Tag Archives: Soft skills

Author’s Corner: Soft Skill Qualifications

Welcome back to Author’s Corner! This series features excerpts or guest posts from authors of books about LIS careers. 

For their book about academic library job descriptions, Kathleen Baril and Jennifer Donley surveyed several libraries. In this original post, they synthesize some of what they learned into practical advice for job seekers. It is always difficult to demonstrate those amorphous and necessary soft skills. This post provides some sharp ways to show employers that you have the qualifications they want. 

If you’re interested in reading beyond this post, the citation for the book is:

Baril, K., & Donley, J. (2021). Academic Library Job Descriptions. Association of College and Research Libraries.  

Library schools are full of classes covering library basics such as cataloging, collection development, information literacy, and library outreach and programming, but are the various graduate programs teaching future librarians how to develop robust soft skills? If not, LIS programs would not be alone in this shortfall. In a 2018 survey by Cengage, “The People Factor: Uniquely Human Skills Tech Can’t Replace at Work,” employers responded that they had difficulty finding qualified candidates with skills that typically fall under the soft skills umbrella, such as critical thinking, communication, listening, and interpersonal skills. These skills are not ones that can be passed off to a computer (although we are keeping an eye on you, ChatGPT), and as the need for them becomes more recognized by libraries, various phrases related to these soft skill qualities will be increasingly found in library job ads.

For our 2021 publication, Academic Library Job Descriptions: CLIPP #46, we surveyed small to mid-sized academic libraries to see what soft skills they were looking for in applicants. Among the top skills that survey respondents selected from a predetermined list were written and oral communication skills, ability to work on a team, and interpersonal skills.

What does this mean for those seeking jobs in libraries, academic or otherwise? For starters, candidates need to highlight their soft skills in addition to their other qualifications in both their cover letter and during the interview process. This is especially important for new librarians who might not have obtained all the technical skills required, but possess soft skills that would be beneficial to the organization while they learn additional technical skills on the job.  

To demonstrate your written skills, write your cover letter carefully and thoughtfully. Remember that this letter is often the only example of your written skills that the hiring committee will see. Be clear and concise, yet thorough, as you address how your qualifications and skills meet the library’s required and preferred qualifications. Tailor the letter to the job being advertised and do not use a form letter. Discuss the ways in which previous jobs or projects have prepared you for the position, and do not expect your resume to make those connections for you. Crosswalking your experience with the requirements of the position shows awareness of transferable skills and adaptability.

You can demonstrate your oral skills by familiarizing yourself in advance of a virtual or in-person interview with the questions you might be asked and then practice your answers to them. It is natural to be nervous during an interview, and it is not cheating to come up with solid examples ahead of time versus waiting until you are asked. This preparation simply allows you to put your best answer(s) forward. Potential questions that libraries might ask can be found online, and many library schools maintain lists of interview questions for the various types of libraries and positions. It is also becoming more common for library hiring committees to provide a set of questions before a phone or virtual interview, thus enabling you to prepare and hone your responses. Interviews can be nerve-wracking but practicing for commonly-asked questions can calm some of those nerves and allow your soft skills to stand out.

The third soft skill sought after frequently by academic libraries (and we assume by other types of libraries) was experience working on teams, and insight into what makes those collaborations successful. In your cover letter and resume, highlight opportunities you have had to work collaboratively. If you are a recent graduate, did you hold an officer position in a student organization that planned campus events? Did you work at your school’s circulation desk and coordinate tasks with other students to get a large project, such as a shifting or weeding one, completed in a timely manner? If you have had non-library jobs that involved teamwork and collaboration, explain how those experiences taught you the pitfalls to avoid and the communication techniques to utilize for a successful team project. For example, working in retail or food service requires a great deal of teamwork to ensure things are running smoothly, shelves are stocked, and customers are being promptly served.

Finally, the fourth of the soft skills that academic libraries regularly mentioned seeking in applicants were interpersonal skills. These skills, which are sometimes described as emotional intelligence, are probably the hardest to address in a job application and interview as they mostly become evident circumstantially. When selecting your references, think of ones that could provide insights into your interpersonal skills and potentially describe instances where you handled difficult situations in ways that would illustrate these skills. While the point is not to go overboard with interactions during your in-person interview, remember that all parts of the interview are fair game for helping the hiring committee get to know you. Take advantage of casual conversation opportunities throughout the day – walking between buildings and during meals – to demonstrate your interpersonal skills. If you are not sure how to fill voids in the conversation, create a list of questions prior to the interview that you might ask about the library or the institution. This indicates an interest in the position, as well as curiosity about the world around you, and keeps conversation flowing. As long as the interest is genuine, these brief chats can help you stand out from other candidates.

While the four soft skills that we focus on here are by no means the only important ones for librarians to have, we focused on them because hiring libraries have expressed an interest in seeing them in candidates. Developing these skills, as well as other soft skills, often happens over the course of one’s career and through various job experiences. We hope to see library schools increase their involvement in developing these skills in enrolled students through readings, discussions, and active learning exercises. We recommend looking for books related to particular soft skills if you are looking to improve your own skills, as being more aware of how these skills can play out in the workplace will help you to both improve your skills while also helping you indicate to potential employers that you possess them.

Kathleen Baril Kathleen Baril is an Associate Professor and Director at Heterick Memorial Library, Ohio Northern University. She has worked there since 2010.

Jennifer Donley Jennifer Donley is an Associate Professor and the Cataloging and Knowledge Architect Librarian at Ohio Northern University, where she has worked since 2009. She holds an MLIS and an MS-IAKM from Kent State University. 

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Further Questions: What soft skills do you look for in job candidates within librarianship?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

What soft skills do you look for in job candidates within librarianship? How can candidates naturally demonstrate these skills to you? Is it ever appropriate to include them on resumes/CVs? How do you evaluate soft skills?

Jessica OlinMy library is really small, so everyone works at the circulation desk – even me on occasion. So the biggest soft skill I look for is friendliness. Nothing worse than getting up your nerve to go ask for help only to have the person behind the desk breathe fire at you. And it’s simple: does the candidate smile in a genuine way and/or have open body language? Skills and qualifications are uppermost, but between two equally qualified candidates, we hire the friendlier one.
– Jessica Olin, Director of Parker Library, Wesley College


For soft skills, the most important ones to me are communication, problem solving and critical thinking. I look for good communication skills during the interview-even nervous candidates can show good communication skills. Does the candidate look at the interviewers, do they speak well (no mumbling!), do they need to be prompted to answer a question more thoroughly? Problem solving is very important-I like a candidate who can think on their feet. It can be woven into the narrative during an interview-usually we’ll ask a question about dealing with an issue and the candidate can show skills there. Critical thinking is sort of nebulous, but I look for candidates who give thoughtful answers and who ask good questions during the interview. I like a good, interactive experience. An interview shouldn’t be one-sided.

– Margaret M. Neill, Regional Library Branch Manager, Main Library, El Paso Public Library


Laurie PhillipsI would say we look for ability to multi-task, deal with stress and conflict in a productive way, solve problems, adapt to change, work easily with others in a team and collaborate. If we address specific skills in the qualifications (which we often do), then yes, address it in the letter, but probably not the resume/CV. Most of these are demonstrated through the questions we ask in the interview, interactions during the interview day, and through the questions we ask of references. That’s a good reason to make sure you choose your references well!

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

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 us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.


Filed under Further Questions

Further Questions: What is the most important “soft” skill?

**This question is inspired by the segment on non-cognitive skills from the Back to School episode of This American Life. It’s a great episode, if you’re looking for something to listen to:


This week I asked people who hire librarians:

What is the most important “soft” skill for a candidate to have, and how can it be demonstrated in an application packet (if it can)?

J. McRee Elrod

Since our cataloguers work at a distance, the “ability to play with others” important in a workplace does not usually apply.  We value promptness and living up to commitments.  We have no way of measuring this other than experience with the cataloguer, and don’t know how it could be demonstrated in advance.

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

Nicola FranklinHmm this week’s question is harder than it looks!  Given other things being equal (which they often are; people attend the same/similar MLS programmes after all), it is soft skills that often tip the balance between candidates, so picking out just one to be the most important is hard!

I would say that communication skills are the most important ‘soft’ skill for a candidate to have.  Of course, ‘communication skills’ is a short phrase for a large range of skills.  Unpacking it, you get written, verbal and non-verbal communication, and within each of those are again a range of skills.  For example, within verbal communication you have persuasion, influencing, presenting, telephone skills, reference interviewing, etc.

Candidates can demonstrate written communication skills directly through their resume or application form – is the writing clear, concise, articulate?  Verbal communication skills are harder to show in the application packet, but can still be alluded to indirectly, for example by including experience of chairing meetings, giving presentations, manning issue or enquiry desks, etc, which involve using verbal skills.

I’ve written more about different types of communication skills on my blog.

– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.

Marleah AugustineOver time working in a library, I found that empathy and patience is one of the most important skills that people should have in a public library. We work with a wide range of patrons, and it’s very important to be patient and understanding. When I have a tough experience with a patron, I can’t be snippy and rude to them — I don’t know if they just lost a family member, if they have a mental health issue, if they didn’t take their blood pressure medication that morning, or if they just lost their job. Yes, it can be trying, but I have to be able to brush it off and move on with my day — and not take it out on the next person to approach the desk. I might be skewed in this direction because I also have a master’s in psychology, but I think it’s very important for staff to realize that they don’t know what that patron is experiencing and they must treat all patrons with the same level of professionalism and respect.

That skill is also important when working with fellow coworkers. Not everyone has the same work style or method of approaching tasks, but different methods can be equally productive. Staff need to consider that what works for them doesn’t always work for others, and this goes for part-time and full-time staff alike.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Laurie PhillipsOkay, I’ll be the first to admit that I had to look up soft skills because I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Truth is, what you call soft skills are, in many cases, more important to us than anything else. You have to have these basics to come work here. Most of them can’t be demonstrated in an application packet, but you should be prepared to address them in interviews and presentations and to expect that your references will have to address them.

I found any article by Kate Lorenz titled “Top 10 Soft Skills for Job Hunters” on the web. Her top 10 are all crucial in my environment:

1. Strong work ethic – we need people who are thinkers and visionaries but we also absolutely need people who are productive – what we call “do-ers.”

2. Positive attitude – one person we interviewed in my last search asked for feedback on why he didn’t get the job. The main thing was his attitude toward some big projects we were accomplishing over the summer. He sounded like he was dreading the fallout. On the other hand, the person I hired described our approach as “fearless.”

3. Good communication skills – this is a top requirement. Written communication skills are evidenced by your letter. Don’t miss that opportunity. Verbal and interpersonal skills will come out in your interviews and presentations.

4. Time management abilities – the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities is crucial. We are blended librarians who have a lot on our plates. We ask people in the phone/Skype interview to describe situations that illustrate these abilities.

5. Problem-solving skills – again, a crucial skill. We are often looking at creative solutions to difficult problems.

6. Acting as a team player – we are a team-based organization, so we often ask references about the person’s ability to work with others collaboratively. If all of their accomplishments are solitary, it’s hard to see them fitting in here.

7. Self-confidence – we have to put ourselves out there with our students and faculty and project confidence in our abilities and our knowledge in order to be taken seriously.

8. Ability to accept and learn from criticism – our librarians get a lot of feedback and mentoring as part of the rank and tenure process. If they cannot learn from that feedback and respond to it, they will not progress.

9. Flexibility/Adaptability – our jobs change and evolve. We have to be open to that.

10. Working well under pressure – our Learning Commons desk is insane for the first couple of weeks of school. If we can survive that and our teaching load, we’re fine.

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

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.

Thanks for reading! All day I’ve faced a barren waste, without the taste of comments, cool comments.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public

Not Being Offered a Job is Not a Personal Rejection

This anonymous interview is with a Special Librarian who has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring committee at a librarian with 0-10 staff members.

What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?

relevant experience;

fit with existing workgroup;

capacity to do and learn position

Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?

very strong opinions (even if I agree with them)

What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?

nothing now – but ask again after my next search!

Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?


How many pages should a cover letter be?

√ Two is ok, but no more

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√ As many as it takes, but keep it short and sweet

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√  No preference, as long as I can open it

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√  I don’t care

If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?

√  I don’t care

What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?

some one who thoughtfully, and relatively succinctly responds to the question asked – even if it means asking for clarification; demonstrating not only a real interest in our position, but also that they have prepared for this interview with some research on our organization.

What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?

don’t know if this is common, but one candidate indicated they wanted to be friends with their co-workers in such a way that I was concerned that they would be a needy employee.

How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?

adoption of a succession of position and application management systems – from central human review to PeopleSoft

Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?

not being offered a job is not a personal rejection – often it is a combination of hard and soft skills and that feeling of “right fit” — where the hire will be mutually successful when both parties are honest.  Thus be yourself & ask questions of the interviewer.

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Filed under 0-10 staff members, Original Survey, Special