Tag Archives: Chronicle of Higher Education

Researcher’s Corner: What Not to Do During the Interview

Which is more useful, a prescription or a proscription?  In the case of hiring, I’m more interested in the latter.  Identification of common errors helps candidates avoid mistakes without creating a legion of cookie-cutter candidates, all using the same approach for success.  I’m pleased to present this description of research performed by Melissa Laning and Emily Stenberg, who analyzed 36 essays and came up with the following results.


How can a job applicant stand out – in a good way – from other applicants?  This question is highly relevant for the new MLS graduate applying for jobs since many entry-level positions receive 100+ applications.  On the basis of research we conducted in 2011/2012 and our combined experiences with the recruitment process, we have identified the top 3 behaviors to avoid when you are on the job market. 

Our research involved a content analysis of 36 essays that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education between 2007-2011.  The essays were all first person narratives that described a personal experience as either a job candidate or as a search committee member in an academic job search.  The essays were not specific to libraries but the processes described would be familiar to any academic librarian.  The perceptions shared in the essays were then compared to library literature on recruitment and to our own direct observations about library hiring practices.  One area of focus was the job candidate during the application and interview process. What we learned from our research is that at each critical stage of the process, there seems to be a common set of behaviors that separates the applicants who are screened out from the ones who progress to the next phase of the search.

#1 – Submitting generic application materials

For most entry-level positions, libraries receive an abundance of applications, and the majority of them are from individuals who meet the minimum qualifications for the job.  Search committees have to make tough decisions and a generic cover letter that could have been sent to any opening makes an application easy for them to disqualify at an early stage in the process.  The rock-solid experience reflected in your CV/resume is not enough to distinguish you since others will have equally strong or relevant experience.  You have to convince the committee with a good cover letter to consider you further.

What are the elements of an effective cover letter?  It must be addressed to the person named in the job announcement and be customized to the particular position.  You can accomplish this by telling the employer what interests you in their position, and by matching your skills and experience to the required and preferred qualifications of the job.  It is especially important to address the required qualifications since the hiring institution has no wiggle room in that area.  Either you meet the minimum qualifications or you don’t.  Particularly for soft skills, such as “Ability to work collaboratively”, you need to address the qualifications directly in order for the screening committee to know that you are in the meets category.

Additional tips about the application phase based on our research and observations are to follow the application instructions to the letter and keep your CV/resume current.  These actions also convey to the search committee that you are a qualified and interested applicant. 

#2 – Underpreparing for the preliminary interview

Many institutions will conduct preliminary phone or Skype interviews with candidates to determine who they will invite for on-site interviews.  A common mistake for candidates at this phase is to attempt to wing it.  Strong candidates prepare for these experiences as intentionally as they would for an in-person interview.  One valuable step the candidate can take is to thoroughly explore the hiring library’s website before the interview.  Is there a strategic plan posted and what does it say about the organization’s aspirations?  What big projects are underway?  What positions do search committee members hold?  Knowing this information will serve you well during the interview.  Another valuable way to prepare is to develop responses to anticipated questions.  If you haven’t already been on a number of interviews, you can find quite a few good lists of standard interview questions on the web.  Along the same lines, develop a list of specific examples from your experience that match the job requirements.

Another very important step you can take is to create a list of questions to ask the committee at the end of the interview.  The questions should be designed to give you insight into the culture of the organization and how things work in that environment.  It also signals that you are genuinely interested in working there.

#3 – Neglecting your image

If you are invited for an in-person interview, it means the hiring institution believes you are highly qualified for the position.  The interview itself allows them to identify the person who is going to be the best fit for the job and a good representative of the organization with users, administrators and other external audiences.  With that in mind, interviews are to some extent about personal brand management.

One specific recommendation is to dress professionally for the interview.  This advice also applies to the preliminary screening interview if Skype or any type of video conferencing capabilities are used.  For video conferencing, think also about the background—what will the interviewers see behind you and will it be distracting? Regardless of how informal the organization is on a day-to-day basis or if you are an internal applicant, interviews are a formal event and should be treated accordingly.  The Hiring Librarians blog provides great advice on this topic.  Along the same lines, professional manners are also a critical aspect of making a good impression.  This covers being friendly and gracious throughout the interview process, and in any communication after the interview.  If you continue to believe the job is a good fit for you after when the interview is over, send a note or email to the Search Committee Chair expressing your continuing interest in the position and appreciation for their interest in you.  If you do not remain interested or accept another position, let the Chair know as soon as possible. 

A final recommendation in this area is to take steps to limit access to your personal online presence to friends.  People will search for you. Enough said. 

Conclusion 

The areas covered in this brief overview were identified in our research and reading as the most frequent things that candidates do to undermine their own success in the job search.  We have provided some specific ideas about what interviewees can do to avoid these behaviors, but would love to have readers provide further suggestions for what not to do during the interview.


Melissa Laning is Associate Dean for Assessment, Personnel and Research at the University of Louisville Libraries and spends a good deal of her time on hiring librarians. She is a past co-chair of the ACRL Personnel Administrators and Staff Development Officers Discussion Group, and Chair of the LLAMA Human Resources Section. Her recent research projects have focused on academic library recruitment and middle managers.  Melissa received her MLS from the University of Michigan. 

Emily Stenberg Emily Stenberg is the digital publishing and digital preservation librarian at Washington University in St. Louis. Previously, she was the metadata librarian at the University of Louisville. Emily received her MLS from Indiana University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

1 Comment

Filed under Academic, Guest Posts, library research, Researcher's Corner

I Agonize Over Every Sentence

Leslie Norman has a  MLIS (Rutgers, 2005) and a MA in Political Science (John Hopkins, 1997).  She has worked as a news librarian, and has research credits for eight published articles and two books. However, newspapers have shrunk and Ms. Norman is currently without a job. She is looking for a research position in the metro NYC area, while contemplating a change to cataloging or archive work.  She has been looking for more than 18 months, in Academic libraries, Archives, and Special libraries, for positions requiring at least two years of experience. Ms. Norman is in a city/town in the Northeastern US, and would be willing to move:

Only if my husband found work also

She is an information junkie, loves mystery books and long-form non-fiction essays, kills tomatoes in the summer, forgets to feed the backyard birds, and watches too much TV. You can find her on Twitter@no1newshound

What are the top three things you’re looking for in a job?

Challenging work where I learn new technologies, new ways of improving  work skills, and help the organization achieve its goals.

A manager that knows how to manage, provides essential training and wants me to succeed in my position while I give my best to move the company forward.

Decent salary for the area I live in.

Where do you look for open positions?

Many job boards

LinkedIn

Job alerts set up from job boards

LibGig

Emails from local library schools, local library associations, Chronicle of Higher Education, and local SLA chapters listservs

I Need a Library Job

Do you expect to see salary range listed in a job ad?

√ Yes, and it’s a red flag when it’s not

What’s your routine for preparing an application packet? How much time do you spend on it?

Tweak resume to match job ad

Write cover letter to address the qualifications listed in the ad

It takes a long time for me to write cover letters because I agonize over every sentence. Unfortunately that effort is not resulting in interviews.

Have you ever stretched the truth, exaggerated, or lied on your resume, or at some other point during the hiring process?

√ No

When would you like employers to contact you?

√ To follow-up after an interview

√ Once the position has been filled, even if it’s not me

How do you prefer to communicate with potential employers?

√ Phone for good news, email for bad news

Which events during the interview/visit are most important to your assessment of the position (i.e. deciding if you want the job)?

√ Tour of facility

√ Meeting department members/potential co-workers

What do you think employers should do to get the best candidates to apply?

Write job announcements with detail.

Place the ad in as many local places as possible.

Specifically target local chapters of library associations, alumni associations of library schools and library groups like SLA and ALA.

What should employers do to make the hiring process less painful?

Provide application deadlines if possible.

Notify applicant if she doesn’t get the job after the interview.

Provide some information as to why an applicant didn’t get the position within.

What do you think is the secret to getting hired?

I think it’s having the right experience and good internships. Previously, I didn’t understand the importance of internships.   Now that I need to possibly change specializations, the market is saturated and only students can get internships. I have two MAs but I don’t have enough experience to get an academic position. It’s difficult to live in the metro NYC area which is a competitive market.

Networking is important also but it can be very difficult for an introverted person like myself.  The bottom line is applying for jobs where one’s experience matches the ad and believing in oneself despite the circumstances.

This survey was co-authored by Naomi House from I Need A Library Job – Do you need one?  Check it out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Archives, City/town, Job hunter's survey, Northeastern US, Special

I Hate to Say That I’m “Lucky” Because I Feel Like it Negates All My Hard Work

Laurie Borchard graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Spring of 2012.  She has recently been hired as the Digital Learning Initiatives Librarian at California State University Northridge, where she creates digital learning objects, develops online learning initiatives for undergraduate students, teaches course-integrated information literacy skills, and provides in-person and virtual reference services.  She is particularly proud of being the co-creator of the video series Research Therapy, with a blog coming soon!  Prior to being hired, she had been job hunting for six months to a year in academic libraries, for positions at the entry level and requiring at least two years of experience. Here is how she describes her internship/volunteering experience:

As an undergrad I worked in ILL for a year and half, I had 2 years combined experience working reference, instruction and collection development.

Prior to being hired, she was in an urban area of the Midwestern US, and was willing to move anywhere. She says:

believe it or not I wrote so many cover letters that I actually started to enjoy doing it!

Where do you look for open positions?

ALA, Chronicle of Higher Education, LIScareer and Indeed

Do you expect to see salary range listed in a job ad?

√ Yes, and it’s a red flag when it’s not

What’s your routine for preparing an application packet? How much time do you spend on it?

I usually spent 2-3 hours on the application. I began by taking a look at the job description and highlighting things like the minimum/ preferred qualifications. On top of that I made note of the language they used, for instance “information literacy” or “information competency,” then when writing the cover letter I would use the same words. I would then take a look at the library/university so I could get a better understanding of what they’re mission statements were, who the library community was, etc.  Then began the writing the process for the cover letter, which is what took me the longest. The first couple of applications I did, I had a seasoned librarian who had served on a search committee recently take a look at it.

Have you ever stretched the truth, exaggerated, or lied on your resume, or at some other point during the hiring process?

√ Other: I wouldn’t call it exaggerating but I would take my current work experience and relate it to the position I was applying for

When would you like employers to contact you?

√ To acknowledge my application

√ To tell me if I have or have not been selected to move on to the interview stage

√ To follow-up after an interview

√ Once the position has been filled, even if it’s not me

How do you prefer to communicate with potential employers?

√ Email

Which events during the interview/visit are most important to your assessment of the position (i.e. deciding if you want the job)?

√ Meeting department members/potential co-workers

What do you think employers should do to get the best candidates to apply?

Have more minimum requirements

What should employers do to make the hiring process less painful?

Communicate with applicants so we’re not left wondering if our application was even received or read. Also, please don’t make me fill out an online application where I have to put all my past work experience in despite the fact that it’s all on my resume. Also, please make sure the software for the online application works. I once wasted hours on an application that was never received because it wouldn’t save any of my data.

What do you think is the secret to getting hired?

It’s all in how you spin it. We’re trained to be librarians and I think most of us really believe that we could do any library job. You have to take the experience you have whether it’s a lot or a little, public or academic and make it relevant to the job you’re applying for. The cover letter is VERY important, you have to make yourself stand out. I got a tenure-track faculty librarian position right out of library school at a large academic library in Southern California. I thought this was unheard of!! I hate to say that I’m “lucky” because I feel like it negates all my hard work over the last several years. However, there are days I wake up and pinch myself I can’t believe I got this amazing job.

Do you have any comments, or are there any other questions you think we should add to this survey?

I think it would be interesting to know how many jobs people have applied to, plus how many interviews they got as well as job offers.

This survey was co-authored by Naomi House from I Need A Library Job – Do you need one?  Check it out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Job hunter's survey, Midwestern US, Suburban area