While I recognize that it’s a lot to ask for folks on the market who are applying to many jobs, you really do need to customize it to the specific position. A cover letter’s purpose is to tell us why you want the job and why you’d be a great candidate; this should build on, not replace or repeat, what’s on your resume/CV. Everyone has their own opinions on length, but I’d say one page is sufficient for early career folks, two for mid-career and above, and maybe a little longer than 2 if it’s for an administrative role. Workplaces attempting to evaluate candidates equitably will generally use a matrix. They’ll look at a combination of the information in your resume/CV and cover letter to complete the matrix. If you fail to demonstrate that you meet the minimums, they can’t interview you. That said, just meeting the minimums isn’t enough to stand out. You’re also trying to demonstrate your interest in, and ability to perform, the responsibilities of the job. At the very least, hit the highlights, showing how your qualifications prepare you to do the work of the position. If they mention something a couple of times, be sure you address it. I realize it’s hard to pack all that information into 1-2 pages, but do the best you can! Finally, some folks are sticklers for grammar and spelling, so be sure you’ve spell-checked it, read the letter aloud to yourself and, if possible, had a friend give it a quick copy-edit. And make sure you’ve got the right institution name at the top!


Anonymous Federal Librarian: There is no expectation of a cover letter for federal jobs that I have ever seen. I don’t recall seeing any in any of the hiring actions I have lead, nor have I read any cover letters. Another bonus of applying for federal jobs.


Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: 

  • Cover letters are requested with resumes (former employer).
  • The purpose of a cover letter is for the applicant to convey, in their own words, why they are applying and why they feel they are a strong candidate for the position, and to persuade the reader to contact them for an interview.
  • Cover letters should always be tailored to the job description.
  • A cover letter should be one page maximum – those who read them appreciate it if applicants get to the point and stay on topic re: the job requirements. No unnecessary/unrelated info, please! When in doubt, read the job description again and ask yourself, “Is including this going to help me get the interview?” Think of what the reader is likely to be looking for.
  • Some Applicant Tracking Systems work better with a Word doc, some are fine with pdf or Word. When in doubt, a Word doc may not be the applicant’s preference, but is a safer choice. If the employer specifies a format, follow their instructions.
  • Whether the cover letter carries as much weight, or more, or less weight, than the resume, depends on the reader. One person on a hiring committee may read them carefully while another person on the same committee may focus only on the resumes. As an applicant, you cannot know how important it is to those who will be reading it, so your best bet is to put effort and care into it.
  • The applicant should address the duties and responsibilities of the job and how well they match the requirements, and also explain anything that might require explanation (such as a significant recent gap in employment, or a current address that is far from the location of the job they are applying for).
  • A general, one-size-fits-all cover letter will stand out in a bad way; it conveys that the applicant is giving the least effort possible. Any errors – spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc., and/or sloppy formatting, leave a bad impression. Customized cover letters that convey confidence and enthusiasm re: the job, and that show that the applicant has done their homework re: the employer, stand out in a good way.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

Does your organization ask for Cover Letters?
To my knowledge, the college has never required cover letters. In addition – now – a “cover letter” is not among the pieces or sections required for completing submission of our online application packet.

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them?
I expect to receive some type of introductory information…and the more “fill in the blank” the process is – the more you need to add a touch of yourself or “selling yourself.” I should also add, if you had asked me that even a year ago, I would have said that I can’t imagine anyone submitting an application without one; however, since our new application packet does NOT require one, we do now and will continue to get people applying who do not include one (and there IS space for one in the packet format.)

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter?
The cover letter serves to introduce the applicant to the organization (the hiring team, the manager, a screening committee, etc.,) illustrate the “match” of the applicant to the open position and identify that the applicant has all of the requirements needed to be a successful candidate – or at least qualify for an interview.

How many pages should a cover letter be?
While I don’t think there is a magic number of words or pages suggested or required for – actually – any part of application sections, I think a cover letter should be fewer than two pages.

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)?
While this answer outlines something that is certainly our own problem with our software package used for the application process, the reality is that unless a pdf is uploaded, other formats often upload but then exhibit problems with odd spacing, extraneous characters, images lost, etc. Luckily, I think most application packages do allow pdfs and I suggest that – if they don’t allow pdfs – applicants should be careful about cutting and pasting and should avoid uploading word documents (any version) and – as a more successful fallback, upload pdfs. Also – a recommended but certainly time-consuming approach is to take the time and enter text directly into the package,

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both?
There is no harm in doing both unless the organization has instructions and they say otherwise.

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening?
Tailored introductory letters are the most effective cover letters, so I advise that applicants do tailor their content, but if you can’t (ex. you have someone else doing it for you, etc.) be sure your generic cover letter does not – for example – speak to your interest in or commitment to an area that is not part of the job …example “I am excited about the profession and the direction of archival management….” but the position I am offering has nothing to do with archives.

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application?
While introductory information is important to those assessing applicant packets for interviews, not every committee member sees every packet. That is – if I have 125 applicants – I might split the committee up and have each member – using a rubric – assess only portions of the pool (a-k, and so on.) But even then – rather than the cover letter being assessed, the information delivered in the letter would be assessed and most of those elements should be in the application packet anyway.

If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters?
We don’t have an “automated screening” that relates to content. That is, the software HR uses scans to make sure all the “boxes are checked” and the blanks are filled in but most automated checks – if not all – are not quality driven.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)?
I do want a cover letter to illustrate the “match” of the candidate to the open position and identify that the applicant has all of the requirements needed to be a successful candidate – but our job ads only direct people to the online application process.

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)?

  • Directions – It sounds simple but applicants should follow the directions.
  • Writing – One would think it would be obvious, but spelling, punctuation and grammar should be perfect.
  • Terminology – Be sure you have referred to the organization correctly…the level within the educational setting, the type of library, etc. In addition, any titles referred to should be current, accurate, etc.
  • A Match – The cover letter should provide a simple cross walk from credentials possessed to required (and if someone can) preferred areas. Don’t bury the headline…and – if you are in a position that IS comparable – but your title isn’t – spell it out…let the reviewer or committee know you HAVE what you need and you match what they need, it just may be identified differently in your current or past job descriptions.
  • Additional Information – if you want to apply for a position because you have always wanted to live somewhere or your partner is moving there or your parents or children are there, avoid mentioning that. That is, there is no need to make something up as to why you want to apply/come to work there, just don’t refer to the “real” reason at all.

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters?
I always advise people to write cover letters after you do your homework on the community, the location, the organization and the position itself. I think creating an introductory letter – when you focus on your own needs – should give you insight as to whether or not you should apply at all. If you don’t focus and do your homework and get the interview, become a finalist or possibly offered the job and then decide it isn’t for you because of something you should already have known, you will seldom get a second chance, and it is possible that word of how you handled the application might not be the impression you want to leave with people. It is a very small profession!


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or written on the menu at the Grubstake Diner . 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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Further Questions: What questions would you ask job hunters?

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.

I’m working on a new Hiring Librarians survey which will be a reboot of the survey of job hunters that ran from December 2012 to January 2016 and gathered 587 responses. This week’s question is designed to help me write it:

If you could survey a bunch of job hunters about their needs and experiences, what questions would you ask (and why)?


Anonymous Federal Librarian: If I could survey job hunters, I would ask them about how they view the job postings. Is there anything on a posting that stands out as being attractive? Anything that they see that is a red flag and means they won’t apply? Are they more focused on what type of library it is or what the job is? Does the reputation of the library play any part in their decision to apply or not? If the candidate applies and gets an interview, what makes a good interview for them? What tactics have hiring manager or hiring panel made the candidate feel at ease and confident?  I would want to know these things so that not only would our library stand out, but that we are ensuring that we are representing our library in the best way possible.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: One of the first questions I think I would like to ask job hunters is what specific step of the job search process do they wish would go away and why? This includes submitting statements (teaching philosophy, etc.), phone/video interviews, in-person interviews, or even smaller components like the “dinner/breakfast with search committee members,” or “meeting with XXX.” I have probably missed others. We talk about which of those pieces we don’t find useful, or perhaps even enjoyable. It would be helpful to know what active job seekers think. If I, as someone doing hiring, thinks a particular part of the process is really critical, it would probably help me to have a more up-to-date understanding of how that same request or activity might be stressful. When I applied for my current position I had been a library director for twelve years. I experienced being a candidate in a very different way than I had early in my career.

A few other possibilities:

  • What is one piece of information that would help you during the process, or that you would want to take away, that you almost never seem to get and that you find it awkward to ask about? I am thinking here that salary is probably the response that some people would give. But it could be a range of topics.
  • How do you interpret minimum qualifications and preferred qualifications and have you ever been encouraged or discouraged from applying for a job based on either category? Here I am not thinking of someone doesn’t meet minimum qualifications, but the gray areas (education + work experience, how much the preferred qualification might “count,” etc.).
  • If you are closer to the start of your career, how often do you encounter entry-level positions that also ask for experience? This one is a pet peeve of mine. We can certainly take into account all kinds of work/practicum/internship experience that people have, but entry-level should mean just that.
  • Do you have a long-range plan for the arc of your career or a sense of how long you anticipate staying in a new job? This one just interest me. We talk a lot about how a resume looks when someone changes jobs frequently. I remained at the same institution for 22 years directly out of library school before changing job (and only applied for one).

These questions don’t lend themselves to Likert Scale, or multiple choice responses, but they make me curious.


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: 

I’d love to hear from job hunters what you consider a red flag. Is there anything in a job posting (or missing from a job posting, like salary information) that discourages you from applying? 

I’m also curious about the applicant’s perspective on the details of interviewing. We try to make the interview process friendly and comfortable, both out of courtesy and respect for the applicant’s time, but also because a less stressful interview tends to produce better and more thoughtful answers. Is there anything about an interview that would make you turn down a position, or anything that would make you even more interested?


Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I would want to know from them what they struggle with in these processes. Where are we unclear or giving seemingly conflicting information? When I was in library school, my Academic Library Management course covered the hiring process, including writing a resume/CV and cover letters/letters of application. I was the only student in the class applying for/interviewing for jobs at the time and the class followed my whole process! I think the hiring processes are so different in differing types of librarianship that it would be difficult if you were applying at different library types. For example, in academic jobs, you don’t need to have an objective in your resume and your resume and letter should/can be more than one page each. I think most academic hiring managers would welcome an email from an applicant asking for clarification, but applicants may be afraid of doing that.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: These are the questions I would LOVE for someone to answer!

When seeking professional positions – do you have a “formula” for identifying the ones that look good for you? 

If you have a formula for identifying positions for application, are these formulaic pieces of information prioritized?

What are deal breakers for you in seeking employment? 

What keywords do you look for in job advertisements? Is there a keyword – when seeing it – that makes you avoid applying? Is there a keyword – when seeing it – that makes you apply for that job? or any job with the organization?

Does anyone ever say (anymore) “I want to go to that organization because I want to work for x.” (Someone you have heard speak? Someone whose reputation is exemplary in general? in an area of expertise you want?

Do you assess the tech opportunities in organizations before applying? (Example – Do you look for organizations known to be “high tech” or “cutting edge?” Do you determine if you get new equipment in a timely manner? The software you need?)

Given that almost every applicant I have every interviewed asks if they will be supported in their professional development AND given that very few organizations – and especially now – provide “it all” or are able to honor requests – how important is that “ask?” 

Are there sources you limit your search to? That is, only professional association publications? only specific online e-discussion groups or e-lists?

Do you see the mega-job banks as advantageous to you? helpful at all? (Example – Indeed? Monster.com? Linked In? 

Is there value in the new job seeking registration services higher ed is using in their career initiatives? (Example – Handshake?)

How much research do you do – as you decide what job to apply for – on an institution prior to applying?

For recent graduate school graduates – what is the best advice they have given you in your search? (Do you use the career center? Work with your professors?)

If you choose to network to find positions, what is the best approach you have used? or heard about? (Example – Using Linked In?, Contacting alumni? Field experience/internship/capstone contacts? What else?)

Do you plan out your next five to six years of employment or do you focus on “your first (or next) job?”


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or chanted under the full moon. 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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Further Questions: Does your organization ask for references?

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 all about references, and it’s long so I’ve bulleted it out.

Does your organization ask for references?

  • What do you ask for? (how many, format, etc)
  • When do you ask for references?
  • Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included (current supervisor, former direct reports, prestige of institutions, etc.)?  
  • If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? 
  • Does your organization follow any practices meant to reduce bias or inequity in the reference check process?
  • Do you have any stories about a decision to hire being affected by a reference check?

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans:

What do you ask for? We ask for three and we ask for name, title, and contact information. Generally, we need both an email address and a phone number.

When do you ask for references? Good question. We ask for references as part of the application process. If you’re asking when we check them, that has varied over the years. We used to sometimes call references after first round interviews for the people we were still considering, in order to narrow them down to a final 3 or 4. We’ll often do first round interviews with quite a few people, just so we know we’re not missing anyone. Several years ago, we decided that we would check references only on the finalists, probably before we invited them to campus, or before they came. We could check references on only our final choice, but then that holds up the offer/hiring process. For staff, we tend to only check references for the final candidate OR if we’re using them to make a decision after final interviews. Usually, before we contact references, we’ll get in touch with the candidate to let them know that we’re contacting their references and to ask if they want to make any changes to their list (based on availability, etc.).
Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included? I think some places ask for current supervisor, but we don’t. Honestly, my only point of judgment has been if someone gives us a library school professor as a reference and they cannot answer any of the questions in a meaningful way.
When library faculty are hired, they have to have three written references for their file.
If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? For staff, there is a form that HR requires us to use. There is a question about whether the person would ever be a danger to others and that usually makes people laugh. For library faculty, we ask about job performance, leadership skills, interpersonal and communication skills, notable accomplishments or innovations, what we would need to do to support his/her/their development, and why this job is a great fit for them.
If a reference can’t answer those questions, it’s pretty telling.
Does your organization follow any practices meant to reduce bias or inequity in the reference check process? We haven’t, but may going forward. We are currently examining all of our hiring processes.
Do you have any stories about a decision to hire being affected by a reference check? Not necessarily a decision to hire, although I think references weigh in when you’re making a final decision, and it’s more about what they described than how effusive they were. We hired a staff member and their reference (a colleague at another library) said that they were a great support to library users, but that we would have to be clear about expectations regarding attendance, etc. This person was exactly as their former supervisor described. Absolutely wonderful with students, faculty, emeritus faculty, etc., but had a difficult time getting to work on time and being present. It was a constant struggle. I don’t know if we would make the same decision again.


Kellee Forkenbrock, Public Services Librarian, North Liberty Community Library: We’ve recently reinstituted asking for references for our part-time staff. Every applicant is asked to supply three professional references. I ask for references at the time of an offer contingent on the references’ feedback. There are no judgments based on the type of reference provided. The references can be anyone who worked with the candidate in a professional capacity (i.e. colleague, direct report, manager, etc.). We keep the dialogue with the references conversational but also focused and brief. Typically, we lead with questions like “What three words best describe you experience working with our candidate?” and “Would you rehire the candidate if the opportunity presented itself?” The responses are taken with a grain of salt, as most candidates select references based on the positive feedback they will provide during the call. As hiring librarians, we do our best to hear the authentic parts of the praise.


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: I really don’t pay much attention to references.  I look occasionally but HR is the one who would call – and if they do they have never told me the result!  Plus in today’s world most companies will only say “yes I would rehire them” or “no I would not rehire them” so not much point in talking with them!  And you have to figure personal references are going to be pretty much “of course they are wonderful”!


Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: We ask for references when candidates apply and usually check them between the phone interview and the in-person interview.

We ask references standardized questions. We ask follow up questions if needed for clarification but, when you are trying to take notes on what is being said, it can be a challenge to think quickly enough to think about what additional questions might arise from their response unless something just doesn’t make sense in the moment.

The questions are general and pretty common: How long have you known them and in what capacity, their strengths and weaknesses, leadership skills, and communication style, etc. We try to share with the search committee the exact words that were said so they can judge the response for themselves and not through the filter/bias of the person doing the reference check.

While one person may hear, “hands-on leadership and take-charge attitude” and think that person would be a fantastic boat captain, another may think, they will micromanage me to death. Without much more to go on, it is hard to tell.

I used to hyper-analyze word choices used by references but, I have since recognized that they doing their best on the spot to make their colleague look as good as possible while also trying to be completely honest. If they have worked closely with them, they have likely seen some faults. If they choose to share them with you, they will probably try to do it in the most flattering light possible. This means that if anything noticeably negative is said in a way that raises a red flag for you, take note.

On the flip-side, if the committee is conflicted about what to make of something a reference said because some think it could be a red flag, don’t let the reference check be the thing that ends it. I recommend giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt and let it play out. We shouldn’t let the word choice of a reference determine whether a candidate moves forward in the process.

Obviously, if something the reference discloses seems egregious, it is time to move on. You usually learn those things from the candidate in direct and indirect ways, not from their reference, though.

In situations where “off-list references” are checked, you are more likely to gain a broader, and perhaps clearer, perception of the candidate, especially if the candidate’s direct reports/staff can be interviewed.


Anonymous: I think my current municipality asks for references on the application form, but we do not actually check them. I wish we did. If we have connections through our network to someone who has worked with an applicant, my director or I may reach out on our own to ask a few informal questions.

In a prior job, we did conduct reference checks. We asked for three previous supervisors, though for candidates with unusual situations (little work experience, long time out of the workforce, etc.) we would accept fewer and/or talk to peers as well as supervisors. I conducted reference checks via phone calls, which usually lasted about 10-20 minutes and covered basic topics like confirming that the applicant was employed in a given position at a given time, areas of strength and areas for development, how a candidate dealt with things like conflict/upset people and receiving feedback, etc. I never changed my mind about hiring someone based on a reference check. We did them after we’d already extended a conditional offer, so changing my mind at that point would have had to mean there was some pretty significant concern that had come to light. I do think I should have reconsidered an offer once or twice, though – there were a couple of times when I got some information about some behaviors that I thought I could deal with or wouldn’t be a major issue that then turned out to cause bigger problems with the employee. (They weren’t necessarily big black marks that would make someone unemployable overall, just things that made them not a great fit for our needs or a particular role.) I chalk that up to the learning curve of being a new manager! More often, though, reference checks functioned as a confirmation of what I had gathered from interviews about the person’s fit and personality, and helped me get a better sense of who they were as an employee and what their needs might be from other people who had managed them, so I was better prepared to support them as they joined my team.


Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries:

Does your organization ask for references? Yes
What do you ask for? We ask for a minimum of three references. Depending on the situation, we may ask for more. We have two different formats. One is a survey form with 22 questions using a 7-point Likert scale, two yes-no questions, and two open-ended questions. The second option is reference phone calls. These are usually done by the search chair.
Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included? Generally, no, but it depends on the situation and the candidates. I will almost always want a current or recent supervisor, unless the candidate can provide a really good reason why they can’t or don’t want to. If the position has a supervisory component, I may ask for a current or former direct report.
If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? If I call references, the questions are usually tailored to the position. For example, if the position includes lots of collaboration with staff in other departments, I will ask the references about the candidates experience working with teams or on group projects. The responses from the reference calls are one more data point in helping us make a hiring decision.
When do you ask for references? I ask for them after the on-site interview. Sometimes it’s pro forma; sometimes the responses can be useful in making a decision.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My university system asks for names and contact information for three references for all searches regardless of status (faculty, staff, adjunct staff, etc.). Some candidates upload reference letters but we don’t ask for them so I never read them because we don’t get them from all candidates. The online application form also asks for names of recent supervisors and includes a question about whether we can contact them. So even if someone does not include a supervisor on their list of three, we have the option of going to look to see if we can contact additional people.

We generally only call references, meaning we don’t ask for written ones. I usually ask a reference who is/was a supervisor to describe the work the candidate does. It can be interesting to consider together how a candidate describes their work and how the supervisor does. I might ask about an area for growth depending on the position. Asking this questions leaves the response open-ended enough that it might point an area where the candidate needs more training or it could identify interesting directions that a candidate might like to move in, e.g., more supervision or leadership experience, etc. I also do like to ask whether the reference has anything additional they want to add. These days people (including me) providing references tend to be very careful and to err on the side of being vague. But I have had references volunteer very helpful information. I have had a reference indicate that a candidate might seem very quiet when, in fact, they are an active and engaged member of a team. In a recent staff search I hear candidates described as kind and generous which was really lovely.

I do recall cases where I have asked if the person would be rehired if possible and received a negative response. That certainly factored into my thinking but, in at least one case, it did not tell me anything that changed my overall assessment. In most cases I hear positive things that sometimes can help provide some balance for a weak in-person interview.

I prefer to contact references after in-person (in whatever format) interviews. We can leave an interview having the candidate know and also ask about contacting someone who might not be on their list if we want to. I applied for a director position once and my references were contacted after the phone interview (I was told this was happening). I had not yet informed my references (including my provost) and was not happy about having to do it after the phone interview given that I had no idea whether I would advance in the search. Even though I eventually ended up with the job it was awkward.


Anonymous: I am pleased that you are asking these questions. The current place I am at requires 3 professional references. The caller is allowed to ask when the applicant worked with them and to describe their working relationship. The call is not supposed to last more than 5 minutes. In the past, at different libraries there were no reference calls, but an electronic form sent to the references. I actually don’t know what the questions were, but I filled a couple of these reference forms out in the past and they are pretty low stakes for the referenced person and the person who is the reference. To be honest the questions are really forgettable-and I can’t think of a single one.
One story I heard from a colleague was that they were calling a reference for a potential worker and the person answering was obviously high or drunk and rambled for a few minutes and hung up on them. The person got hired (still works at that library too) and I believe it was never discussed. I am curious to see what people say about references. I think that now you can look on Instagram or some other social media and call that a reference these days.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

What do you ask for? We have always had specific forms to “fill in” for “performing” reference checks. These forms ask the typical questions that include strengths and weaknesses, feedback on specific areas of work conduct and – of course -“… would you recommend this person for the position I have?” and “….would you rehire this person in your organization?” We used to have a requirement of three reference checks AND we would – on the application form – ask for both professional and personal references. Now they still recommend three, but you only need two if both of those are/were a supervisor of the applicant. It becomes an issue if there are no supervisors on either the applicant’s paperwork or on their resume. We then ask them for names very directly and – if they haven’t told us this already (which they should have) – they might say “Should I advance to one of more identified finalists in the process, I would be happy to provide you with supervisor names.” And there is nothing wrong with that – given people often don’t want their supervisor to know they are looking and don’t want a litany of reference checks. A candidate does take a risk if they do that; however, as it is not uncommon that there are several finalists – so someone could wait to find out if they are a finalist, provide their supervisor’s name, we call them and although they have done well throughout the process – do NOT end up being offered the job because in the end they are not the best match.
When do you ask for references? When an applicant fills out an application they are asked for references. Their automated application form does go forward; however, if they don’t include references – but if we want them – post interviewing – to advance to a finalist stage, we ask them for three references and state that at least two of them have to be people who have supervised them. I would have to say there are more instances of us picking finalists and then ranking them and calling references on our first pick only and if those are satisfactory – we go with that person, but we could also have several openings and call on all finalists and we could have one job with two top contenders for that one job and call both before we decide.

Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included? Of course, if I know the people with whom others have worked and I respect them, their work and their judgement – that carries weight; however, the reputation of an institution is nothing I care about BUT if I know – for example – the manager at their previous job (or in their current job) is known for a unique expertise or for mentoring or any unique preparation for new or “next” jobs, that is good to know.

What I do very much care about is the match of the job they had to the one I am offering and – even more so – if the job is not similar – how the applicant performed in areas that may well have prepared them for my job. Example – if they are in a creative position where details are less important or fewer are found and I have a very detail-oriented job for them OR they are at an institution that is very low-tech and I am very high-tech, I am interested in any information the reference can give me about a related project they did or a parallel activity, or their independent work, continuing education focus or technology acumen.
If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? We have specific questions we ask to complete our form. To help the person I am calling for a reference focus, it is best to provide them with context. For example – if one of your required questions is one on ability to work with a team – you might say – our organization is team-driven and our employees all serve on one or more teams or lead or co-lead a team. Please tell me – in their role as x in your institution, did they lead teams? to complete a project? to reorganize a department? train on new infrastructure software?
Does your organization follow any practices meant to reduce bias or inequity in the reference check process? I know there are very specific steps we take to reduce bias in the design of the job advertisement, during the applicant screening process and in the interview process. What comes to mind for reference checking is avoiding specific terminology of your own as well as stopping use of terminology In the reference check process. One can also stop reference checks exchanges from bringing things into the conversation that have no relevance. For example, if a reference refers to the age of the person you are asking about – as “too young,” “too old,” “not enough experience based on age,” etc. you might say “Unrelated to age of the applicant – what would you say their experience includes and how did that experience contribute to the success of your organization or your user?”

Also if you check references for more than one finalist, be sure to ask each reference the same questions about applicant/finalist(s) – that way comparisons are equitable.
Do you have any stories about a decision to hire being affected by a reference check? Sort of! Things to look for that might influence your hire might include:

  • too few remarks from the reference
  • the reference stating they feel uncomfortable commenting on something and choosing to pass on commenting or answering the question
  • a reference saying, yes they will provide a reference, but only as to the job title they held when they left and their salary level when they left
  • a statement saying they would NOT rehire (obviously)
  • a reference check acknowledging …”it sounds like their resume indicates they did x for me and they did not have that role when they worked for me”….or “that is not the project they worked on when they were here”….or “it sounds like they were saying their were full time but for me – they worked hourly.”
  • asking the reference check for example “To my question about them working successfully on teams, you said “they worked on teams while they were here.” So are you saying they were successful in their teamwork? And the reference check saying, “No, I am not saying that. I am saying they worked on teams.”

If you want a reference check story – and you asked for one – I can share one about when I was called to be a reference for someone who had briefly worked for me, but most of her time was spent reporting to someone else who worked for me. Her work was NOT satisfactory but it was the kind of situation where you have that knowledge through a few examples – but it really comes out after they leave when things are uncovered AND people start speaking up. SO – I was surprised this person was leaving since they had been in their position only a short time but I did get the call.

I chose to handle it as honestly as I could by saying – when asked things like “tell me about her leadership skills” or “tell me about her management skills” I would honestly say: “I don’t feel as if I can answer that as I didn’t have a chance to observe those.” And, I couldn’t answer because “she did not work here in a role that called for her to take a leadership role in a project.” When asked about more specificity I also said I felt comfortable saying “I couldn’t answer that because her span of control here was x and the position they were calling about had a significantly larger span of control.” I don’t know whether or not they got the picture OR if they decided to take the chance anyway…at some point people feel they know best and – frankly – under different circumstances she may well have performed differently. What it reinforced for ME was the fact that I could speak to my specific experience with someone, but not apply it uniformly to others as some want you to do.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or written on your eyelids. 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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Further Questions: Do you find any value in LinkedIn Learning certificates?

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 from Twitter, and is very similar to but distinct from last week’s question:

Do you find any value in LinkedIn Learning certificates? More broadly, do you have any recommendations for ways to display proficiency in areas that aren’t reflected in your work experience?


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: To answer this week’s question – listing those classes – whether on-line, in person or “certification” type – that are applicable for the position you are wanting would be helpful.  For example, if a library is looking for a cataloger listing those courses in cataloging that you took, along with any practical experience (such as cataloging the books at your church, or even your own home library).  But I would also advise people fresh out of school with little to no experience to find a library and volunteer.  A lot of smaller libraries would really appreciate someone who is willing to help out.  And sometimes that can lead to employment!


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: Other than having heard of them, I don’t really know anything about LinkedIn Learning Certificates. But I’ll also admit that I don’t actually “use” LinkedIn beyond accepting requests for contacts. That said, it can be helpful to list any continuing education or professional development activities on your CV or resume that provide information about updated or new skills.

I am a huge fan of interesting and informative cover letters so a list of some certificates or other credentials would be more meaningful if a search committee could see how those skills were being used at work or even in other contexts. Many of us also develop proficiencies out of necessity and there are ways to describe those even if they are not accompanied by formal credentials. Ultimately, if you are thinking about this in the context of a job search, I think it is the job for which you are applying that is critical. The “added value” that you bring beyond the requirements of the specific position will be more compelling if you provide an example or two in a cover letter in addition to a list on your resume.  


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

Do you find any value in Linkedin Learning certificates?

This will sound odd, but I am going to answer the question “Do I find Linkedin Learning a valuable online learning or training resource?” and that answer is yes. And – of course – that is due to the fact that Linkedin purchased Lynda.com a few years ago. So – my institution had already subscribed to Lynda.com – then when it was taken over – our HR department made Lynda.com’s original 700+ courses (and now 18,000k) available through Linkedin to our full time or staffing table employees and then our students. One of my librarians fought hard and succeeded in our institution then making it available for our hourly employees – which actually proves to be most valuable to staff as we don’t provide staff development money to hourly other than general college content and our own Library Services – for example – EDI content.

So I find value in Linkedin Learning courses and content rather than a specific certificate. Obviously once we have established that a platform provides credible content – one course on instructional design or visual representation of data is great – but then a series of courses that result in not only elementary but also intermediate or advanced content is wonderful. This is due in part to the fact that these courses have not yet been recognized as activities that place you higher on the salary scale. The college does allow us to; however, decide as managers if different activities, coursework, etc. from external environments can be counted to the required staff development hours the college requires annually. And Linked in IS one of those platforms that we will not only assess coursework to see if it counts for our employees – but we will also review content to identify specific course areas that we will recommend to an employee in the evaluation process. It stands to reason that because the federal government is a big user of Linkedin Learning for government employees as well as recruitment for some federal and state employees, state-level higher education entities might continue to expand their recognition of alternative educational credentials.

At this point I should add that the real issue behind this discussion is the need for established and universally accepted levels and types of educational tracks or programs – that is a need for defining not only licensure but also micro credentials, professional certificates, advanced certification and badging for competency attainment – by level – and redefine the capability of some organizations to grant these – within an online world.

More broadly, do you have any recommendations for ways to display proficiency in areas that aren’t reflected in your work experience?

  • Applicants should assess the descriptive wording in job advertisements and on position descriptions to see if the organization uses language levels such as basic, awareness, intermediate, advanced. An applicant can then insert – being specific – what their training provides them with some evidence such as evidence of completion, products, links to content descriptions the training environment has on the web.
  • In the absence of the organization using levels or descriptors, applicants should make sure they include terminology that might speak to competencies and the levels of attainment after reviewing their content against a common core of content they might find in other training environments such as Merlot.org or WebJunction.org or – if people are applying for a position in higher education – against the institution’s curriculum.
  • Applicants should not only “sign” their work – that is – make sure it is clear what is original, etc. but they might also include – in “signing” their work – how they learned to “present” the product or write the narrative or development the outcomes they stated or create the content based on course or training session or a software learned.
  • Applicants should include a section on their resume for training, certifications, coursework, educational seminars, conference tracks, apprenticeships, directed study, field study, internships, etc. with more than the title. Rather they should include the dates, credentials of the instructor or platform, etc. and it is often wise to include titles of or links to products created as a result of those sessions.

The most important thing is “keep learning!”


Anonymous Federal Librarian: I rarely look at LinkedIn or other social media when considering candidates, so having any kind of proficiency listed on LinkedIn doesn’t help a candidate at all. I think if a candidate would like to demonstrate their proficiency in something that isn’t gained from their work experience, it can be addressed in a cover letter if submitting one, or on their resume in a special skills section. For federal resume reviews, the entire resume is reviewed and if the candidates demonstrate they have the knowledge or experience as stated in the “qualifications” section and have demonstrated knowledge as required in the “How you will be evaluated” sections somewhere on their resume they will be considered.


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an application or resume with a LinkedIn Learning certificate specifically, though we do see lots of other types of training certificates. To me these are more helpful for highlighting secondary or supplemental skills than they are for the position’s main duties. For example, if I’m hiring a Marketing Coordinator, a LinkedIn certificate in marketing isn’t going to matter nearly as much as the candidate’s experience and answers to interview questions. But, if I’m hiring an Adult Services Librarian, that same marketing certificate could go a long way in showing that they know how to promote programs, form partnerships, etc. To put it another way, the level of knowledge indicated by a learning certificate alone isn’t enough to prove that a candidate is qualified for a position in that area, but it can be very helpful in supplementing a resume or showing a broader skill set than employment history alone might.

As for proficiency in areas that aren’t reflected in formal work or volunteer experience, I am always interested in hearing about non-work experience. (Please note that I have no idea whether I am in the minority about this. I could be the only person who thinks this way!) If you never did library programming as part of your job, but you ran an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons game for 5 years, that shows me skills in project management, teamwork, time management and scheduling, and research. If you are involved in community theater, that tells me about your ability to work with others and perform under pressure. And so on. 


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via informercial. 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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Further Questions: In addition to the MLIS, what post-secondary certificates, degrees, or coursework is most useful for new hires trying to get into the field?

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 from Twitter. The person asks:

I’m reaching out to Library Hiring Twitter to see what is more useful in getting my foot in the door to an Academic Library. Should I pursue a second Masters or a PhD? Or should I focus on resume building experience instead? Thnx!

My pool of folks who answer questions includes non-academic librarians and LIS workers who don’t work in libraries. So for those folks the question is:

In addition to the MLIS, what post-secondary certificates, degrees, or coursework is most useful for new hires trying to get into the field? Or is experience more important than any such additional education?


Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College: If you want to work in a four-year college, especially one that also has graduate programs, a second master’s is very handy (and sometimes required.) A PhD could be useful if you want to be an academic library director, but it’s not typically expected below that level.

Generally speaking, I think experience is a more useful resume adornment than additional certifications — especially if you earned your library degree online. I like to see evidence that the applicant knows how to DO things, rather than just knowing ABOUT them.


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: Personally, unless you are wanting a position in something specific, such as cataloging, I feel that a broad range of experience is more helpful than coursework, especially in smaller libraries.  If I could hire someone with an MLS I would look for a person with lots of experience across a wide age range and with a variety of interests.  If they mentioned that they loved working with “X” and would love to take a class on that, that would be a bonus. 


Anonymous: In my experience on hiring committees, some people may construe a PhD as either an overqualification or as evidence that the candidate went to library school because they couldn’t get a teaching job and is therefore not super involved in librarianship. I would say a second master’s is a nice bonus when applying for an academic library job. The way my second MA has benefited me most as an academic librarian is in interactions with faculty. There have been a couple times where all of a sudden I was a full colleague and not faculty lite in the eyes of one of my liaison area faculty after they found out I have a subject MA and a research agenda. This is all to say that resume building is the key thing, but resume building can also look like grad school. The core advice I’d offer is be able to tell your story well in your cover letter to head off any assumptions people may make about your qualifications and experience.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The person asking the question doesn’t say whether they are currently working in a different type of library and hoping to make a change, or just entering librarianship. One strategy would be to look at job ads for the types of academic library positions they are interested in. Some will require, or prefer, an additional graduate degree to the MLS. Most often that is an MA in almost any field unless the position is highly specialized. Entry-level positions would not be likely to required a PhD unless, again, it is something very specialized. These days a lot of jobs require some experience so that’s worth keeping in mind. And many libraries will strongly recommend a second Master’s which could be earned while working and is not necessarily a required qualification for hiring. Reading ads for the types of positions they want, and in the type of academic library they would like to work could help. I am director at a small public liberal arts college library and library faculty are not required to have additional graduate degrees although some do.

I am not a big proponent of committing to a PhD so early on. I have a PhD in Theology which I received before I contemplated going to library school.  A PhD in Information Science would be helpful/necessary if the person is ultimately interested in administration as a library director or dean. And that could happen later in a career. Finding that first job is always the most important step in finding the ones after that.

If the person has access to certificates or professional development at reasonable (or no) cost, there are probably workshops or other experiences that would provide documentation of completion that could be useful. They might be a better use of time and funds while focusing on getting experience. Good luck!


Anonymous (Federal Librarian): For most federal library positions, experience matters much more than additional education. Exceptions to this may include some Library of Congress positions, many legal librarian positions, and maybe a couple of the very science heavy agencies. My agency’s HR will toss out any applications without a library degree before they even get to me, so I rarely even look at the education section of candidate’s resume. I am only focused on determining if they meet the qualifications as stated in the job announcement.  When applying for federal positions, make sure your resume is customized for that position and addresses everything in the “How you will be evaluated” section. For federal positions, the job announcement will specifically state any kind of educational requirement for the position. Be prepared to provide transcripts when applying. The hiring managers never see the transcripts, but if the position has an education requirement, transcripts will be reviewed by HR and candidates will be deemed unqualified if they don’t meet the educational requirements as stated in the job posting.


Jaime Taylor, Discovery & Resource Management Systems Coordinator, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts: I hate to say “learn to code,” but…maybe learn some advanced technical skills.

The hardest positions for us to fill in the last couple years have been those that require technical skillsets such as Python, SQL, XML, APIs, database management, data analysis, full stack application development, and similar, *while also* requiring the standard librarian skillsets. And I see library work only moving further in that direction. We obviously need these skills in library systems departments, which is where I work. But we also need them throughout the library. Metadata and cataloging librarians are doing less single item cataloging, and more batch processes and metadata transformations, some of which can only be done effectively with the above technical skills, especially in next-gen catalog systems. Reference librarians are increasingly being asked to help patrons scrape enormous quantities of information out of databases instead of locating the perfect single item, especially at university or research libraries, which means knowledge of APIs, SQL, and advanced spreadsheet skills. Data management is a growing subfield. And open source systems, which often a lot of customization and ongoing support, are quickly proliferating.

Most librarians do not have these skills, because they are not yet considered part of the standard librarian toolkit. We are not taught them in library school – which is increasingly an oversight on the schools’ parts. It can be expensive to foot the bill for that professional development yourself, and libraries increasingly do not have the budget lines for it either. But, if you want to stand out, that’s my best advice. If you have these skills, you might be the only viable applicant for a position that is asking for them. So, learn them, keep them up to date, and have interesting examples of them in your portfolio. Then apply to jobs that list them in the required or preferred qualifications – or, when applying to jobs that don’t, demonstrate how much more efficiently you will be able to do that work with those skills.


Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Our librarians are faculty, so those with a second master’s degree in a scholarly field are often better prepared for the kind of research and writing requirements for promotion and tenure. We don’t necessarily require it but it’s useful and will often get your foot in the door for academic jobs. It’s been many years since I was first on the academic job market, but I do remember that more institutions were interested in me due to my educational background (liberal arts undergrad and M.A. in musicology with German proficiency). If you are interested in academic library management, I would highly recommend a PhD in higher ed, although doing that before you are hired for your first job is not necessary. 


Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: This really depends on what kind of library work you want to do. I recommend using real, current job descriptions for research purposes: look at a bunch of job postings for positions you are interested in. If you see a certain requirement or preference that you don’t have, again and again in these job descriptions, you may want to look into obtaining that skill/experience/training etc. prior to applying to those types of jobs.

I would also make use of your network here. Ask people you know who are currently doing the type of work you want to do, what their advice is. You can also post a question about recommended additional certificates, degrees, skills, or coursework to a LinkedIn group that focuses on that type of work.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

I’m reaching out to Library Hiring Twitter to see what is more useful in getting my foot in the door to an Academic Library. Should I pursue a second Masters or a PhD? Or should I focus on resume building experience instead? Thnx! – 

I would have to say that many community colleges do not require a second master’s degree. Instead we would be looking for teaching experience, instructional design, curriculum support, experience with community college students (possible FTIC, workforce studies, varieties of pedagogy used in design and delivery.) With that said I would say that other education that would help you might be:

  • an instructional design degree
  • web degree (either universal design experience, web design – intellectual and technical)
  • computer science or IT degree
  • possibly second master’s in other languages (if the community college you are interested in has a large population of students with other languages)

In addition to the MLIS, what post-secondary certificates, degrees, or coursework is most useful for new hires trying to get into the field? Or is experience more important than any such additional education?

While education opens doors, application of education is great either through full time experience, internships or projects/work specific to areas in demand such as:

  • fundraising
  • design thinking
  • facilities, architecture (public spaces in higher ed)
  • strategic planning
  • public policy or public affairs
  • management of non- and not-for-profit environments
  • curriculum and instruction
  • teaching and learning
  • Libguide hosting/design
  • website hosting/platforms
  • online IL curriculum design
  • managing e-resources including negotiation, multiple-platform management or integrating software into Blackboard, the library’s website, etc.

I should add that in many community colleges additional degrees either initially place employees higher on salary scales or push them up the scale upon degree completion. Obviously additional degrees make it possible in many states for librarians to teach in their college (or in others) if they have the terminal degree in other disciplines. Also, many community colleges today as well as many four and six year environments require PhDs for Deans of Libraries or the highest attainable library or learning resources management position. 


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or shouted out on stage by a performer at an outdoor music festival. 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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Further Questions: Do you ask candidates to address Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at any point in the hiring process?

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:

Do you ask candidates to address Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at any point in the hiring process? If so, please tell us a little bit about what the prompt is, when it is asked, and what you are looking for in the response.


Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries: Yes. We ask for a statement regarding diversity, equity, access, and inclusion for our librarian positions and it is a required part of the application process, along with the cover letter and resume. The prompt is:

The University of Iowa Libraries welcomes and serves all, including people of color from all nations, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and the most vulnerable in our community. We safeguard the human right to access information. We offer educational resources that promote diversity, equity, access, and inclusion, and we strive to build collections that reflect all points of view on current and historical issues. Include an applicant statement to include examples of ways you have advanced diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in the workplace or community or provide other evidence of your demonstrated commitment to diversity.

I am looking for how the applicant has applied DEIA to a specific area of their current position or involvement in DEIA-related work, such as library or university committees. The former can be difficult for technical services staff, since our direct impact on the public can be limited. Because the DEIA statements are not shared beyond the search committee, candidates are often asked in the on-site interview process to talk about how they have applied DEIA in their current position.


Kellee Forkenbrock, Public Services Librarian, North Liberty Community Library: Indeed – our library (like many across the nation) is very committed to DEI efforts and ask pointed questions about it in our interviewing process. One such question we ask is, “Describe a situation when you had to consider someone’s cultural perspective during an interaction or with them or when providing customer service to them.” Allowing candidates to provide real-life examples of their work in this spectrum connects the cause with the work.


Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I looked back at the questions from our last library faculty search and I didn’t see any questions that particularly addressed DEI concerns. However, the person we hired has been working with us to develop DEI statements, especially with regard to some of the archival materials he works with. When we hire, because we are at a Jesuit institution, we often focus on the Jesuit values, such as cura personalis (care for the whole person) and social justice. While those aren’t specifically DEI-related questions, they can give a candidate a place to discuss those values and a particular approach. Our student body has high financial need and is a high percentage of first generation college students, so we often end up discussing how the library supports students in difficult circumstances who need support.


Anonymous: We have just started asking this question during every interview: “Diversity and inclusion are important values in our library. Can you tell us about how you have been able to learn about or apply these concepts in your work or everyday life?”

In the response, I’m looking for at minimum general awareness of diversity issues and privilege. I don’t need candidates to divulge anything personal if they don’t want to, and we’ve tried to keep the question relatively broad to give people a chance to talk about a range of possible things depending on their comfort level. I’m listening for responses that demonstrate that a candidate has at least a basic working knowledge of more recent thinking about how to engage respectfully with others in a diverse world. I like answers where people also acknowledge the need to continually keep learning (we all do!). Many people say they had diversity training at their last job, which is not an awful answer, but I’d always then like to hear what they learned or took away from that training. I’m also watching for people who really flounder. We have had some candidates tell us that they “don’t see color” or similar statements, or use outdated terminology to talk about minority groups. That is always a major red flag.


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: Yes, in a couple of different ways. For professional positions dealing with supervision, collection management, or programming and community outreach, we ask questions tailored to those areas: How do you plan programs for a target audience whose background is different than yours? How do you make sure your collection offers something for everyone in our diverse community? In your previous positions what actions did you take to promote equity and inclusion? And so on.  Sometimes we will get answers that are very general or hint that the candidate has never made any proactive efforts in this area. A good answer for these questions will include some kind of concrete action: changing who is involved in the planning process, partnering with a specific organization, etc. And an answer that shows you did research about the library and the community is always very helpful.


Anonymous: Over the past few years, we have seen an increased focus on EDI in the hiring process and I have seen a variety of ways libraries have asked about EDI, often relating directly in some way to the position but sometimes more broadly. Some of them are tied to library or institutional goals and they want to ensure that new employees will be ready to commit to working toward those goals. Some goals are intangible but are clearly trying to create an anti-racist culture while others are concrete, growing the collection in EDI areas, for instance.

Hopefully, you have some great ideas when it comes to ways the library can better serve patrons in a wide array of EDI areas and you should certainly be ready to share those ideas. However, being an outsider, it can be a challenge to come up with ideas that would be specifically relevant to that library/region unless that is asked directly or you are provided that context upfront. To a large degree, it may be more about how familiar the candidate is with EDI initiatives, ways in which libraries can work toward EDI projects, etc.

I have heard complaints from hiring committee members at various libraries say that these questions are a challenge because it is hard to rate the responses on a matrix and often it feels like that is where things end and it feels kind of hollow. It feels like something they thought they had to ask but don’t really have an idea of what kind of response they are looking for. One may argue that what you are measuring is their awareness of EDI and their readiness to embrace any EDI goals that have been set forth. Or, that they have ideas about how to develop and implement them when they are hired. For some libraries, these questions serve as a way to determine if the new hire is going to be “on-board”. While it is difficult to determine if one positive response is better than another positive response, it is really easy to tell when someone misses the mark, is not familiar with, or interested in, areas in which EDI would be important in relation to that position. It isn’t so much a matter of figuring out which candidate has the best answer (but it could be), it is more a matter seeing which candidates have thoughtful approaches and, on the flip side, of letting someone who is not going to be interested or willing to push EDI initiatives forward in the library to self-identify themselves.

In some ways, it may be a way to answer the question that we usually try to determine in social settings when we are with candidates, at lunch or on a break, during the interview process but we can’t ask outright so we are listening and watching to look for clues: “When it comes to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, what challenges you?”

It reminds me of the #TellMeChallenge on social media. “Tell me you’re a (racist) (homophobe) (misogynist) (classist) (xenophobe) (transphobe) (ableist) …………….. without telling me you’re a (insert selected noun).” So we can show you the door.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or written on a the back of a tortoise dropped on my head by an eagle. 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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Further Questions: Do you think virtual interviews are effective hiring tools?

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 was prompted by someone who hires librarians:

Do you think virtual (Zoom, WebEx, etc., or even phone) interviews are effective hiring tools? Where are they most helpful and where do they fall short? Would you be willing to hire someone without any in-person meeting? Finally, do you have tips for candidates who are preparing for a virtual interview?


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: Virtual and telephone interviews are definitely useful hiring tools, but I’ve never based a final hiring decision on those alone. That could be different if our library had positions that worked remotely, or focused exclusively on behind-the-scenes work, but all of our positions require a good deal of face-to-face interpersonal work, even if it’s not always patron-facing (like systems and technical services). Interacting with a candidate in a real space just gives you a more complete picture of how they will interact with other people on the job. 

To me virtual interviews are most useful as pre-screening or follow-up tools. I may do shorter virtual interviews with a wider pool of candidates to narrow down the selections for a longer in-person interview. This is especially helpful when a candidate would need to travel a good distance. I’ve also used virtual interviews after the full round of in-person interviews, to go deeper into a certain topic or ask follow-up questions. This can be helpful when candidates are nearly equally qualified and the hiring decision is very close. 


Anonymous: I love this question. I was interviewed over the phone (before video conferencing was really a thing), got the job and worked there for 3 1/2 years. Part of why I think it was a successful interview was that it did not try to be an in-person. At the end it was a bit more casual  because we were talking on the phone (and I was sitting comfortably on my couch in yoga pants and a hoodie). With that being said, I think that virtual interviews can be successful. I am, however, going to tell you about how a WebEx interview that I was on a hiring committee for went terribly wrong. 

Everyone was having internet issues, so the interview started late. Two of us were in the room together, one hiring committee member was on the video call as was the interviewee. 

There was a weird delay and the interviewee was not comfortable speaking into the computer microphone. The person not in the room with us could not hear the interviewee very well and kept asking them to repeat themselves. It was super annoying and we (the people together) got a little giggly. Something happened in the background of the interviewer so they started looking away from the camera which the interviewee could see. I accidentally asked the same question twice (this made us even more giggly) and at the end of the interview the interviewee did not mute their mic (maybe on purpose) and said “f*&k this place” as they were getting off the call.

Now to go back to your question(s). I think virtual interviews are fine if everyone agrees that stuff might happen during it to make it less professional. I have hired folks that I didn’t meet in-person until they were standing in front of me on the first day of work. 

Tips. Tips. Tips???

Practice on a zoom call and ask your friend to be the interviewer. Find a place that gives you good lighting, quiet, and where you feel comfortable. I think it is okay if your cat sticks their butt on the camera during the call as long as it doesn’t disrupt your answers or throw you off your game. Wear something you feel good in even if the interviewer(s) won’t see it. 

Since the pandemic I think it has gotten (I am saying this cautiously) easier with virtual interviews. And dare I say that with the flexibility of interviewing virtually for positions that have a virtual component to them it will show how the candidate presents in that medium.  


Gemma Doyle, Collection Development Manager, EBSCO: Since the pandemic our team has been permanently remote, and our company as a whole has switched to an either hybrid or remote structure for employees. Our last hire was the first one I’d done that was for a fully remote job, although we’ve hired people using virtual interviews for years before the pandemic, since a lot of roles are specialized and required national searches. It is so much easier doing virtual interviews now than it was in 2019 – everyone is more comfortable with the technology, and the technology itself has gotten better and easier to use, so the last experience was kind of night and day even though we were using the same programs. I won’t lie: I love virtual interviews. I feel like everyone is more comfortable in their space than they would be if we arranged meetings in person, and the more comfortable you are, the more authentic the conversation will be. Since the job is remote anyway, how I interact with a candidate in a virtual interview over Teams is how we’re going to interact every day at work over Teams, so I don’t think I’m missing any nuance as I might be if the job were in person.

The only advice I feel like I can give to candidates based on the interviews I’ve done lately is that virtual interviews can feel very forced and are very difficult to capture a casual, warm vibe by interviewer or candidate. I do my best as the interviewer, but I’m not always sure how much of it comes across. When it comes to backgrounds, I 100% blur my own and understand when people do it, but if candidates can find a place where they don’t have to, it can be a nice way to showcase some of your personality and make me feel like I know something about you. Being able to roll with technical issues is important, too.


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I do think that Zoom interviews can be effective and I believe they have been effective hiring tools for us. During the pandemic, we used them exclusively. There are some quirks and I think the candidate sometimes is more rattled when there are technological difficulties. Zoom interviews are far more effective, I believe, than phone. You get to virtually meet one another and it’s just a different vibe. I think there are two places where they fall short – one is that the candidate never gets to see the workplace or meet people face to face. That could certainly be an issue for an administrative position, or even a completely front facing position. The other is when the candidate would normally have a full day of interviewing with different groups. I think it’s a bit harder for someone to interview or meet with a smaller group who are not the search committee over Zoom. That said, I think it can work. I have done follow-up interviews by Zoom (after an in person interview with the committee) to help the hiring manager make a final decision and I believe the candidate was much more relaxed with me one-on-one on Zoom. In terms of preparation, make sure your technology is working and that there are no distracting background noises. Obviously, it can’t be helped if suddenly your neighbor decides to rent a jackhammer for the day, but you could move to a less noisy place in your house, or maybe ask your neighbor to take a 30 minute break. Dress nicely and either use a Zoom background or check what’s going to be in the background of your Zoom call. Animals are less of a concern – who doesn’t love a cat wanting treats in the middle of a meeting? But, a continuously barking dog is more distracting than your dog wandering in while you’re on Zoom. 


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: We have not been able to do any hiring in over two years so we did no virtual interviewing. I did participate on the search committee for a new provost for our campus which is entirely virtual so I have that perspective. I have always been conflicted about phone interviews having been on both sides of the process. But I think they can be useful parts of a search. I would be that all of us have had a really good phone interview with someone whose in-person visit was not as good and vice-versa. I think both of those outcomes are what make a phone/virtual interview useful. The virtual piece (with or without video) and the in-person together provide ways to experience communication styles. If questions are provided in advance then there is the chance to assess preparedness (sometimes candidates don’t sound as if they have done a lot of preparation). The in-person interview then has opportunities for the search committee to see more spontaneous thinking from candidates.
The in-person portion of an interview isn’t just about the person and the job. The candidate sees the campus and its surroundings, likely meets more people than they might virtually, and can really see the library. I still think that is an important part of the process, especially if a search is nation-wide and most new hires would make a move. As an academic librarian I also acknowledge that, at least for library faculty positions, the college bears the cost of travel for an interview (and for others we would at least reimburse mileage). Perhaps we will move toward talking a hybrid approach that would allow candidates and search committees to work together to decide on the optimum schedule that could take into account weather, whatever public health situation may be in play, or other factors.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

Do you think virtual (Zoom, WebEx, etc., or even phone) interviews are effective hiring tools? 

I think “digital” opportunities are very effective as long as they allow for visual connections. AND, it is important to say here, I don’t care what the person looks like but this medium will be the one they use to conduct the critical part of their interview where they teach us (as if we were their students) and an awareness of software issues and packages, their knowledge of pedagogy conducive to online learning and their knowledge or even their familiarity with how one teaches and engages online is critical to their success at my institution. 

And while I might narrow down a pool of applicants through a conference call or phone interview, I would not use a phone interview only to hire. 

Where are they most helpful and where do they fall short? 

My answers to this question have completely changed in the last two years or at least expanded to include the fact that someone applying for a faculty librarian position with us absolutely should have had the experience or education – whether formal, informal or self taught – with online services in an educational sector. The  most helpful aspects include:

  • increased interview pool for us based on our lack of funding to bring many people in (and pay for some or all of them)
  • increased interview pool for applicants who may be coming from farther away or may not have the funding to pay for some of their travel (if needed) and possibly be in a position where they aren’t able to take off work to travel somewhere for a day or two
  • the opportunity for applicants to display a number of competencies in an unusual and more typical work setting (now that there IS so much online teaching)
  • multiple levels to impress the committee on what they can do…navigate and engage as well as answer questions and design content
  • more people as finalists – that is, it becomes impossible to bring in – for example – 8 applicants who deserve to be finalists – but organizing 8 applicants time and our time for online – even if they are a 1/2 day “ish” each – is very easy to do
  • more people and a wider group involved in hiring as “stepping out of a standard work day” is easier for a larger group and a more group with many more diverse levels can step away

Where digital interviewing falls short includes:

  • NOW there are many more software packages offer these experiences and they vary dramatically in “bells and whistles”…so while one organization may provide a variety – most do not provide as “many out there” as needed…at one point we had five or six different ways to connect so we felt confident that applicants COULD choose which package to use, etc. but many can’t and even ours have decreased. Applicants being versed in their package but not in yours puts up roadblocks that are often insurmountable.
  • Visual digital experiences like Zoom are not all equal among products of course but absolutely within a single product and there are a variety of levels of access so use of one and making sure all of the right information gets to applicants and committee members is critical. As software upgrades take place, links in some packages appear in different places, and some aspects of the service are not available and it is NOT uncommon to bring an interview to a halt as the software isn’t able to do what the applicant diligently prepared.
  • Our database packages do not allow for remote guest access – only in-person guest access. This means that an applicant not working somewhere where they have the access to online materials that they want or think they need – at the level or content area they think they need – may be a drawback for them. 
  • Two of the most difficult things we know about in higher ed are the engagement of online audiences or classes and the application of online active learning pedagogy online. Given the variety of ways people learn AND our own institution’s constituent group – audiences may be equally uncomfortable online and no matter what – find it hard to engage or be actively involved in their educational process – creating a roadblock for teaching success.
  • Many applying do have the access or bandwidth they need in terms of equipment age, privacy, speed, sound issues, etc. Lacking in tech opportunities and a good location can create a major problem.

Are these insurmountable? Absolutely not, they just require more specific work not only by those organizing but by all participating. 

Would you be willing to hire someone without any in-person meeting? 

Yes and we did and continue to do so and have been extremely pleased. It has taken more time to get to where we all want to go, but we have hired some very successful employees who have been a perfect fit – at all levels. I should also say that many years ago we convinced our HR department – for all of the reasons above – to let us narrow down finalists with a virtual interview and that was very successful. We did not – therefore – consider it a major leap – to move to a complete interview and – frankly – I was afraid of the impending timeline of the pandemic and the fact that many times – as a pandemic wears on – organizations cut staff or freeze positions. I did not want that to happen and luckily it did not and we hired some great people.

Finally, do you have tips for candidates who are preparing for a virtual interview?

The same due diligence is needed by applicants who need to prepare for interviews by looking very specifically at the organization and those employed prior to even deciding if they want to interview – much less applying. Then they should:

  • the review of the umbrella organization or parent group 
  • the review of the community or the constituent group of the organization or general environmental area
  • review the pro and con list above to determine aspects that work and don’t for them specifically
  • online content availability and what the organization requires for the interview vs what they can make available
  • software packages and the version of packages
  • what best practices for online interviews are in general and does the organization reveal its goals or values beforehand in emails? in their values statements? in their online “About us” ?
  • the ever-important dry runs where people practice with someone “at the other end” or practices with another person who IS remote so they can tell you if the clothes, etc. work
  • dressing for the interview as if you were there in person
  • if handouts are required, send those in advance if at all possible
  • experimenting with lighting…on or off, natural light or not…visuals available in contrast….using materials in back of you? etc.
  • experimenting with background…on or off, etc….a blank wall if often better than the fuzzy image or the one where every time you move your head, part of you disappears
  • fully engaging with the software and if not available asking questions about their version AND trying to get on early or the day before to make sure you understand what is available

Clearly I am a big supporter and think it can enhance the interview process for many positions in the organization.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or yodeled down from Alpine heights. 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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