The Library Musings of Jaime Huaman

Tips to Job Seekers: Notes from Panel Discussions

In 2011, I had the opportunity to listen to two panels that provided tips to job seekers and I am taking this opportunity to share what I learned.  I attended CareerWise 2011, a workshop for library professionals, sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of the Special Libraries Association, the North Carolina Library Association Round Table for Ethnic Minority Concerns (REMCo), and the North Carolina Library Association Reference & Adult Services Section (RASS).  In addition to providing information on how to use your social media profiles in your job search and how to dress for success, there was a panel knowledgeable in library hiring.  Panelists included Tiffany Allen, UNC Libraries, Mariel Christian, RTI International and Kim Hailey, City of Greensboro Public Libraries.  At the North Carolina Library Association 59th Biennial Conference, I attended Tips and Tricks for Job Seekers a panel discussion featuring library professionals from special, academic, and public libraries.

In this blog post, I will share with readers what I learned about the hiring process.  While I have done my best to take notes at the time of the event, not everything may be completely accurate, as I may have misunderstood or my notes may be wrong.  In any case, the following blog reflects what I took away from these events.

Even though the two events had different panelists, there seemed to be consensus on some ideas. Panelists described the hiring differences in academic, public and special libraries and provided advice for resumes, cover letters, and interviews.   Panelists explained what they expected in applications and what things annoyed them.  For instance, panelists described being turned off by grammatical errors; small font, unprofessional email address, and ring back tones on cell phones.   They highly recommended that an applicant customize cover letters and resumes to jobs they are applying for. Resumes and cover letters should be customized to reflect the skills and knowledge that are described in the job announcement and they also recommended using the same vocabulary in your cover letter as what was used in the job announcement.

Issues of underemployment and unemployment were hot topics during these panel sessions.  The experts were sympathetic to people who lost their jobs or were unable to find professional positions; however, they recommended that people look for other ways to gain skills.  Volunteer work was discussed as a great way to gain experience in the type of library you are interested in.   They also recommended having some relevant experience to the position you are applying for or your application will go to the bottom of the pack.  For example, if you apply for a public library position it would be good to have some experience in libraries.

During one of the panel sessions, an audience member questioned the panel about underemployment.  The audience member was in the position where her full time position became paraprofessional, but she was offered a part time professional position.  She asked if staying in the paraprofessional position would look bad to search committees if she had a MLS and worked as a paraprofessional.  The panel explained that given the current economic condition that they understood short stints as a paraprofessional; however, if someone with an MLS stayed for a long time in a paraprofessional position then the committee would see this as a negative.  The panel recommended that the audience member take the part time paraprofessional position as opposed to staying in the full time paraprofessional position.

Below I have summarized some of the points talked about during the two sessions:

Cover Letters and Resume Tips

  • Limit cover letters to 1 page for special libraries, 1- 1.5 pages for public libraries, and 1-4 pages for academic libraries.
  • Customize each cover letter and resume to the job (i.e. if the job calls for CONTENTdm experience make sure your cover letter and resume state that). Make sure you parallel your skills to the skills called for.
  • Do not address cover letters “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”.   If the advertisement doesn’t specify a contact then address it to the department manager.  This shows your researching the library.
  • Make the reader want to read your cover letter.  Keep it upbeat and interesting.
  • State where you saw the job advertisement.
  • Recruiters often like to be asked for an interview and to be thanked for their time and consideration in cover letters.
  • Remember your cover letter will be evaluated for writing skills.  Make sure there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes.
  • If you don’t include your references in your application then put “references available on request” at the bottom of your resume. (This typically only applies to special libraries)
  • Do not fold your resume or print it on colored paper.
  • Save cover letters and resumes as PDFs or formatting can be lost or changed accidently.
  • For public and special libraries it is not necessary to put graduation years.  Academic libraries want graduation dates to ensure candidates meet requirements.
  • Put volunteer experience on your resume.
  • Due to the nature of the economy if you don’t have direct experience your application may go to the bottom of the applicant pool.
  • If your state has public library certificates than get it.  You never know when you may need it.
  • If you have an online professional presence than put it on your resume/cover letter. This shows you stay current.  Social media sites will most likely be checked by the search committee.

Interviewing Tips-

  • You may be asked about weaknesses or interpersonal conflicts make sure you can provide an answer.  It looks bad to the search committee if you cannot answer these questions.
  • Prepare for STAR type questions.
  • During an interview suites are not required, but formal wear and comfortable shoes are a must.
  • You may want to conduct site visits of the library before the interview just to become familiar with the library.
  • In telephone interviews, make sure that the interview does not go longer than the slotted time.  (Keep your answers short and ask fewer questions if you run out of time)
  • Remember if you’re on an academic interview then you are being interviewed all day including lunch and breaks.  If smoke than you might want to use a patch as someone on the committee may be sensitive to the smells of tobacco. Limit your use of perfumes for the same reason.
  • Make sure that you have questions about the position and demonstrate your knowledge of the library and organization.  Remember you are interviewing your potential employer to see if the position is a good fit for you.
  • Make sure to read the job announcement before going on the interview and do research on the library and community
  • Have a response to why you’re interested in the job.  You might be surprised at how many people are unable to answer this very basic question.
  • Talk about your accomplishments and have the numbers.  For example, if you eliminated a cataloging backlog than make sure you know how big the backlog was.   Numbers provide a better understanding of your accomplishments.
  • Be polite no matter the income.  The library community is fairly small and you don’t want to get a reputation for being rude.
  • Make sure to send hand written thank you notes to all interviewers. Email thank you notes are acceptable for phone interviews.   If there were many interviewers than it is acceptable to send one thank you note where you ask the recipient to thank the rest of the panel.  Thank you notes let the committee know you are still interested in the position.  Notes/emails should be sent in less than 24 hours after the interview.  If there were any concerns the committee brought up about you filling the position or if you feel you answered a question poorly, than you can address that in your thank you note.

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