The Library Musings of Jaime Huaman

5 Things You Must Do Before Applying for a Librarian Position

So you have just entered the job market and are looking for the perfect job.  This can be a scary and confusing time for those just entering the profession as well as those who have been laid-off or are returning to work for the first time after a long absence.   Due to the worldwide economic depression as well as the competitiveness of the profession, landing the perfect position can be very difficult.  Applicants must find a way to stand out from the crowd and show that they are the best person for the position. Competing with people with more experience is a difficult thing to do, however, if you follow the 5 golden rules than you will be able to stand out in the crowd.

1.  Determine your ideal organization and position

Determining your ideal organization and position is probably one of the most important steps you must complete before thinking of applying for a position.  Many new graduates, recently laid off librarians, and librarians reentering the job market may be feeling desperate to find a new job, especially considering the long application periods for some positions and the fierce competition for positions.  These applicants often make the mistake of applying for anything and everything in order to just get their foot in the door; this however, may be counter productive.  Casting the widest net may not be the best strategy because it may make a candidate seem desperate to search committees, especially if they apply for several positions within an institution.  Employers remember people who apply for every open position and not for good reasons. It is because these applicants seem desperate for a paycheck.  In this situation, the candidate is not focused on the particular position rather on getting any position and it is noticeable to the potential employer.

The best course of action is to determine first the position you want and then the type of organization.  Do you want to be a reference librarian?  If so what kind of reference?  Are you interested in government documents or history? Do you want to be a systems librarian or work with digital repositories? It can be difficult to narrow down which type of position you want and if you are not sure than you can do some research or contact someone who is in your ideal position and see if they would be willing to give you a tour of their library and provide you with the pros and cons of the position.  I have done this on more than one occasion and the librarians that I have met with have always been a great source of information and always seemed excited to share their ideas about the position and librarianship.

Once you have identified your ideal organization and position than you can evaluate your skills and weaknesses and determine how you can make yourself a more competitive candidate for a position.

2.  Evaluate your skills and weaknesses

Before you apply for any job you need to know what your skills and weaknesses are.  At this point in the game you probably have a pretty good idea of your skill sets, however, you really need to evaluate them to determine what you excel at and where you need more experience or what skills you need.  Most people over look this step in the job search because they feel it’s not important or they think that they can come up with a list at the drop of the dime.  It is important to realize that you will be competing with dozens if not hundreds of other applicants who bring their own unique skills and experiences. Some of them have far more experience or education than you do and you need to provide a convincing argument for why you are the most qualified for the position in question.

Create a list of your skills and how you obtained these skills. For example, if you know how to create databases with access than add that to the list and write down all the databases that you have created.  Other items on your list could include reference, information literacy courses, social media, or website design.  Some people have difficulties in identifying their skills or they do not feel they have many skills.  If you find yourself having a hard time creating this list than ask your coworkers and colleagues what skills they think you have.  Sometimes it is difficult to identify these skills and another person’s opinion can be very helpful. This list will be helpful in preparing for your interviews and writing cover letters.

Next create a list of your weaknesses or the skills that you need.  To create this list you must have done step one.  Once you know what type of position you want than you can identify the skills that you need to be a competitive candidate.  If you are not sure what skills you need than you could ask someone who is in your ideal position or you can examine job announcements.  For example, if you want to be a reference librarian and you notice that many positions require teaching experience and you don’t have any than that would be a weakness that you can work on.  Once you have identified your weakness than you can examine ways to acquire the skills that you need to be a more competitive candidate.

3. Update your resume

This seems pretty self-evident.  If you’re going to be starting a job search than you need to have your resume updated.  However, there is more to it than just adding your current title or adding a graduation date.  In the past year, I have attended several panels that provided tips to job seekers.  During these sessions, the panelists who were in charge of hiring at different types of library institutions described their ideal resumes and cover letters.  There was a general consensus that your resume should be formatted specifically for the type of institution your applying for.  For example, academic libraries wanted graduation dates on resumes to verify years of professional experience, whereas public and special libraries did not want graduation dates on resumes because it could lead to assumptions of the candidates age and therefore opened up the possibility of age discrimination or other assumptions. In other words, you will have to format your resume according to the type of organization that you want to work in.

4. Select your references

Before you start on your job search you want to find 3 or 4 references.  References should be people who are working in libraries and can attest to your work skill.  Your references can be professors if you’re a student or work colleagues/supervisors if you’re already in the profession. The person you choose should have a good understanding of your current position and your skills.  Don’t pick someone you worked with on a committee for one week and never saw again. They will not be able to provide enough information when potential employers contact them.  If you have been in the profession for a while try to choose people who have similar positions or work in the type of organization you’re interested in.  This ensures that your references can talk about the challenges of working in a particular position or organization and how you will succeed.

Once you select potential references make sure that you ask them if they feel they can provide a positive review of your skills to potential employers.  This is not an attempt to coach your references, rather it is just ensuring that they will enhance your job application and not be a negative in your application.

It is important to keep your references informed of your search.  Explain to them what type of institution you want to work in and your ideal position.  Your references will keep an out for your ideal position as well as to provide you feedback on your search and interview techniques. Just remember they are doing you a favor, so try to respect their time and do as much as you can to make their experience easier.  You can do this by informing them of interviews you have been on, providing your cover letter, resume, and job announcement for the position, and explain to them any concerns the search committee had with your application.  Your references should never be surprised by a call for a reference. Overall, they will be a great source for information and opinions.

5. Create and manage your personal brand

Your uniqueness, your skills, your experiences, are arguably the most important part of your professional reputation, in other words your brand. A simple Google search of your name will bring up your online presence.   Your online presence is made up of all the websites, social media sites, blogs, forums etc. that you use.  It is important that you determine what your online presence is and that you monitor it. By creating a professional website, blog, Facebook/twitter/LinkedIn pages you can ensure that if a potential employer googles your name that they will find information on you.  You could even put your website in your resume or cover letters to ensure that hiring committees see your online presence. Using the same photo across all your sites makes your profiles easy to identify and your professional presence can be used to enhance your resume.  For example, you can talk about your pathfinders in a resume, but you can show it to them through your website.  In other words, your personal brand becomes another way to sell your talents and skills.

At this point you also want to create a professional email address that you can use on applications. might not send the right message to possible employers.  Consider getting an email address that contains your first and last names which will make identifying your emails easier for employers.


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