Tips to Answering 5 Common Library Interview Questions

One request I have received repeatedly to Nailing the Library Interview is answers to interview questions. I put out a lot of resources on questions YOU might be asked on library job interviews, but answers? Not so much.

The reason I have hesitated is that an interview requires you to think on your feet. It’s more of an art than a science. Canned responses won’t often work here. This isn’t like a multiple choice exam with only one correct answer.

However, there are a few common questions you will likely get asked regardless of the job. Below are a few pointers to help craft your responses.

1. Why are you interested in this position? / Why do you want to work here? 

  • The Job Description: You need to mention something related to the job description. Did you read it and think “this is something I can’t pass up!” – let the hiring manager know that.
  • Your Prior Experiences: If you have experience in areas related to the job description, you need to work that into your response. Or perhaps you have transferable experiences.
  • Passion: Hopefully there is something in the job description that you are passionate about (e.g., children’s services, information literacy, scholarly communication). Try to work in your philosophy or vision to that specific area.
  • Personal Stuff: Avoid leading with something personal to your situation. That will put a lot of hiring managers off. Case in point, at my current institution, the real reason I was interviewing there was because my husband had accepted a job in that geographic area and frankly it was the first job posting I saw that I was qualified for. Did I lead with that? No. However, at the end of my response, I did mention my husband’s job and the fact that my in-laws live in the same community to demonstrate my commitment to the geographic area since I was an “out-of-town” candidate. Some people will say avoid anything personal. I disagree. It shouldn’t be your first answer, but personal anecdotes help to humanize the interview process. We’re not robots!    

2. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? 
I HATE this question, but some hiring managers will still ask it. I don’t ask it as people are apt to spin the negative.

  • Strengths: Know what your strengths are (e.g, organized, good communicator, strategic thinker) and have a list of 3-5 in your head. Try to tie them to specific examples from your past experiences.
  • Weaknesses: Rule number 1: Don’t raise any red flags (e.g., “I’m always late to work.”). Rule number 2: Avoid spinning your response into something trite like “I’m too dedicated” or “I care too much.” We’ve heard that before. Rule number 3: It’s OK to admit something that you would like to improve upon, as long as it doesn’t break Rule number 1: “In the past, I’ve had a hard time saying no to people often to the detriment of myself. So I’m learning to set more boundaries since all of us have large workloads. So really, it’s about communicating with my co-workers and making sure high priority projects are getting completed first.”    

As opposed to biggest strengths and weaknesses, I prefer asking:

Based on the job description, which of the duties do you feel most comfortable with and which do think may take some time to learn?

I like this question because it demonstrates to the interviewee that the hiring manager is a human being and doesn’t expect you to know ALL THE THINGS on your first day. In response to “which duties do you think may take some time to learn” it would likely be institution-specific tasks and processes that would take the most time. Try explaining how you plan to get up to speed. For non-institutional specific duties, try to address how you would plan to increase your knowledge in those areas (e.g., training, free webinars, networking with other library folks in similar positions).

3. Describe a failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
Like the question above, this is another question I DON’T like. For me, failure on the job is to occasionally be expected…and it’s part of the learning process.

  • Know a Failure: Be prepared to think about a failure you have encountered. Stick to work/education-related failure, not your personal life.
  • Be Succinct: Don’t dwell too much on the explaining the failure during your response. Instead focus on your reflection, what you learned, and what you would do differently.
  • Self-Improvement: Self-improvement is the key takeaway that hiring managers want to hear. I prefer asking a slightly modified version to the “failure” question:

Can you describe a time when something you did at work didn’t go as planned, and what did you learn or what would you have done differently in hindsight?

4. Tell me about a workplace conflict/issue you have encountered and how you went about resolving it.

  • Preparation: Don’t get stumped on this answer. Be prepared to provide an example. Hiring managers don’t really want to hear “Oh, I haven’t encountered much conflict.” Really? You’ve never disagreed with anyone or any policy at work?
  • Negativity: Avoid badmouthing a workplace. Do not specifically name a co-worker or a library patron. I also tend to avoid the pronouns “he” or “she.” Instead, I use “this person” or a job title like “Assistant Manager” (e.g, “The Assistant Manager and I disagreed on…”). This demonstrates discretion.
  • Be a STAR: Use the STAR approach to responding to behavioral interview questions. S = situation,  T = task, A = action, R = result.
  • Example:
    • Situation: Library Administration implemented a no “large bags” policy that impacted homeless visitors.
    • Task: As a librarian, it was my job to enforce the policy even though I disagreed with it. Homeless visitors were often upset with the policy and staff were often berated over it. It caused a lot of low morale. I often felt like the “bag police.”
    • Action: I started to do some research and see what other libraries were doing. I also talked with social services agencies in our community. I met with my department head to see if we could find a solution.
    • Result: Although Library Administration wasn’t willing to budge on the policy, we worked with our Friends group to install 10 large lockers near our entrance where people could secure belongings. This improved the library experience for our homeless visitors and helped with staff morale.

5. In the library, how would you work to create an environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and diverse?

  • Brainstorm: I love this question because there are a million different ways you could go with it. Could be services/programs for your community, online resources, or library spaces itself. I want to hear both practical ideas and big ideas! Provide 3-5 examples of your vision. This is a chance to display your creativity.
  • Connections: Explain connections the library can make in the community (or school, or campus…). Libraries are about PEOPLE.
  • Follow-up: When you have the chance to ask questions, it might be good to ask the hiring manager how the library is accomplishing this. Remember, interviewing is a two-way street!

 

 

Librarian Advice: 15 years in…

This month marks my 15th anniversary as a librarian. I started my first post-MLS job in February 2003. It has gone by so fast. I don’t feel “mid-career” but I guess it’s official now! Wait…does that mean I can retire in another 15 years? Answer: No, I will only be 54 years old then!

So in honor of those 15 years, here are 15 bits of wisdom or advice. Got your own story or advice to share? Feel free to comment below.

1. I’m still here–with help from my friends
Hey, how did I make it here? With a little bit of luck and wisdom from some great library folks I worked with: There’s Carol, my very first supervisor way back when I was a student worker. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a librarian but I slowly saw the rewarding work that Carol did. Then there was Karin, a library director and “old school” librarian who just knew how to make everything work–she could problem-solve anything. Then there was Paula–the queen of library marketing and outreach who was always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. And Susan: who demonstrated the deep connections librarians can make to their communities. I learned from all of them!

2. I enjoy my job, but I don’t love it
Yep, I said it. For me, love is for family and friends. Don’t get me wrong: I like my job! It’s always been nice to have a job where you don’t dread going into work every day. I have many a friend who cannot say that. But I don’t live for my job. It fits squarely into my Type B personality. I also have a policy of not doing work at home (although I may glance at an email or two from time to time).

3. Work/Life balance
And that brings me to my next point: The work/life balance. About 4 years into being a librarian I was encouraged to apply for an additional part-time position at my organization. Money was tight at the time, so it seemed like it would be a good option for extra income–and it was. The downside? I was clocking 60 hours per week. I ended up getting burnt out–not just of the extra job–but of the whole organization–and sought employment elsewhere. Learn how to juggle multiple demands and speak up when “enough is enough.” Libraries can often be exploitative of labor.

4. Do I have a career or a job?
Related to #1 and #2, I waffle on whether I have a career or just a job. Being a librarian is my first and only career–so I guess it’s a career then, right? I’ve moved around libraries a lot as a trailing spouse/partner, so for me, looking for a job in the right location has always been more important than some sort of career trajectory. I’ve also been a front-line librarian the entire time. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I became a “middle manager” with supervisory responsibilities. I hate the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question–so mostly I consider myself having a “job.” I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

5. People think you’re cool!
I know a lot of librarians get the typical “oh, you must like to read” response when you tell them you are a librarian. But just as often, I get people who think being a librarian is cool–or even more. A few months ago, while on a cruise ship, I was making chit-chat with a woman and when I told her what I did, she responded in all earnestness: “I consider librarians vital to our democracy! You’re on the front lines of the information war.” Agreed!

6. Opportunities for New Librarians
I was extremely grateful to get my first librarian job. But there was a problem: I was bored. For the first six months it seemed like my only “task” was a two hour daily shift at a reference desk. THERE. WAS. NOTHING. ELSE. TO. DO. I stared at my office computer and surfed the web. And it wasn’t like I could drum up my own projects due to being micro-managed. Supervisors: When you hire a new person make sure they have work to do. I know you don’t want to overwhelm them, but trust them with projects. They will do a good a job!

7. Say Yes to New Things
When opportunity knocks, open the door! Get out of your comfort zone. A lot of my growth as a librarian involved taking on new things like coordinating info lit programming, teaching for-credit classes, or implementing 3D printing. Sometimes things are just a fluke: An invitation to do an info lit session for a cultural immersion course led to a trip to Italy with the group! One thing I enjoy as a librarian is that I’m always learning. And new things look good on the ol’ resume, too!

8. Trust Your Instincts
The old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your judgment on people and workplace situations. I was burned once on a job that turned out to be a disaster. I was excited to take it, but there were some warning signs I overlooked (like why I only met my supervisor for a few brief minutes on an “all day” interview). Lesson learned!

9. Failure is a learning experience
You need to get over the belief that failure is a bad thing. Failure is a learning experience that can help you innovate. As a supervisor now, I’ve tried to get co-workers to see that experimentation and failure are OK in the workplace. We’re always in beta mode! So what if the outreach event you planned didn’t pan out? Or the info lit session was bad? Re-tool it and think about how you can make it successful the next time.

10. Impostor Syndrome never goes away
There are still days when I think I’m not qualified to do my job. Part of it is being in higher ed: As an academic librarian I’ve never really considered myself an “academic”–whatever that means. Sometimes I feel like I snuck in to academia. I was the first in my family to to go college and that experience still affects my outlook. At the end of the day, I just have to tell myself “I do belong” here and people know I do a good job.

11. Avoid Negative Co-workers
Easier said than done–especially if the negative person is your supervisor. My one social gift is using some good-natured humor to get around these things. Truth be told: I’m a reactive person–so if everyone around me is negative I will respond with negativity. I’ve had to train myself to step out of the situation. With negative co-workers, I just don’t engage with them. I can converse with them about library-related tasks, but beyond that, I just don’t care about them. Focus instead on keeping yourself in good mental health!

12. You’re an expert, too!
I like that librarians share their knowledge! It has made me such a better librarian. Just following other librarians on Twitter I’ve learned many new ideas, tips, and best practices. Share what you are doing! I’ve been serving on the conference planning committee for my state’s academic library association and have been so grateful to learn from my peers through various presentations and panels and have even presented my own a few times!

13. The “Unicorn Librarian” must die
The job market for librarians has been stagnant (or worse) since I graduated with my MLS in 2002. Libraries and hiring managers take advantage of this by posting what I call “unicorn librarian” positions. You’ve seen them: The job posting demands years of post-MLS experience, additional degrees beyond the MLS (hello, college debt!), multiple foreign languages, computer coding, and more. Instead, we should invest in the training and education of new librarians when hired. Hiring managers: Don’t write job postings just so you don’t have to sift through applications. Lots of talented librarians are qualified for these positions–cast a wider net and you will be pleasantly suprised.

14. Be kind
My default operating mode is set to “kindness.” Maybe empathy is a better word for what I’m trying to describe? I don’t want to make it sound like I’m forcing people to be kind. Other emotions, such as anger, can rightfully be used–especially in situations relating to inequality and justice. But for me, being kind is stepping into someone else’s experiences: Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…that sort of thing. Note: Kindness should not be construed as being a pushover. Use “tough love” when you need to.

15. Have fun!
Most people flourish in jobs where they can be creative–at least that has always worked for me. So look for experiences that allow for joy, fun, and adventure. Doesn’t matter if you’re focusing on fun with your library users, staff, or your own personal interests–but make it a goal. “Fun” has lead to crazy things like the Lego Library and Librarian Twitter Bingo for me!

You Do What? Re-working a Librarian “Career Day” Presentation

A group of 15-year old high school students from a nearby city have been visiting my college campus periodically since the 4th grade. They’re part of a pre-college program that prepares students to be the first in the their family to attend a four-year university.

This year, students have been focusing on careers. I was asked to give a 50-minute presentation on: My Life as a Librarian.

What???? I immediately panicked. How would I make a presentation about librarianship interesting to high schoolers? Was it even worth it to participate?

Making Connections

The quick answer: Yes, it was worth participating! I knew I wasn’t going to make mini-librarians out of anyone…nor should I even try. Plus, I’m dubious of pigeon-holing anyone into a specific career so young (says me who changed his college major three times!). What I thought was more important was:

  • Seeing how high school students perceive libraries/librarians
  • Getting that perception to be something positive
  • Making students comfortable with the idea of the academic library and what we have to offer

My Plan

Instead of going through the usual:

  • this is what a librarian does…
  • this is how much they make…
  • these are the requirements for the job…

…because, let’s face it: BORING… I decided instead to pull out a few “fun” things and do some hands-on activities.

Team-based Activity

After welcoming the students to the library, we went into the Library Classroom and I introduced myself. I avoided rattling off my list of job duties because I had arranged for something more interactive. Our classroom has three interactive whiteboards. I split the students into three teams. Each whiteboard had this question:

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

Students brainstormed with their team members and used the touchscreen technology to record their answers. Here is where librarian stereotypes come into play. Students mentioned words like: books, old lady, mean, shhhh!, glasses, and checking in books.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

Then I asked the question:

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

What do you think a librarian does?

What do you think a librarian does?

Again, we got stereotypical remarks such as reading, checking in/shelving books, etc…

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

IMG_6088

Library/Librarian Stereotypes

From there, we had a quick little discussion about some of these stereotypes. I mentioned that I hadn’t shushed anyone but had been shushed myself–which brought out some smiles and laughter from the students. I also explained that our student workers are the ones who usually check out and shelve books. I even admitted that I don’t get to read as much as I like and I definitely don’t read on the job (for fun anyway!).

Each team had a teacher, chaperone, or one of our college students seated with the students to give some guidance. I got some great answers this way: develop programs, teach students, etc…

In my role as a reference/instruction librarian, I compared my job to a teacher: helping students find and evaluate information, helping with assignments and projects. That seemed to make the connection.

Because many stereotypes were brought up, I shared this slide of: What Librarians Do that I grabbed from the library at Otis College of Art and Design. Side note: when searching for images of “what people think a librarian does” most search results include the “sexy/naughty librarian” stereotype which may not be appropriate for all age levels. That’s why I liked this image and felt it perfectly encapsulated what librarians do for a high school audience.

"The librarian...What we actually do." Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library

“The librarian…What we actually do.” Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library.

What I do

Then I touched upon a few of things I do…

I mentioned that everything I do relates back to “stuff” (inspired by a keynote talk from Amy Buckland at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference).

What I do as a librarian...

What I do as a librarian…

And to do what I do, I only briefly mentioned educational requirements (yeah, yeah master’s degree)…but more importantly stressed QUALITIES you need: namely curiosity and helpfulness.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Then I segued into a few specific things that might surprise them:

Teaching & Research Assistance

I shared a few examples of research questions that the librarians have helped students with this semester, emphasizing that at a small university the librarians have to know a little bit about a lot things. The takeaway being: It’s OK to ask for help!

Teaching and research assistance

Teaching and research assistance

Books

I briefly discussed books. Yes, books are still important, but they are not our only resource. We have books, e-books, and articles you can access online! To give the students a sense of history, I grabbed the library’s oldest book from Special Collections: a book about ecclesiastical law in Great Britain, published in 1604.

A really old book...1604.

A really old book…1604.

Showing the book to students, I asked:

When do you think this book was published?

Some guessed 1800s, some even said 1900! Nope, 1604! Students thought it was cool to see such an old book. It also helped reinforce the library’s mission: Collecting and providing information, regardless of what the format or delivery method may be.

3D Printing

Then I switched to something a bit more new: 3D printing. I ran through a quick explanation and demo of the 3D printer and let the students pick out something to be printed: In this case, a smiley face. I explained what our faculty and students use it for (science models, action figures, home decor, mechanical pieces) and why it belongs in the library (a place to collaborate and experiment!).

3D printing a smiley face.

3D printing a smiley face.

Because I wanted a free little giveaway, before the session I had printed enough small 3D items (smiley face, Pokemon “squirtle”, Ultimaker robot, Coffin’s cube, #MakeItHappen bracelets, and heart-shaped jewelry) to hand one out to each student.

Events

Lastly, I discussed events that the library hosts: a party to welcome freshmen to campus, therapy dogs during Final Exams, etc… to give students a sense at how social the library is.

Library events...

Library events…

And that’s where we had some more interactive fun… I mentioned about hosting a Nerf tag event and that I needed to check to see if all of the library’s Nerf equipment was still in good working order. I asked:

Would you like to help me test of out the Nerf tag equipment? 

A resounding “YES!” So we had a few moments of Nerf tag in the classroom.

Conclusion

Then I wrapped up with a quick tour of the library and a short reflective exercise:

  • Name one thing you learned about?
  • What was something that surprised you?
  • What do you think about librarians now?

Forgoing the usual, “these are my duties as a librarian” lecture, I focused more on some of the fun, creative, tech stuff, and research activities that I get to participate in. It was less about me, and more about the library. Combining this with some interactive exercises made for a fun experience with these students. No one is going to decide to become a librarian (nor should they at this point), but hopefully they all left feeling that the library is a fun, dynamic, and helpful place.

A Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights

Let’s face it: Job hunting is a grind. Oftentimes a soul-sucking grind. But once you get that invitation to interview, you feel great. Here is where the library, as the hiring organization, needs to put its best foot forward and make the experience for job candidates a positive one.

I’m not mollycoddling here. This isn’t about bringing your mom or dad to an interview (please don’t!) or sending the interview questions to the interviewee in advance (umm, no…I want to see how you think on your feet!). This is about having a set of protocols, a little common sense, and some human decency.

Below are ten tips that I’m calling the Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights that should be afforded to all job candidates.

1. The library will give you lead time in preparing a presentation
Many job candidates are required to give a presentation (short lecture, teaching demo, storytime, etc.) at an interview. When the offer to interview is extended, please provide the topic (or if it’s “open-ended” then say so) and the time limit of the presentation. A couple of times when interviewing, I was given a topic only 2-3 days in advance. Give people time to prepare!

2. The library will give you a schedule
When inviting a job candidate to interview, send them the schedule in advance (even if it’s a draft schedule at first). Include the names (or groups) of the people they will be meeting with and the length of time for each meeting.

3. The library will plan a humane schedule
This relates to #1 and #2. Can we not schedule a presentation immediately after lunch? There’s nothing like trying to eat a meal knowing that you’re going to have to give the “show of your life” immediately thereafter. I know it’s hard to get people together to watch a presentation, but I always appreciated it when these things are scheduled before lunch.

4. The library will provide reimbursements
What is reimbursable? Be upfront with job candidates. For overnight stays, is the library booking the hotel? For long distance visits, is the library booking transportation? Or is this the responsibility of the job candidate? What about things like gas mileage or airport parking? Provide a list of what will be covered. Remind the job candidate to bring along (or send) any applicable receipts.

5. The library will provide info on hotels/dining
Related to #4. If it’s an overnight visit, where is the job candidate staying? I remember being dropped off at a hotel by a potential future co-worker in the middle of nowhere. I was on my own for dinner. No car. Nothing walkable. The only thing I could get was a pizza delivered. Some welcome! Invite the job candidate out to dinner. Beforehand, give job candidates a few options for dinner (may have dietary restrictions) and let them pick.

6. The library will give you salary info
I know many institutions (or more likely the library’s parent organization) do not post salaries in job ads, but please provide this info during the interview day whether it’s the minimum salary, a salary range, etc. I know there will be some that will say, “well then the job candidate can’t negotiate if the salary is on the table!” Well…this isn’t the business world and the ability to negotiate for several thousands of dollars generally does not apply to most library positions. So be upfront!

7. The library will be prepared
The job candidate is prepared for the interview day. The library staff should be prepared to interview the job candidate. Have notes in order and questions to ask. Also KNOW which person is being interviewed and don’t call the person by another job candidate’s name.

8. The library will have a good attitude
Yes, the library might be interviewing 3 or 4 people in a row. At least act like this is a fresh and new experience and not a chore to get through.

9. The library will keep matters confidential
Example: If the job candidate marked “you may not contact my current supervisor” on HR forms, then the library needs to follow it! This happened to me. After marking the form to not contact my current supervisor, the library director then asked to contact my supervisor. I had 3 good references (my immediate former supervisor at my workplace, a current co-worker, and a former co-worker). I said no. I didn’t want my supervisor to know I was looking for greener pastures. It was an awkward situation.

10. The library will provide a follow-up in a timely manner
Make sure candidates know the length for the decision-making process. Also ask job candidates how they prefer to be notified (phone, email). I know from an HR standpoint, many things cannot be disclosed. However, you can still say “the library is in the decision-making stage and you can expect to hear from us within the month” or whatever. Once I didn’t receive a “this position has been filled” letter until 6 months after the interview! We can do better.

What else would you add? Leave a comment!

Advice: Being a Librarian…10 Years On

As of today, I’ve logged 10 years as a librarian. I started my first professional library job as a reference librarian at Sam Houston State University in Texas in February 2003. A couple months prior, I was getting ready to graduate with my MLS from Indiana University in December 2002 when I managed to snag three librarian interviews in Texas, South Carolina, and New Mexico. I was geographically free to move anywhere, and in the post-9/11 economic slump, I was grateful for what I had. The Texas job matched my skills and interests and I took it! Since TX, I’ve logged time in IL, NH, and WI.

In the 10 years since I became a librarian, much has changed. I was actually taught command line searching in library school because it was thought that I might encounter it. Never did. We also put together a lot of paper bibliographies on various topics–but of course that’s what today’s Libguides do. An ebook was an annoying thing you *had* to read on your computer via the NetLibrary database – not a device you could take anywhere! A cell phone was not “smart” – just a device to take/make calls. Facebook and Twitter did not exist, which is funny since social media has evolved into a major component of my job.

I’ve enjoyed being a librarian. I don’t say I *love* it–that’s reserved for family, friends, and free-time. But it’s so nice to have a job where you *enjoy* coming into work (or at the very least, don’t *hate* it). A lot of people can’t say that. For me, being a librarian has always been about connecting people with information. This is what I like. It’s not the books. It’s not the technology. It’s People + Information.

So, for 10 years, here’s 10 quick bits of advice on being a librarian:

  1. You’re not going to please everybody
    Don’t try. Do your job. Do it well. Some people are not going to like you no matter what you do. Get over it.
  2. Say yes to new opportunities
    Don’t be afraid. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but ultimately worthwhile. If I hadn’t said “yes” I would have missed out on side opportunities like teaching some fun credit classes (“Podcasting 101”, “College Life Through Film”)  and the chance to work as an instructional technologist.   
  3. Attitude Matters
    Be positive. Sometimes just being “nice” works–but make sure it’s genuine. I guess a more formal term is “collegiality” – you need to do it, otherwise you’re in the wrong field.
  4. You don’t have to be the expert at everything
    We all have our strengths. It’s OK to ask someone else if YOU don’t know the answer. “But wait, we’re librarians…we’re supposed to know EVERYTHING.” No! But we know WHERE to find the answer.
  5. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are not a professional
    You know what you’re doing. You have the skills. Speak up for yourself, because sometimes no one else will.
  6. The patron (customer) is not always right
    Many business ideas are applicable to libraries. But this one bugs me. The patron is NOT always right. Be clear, concise, courteous, and reasoned in disagreements. However, bad behavior from patrons should not be rewarded. See #5.
  7. You never stop learning
    I like reading blog posts and discussion postings from “newbie” librarians. But then I think: Hey, I feel like that too! Because libraryland changes so much, I still feel like a newbie. That’s what I love about being a librarian.
  8. Sometimes getting a job is just luck
    I know this bothers some people, but it just is. Maybe the preferred candidate turned down the job and you as the 2nd choice got it? Maybe you made an outstanding presentation when compared to other candidates? Maybe it was a Friday and the hiring committee was just ready to get the job offered to…someone. Unfortunately, some things are just beyond your control.
  9. Trust your instincts
    Does something not sound/look quite right? It probably is! Creepy patron, weird job interview, strange chat reference questions?…yep.
  10. Work/Life Balance
    Take your vacation time. Be passionate about something non-library related. Disconnect from email/voicemail in your free time. Give yourself a chance to re-charge, and return to the library feeling energized.

What advice would you give?

Search & Screen, or Search & SCREAM? Cover Letters and Resumes

After being on the interviewing side of things last year, it was nice to be on the hiring side this year. I recently reviewed cover letters and resumes for a search and screen committee at my academic library. At times, I wanted to do a “cover letter intervention” (perhaps, a new reality TV show?)!

This spring, I blogged about cover letters, resumes, and interviews. Also, Jenica Rogers on her Attempting Elegance blog had a must-read post on The Torment of Terrible Cover Letters. I would also encourage anyone applying for librarian positions to look at Stephen X. Flynn’s Open Cover Letters website for ideas.

Throughout the process of reading cover letters and resumes, here is the most disconcerting thing I observed:

You write well. I can tell you are intelligent. You may even have an advanced degree beyond the MLS. But your cover letter does not address the points highlighted in the job ad. Therefore, you will not make the cut.

It’s a simple as that. For all the advice out there on tailoring your cover letter, there are plenty of applicants that do not. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Tailor your cover letter!

Cover letter & resume advice:

  • If applying via email, do not write your cover letter in the body of the email. Use attachments. Or more to the point: you should follow the directions stated in the job ad.
  • Am I the only one that doesn’t like cover letters in bullet point format? I need to asses your communication skills through your cover letter. To me, a bullet point cover letter is a cop-out. I want paragraphs!
  • In regards to paragraphs: Your cover letter should not be just one short paragraph.
  • Don’t rattle off your job duties in your cover letter. That’s what the resume is for. Instead, use the cover letter to provide examples and anecdotes that relate to the position that you are applying for:

Case in point: if you’re applying for a  children’s librarian position, your resume might list doing “story times” as one of your responsibilities. However, you could use the cover letter to highlight some sort of innovative program you did with story time. Or if you are an academic instruction librarian, your resume might list “assessment” as one of your activities. You could then use the resume to spotlight a special assessment technique you implemented with students.

  • Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by writing: “I don’t have experience in…” Instead, turn it around and explain how you have transferable or related experience.
  • Appearance: pick a standard font. I would stay away from Courier–it looks like a typewriter–and it’s 2011, folks!
  • It’s OK if the cover letter goes onto a second page (which is sometimes a no-no in the business world). I prefer this over an 9-point font cover letter with half-inch margins! But if you go over 2 pages, I tend to wonder if you have problems “getting to the point.” 🙂
  • Make sure your cover letter and resume looks “clean” in overall appearance – I’ve seen some that look like they have been scanned in and saved electronically. They can be difficult to read.
  • I know you are wonderful, amazing, etc… But I always appreciate a cover letter that addresses my library and its needs/mission. Do your homework. Look over the library website and any parent website (university, school, local government, etc…).
  • Use common sense: Do not write, “I have experience with personal computers.” You are a librarian; having experience with personal computers is UNDERSTOOD!
  • Use “action” words on your resume (e.g., designed, implemented, initiated, managed). Google it! You’re a librarian.
  • Remember: There’s a fine line between promoting your abilities and overstating your qualifications. Be careful! Overstating your qualifications will become apparent in a subsequent interview.

So what do we do with all of these cover letters and resumes? At my place of work–a state institution (and I’m sure it’s the same with most private institutions, too), we have a strict set of protocols to follow. We use an Application Review Form that lists all of the criteria that were included in the job posting. The search and screen committee then rates each cover letter/resume based on EACH of the criterion using a scale: below average – average – above average – can’t assess.

The applicants who rank the highest are the ones that make it to the next stage of the interview process. This is why it’s so vital to use your cover letter and resume to address the various points highlighted in a job ad. So what other cover letter and resume advice would you suggest? Let me know!

Interview Red Flags

I had the pleasure of writing a guest blog post on interview red flags for Jessica Olin’s Letters to a Young Librarian blog. Check out it and read through the great advice written by Jessica and other librarians!

“I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what?

Interesting discussion on the COLLIB-L discussion list. A librarian posted a link to a survey about: “What makes a professional librarian? Discussion on the list then evolved into the state of the library job market. Several people mentioned that they graduated from highly-ranked library schools and had trouble finding employment. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, nor am I denigrating anyone’s education, but it really does not matter which library school you attend.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s resume/cover letter and thought: “Wow, she graduated from X library school!” Library school is what you make of it. The MLS is just the basic requirement for the job. If all you do is take the required courses, but get no work experience, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

The following is some rather BLUNT advice for those in library school, or thinking of attending:

  1. Library school: if you have the time/money to find a school that “fits” you, then by all means. However, it’s completely OK to just pick the in-state/cheapest option. A library school is a library school is a library school.
  2. If you have not worked in a library before attending  library school, why are you making such as a large financial commitment for a career that you have no experience in? A “love” of books and “I like to read” won’t cut it.
  3. Oh, I keep mentioning experience. Yes, it’s that IMPORTANT! Before you graduate with your MLS, get some experience as a student worker, a grad assistant, paraprofessional, internship, practicum, or volunteer work. Get as much experience as you can.
  4. If you are unable to do the above, you are really limiting your options. You will need to decide whether this is even a viable career for you.
  5. I don’t really care what library school course grades/GPA you have. Just get your degree and focus on getting some experience.
  6. Get a mentor! Someone who is a working librarian. Not a library school professor who hasn’t worked in libraries for 20 years.
  7. Geographic flexibility: I understand that not everyone can (or wants) to move across country for a job. Just be aware that you may be severely limiting your options. Again, you need to decide if the expense of library school is worth it, if you are not geographically mobile.
  8. You need to market yourself. Librarians/librarians-to-be need to stop thinking of marketing as an “icky” term. You need a web presence (website, e-portfolio, Twitter account etc.) to promote your abilities.
  9. Do not wait until graduation to start applying for jobs! Start a few months in advance. Many libraries (especially academic libraries) have a long hiring process. I have worked in libraries where we have hired people in their last month, and even last semester, of library school for professional librarian positions.
  10. Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

Off my soapbox!

Cover Letters, Resumes, and Interviews, Oh My!

Recently I served as a reference for a friend and former co-worker of mine. After extolling the virtues of my friend over the phone with the hiring committee, I thought: “Gee, I’m now a reference! Where did the time go?” After 8 years of being a librarian, serving on hiring committees, and watching countless candidate interviews, I decided to put together a list of some tips for composing cover letters & resumes, as well as preparing for interviews. If you have something you’d like to add, please leave a comment below.

Cover Letters & Resumes:

  • Strategy: Your cover letter & resume should address your experience/knowledge with the requirements/qualifications that are in the job announcement.  Even an “awesome” cover letter & resume that does not address any of the bullet points in the job announcement will NOT get you called in on an interview. When I’m on a hiring committee, this is what I do: I make a spreadsheet listing our various requirements/qualifications and columns with the names of applicants. Then I go down the rows and check off if you have addressed each of the requirements/qualifications based on your cover letter & resume content. The applicants with the most checkmarks are the ones who get called for interviews. Example: I can’t GUESS if you have experience or knowledge working with a diverse group of library users. You need to TELL me in your cover letter & resume!
  • Yes, I know YOU are wonderful. But I want to know HOW your wonderfulness is applicable to this job! Please explain it in the cover letter.
  • Generic cover letters ALWAYS go to the bottom of the pile. Each job is different. Each requires a different cover letter. And yes, I have seen a cover letter mistakenly addressed to the “wrong” library. No one said getting a job is easy. See the “Strategy” section above.
  • I don’t need to see an “objective” listed on your resume. Your objective is to get the job 🙂 and I know and understand that! Don’t waste the precious space.
  • Length of cover letter & resume: People OBSESS about this. For me, it’s not a big deal as long as you are following the instructions/guidelines. For cover letters: I think it’s OK to go over one page–but generally 2 pages tops. Be careful with font size and margins. Once I read a one-page cover letter in 8-point font with quarter-inch margins! It would have been OK to bump up the font size and go onto the second page. As for resumes, you DO NOT have to follow the business standard of a one-page resume. It’s OK to have multiple pages.
  • I prefer a simple chronological resume, but as long as I am able to determine your skills, experience, and knowledge, I’m not too picky.
  • Don’t overwhelm me with too many fonts, please.
  • Include your references on your resume, or on an additional page (see below).
  • Include a website address on your cover letter and/or resume to your online portfolio.
  • Proofread, proofread, and then consider proofreading some more. Read your cover letter and resume aloud! Have a friend, colleague, or mentor read it, too. I have overlooked a small typo on resumes/cover letters (and am guilty of doing it myself at some point), but not everyone is as forgiving. If “good verbal and written communication skills” are a requirement for the job, then you must not mess up here.
  • Job Hunting Tips and Links

Application Process:

  • Follow the instructions explicitly. If the job announcement says to send your materials via “snail” mail, then do it! Yes, I know you can look up our library’s email address and send it in electronically, but that’s not following the directions. Some libraries/institutions have very specific policies on the hiring process and you will want to follow the directions as they are stated. Anyone with an “attention to detail” will follow the directions. Don’t throw yourself out of the running on something small like this.
  • If you are allowed to submit your materials via email, remember this: your email message should not count as your cover letter (e.g., “Please accept my resume in consideration…”). No! We want an actual cover letter and resume attached to your email.
  • Make sure any electronic attachments can easily be opened by your potential employers. PDF is always great (and follow the library’s instructions on file types–if they give you any).
  • Any electronic attachments should have a helpful file name (e.g. “YourLastName_Resume” or “YourLastName_CoverLetter”).
  • Oh and about that email address: use an email handle that sounds professional.
  • References: If the job announcement says to include references, then do it! I’ve served on hiring committees where we asked for references and some applicants didn’t provide them upfront (again, not following directions!). So, it creates more time on our end trying to track applicants down and asking for their references. On most of the hiring searches I’ve been involved with, we only contact your references if you are a serious candidate.
  • Cold-calling: I know some people in “libraryland” encourage you to call and speak with the library director/supervisor about a job opening that has been posted. You’ll want to tread carefully here. Personally, I would avoid calling, but that’s my personality style. Once someone called me after I had posted a job and asked, “I was thinking about applying, but I wanted to know if you’re able to raise the salary amount by $5,000.” Eeeek. I treat all applicants equally and will spend a good deal of time reading your cover letter and resume. For me, a phone call does not place you ahead of the pack.

Preliminary Interview:

  • For preliminary interviews, such as a phone interview: schedule yourself enough time to get where you need to be (e.g., home). If at all possible, do the interview in a quiet place, door shut, pets away, TV off, etc.
  • Confirm the date/time, and if needed, the correct time zone.
  • Before the preliminary interview, think about some questions that might be asked of you. See: Sample interview questions.
  • Generally, you will be given a few minutes to ask the hiring committee questions. Please do! We are excited to be interviewing you, and we hope you are excited in return. See: Sample questions to ask.
  • At the end of a preliminary interview, make sure and ask about the time line and process for any in-person interviews and start date, etc.

In-Person Interview:

  • It’s ALWAYS ok to dress conservatively for an interview. No jeans, no t-shirts, no sneakers. As you probably have seen, librarians as a group, aren’t known for their fashion sense, but please dress professionally. For a male: I’d at least want to see shirt/tie/trousers (I’ll admit, I don’t own a suit!),  for a female (you have more options): business suit, skirt/blouse, trousers/blouse–or throw in a cardigan/sweater w/ the combo. In reality, I only wear a tie at work when I absolutely have to, and jeans on Fridays or in the summer are the norm. But not on an interview day. Dress for success–that’s what they say.
  • Arrive on time, or a few minutes early–especially if it’s a large library and you need to be at a specific office.
  • If the interview day is long, be prepared to answer the same question multiple times by different groups or individuals. Pretend you’re answering it for the first time (with enthusiasm) because the person you are telling it to is hearing it for the first time.
  • Come prepared with a list of questions that you would like to ask your potential supervisor, hiring committee, co-workers, etc. Failure to ask questions is a BIG negative in my book! See: Sample questions to ask.
  • Emphasize the key points as to why you are the BEST person for this job. You will generally be able to emphasize this in your responses to questions asked of you (e.g., “What is it about this job that interests you?”)
  • Remember, even in quieter moments of the interview day, you still need to be “on” – avoid sharing anything that might be considered unprofessional.
  • Presentations: If required to give a presentation make sure you have multiple options if your tech fails (e.g., have presentation on a flash drive and also email it to yourself). If using handouts, bring plenty. Follow any instructions given on presentation topic, etc. Clear up any questions about the presentation before the interview day.
  • A good library will factor in bathroom breaks, etc… If you need to use the restroom or get a drink of water, by all means ask!
  • Don’t forget to smile 🙂 , shake hands, demonstrate good body language, etc…
  • Remember to ask about the time line for the interview process, when a decision will be made, etc…
  • After the interview, sending a thank you card or thank you email to the potential supervisor or hiring committee is always appreciated.
  • See: Interview Pitfalls to Avoid

Got a Bun in the Oven? Illegal Interview Questions

When you get a job interview, you spend your time prepping for possible questions: Why do you want to work here? What’s your greatest strength or weakness? Describe how you manage multiple tasks.

What you don’t often think about are illegal questions that may be asked of you. Employers should know better. I remember this story from library school: one student (a woman) who was about to graduate was asked by the library board of small town public library: “Now, you’re not going to go off and get pregnant on us, are you?” The year was 2002, not 1962.

I have updated the Library Interview Questions page on the Nailing the Library Interview site to include a few links to “illegal” interview questions, but I’ll list them here, too:

The links are good for those on both sides of the hiring process: job applicants and hiring managers/search committees.