Further Questions: Is it possible to be fair when hiring for a position with internal and external candidates?

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 someone who hires library workers:

Hiring for a position that has both external and internal candidates can be tricky. Is it possible to do this fairly? If so, what are some specific recommendations to ensure an equitable process?


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I do and have done it and I believe it’s been fair. I’ve also witnessed situations where it wasn’t fair, but that may be for an anonymous answer… First, the job description and ad must be written to reflect the needs of the library and not to match the specific qualifications of an internal candidate. Otherwise, you’re stacking the deck and it’s not even fair to the internal candidate. I had a position last year where I had the possibility of two internal candidates. I met with each of them to determine if they were truly interested (or just wanted a job that paid more) and what my questions might be about their candidacy. Second, the process must be the same for all candidates. The internal candidate must apply in the same way and interview in the same way. Other than maybe a library tour, the interview questions must be the same and they must meet with the same people. We often use similar interview questions for searches, so I’ve tried, when I have an internal candidate, to switch things up so they won’t have an unfair advantage. I’d say it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’ve worked with the person and know their strengths and what they could bring to the job (in addition to what they say in an interview situation – maybe they’ve just never had the opportunity to contribute at that level). On the other hand, you also know their weaknesses and where they need development. It’s all a part of the process and the manager has to be responsible for keeping it fair to both internal and external candidates.


Anonymous: It can be tricky, but not always for the reasons you might expect. Sometimes candidates automatically assume they’re out of the running when they find out there is an internal candidate, but being an internal candidate comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, I will almost always interview an internal candidate if they meet the position’s basic requirements, as a professional courtesy. So they do have a foot in the door. But, we have more detailed knowledge of an internal candidate’s skills and abilities than we do for an external candidate, and sometimes that means we know the internal candidate would not be a good match for a certain department or position. In other words, an external candidate is evaluated on their application, interview, and references, while an internal candidate is evaluated on those factors plus their history of work at the organization. Honestly, this extra information usually works in the internal candidate’s favor; after all, if their performance was not good enough, presumably they wouldn’t still be working here. 

My one recommendation: don’t penalize a good internal candidate for any vacancies or staffing problems their promotion would create. Sometimes the internal candidate really is best, but then you remember how hard their current position was to fill, and how well they’re doing there, and how long it will take to find another good candidate. Don’t hold that against them! If they’re outstanding enough to be promoted in your library, they’re outstanding enough to get a higher position somewhere else, and I’d rather have the temporary problems associated with rewarding good employees rather than the longer-term problems associated with an organizational culture of no room for recognition or advancement.


Anonymous: I am sure it is possible, but damned if I have ever seen it, either as an applicant or a hiring team.

My only suggestion is to be honest and transparent with all the candidates if you can, but that would probably get you sued.

Actually, I have nothing that can make this situation better. Almost all of my worst horror stories on both sides of the table involve internal with external candidates.


Jaime Taylor, Discovery & Resource Management Systems Coordinator, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts: This question should not be answered at the time a search is being conducted! Instead, this is a policy question, and if your library does not have policy about internal candidates, it should create it. If your library does have policy, then those conducting the search should refer to it.

Examples of policies might be that there is always an internal posting for x amount of time before an external one, or that internal candidates will be considered first, or that internal candidates will be considered first if there are x number of internal candidates — or the opposite, a written policy that says internal candidates will not be given first consideration. Either way, everyone’s expectations are clear and you’re on the same page. If you have a union and a collective bargaining agreement, these policies likely are (or could be!) in your contract. If your library is developing this kind of policy for the first time, be sure to think about how the policies, whatever they are, will influence your ability to recruit and retain a diverse staff and create an inclusive organization.


Ellen Mehling's headshot. She is wearing a cloth mask

Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: This is an example of why it is always better to have a panel/committee reviewing resumes and conducting interviews, rather than a single person (who would usually be the hiring manager). Those on the committee should discuss pros and cons and skills/experience/strengths of each applicant that meets the requirements of the position, and internal applicants should be considered and vetted as thoroughly as external ones. In general you’ll have more information about internal applicants, but that should not automatically mean that they are preferred for the new position.


Katharine Clark, Deputy Director, Middleton Public Library: Yes, it can be very tricky to interview internal candidates at the same time. Having been a part of the process on both sides, as an interviewee and interviewer, here are my two recommendations. First of all make sure and contact everyone to set up initial interviews the same. Don’t ask your internal candidate in the break room if next Thursday works for them. They are most likely going to tell coworkers about the upcoming interview, so be vague when talking to others at work about the process. You want it to be a fair and equal process. Secondly, if you don’t hire the internal candidate make sure and follow up with them. If you are part of a large system that sends out generic emails to candidates that aren’t hired, be sure to have a one-on-one chat with your co-worker that didn’t get the job. Let me know what they can work on and how much you appreciated them taking the time to apply for the position. I highly suggest this second piece of advice, makes for a more comfortable work environment for both parties.


Jaime Corris Hammond, Director of Library Services, Max R. Traurig Library, Naugatuck Valley Community College: I think that hiring when there is an internal candidate can be done fairly, as long as the committee is clear on what they can and cannot consider when they are comparing candidates. If the committee agrees ahead of time that they will treat the internal candidate as a new person, and only consider what is on the person’s resume and cover letter, then the hiring process can be fair. In many cases, the internal candidate has the advantage because they have direct experience at the institution, but I have also seen outside candidates be hired because they had deeper and/or broader experience that better aligned with the goals of the hire.


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: It is possible to hire from a pool of external and internal candidates fairly. From experience, my recommendations are:

1) Use the same hiring process for both internal and external applicants. An internal applicant must go through the same application process as external candidates. If you require an application and/or resume of an external candidate, the internal candidate must provide the same.

2) Provide external candidates with information that may only be readily available to the internal candidate. As an example, provide youth services programming statistics to both internal and external candidates. Offer a tour of the facility or area to the external candidate before the interview. For an IT position, offer a tour of the server area and schematic of the network (of course leaving off specific information).

3) Have the candidates perform a job related task or program. When interviewing for a children’s position, a story time presentation can be a decisive factor between an external and internal candidate.

4) Have a nonemployee who is knowledgeable about the position on the interview committee. The nonemployee will not know any of the candidates, providing the best opportunity candidates can have for an unbiased opinion.

Having a non-employee who is knowledgeable about libraries as part of the interview committee is one of the best way to assure fairness and equitable treatment between internal and external candidates.

When interviewing for an IT Manager position, the South Carolina State Library help us by allowing its IT Manager to be part of the interview team. This person provided excellent questions, spotted exaggerators, and was impartial. I regularly invite either a director friend or someone from State Library services to participate in branch manager interviews as they do not know the candidates and are knowledgeable on public library services and issues. As part of the interview committee, the non-library employee has no knowledge on the internal candidate and requires us as employees on the committee to explain our observations and choices.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: When answering this question, we must remember that – within our organizations – librarians move laterally, within levels of promotion, between or among departments, into other roles within libraries, as well as those who apply for temporary or permanent roles, current positions to project management, frontline positions to management, public to behind-the scenes or technical services or technical services or behind-the-scenes to public services – or – and what we think of more typically – further upward on the management track. In addition, managers may choose to step back and apply for leadership or positions that coordinate or facilitate only, rather than management. This means that there are MANY different areas for feedback for our employees so that not only are they aware of how they are performing throughout a year, but they are also better informed on how they might position themselves to apply for other positions, projects, team work, etc. within the organization.

As to the process that we use to select applicants who seek to move up, on, or differently, the best success for hiring for any positions to be filled internally OR from a pool of internal and external candidates comes from a combination of the following practices throughout the process:

Before/The Standard

  • Organizations should articulate their practices on seeking applicants for positions which could include this variety of approaches:
    • We are committed to developing our employees.
    • Our mentor program is designed to not only provide employees multiple avenues for success within the organization for this position but also to get assistance if they decide to move within the organization.
    • Although the organization is committed to developing employees, we consistently post all available positions both internally and externally at the same time to ensure equitable opportunities and the best possible project and customer services.
    • The organization values its employees and their development and available positions within the organization will be posted internally for x days, then finding no successful applicants, the position will be posted externally. Internal employees may apply at any time, following the same standards and practices for the hiring process.
  • To be able to assess internal employees’ performance as well as eligibility for moving within internal work roles and responsibilities, organizations must have up-to-date position descriptions, organizational, departmental and individual goals and outcomes as well as project or team outcomes and evaluation of those outcomes to provide information for employees seeking moves within the organization.
    • Outcomes – for initial team work – must be assigned in part or overall – to provide direction for completion.
    • “The usual” must be in place for individual or group successes such as timelines, resources, organizational tools, etc. (Many organizations identify “levels of success,” that is, “the project is completed to level 1 with x available with level 2 articulated as possible only if additional funding is granted.”)
  • Organizations need organization-wide annual performance evaluation policies and processes.
  • Organizations need – within their annual performance evaluation processes – systematic feedback for completion, successes, needs for improvement and failures throughout each year. This can come from consistent feedback that provides positive feedback as well as negative feedback with a requirement of constructive examples to accompany both positive and negative comments designed to avoid repeats. Feedback can be given in many ways:
    • direct manager giving teams feedback on overall performance of the team
    • a matrix of managers (all involved and/or all affected) providing feedback on overall performance of the team
    • direct or a matrix of managers giving teams feedback on the product while leaving project or team chairs or leaders the responsibility to provide individual team member assessments based on product assessment or “assigning” feedback to individual
    • performance
    • managers giving individuals feedback on their performance for basic as well as advanced duties throughout a year
    • teams, groups use peer evaluations as part of performance assessment for the project
    • teams, groups use peer evaluations as part of performance assessment for a project, within basic roles and responsibilities of a department or service, etc.
    • teams, groups use self evaluations as part of performance assessment for a project or within basic roles and responsibilities of a department or service, etc.
    • teams, groups use upward valuations as part of performance assessment for a project or within basic roles and responsibilities of a department or service, etc.
  • Managers need to commit to effective orientation, training, education and development programs that strive to ensure that employees get the information and curriculum – and as possible and as needed – the funding for development for individuals, departments or services to assist in ensuring successful work product and performance and maintenance of required and preferred competencies
  • Organizations should explore onsite or virtual/digital mentor programs that provide opportunities for employees to discuss roles, receive feedback and experience attention to their performance NOT from their managers of record for job performance or project or team work.
  • Organizations need processes in place to assess the organization’s future needs in order to provide training, education and development to ensure employee competencies are maintained or upgraded to meet those needs.
  • Organizations should have clear, fair processes for “acting,” “interim” and temporary roles employees may take on for open, pending positions that include:
    • clear instructions on whether or not interim or acting employees will be allowed to apply for positions
    • practices for providing orientation and training – and as needed – development during acting or interim roles
    • practices for providing feedback during acting or interim roles
    • articulated, specific practices and scripts for how managers might answer questions from existing employees on internal openings
    • practices in place for feedback and “next steps” for internal applicants NOT successful in the selection process
  • If organizations offer internal candidates the opportunity for interim or acting roles and responsibilities, they should take great care in organizational announcements as well as instructions to teams or projects or departments when interim or acting individuals are announced and integrated into the work and consider:
    • use of the interim or acting or other relevant title
    • specific timelines to announce for beginning, middle and ending roles and responsibilities
    • the possibility of announcing whether or not interim or acting can apply for position

Interview Practices and Policies (in general but also to ensure equitable internal applicant consideration:)

  • Position descriptions and job advertisements should be designed NOT to favor internal applicants (ex. required position elements should avoid – as much as possible – citing specific products or software the organization uses – that is “in-depth knowledge of (the organization’s specific online circulation software) versus “in-depth knowledge of current online circulation software used in (x such as a type of) library
  • Committees must have identical, carefully designed questions for all applicants.
  • Identical modes and methods should be used with applicants for interviewing (if – for example – initial interviews are virtual – internal applicants at the first stages are virtual as well)
  • Standard rubrics should be used for evaluating applicants – based on among other things – position descriptions.
  • Organizations should have formulas for creating equitable selection committees to assist in the process of balancing internal and external (normal) applicant support or lack of support.
  • Committee chairs should take great care to have carefully trained committee members who understand and commit to confidentiality during the entire hiring process including post-hiring discussions with both successful and unsuccessful candidates.
  • Managers must establish practices for organizational announcements for introducing successful applicants in general but especially for internal unsuccessful applicants and co-workers.

Post Interview candidate exchanges:

  • Human Resources standards and legal issues must be addressed for any q and a with unsuccessful candidates such as sessions on “Why didn’t I get this position?” as well as “What might I have done differently?” or “What should I do next time?” or “What is my future here now that I didn’t get the position?” as well as “How can I work with x who got the job instead of or over me?”
  • If discussions are allowed by HR for unsuccessful applicants, scripts must be created for what questions can and can’t be addressed such as “Why DID x get this position?” and “Why was x chosen over me for the position?”

Finally – the goal is to have well-designed practices in place avoid:

  • …”I thought I was getting this position.”
  • …”I was promised this position.”
  • …”I was not oriented within this (as interim) position and therefore could not be successful as interim or acting.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or in a novelty song! 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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It’s a good process, no complaints

Robert Stanley Dollar, Jr., Robert Stanley Dollar, Sr., and Jeanne Nichols, Librarian at Capt. Robert Dollar World Trade Library. From UC Berkeley Library Digital Collections.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: Campus Librarian

Titles hired include: Reference & Instruction Librarian, Campus Librarian, Dean of Library Services

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel

√ Employees at the position’s same level (on a panel or otherwise)

√ Other: VP of Academics & President of College

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

√ Online application

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Hiring committee of peers & Dean of Libraries

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

They were confident, knowledgeable, and direct/professional with their answers

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

If they’re confused easily, stress out over simple questions, or say something racist/sexist in the interview

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

it’s a good process, no complaints

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

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

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

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

underestimating the job responsibilities

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

Yes. Speak clearly, repeat the question to make sure you’re answering correctly, other than that… good luck. Virtual interviews all suck.

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

If you sound like you don’t have any idea what we do, you’re not getting the job. If you sound like you understand what you’re in for, any application of your personal experience can help you.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

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

HR reviews the first round of on-paper candidates and requires certain protected-status candidates to get an initial interview in the 2nd round.

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

Relevant questions that are unexpected are always good. Asking about the working relationships & culture is good too

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+

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

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 200+ staff members, Academic, Southeastern US, Suburban area

Hiring Better: Core Best Practices for Academic Interviews

The first run of Hiring Librarians was pretty eye-opening. I learned that there is no secret to hiring and that people who hire library workers have all sorts of contradictory opinions and practices. And I saw that many of those opinions and practices are rooted in internal bias. I am very grateful to the readers who took the time to point out problematic answers, and the problematic questions I was asking. 

So this time around, I’ve been looking for ways to help mitigate harm, both in the work of this blog and in our collective practices. Alison M. Armstrong said in her survey

I try to avoid using the word “fit” (based on the Core Best Practices for Academic Interviews – check out this webinar) because it can be used as a way to say “people who look like me”. Diversity is important. 

In working with her to create her post, she emphasized the importance of this document, and made sure that we provided a link for readers. I wanted to learn more about this document, and to share it with you. While it is targeted to Academic Interviews, I think there are applicable principles for all library types. I approached the authors, Xan Arch, Lori Birrell, and Kristin E. Martin, and they graciously agreed to write about it for us. 


Why did you decide to write the recommendations?

Our team came together in 2020 through a discussion of a blog post written about shorter academic librarian interviews. This post started a chat on the CORE lists and several of us expressed interest in investigating further. Ultimately, rather than focusing on shorter interviews in particular, we ended up exploring how to reduce bias and create more candidate-friendly interviews. As we talk in our libraries and universities about how unconscious biases influence how we judge others, it is more important than ever to examine traditional interview processes to see if they are effective in evaluating candidates or if they serve to reinforce these biases.

Can you talk about the ‘dangers of fit’?

This is one area we really want to highlight in recommendations. It came up frequently in the literature we reviewed, and I think it’s an understandable and common short circuit to move from “I like this person because we share similar manners/have similar interests/have the same alma mater” to “let’s hire this person because they seem like they’d fit in well.” Hiring candidates who seem comfortable at the interview and to whom you can quickly build a connection may indeed mean that a new hire is easier to work with initially, but may also risk the growth and innovation of your organization. Hiring based on fit risks homogeneity and the reproduction of a culture that, in many organizations, centers on dominant identities.  Many of our best practice recommendations are designed to counter this tendency by replacing subjective impressions with a thoughtful and intentional review of how the candidate meets job qualifications and can perform in the position. Examples include starting with unconscious bias training, providing structure and consistency throughout the interview process, and using a rubric for evaluations. 

What recommendations have you implemented at your own institutions?

Kristin:

In searches over the past few years, we have moved toward providing the search committee members with an opportunity to approach the search with intentionality, openness, and transparency with one another. This has included providing unconscious bias training at the beginning of each search process, both through a video and follow-up discussion. Use of a rubric for the hiring process has become standardized, particularly in librarian searches. What’s been so interesting about this change is how it’s affected all parts of the hiring process. By using the qualifications in the position posting to build the rubric, it’s helped us tighten up our language of the qualifications and have conversations within the search committee to explicitly clarify the meaning of those qualifications. For example, if we have a position that requires supervisory experience, we’ve been able to discuss questions like: Is supervising only students sufficient? Is being responsible for the training but not the hiring and termination of employees sufficient? By having these conversations in advance, we avoid situations where search committee members make different assumptions in determining which candidates are qualified. By using the rubric for evaluation of the initial application, we can also identify areas where we want to ask candidates targeted questions because their initial applications didn’t provide enough information for us to evaluate them. For example, in one position we had a question regarding experience and understanding around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion where we didn’t get sufficient information from their applications, so we knew to develop an interview question to cover this area. Finally, the rubric has also helped us focus on those qualifications that allow for us to differentiate candidates, and eliminate vague requirements that could allow for more subjectivity and judgment of “fit” to enter in the conversation. 

Lori: 

For many searches, we send questions to candidates ahead of time (about 24 hours) to signal that we’re interested in the content of their responses and not in how quickly they can think on their feet. In my experience, this strategy removes some of the performance aspects of interviewing that can be all too easy for the search committee to focus on when evaluating candidates. The list of questions should clearly indicate any questions that are non-evaluative (like the typical ice breaker question).

When deciding what interview format to use, consider how the format may enhance or hinder the evaluation process. Virtual interviews can greatly speed up the search timeline and can expand the number of stakeholders who can participate as they don’t have to be on campus. However, virtual interviews require just as much planning, if not more, as in-person interviews. Regardless of the format, I always carefully consider what sessions will be included on the schedule and treat each search as unique. For example, does a rare books cataloger need to give a job talk? Is presenting to the public a core job responsibility? If not, perhaps that session could be rethought as an open forum on a topic specific to that role and duties. When developing the schedule, it’s important to communicate to candidates any sessions that will be non-evaluative (like a meal). 

Xan: 

In our last search, we piloted asking candidates to keep their cameras off during the first-round virtual interviews. The intended purpose was to reduce the search committee’s ability to evaluate based on candidate appearance and the appearance of their home, office, or virtual background. Our search committee kept their cameras on so the candidates would be able to read body language and get a sense of their potential future co-workers. One thing I did not anticipate was that several candidates had profile photos that showed while their cameras were off. This meant we did have a visual element that might factor into our evaluation. However, even with this unexpected issue, I felt that the strategy was effective overall and we plan to do it in the future. 

In the same search, we tried reducing the evaluative aspects of candidate meals. As we move towards structured interviews that focus on stated job qualifications, reducing the influence of unstructured mealtimes is aimed at reducing our ability to judge things like the candidate’s food preferences or desire for a glass of wine at the end of the day. The candidates had lunch with library student workers, and we asked library staff taking candidates to dinner to complete candidate evaluations before dinner. Neither meal time produced feedback for the search committee, helping focus our deliberations on interview segments that directly related to job qualifications.

Do you have any best practices that are format specific for online interviews? 

If you’ve decided to do virtual interviews, the search committee chair or hiring manager should delegate someone to coordinate the logistics of the interview day. Who will be on call for tech troubleshooting? Who will monitor the chat for questions? Will you use one link for the whole interview, or different links for each session? 

Especially important is considering the start and end times for the day. When scheduling the first virtual interview I hosted, I didn’t consider the different timezone of our candidate and mistakenly started the day at 7am. It can be tempting to try and make the virtual interview schedule mirror an onsite interview. Resist this temptation! Can you schedule the interview over 2 days? Can some meetings take place before the interview day? Even with breaks throughout the day, sitting in front of a screen is taxing in a different way and you should construct the schedule to be sure you can gather the information you need to evaluate candidates without padding the schedule with unnecessary time.

What advice would you give hiring managers who would like to review their interview processes?

At many organizations, significant changes and decisions around the hiring process require review and approval by the organization’s human resources office or the provost’s office. However, as a hiring manager or even member of a search committee, you may have more opportunity than you realize to effect change in the interview process, and take steps to provide a candidate-friendly process that reduces bias. Just starting the conversation with others at your organization and stepping back to review what you’ve always done can make a big difference. Small steps, like adding more structure to the search process, working with the committee to evaluate based on a rubric, asking the question about the purpose of each meeting in a day-long search, can add up to make a better process. Maybe you can’t share the questions with the candidate in advance, but you can at least internally develop a list of questions to be asked of all candidates to improve consistency during the interview. Work within your sphere of influence as opportunities come up to bring additional ways to improve the interview process. Even if your institution doesn’t feel ready to implement some changes now, by keeping the conversation going, additional changes can happen over time.


You can read the full recommendations, which are posted through the American Library Association/Core: https://alair.ala.org/handle/11213/17612 


Headshot of Xan Arch

Xan Arch is Dean of the Library at the University of Portland. As Dean, she has developed initiatives that promote student success and sense of belonging within the library, and in support of this work, she has researched and published on first-generation student experiences in libraries, as well as academic library hiring practices. She holds degrees from San Jose State University and Stanford University. She has also trained as a search advocate through Oregon State University.

Headshot of Dr. Lori Birrell

Dr. Lori Birrell is the Associate Dean for Special Collections at the University of Arkansas. In this role, Birrell provides strategic leadership of the division and its stewardship of archives and rare books to best serve the needs of researchers at the University and across the globe. While at the University of Rochester, Birrell completed a Doctorate of Education with a focus on higher education administration and leadership. Her dissertation became the springboard for a monograph published by the Association of Research Libraries, Developing the Next Generation of Library Leaders. Dr. Birrell earned a Masters of Library and Information Science from Simmons University, a Masters in History from the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, and a BA from Mount Holyoke College.

Headshot of Kristin E. Martin

Kristin E. Martin is Director of Technical Services at the University of Chicago, managing a department of over 40 staff at all levels. She has over twenty years of experience working in libraries and archives, covering a wide range of technical services activities, including metadata management, acquisitions, and electronic resources management. She is engaged professionally with the FOLIO project, to build an open-source ILS, and with Core: Leadership, Infrastructure, Futures, a division of the American Library Association. She holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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And we are still hiring mostly white candidates for all positions.

Librarian Augusta Baker showing a copy of Ellen Tarry’s “Janie Belle” to a young girl at the library. From the New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Branch Manager

Titles hired include: Library assistant, senior library assistant, principal library assistant, librarian, branch manager

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel

√ Employees at the position’s same level (on a panel or otherwise)

√ Other: County administration, library commission (governing board)

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Proof of degree 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

I work in a medium urban/suburban county public system. Application required. Typically one interview with a panel of three, the supervisor and two staff at same or higher titles. Successful candidate approved by library commission and county administration. Can take 4-6 weeks to notify candidates. 

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

Expressed empathy, no direct library experience (was for a library assistant job) but demonstrated strategic thinking, problem solving, ability to help patrons figure out our systems 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

I tend to pick out a “most important question” in the interview that really gets to the heart of what’s important for this person for this role. For my branch, it’s the question about what challenges an urban library faces, and how the candidate might address them on a personal and professional level. A weak answer on that question is hard to overcome. 

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

Even though we only require an application, at least a cover letter is so helpful. Please practice responses to likely questions ahead of time. If you’re an internal candidate, pretend we don’t know you. Ask at least one good question of us, and not just “when can I expect to hear back.” 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this  

Resume: √ We don’t ask for this  

CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Their only question for us is “when will I hear back.” It’s a fair question! But we’d love to answer more.

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

Yes. Nothing really – I think we all recognize we’re all doing the best we can with this. Some colleagues expect candidates to have video on but I wish we could come to a consensus that this isn’t necessary – we shouldn’t ask about or discriminate based on internet bandwidth. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Candidates with retail and food service experience are amazing! Talking about how you provided good service in these challenging jobs is the best – please don’t hold back. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

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

Insist we write down candidate answers word for word as much as possible. We are instructed to base hiring justifications on interview answers and applications, nothing else. I still see age related bias, on both the younger and older ends of the spectrum. The thing about insisting cameras be on for virtual interviews is no good. And we are still hiring mostly white candidates for all positions. 

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

What’s a typical day like, how are staff supported by supervisors, do you feel this is a healthy workplace. Our organization in general does its best, but due to the political climate salaries and vacation for new hires are egregiously low and we have long, long vacancies when people leave. Everyone, especially managers, are stretched very thin. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US  

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Only remote for most meetings and interviews

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200 

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

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

It makes the interviewers uncomfortable.

The Librarian, U.S. Naval Academy. From the Library of Congress.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Other: Military Base Library

Title: Director

Titles hired include: Library Technician

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor 

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

√ Online application

√ Resume

√ References

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

We conduct interviews with a panel. If it’s my employee, it’s ultimately my decision. We have to have two positive references to hire.

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

Maturity, understanding of the work, job experience

What are your instant dealbreakers?

Anything that implies that the library is a quiet, easy place to work, someone who is eligible for a card and doesn’t have one, doesn’t live in the area, availability 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this 

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

CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Not knowing anything about the place they are interviewing for

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

Yes,  please practice with the technology. Also learn it, don’t insist that interviewers is a different one

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Customer service and understanding people is key

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

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

When can I expect an answer, what does a typical day look like

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10

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

People have started asking in interviews, “is there anything that would keep you from hiring me?” Don’t do that. It makes the interviewers uncomfortable. Ask after the selection is made.

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

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Filed under 0-10 staff members, 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, Special, Suburban area, Western US

Further Questions: Should Candidates Address Gaps in Employment?

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 I profiled The Library Returners website, which is a great resource for people returning to work after a break. In keeping with that theme, the question is:

Should applicants address gaps in their employment history? Does it matter how long it is? Does the reason matter (i.e. raising children, tough job market, illness/injury, etc.)? If you think gaps need to be addressed, how should it happen?


Randall Schroeder, Director, Retired: My fear is that employment gaps mean more than they should to some decision makers.

For me, I almost always assume that a candidate’s gap is for a good reason, especially during whatever stage of the pandemic we are at now. I am reminded of what my mentor said a few decades ago at a small, private college library in Illinois, “everybody’s got a story.” Especially librarians. In 30 years, I have only met one librarian who went straight from high school to undergrad to graduate school to the profession. Everybody else, including me, has had a stop or two along the way.

For me, an application need not be a personal confession every time. If I have a question, I’ll ask it during the interview. In many instances, the resume gap may be an indicator of a life experience that will help a candidate’s case in my mind.

Your mileage may vary.


Jess Herzog, Director of Adult Services, Spartanburg County Public Libraries: On our external applications, we ask for reasons behind gaps of more than six months. I think that’s a solid period of time to expect an explanation for (or longer). I think it’s most sensible to address it on a line item within the resume, for example: “July 2017-January 2018, unemployed while recovering from an injury” or something similar. I don’t want or need a lot of detail, but I’ve worked with others in the past who find it very suspicious when there’s a gap in someone’s work history that is left completely unaddressed. It’s smart to be proactive about explaining your work history with the lumps and bumps, and to me that indicates that you own the fact that your work history is imperfect, just like every other work history out there.

A note on one of these breaks from “work”: if you’ve taken a break to raise children or be a caregiver for a family member, I would LOVE seeing that listed as a job on a resume. That’s a job in and of itself, and the amount of work you do and things you learn and manage is absolutely worth highlighting, and there are often significant transferable skills, especially soft skills like strong communication, time management, and creative thinking. Nothing teaches you to think outside the box quite like a kid, that’s for sure, and nothing teaches you empathy like caring for another family member going through health difficulties.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My initial and quick response is to admit that I often notice and wonder about employment gaps. At the same time, I am not really sure I believe that people should have to explain them. I have noticed that candidates will sometimes refer specifically to gaps that result from staying home to raise families (mostly, but not always, from women). There are plenty of reasons why a person may have employment gaps and I am increasingly of the opinion that a candidate should not feel obligated to explain a gap. For some reason, either within the candidate’s control or not, they have chosen or been unable to work.

We read into these kinds of things all the time. An academic librarian seeking a new position in what is their 6th or 7th year at another academic library is someone who hasn’t received tenure, right? Maybe. Or perhaps they realize that they don’t want tenure at their current job and will have a hard time finding another once they have it. Or something else. What about someone who changes jobs every two-three years. Bad choices? Difficulty holding a job? Military spouse?

I think it is more important to ascertain whether the candidate has the skills and other assets needed to do the job or to learn to do the job, particularly in a field that changes as quickly as ours can. Candidates often provide explanations for the gaps which is fine but I would like to move away from guessing, asking, or even making a candidate feel some pressure or obligation to explain.


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: While an applicant may not need to address a gap in their employment history, the applicant must have a rational explanation for the gap. The reason for the gap might be alluded to in a cover letter or application.

There are many reasons for a gap in employment. It is reasonable to expect that an applicant has had a job where “it just didn’t work out.” It is reasonable for an employer to wonder about a gap and inquire about it in an interview. A question about an employment gap may be framed as a behavior interview question, giving the interview committee some insight into the applicant’s future performance.

When it come to the length of time an applicant has not worked in the field and it matters, it varies from job to job. An IT manager with a 10 year gap in employment may well matter more to an employer than the same gap for a circulation desk employee. Knowledge and skills have a shelf life. The IT manager candidate needs to explain the gap and demonstrate current IT knowledge.


Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College:

I personally would be inclined to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt and assume that a gap in employment was for a good reason that was none of my business. If their work history shows a number of gaps, however, I would prefer that they volunteer an explanation. Otherwise, the committee is likely to assume that past performance is predictive.


Headshot of Jaime Corris Hammond

Jaime Corris Hammond, Director of Library Services, Max R. Traurig Library, Naugatuck Valley Community College: I don’t feel any need to know what applicants did during employment gaps, nor would I ask anyone to explain one. That is in part because I understand that many employment gaps pertain to personal circumstances that are none of my business, and in part because our interview questions are standardized and pre-approved so a question about someone’s particular resume would not be on our list.

If someone wanted to address an employment gap with me, they could always bring it up in one of their answers or at the end, when I ask if there’s anything else they would like to share.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: Yes, It is my opinion that it is VERY important for candidates to address gaps and especially in some circumstances (keep reading) in their employment history. There are some more perfect proactive approaches by applicants as well as perfect questions for interviewers.

Why should gaps be addressed?

For the majority of positions we fill it takes a great deal of time. In fact, it takes time to just fill the position but that it is just beginning and is soon followed by the time it takes to orient, train, develop and maintain new employees – even when the candidate is internal or has worked for the institution before. And by stating the obvious “time is money,” the amount of money invested in new employees is astronomical once you add up pre, during and the first few months of hire. And at many institutions, it takes much longer than a few months to have a fully prepared employee – often at least a year. So – getting back to the topic at hand, selecting the right people is one of a manager’s most important roles and as much information as possible is critical to this expensive decision. Most managers; therefore, pour over resumes, cover letters, search social media and web content and compare applicants to the needs of the organization and the position description. And although we have to be fair and careful in asking questions and seeking clarifications, finding opportunities to reconcile timelines, etc. is valuable and can include:

  • seeking information from software networking platforms (Linked In, etc.)
  • accessing explanatory content from online job seeker platforms (Indeed, Monster, company, association and agency employment, etc.)
  • reviewing interview questions for opportunities to ask followup questions (carefully done to retain parity in asking all applicants the same initial questions)

What “gap” circumstances make it even more important for gaps to be addressed?

While one gap is probably not of major import, multiple gaps between employment, longer gaps than usual for typical job seekers unemployed and trying to find work, patterns of concern (gaps occurring when positions repeatedly end at the end of probations) as well as gaps that don’t match the employment dates/timelines offered on official applications. And the reality is what the interviewer is being told might not be learning anything such as – the answer might be vague or generalized (family illness, a bad economy, nothing was a good fit, didn’t meet my needs, there was no match for my education or training, etc.) or avoided by the candidate (I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable discussing that.) 

Where and when and what might applicants say and when should they say it?

  • The gap might be addressed in the cover letter rather than on the application form in general (where there probably isn’t space.)
  • The gap might be addressed in the cover letter rather than on the application form with specific information.
  • The cover letter could say “if I am selected as a finalist for this position, I would be more than happy to answer questions about xxxx.” (Much as applicants often do if references say “do not contact.”)
  • An applicant could state “I have a gap after the position where I had the most reference experience, due to the need to recover from an accident.” (It’s personal so keep it brief and interviewers should NOT ask for any specific follow ups.)
  • Applicants should focus on accomplishments achieved during the gap. (Although it took me almost a year to find a position that was the best fit, I took that time to learn x software, or take x courses online or fine tune my time management and organization skills.)
  • Applicants should – if the gap was for fun – which is perfectly okay – identify their fun time but emphasize their work ethic and return to work and benefit and impact of the “gap” period.
  • Applicants should consider bringing in extraneous but closely involved people such as “My partner had another 8 months in school so I spent this time working on my x certification.”

What might interviewers say and when should they say it?

  • “As a follow up to your summary of the x position, could you address the employment years from x to x (and include the unaccounted for time period.)”
  • Interviews could have candidates instructed by mail, support staff contact with “please be prepared to offer the committee a 15 presentation,” or “the committee will be – for a 30 minute period – your teen book group, please be prepared to lead a discussion on a popular teen title.” or “During questions and answers on required job experience, candidates may be asked to provide rationale for moving among types of libraries, gaps in employment or frequent job changes as well as identify the positions and roles and responsibilities that best prepared you for the position for which you are interviewing.”

What should be avoided in the “gap” issue?

During interviews – as managers know – all questions should be tailored to the position at hand, should be compared against the organization’s HR recommended questions and should be compared against legal and illegal question lists. To avoid tangents or the absence of parity in asking candidates the same questions, gap questions should be raised as follow up questions to answers from the standard questions or as follow up to statements made by candidates. In addition, HIPAA laws should be followed to avoid asking inappropriate questions on health or treatments, candidates should avoid complaining about organizations or past supervisors, or environments that may have been involved in creating “gap” situations. 

Finally, it is unrealistic – especially looking back at the last two years and certainly to negative economic or employment time periods – to assume that the most successful candidates should have NO evidence of gap time in employment history. 


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or on a threatening letter where the words have been cut out of newspapers. 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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Filed under Further Questions

We often have tight scheduling for interviews and wasting 10 mins while an applicant gets their microphone to work is problematic

A white lady in sunglasses and 1980s sweater smiles
Esther Johnson. Arbor Day Celebration – 1984. Photo by Norden H. (Dan) Cheatham From UC Berkeley Library Digital Collections.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: User Experience Librarian/Head of Access Services

Titles hired include: Library Assistant, Student Assistant, Research & Instruction Librarian, Systems Librarian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel

√ Employees at the position’s same level (on a panel or otherwise) 

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ A whole day of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

HR posts the job and all members of the hiring committee can see applicants. We use a rubric/metrics tailored to the job to assess all applicants and then meet to sort them into categories including yes, no, maybe. Depending on the job we will either have one round of on-campus interviews (assistants) or for librarians we will have two rounds including a first round phone interview. My role depends on whether or not I am head of the search committee, if I am head then I work with HR to post and market the position, create the rubric and interview questions, and do all of the work to contact and arrange interviews and follow-up references and then submit the decision and paperwork for approval. If I am a member of the committee I complete the necessary reviews and take part in the interviews as directed and then attend meetings to discuss applicants. 

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

Their cover letter was perfectly tailored to our position. Every requirement we listed they specifically addressed how they met it or how they might meet it. During the interview they were very articulate and had a student-centered view of instruction. They also didn’t shy away from discussing tough topics surrounding inclusion and social justice. Additionally, they asked very thoughtful questions about our institution that showed they had done some prior research. All combined, it gave the sense that they really wanted this specific position. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Not necessarily, if someone has the wrong library listed in their cover letter I tend to put them into the “no” pile and that does happen in our library assistant searches fairly frequently. 

I am also hesitant of PhD holders and former faculty members who are seeking to switch into libraries as their cover letters don’t often show a full understanding of the work that libraries do. 

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

While this can change as people develop, I wish I had a better sense of what candidates are looking for long-term. Is this position a stepping stone to something else? Do they really want to work in public libraries and are just applying to everything that comes along? 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more 

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

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

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

Not owning up to something that they aren’t familiar with and instead having a rambling non-answer to a question. I appreciate a person saying that they don’t have a ton of experience with a specific product or situation and asking for clarification about how we would handle something. 

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

Yes we do. I think testing the technology ahead of time is a good idea. We often have tight scheduling for interviews and wasting 10 mins while an applicant gets their microphone to work is problematic. Also, if cameras are on they should be looking at the screen the same way we would expect them to be making eye contact with us in an in-person interview. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

For library assistant positions, we’re looking for people who have customer services and supervisory skills. Library experience is helpful but we’d prioritize a person who knows how to manage people and handle a fast paced environment. The same is true when we hire Systems or Technology positions, the systems might be different but if you can demonstrate that you have competence in managing data or working in networks, then we assume that you can extend those to library products. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

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

HR collects demographic information and will specifically tell us if there are certain candidates that they would like us to reconsider based on this information. We also send applicants copies of our questions ahead of time to reduce any issues for those who need more time to process information. We try our best to overlook simple grammatical and spelling errors that could be attributed to language barriers but we could stand to improve on that. 

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

I usually like for them to ask what a typical day/week is like. I want them to ask what we like about working for the library. Questions about the tenure process are usually helpful. I think that they should know about where we are geographically and how that impacts the types of students we encounter. I think they should have a sense of how large (or small) our staff is and what the work environment is like. I also think they should know about our tenure process and the criteria that they will be evaluated on. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Rural 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50  

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

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Academic, Northeastern US, Rural area, Suburban area

Job Hunter’s Web Guide: Library Returners

In the previous iteration of Hiring Librarians, I did periodic features on websites that supported LIS job hunters. You can take a look at the list here. I am planning to do updates on some of those listed, and I’m also hoping to feature new (or new to me) sites.

I’m really pleased to be able to feature Library Returners. It’s an excellent and much-needed resource for those returning to work after a break. This is a topic I had heard about a lot from readers; in fact we did a series on it back in 2013. In the COVID era, I think it’s even more relevant. 

Home page of Library Returners website: background image is a bookshelf and title of site is: Library Returners: A site for those returning to Librarianship after a career break

What is it?  Please give us your elevator speech!

Library Returners is a site aimed at those returning to work in libraries after a career break. It contains a range of advice, guest posts and career break stories, that will also be of value to those changing track, sector, thinking of taking some time out, or just reassessing where they are in their career.

When and why was it started?

I entered the world of career breaks many years ago. But I didn’t find the information I needed or wanted when I wanted to re-join the profession and return to work. The blog was started to fill what I felt was a gap in career resources available for librarians who had taken time away from the formal workplace.

It went live in April 2018 but it really started with the release of a blog post written in September 16, 2018 called Getting back into the game: how to restart your library career after a break – Library returners This post provides a rather neat summary of some of things someone who in on a period of extended leave can do to kickstart their library job search. However, it was also a good ‘vision post’, setting out what the blog was really all about. I received such a great response to this post and people started to subscribe.

Now, I post a mixture of articles that I write myself or that are written by fabulous librarians working in the field with experience of career breaks or from wonderful library career and industry experts offering career advice. I am always interested to hear what topics readers would like to see tackled on the blog. I started to write about the things I wanted to hear more about, but as the site developed, ideas for articles have also come from readers directly, using the Dear Ms Library Returner, – Library returners box or via direct messages. The personal stories, like Guest post: Jessie – Library returners have a real and deep connection with people and I would certainly like to develop this in the future. Some are from librarians who have successfully returned to working at the level they want, while others are from people still working their first return to work job or ‘bridge job’. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has contributed because they’ve all given me their precious time for free. 

Who runs it? Please tell us a bit about your background. 

Library returners is run by Susan Mends from Wales, UK.

I have what might be described as a portfolio career!

I started in libraries in the early 1990s, initially working full-time in public libraries and then working full-time in teaching and developing open, distance and e-learning masters programmes (an early career highlight was setting up the Masters in Library and Information Studies by distance learning in Aberystwyth University Throughout this time I maintained a genuine interest in career education, guidance and planning to enhance employability.

I took a career break in 2013 after my third child was born. Around the same time, I was also engaged in caregiving to an elderly member of the family. Four years later I started my library returner journey, returning to work on a flexible basis and taking on a ‘bridge job’ with part-time hours in a public library as entry back into the profession.

I still work in the public library sector while also providing freelance writing services to a university department and have, for example, recently completed revising an open, distance and e-learning module in Children’s Librarianship. 

Who is your target audience?

Librarians, aspiring librarians, library workers, returners and relaunchers and anyone who wants and needs to connect and interact.

The biggest audience are people taking a break from the workplace for a variety of reasons and finding ways to return. However, it is also read by other readers, e.g., those who are interested in part-time, flexible, professional remote work. I’ve been surprised by the number of new library professionals who’ve told me they access the site. A new development are readers preparing for their retirement.

It is accessed in many different parts of the world. Changes in the workplace and the wider profession in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that everyone is considering their future.

What’s the best way to use your site?   

Readers can check it out as needed. New blog posts are released around every two months. The bibliography and other pages will be updated on an ad hoc basis. 

Does your site provide:

Answers to reader questions

Interviews

Articles/literature

Links

Research

The opportunity for interaction

Advice on:

Cover Letters

Resumes

Interviewing

 Networking

Other: Flexible working / Job applications / Career coaching / Mindfulness/Portfolio careers / Job shadowing / Volunteering/ Lack of work experience / Job skills / LinkedIn / 

Should readers also look for you on social media? Or is your content available in other formats? Please include links, subscription information, or other details if pertinent

Twitter: @Libraryreturner 

LinkedIn: Susan Mends

Facebook 

Do you charge for anything on your site?

No

Can you share any stories about job hunters that found positions after using your site?

The library returners blog is building a collection of real-life career break stories from people who have taken time away from libraries for all sorts of reasons. People on a career break find real value in reading other people’s stories, whether they record a return to the same field of librarianship or a career adjustment or change. They can be particularly helpful to read during a long, tough job hunt, the type of difficult search process being experienced by many at the moment. I am always looking for new stories as people find these really useful.

The stories collected so far can be found here Your voices: LIS career break stories 

You can find my story Real-life Returners: the challenges of returning to work in the library and information sector on another website! 

Anything else you’d like to share with my readers about your site in particular, or about library hiring/job hunting in general?

The hardest thing for a library returner to overcome is the perception that you’ve become stale and lost your professional skillset while you’ve been on extended leave. 

If you can:

  • Seek out networking opportunities while you are still on your career break – how can you connect, attend a conference, a virtual webinar?
  • Keep your skills up to date – can you take a course?
  • Maintain your LinkedIn profile – it is tempting to close it down but far better to hold it open and say why you are not available. Now it’s ready to update when you are! 

The job search process can be daunting and anything you can do to make this a bit easier will help. But if you switched off completely during your break, don’t worry. Visit libraryreturners.com for more advice!  

Thank you!

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Filed under Job Hunters Web Guide

Consistent use of STAR technique

Image: Hudson Park, Picture book hour, Miss Cutler, children’s librarian. From the New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Titles hired: Regional manager, Librarian, public service assistant

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Resume

√ References

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

Pre screen panel of 3 interviewers, 3 questions, 10 minutes to answer. If selected to move on, 1 hour interview with 5 member panel

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

Consistent use of STAR technique, involvement in professional associations, and ability to articulate concepts from self guided professional development

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

No

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more

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

Not providing specific examples to support answers

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

Yes.

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Hype up customer service skills

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad

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

Pre and post bias discussion. Diverse hiring panel

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

I’d like them to ask more about our strategic mission and the culture between admin and branch level. What is the role of Librarian in the organization. How do you see it changing in the next 5 years.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Occasional WFH opportunities. Generally discouraged for non management

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 200+ staff members, Public, Suburban area, Urban area, Western US

We’d rather wait a few seconds and get a well-thought out answer!

Headshot of Alan Smith. He wears glasses, a white shirt and tie.

Alan Smith is Director of the Florence County, SC Library System and holds a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of South Carolina. 

Over the past 20 years he has worked in rural, urban, and suburban public libraries, in a wide variety of roles.

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

I send all applications to the position’s direct supervisor and let them choose who to interview (I will sometimes add in a name too). We interview with a 3-person panel consisting of me, the position’s direct supervisor, and another manager. We rotate other managers in and out and always keep the panel as diverse as possible. After interviewing we score individually and discuss. I defer to the direct supervisor if our opinions differ.

After all this they go through our county’s background check and drug test.  

Titles hired include: Everything! From Branch Library Managers, Information Services Manager, Youth Services Coordinator, Training and Outreach Coordinator, to Pages, Library Assistants, Custodian, Maintenance, Courier…

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel 

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

She had a wide variety of experience, none of it in libraries, but really convincingly demonstrated how those skills and experiences would translate to our mission and values. 

Interviews are limited in what they can tell you — and I’ve hired folks with great interviews who turned out not to be great employees — but someone who gives a pleasant interview with thoughtful answers is at least demonstrating that they can do well in a stressful personal interaction, which is a pretty good indicator of customer service skills.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Sounds obvious, but people who don’t show up for an interview and don’t call. We’ve had people do a complete no-show and then continue applying for other positions?! 

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

What kind of coworker are they? Will they help resolve conflicts among other employees or will they just enjoy watching drama unfold? Will they add to or strain social cohesion on the team?

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One! 

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

 CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Feeling like they have to answer immediately and not giving themselves a second to think about their answers. We’d rather wait a few seconds and get a well-thought out answer! And, people who are clearly reluctant to talk about their own accomplishments and virtues. This is where you toot your own horn! 

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

Occasionally. Number one is site preparation – interview from a quiet, distraction free environment (as much as is within your control). 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

I’m more concerned whether candidates have done work aligned around a mission or set of values, and whether they have experience building good community relationships and/or working with customers, than whether they have done those things in a library setting. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

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

We always use a 3-person panel with members of different races and genders. That doesn’t eliminate individual unconscious bias, of course, but we try to acknowledge it in our discussions about candidates. I do worry about discrimination baked into the process itself, i.e., which candidates’ applications do we never even receive because we didn’t advertise where they would see it, didn’t convince them we were the type of place they would be welcome, etc. 

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

Asking any kind of questions shows a level of interest and critical thinking that we’re really looking for. I like to hear questions about culture and environment (“What’s a typical day like here?” “What do you like most or least about the job?”), and questions about the overall organization’s direction (“What are the library’s top priorities?” “What would a successful person in this position be doing a year from now?”)

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban

√ Rural 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Very limited remote options during early phases of COVID; our County required all-onsite after May 2020.

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100

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

I’m always interested in hearing feedback on specific interview questions — questions that are especially illuminating, or well-known questions that are useless. Maybe beyond the scope of this survey though.

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

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 50-100 staff members, Public, Rural area, Southeastern US, Suburban area, Urban area