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Further Questions: Are Gaps in a Resume Really a Red Flag?

This week we have the second in a set of reader questions. This person is preparing to leave work for an extended period of time, due to the incipient arrival of twin babies. I’m asking questions of people who hire librarians, and I’m also running companion posts with people who have returned to work after an extended leave. Last week I asked for advice on staying professionally relevant during a leave of absence (and the companion post is here). This week’s question is: 

Are gaps in a resume really a red flag? Have you ever hired someone who has been unemployed for an extended period of time? If so, can you provide any details about how this person discussed his/her absence on a resume or cover letter, or in an interview?

J. McRee Elrod

No.  We don’t even check for gaps in dates.
For those prospective employers who do, one might insert something, e.g., “Rearing children.” That too takes skill and provides experience.
To cover a prison term, perhaps “Volunteer work in an institutional library”?
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Marleah Augustine

Gaps in a resume are not necessarily a red flag, but it is nice to have some sort of explanation as to how that time spent. A simple mention in a cover letter about taking time off for family, travel, education suffices.What gets my attention more as a red flag is if an applicant has had many many jobs that were held for only a short time, and again in that case a short explanation usually takes care of any concern on my part. It’s not a dealbreaker outright.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Marge Loch-Wouters

Gaps are a red flag if the applicant doesn’t address them in some way in the cover letter (out of the country; position cut during budget cuts; raising a family; unemployed due to the recession). If I don’t see anything it makes me wonder whether the candidate was fired or let go for some reason. This concern is allayed if a reference from the manager at the last place of employment is included.I have hired someone with a substantial gap – she wrote in her cover letter and discussed at her interview that she was raising a family and was now ready to come back into the job market. That person was ready and she was a great addition to our staff and has gone on to an excellent career.
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
Manya ShorrThe term “red flag” has a negative connotation that doesn’t express how I react when I see an extended leave on a resume. I notice it, but it doesn’t make me question whether the person is qualified. What it does it create a space to have a conversation about the leave. In other words, it would absolutely not preclude me from wanting to interview a qualified person. That said, I think the applicant should come to the interview prepared to talk about how they stayed current in the library world while they were on leave (or how they’ve caught up since they’ve been back). Best practices in public libraries seem to change frequently and the last thing an applicant should do is talk about an outdated program, policy or practice. A leave is fine but falling behind is not.
– Manya Shorr, Senior Manager, Branch Services, Omaha Public Library

Terry Ann LawlerNo.  Unless you were fired from your last job and did absolutely nothing for the last year.  I think over all experience in the fields which I need are more important than a gap in employment   I have, several times, hired people who had gaps in their resume.  People will usually explain a gap in some way, like that they started a family, went back to school, took care of an aging or sick family member, etc.

I  have seen this addressed in the cover letters, which, I think is appropriate.  I think it is not important to give too many facts about a gap, but it is important to address it in some short way.  Maybe a line or two to state why there is a gap and to state how you have kept professionally relevant during that gap. If you spend too much time explaining yourself, you take up valuable page real estate that could be used to talk about your awesome skills.
I think the same goes for a resume.  If you have a chronological based resume (although I would recommend you don’t), you could address the gap with its own date and a brief explanation.  For example:
Nov 1994- Aug 1999 – Electronic Resources Librarian, XXX State Library
Aug 1999-Feb 2000 – Long Term Relative Home Care
Mar 2000- Present – Cashier, Barnes and Noble Book Store
Again, I don’t think it is as important to explain a gap in employment as it is to highlight your skill sets and why you are the right person for the job.  Don’t lie about it, but don’t over stress something you can’t change. Focus on what is positive about you and your employment history and what you learned during that down time.
– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library
Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.

If you’re interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

And thanks to YOU for reading! 

Alice the camel has TWO comments.

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Filed under Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Extended Leaves of Absence, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public, Topical Series, Youth Services

Further Questions: How Can Someone on an Extended Leave of Absence Stay Professionally Relevant?

This week we have a new set of reader questions. This person is preparing to leave work for an extended period of time, due to the incipient arrival of twin babies. We’re going to talk about leaves of absence for the next three weeks – I’ll be asking questions of people who hire librarians, and then I’m going to also run companion posts with people who have returned to work after an extended leave. This week’s question is: 

What do you recommend that a person on an extended leave of absence do in order to stay professionally relevant?

Petra Mauerhoff

We had a staff member from our cataloguing department start an extended leave (maternity leave) at the beginning of this year and before she left she expressed concern about “staying in the loop”, professionally as well as being connected to our organization. Her supervisor gave her homework to do while she is on leave (exercises from the cataloguing course) and will invite her to participate in any professional development activities we might be offering during the year. Of course her participation will be voluntary, but it will be a great opportunity for her to stay connected to the profession and continue her connection to staff as well.
I recommend staff who are planning a leave speak to their supervisors about what the expectations are and what the supervisor would recommend in order to stay professionally connected and relevant while away from their job.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System
J. McRee Elrod
Read the appropriate e-lists, e.g., cataloguers should read Autocat, RDA-L, and Bibframe
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Marleah Augustine

This question is close to home, because I recently took maternity leave. I expected to be gone during the months of August and September, planning to take 6 weeks off and then work the next 2 weeks on half-time basis, using vacation time as needed (our policy follows FMLA, and employees are expected to use their sick and vacation time). However, my daughter arrived 8 weeks early, so I ended up being gone in June and July instead. This threw quite a monkey wrench into my work plans, as the day I gave birth was the same day that I had planned to orient my assistant department head to my files and where everything was.

My recommendation to others is, if you are taking an extended leave of absence from a job that you currently hold and will be holding upon your return, stay in touch with those folks that you work with. Make yourself available via email or phone if possible. Even if you aren’t doing the actual work, just staying in touch and keeping up with issues that happen means that you will have less catching up to do when you do return.

If you are working with your supervisor to try to find the best solution for both you and your work, and you have an idea about the time off that you want, just ask. A friend of mine was unsure about whether she was going to go back to work after the birth of her daughter, and she told her supervisor that. Her supervisor worked with her and just hired someone on an interim basis so that my friend could have a year off and her position would be held in the event that she came back to work. You never know unless you ask!

If you are between jobs but are taking an extended leave of absence, keep up with professional developments as much as you can. Read blogs, keep browsing Library Journal.

All of this being said — take time for yourself and focus on the reason you are taking that extended leave in the first place. If you are on sabbatical to work on a dissertation, do that work first before you check in with your job. If you have a baby, that is your first priority and no one should discourage you from recognizing that.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Marge Loch-Wouters

Keep up on blogs, twitter feeds and, if you don’t already, ask to have remote access to your institutions email system.  Ask a willing colleague to forward meeting notes or policy changes or news that are posted on internal communication networks – wikis; blogs; etc – just so you stay slightly in the loop. Ten-twenty minutes a day spent perusing what’s up will make it feel like you are aware of what’s happening without needing to stress over it. And again, if you have a willing colleague who would drop off  professional print journals after they’ve been routed to the rest of the staff so you can keep up (kind of like homework being dropped off!), that is a way to stay connected.
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
I really believe that whenever possible, the person on leave stay in touch with their library, either through listservs and other email methods, occasional phone conversations, conference calls for committees or other pertinent professional events that the person would have attended or in which they would have been involved.    Offer to have those at work call you at home when something of importance is about to happen–more of an FYI or courtesy than actually asking for input or opinions.  I say all of  this, because it the person is truly planning to return to their jobs, it is best to keep abreast of what is going on, rather than have to play major catch up upon one’s return.    The person should also read the literature also, just to make sure that you don’t completely remove yourself from the profession in your absence.  ALA members receive American Libraries, and others may subscribe to that or Library Journal, etc.  And of course there is the web.
Some colleges or universities may frown upon, or just plain not allow active participation in committee work or conference calling.  If that is the case, then I would recommend doing the other things I mentioned above–staying abreast of things on listservs, webpages, occasional phone calls to friends/colleagues just be kept up to speed.  Some people like to just “unplug” when they are away from their jobs, but if one is only on leave, and plans to return at some point, I don’t think that is a good idea for more than a couple of weeks.  In addition to the person on leave remaining informed, it is good for he/she to be remembered by colleagues, not out of sight out of mind.
– Sharon Britton, Library Director, BGSU – Firelands
Samantha Thompson-FranklinI have some personal experience from 2 short term maternity leaves. So here are a few suggestions that I have:
*Keep up as best as you can with the professional literature, either via online or in print publications
*Become involved or stay involved in any professional association committees at the local or national level
*Take advantage of any professional development opportunities, either face-to-face in your local area or online through webinars
*Continue to keep in touch and network with colleagues
*Look for opportunities to contribute through writing for a blog or a professional publication, if that’s of interest to youSome of these suggestions will depend upon how much time and resources/funding you have available to you, but they should help to you keep you involved and stay professional relevant.

– Samantha Thompson-Franklin, Associate Professor/Collections & Acquisitions Librarian, Lewis-Clark State College Library
Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. 

If you’re interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

And thanks to YOU for reading! 

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer, by your comments.

*Edited 2/3/2013 to add in answer by Samantha Thompson-Franklin

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Filed under Academic, Cataloging/Technical Services, Extended Leaves of Absence, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public, Topical Series

Further Questions: What are the most important “tech skills”?

This week I have another question from a reader.  I asked people who hire librarians:

Everyone says it’s important for candidates to have “tech skills”. Can you please explain what, exactly, tech skills are?  I realize it varies depending on position, but what would you say are the most important programs and proficiencies for candidates, and why?

“Tech skills.” OK – I expect anyone I hire at any level (clerk to professional) to know the vocabulary of computers – that is, words like icon, program, mouse, hard drive, disk, thumb drive, monitor, cable, etc. so they can explain to the repair person more than just “the little girl in the corner isn’t coming up.” (Oh yes. Exactly)

I expect anyone I hire at any level to know basic mouse use, keyboarding (don’t have to be fast but should not “hunt and peck”), how to set up and use an email program, how to use a word processing program to write, find and print documents; and familiarity enough with using computers to learn the online catalog and circulation system, change the printer paper, turn on and turn off the equipment properly, and know to look to see if it is plugged in when it won’t turn on.

Then, for the professional staff, all should be able to learn our ILS system and have the technical skills sufficient to teach it to others as well as the technical skills to do basic computer upkeep – download and install upgrades, keep the security system updated, and basic computer installation (taking it out of the box, plugging in all the parts, and making it work). Also the skills and background knowledge to easily learn and teach the operation of other equipment as necessary – microfilm machines, digital projectors, fax machines, etc., and explain to a patron how to download an audiobook or an eBook from our collection.

If we start talking a special technology person, it gets very intense up to taking apart and fixing, but basic “tech skills.” There you have it.

And if we want to talk tech skills in the generic – it doesn’t hurt knowing how to plunge a toilet or change a light bulb – just saying.

– Dusty Snipes Grès, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System

Tech skills for my public library mean two things. 1) What we used to call BI back in the day. Especially for public service librarians, I don’t want to hire anyone who would not have the sufficient skills to understand and to train the users in basic computer skills (how to set up email, how to look for a job, how to use software, basic search strategies). 2) Any librarian or library staff member needs to be able to troubleshoot minor software issues and to understand and follow the instructions of our IT staff when troubleshooting and repairing over the telephone. Where I have worked in the past, getting timely service from IT may be impossible. I don’t want our public computers to sit idle any longer than necessary.

– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County

Laurie PhillipsAs you say, the exact skills and the level of expectation will vary depending on the position but there are some good general rules of thumb where technology and libraries are concerned. What we mean is that the person should have the ability to learn and adapt to changes in technology quickly and easily. For tech services, I need people who are willing and able to use software to track and analyze data. Using Excel or similar software to be able to show trends and analysis is crucial. And, as I mentioned, you need to be able to quickly adjust when software is upgraded or changed. You also need to be comfortable enough with technology and software that you can demonstrate it to faculty and students and troubleshoot their problems. At the very least, you should be proficient in using Office, but then there are so many other possibilities to understand and learn – system software, vendor websites, presentation software such as Camtasia, web authoring software, and on and on. Catalogers should be comfortable with how systems use data to interact with one another. Not that you need to know every kind of software, but you should be completely comfortable with learning and adopting new software and technology.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

For reference positions, I would think Web searching would be very important.  Familiarity with ILS and OPAC selection and use is important.  For cataloguers, familiarity with online resources (such as the Library of Congress online catalogue and authorities, MARC21, and OCLC) are a priority.  How to use MARCReport and other automated aids is helpful.  Ability to program would be a plus.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Emilie SmartTech skills vary by department I’m sure, but the absolute minimum required to work in the Reference dept at my library are:

Proficiency in MS Office applications (extra points for Access proficiency).  In other words, know how to format a document, change its font, insert an image; understand how a spreadsheet works, plug in a formula, sort by various schemes; create a birthday card or a newsletter; create a basic powerpoint presentation.  We assist patrons with these skills every day.

Be able to write basic html code from scratch (no Dreamweaver or other html editor).  This includes inserting URLs and images, creating tables, creating ordered and unordered lists.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve asked an interviewee if they know how to write basic html and they tell me, “I know how to use Dreamweaver…”   Yeah, but can you clean up the mess you made with it?  We maintain a lot of library website real estate and staff must have a basic knowledge of html in order to do this efficiently and effectively.  But even if you never have to actually write code, it helps to speak the same language as the webmaster.

Understand the basic workings of a computer.  Understand basic computer terminology.  Understand files — what they are and where they live on the computer.  Understand how to save, copy, drag…  We instruct patrons daily.

Understand basic internet functions:  upload, download, social media in all its varieties, forums, email, texting, RSS…  Know what an embed code is and where to put it.  We help patrons with this all the time and we use all of these things ourselves.  A basic understanding is essential.

Know how to edit an image, i.e., resize or crop at the very least.  See above.

Know what ebooks are and how to access/use them.  Familiarity with a variety of devices is great too.  We have Overdrive; our patrons have every device on the planet — and don’t know how to use them.  Staff MUST be able to help them out.

Know how to search a database whether you’ve used it or not and be able to recognize or describe features that you expect to see in a database (saved searches, permalinks, citation assistance, etc.).  We have loads of databases covering the entire Dewey range and we often have to instruct patrons on how to use databases that we don’t use regularly.  It helps if you know how databases work, how they are organized, and what features to look for.

Know how to get on a wireless connection.   Know how to set up a projector to use with a computer.  Know how to skype.  Know how to use a smartphone and/or tablet.  Things we do on a regular basis for outreach, programs, reference…

Basically, the more you know about computers, software and the internet, the better.

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

Marge Loch-WoutersIf it’s a generalist position (adult reference; children’s reference), we like to see people who are proficient in the Microsoft office suite; understand and can use Adobe; aren’t afraid to drive a computer around; understand wikis; can upload files; read blogs or have a blog; are proficient and aware of social media as it relates to libraries and can open a printer, pull out the cartridge and replace it.  Bonus points if the candidates have used ipads/itouch/iphone/kindles and nooks. We have tech support in other positions in the library.  For the generalist, our expectation is that we don’t have to teach or encourage them to know what are essentially “basics” for us.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

I agree with your reader in that which technology skills are needed can vary quite widely with the type of job and organisation – from online subscription database sources for a private sector business researcher, to library management systems at a public library, Moodle/Blackboard or other VLE systems in academia or MS Sharepoint or other content management or EDRM systems to manage records or an intranet.
Something that is becoming a necessary skill in common across lots of different roles and environments are web2.0 and social media skills.  Whether used for internal communication, organising workflow or sharing files, or for external advocacy and marketing, facility with these technologies is rapidly becoming a core ability.
Over time, there will probably be other systems and technologies becoming common place, so I would say the most vital skill of all is the confidence and curiosity to experiment and play with these as they arrive, so that librarians remain at the forefront of information handing and can best help their patrons.
– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.
 

Terry Ann LawlerIf we are totally honest with ourselves, sometimes even WE don’t really know what we mean by ‘tech skills’.  For example, sometimes, it just means ‘can you move a mouse and navigate google?’

Usually, what I mean is that I want someone who has more than the average ‘checkmyfacebookandemailtentimesaday’ person.  I need someone who isn’t afraid to troubleshoot a printing problem, who can replace a CPU and who already knows how to search a database including advanced searching.  You probably don’t have to know where a sound card plugs in, but it would be nice.  It grueling to start a new employee and find out that they can’t navigate basic computer systems and are afraid to click anything for fear of breaking the computer.  It is very hard on my staff and myself to train a new employee in basic computer skills at the same time as we are training them in building safety, copy-write, library policies, ILL, etc. 

I also, usually, mean that I want someone who can work in MS Word and Excel and other popular software programs at more than a basic level so that they can help customers with their resumes or other issues.  And, I want someone who has some knowledge of Internet resources that are helpful.  Most college graduates today can do these things.  If you find that you can’t, you should probably take a class or two.  In fact, there may be some for free at your local library;)

I don’t normally put tech skills into my hiring matrix criteria unless I’m down to being the only person in the building who can replace a monitor.   However, when it is mentioned on a resume, that perks up my eyes.  If you have tech skills, or have taken classes or are certified, I highly recommend putting that in your resume in the skills section.  Even if you aren’t using the exact same computer systems and software, I can at least see that you have the ability to learn those things and you probably know enough to carry you through new systems.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading! And I encourage you to try here that after-reading breath freshener, the com-mint.

*Edited 8/10/2012 11:15 AM PST to add response from T. Lawler.

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Filed under Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Further Questions, Information Literacy Instruction, Public Services/Reference, Youth Services