About two years ago, I was already applying for jobs in preparation of graduating from library school. I spent countless hours looking at job posts, writing cover letters, preparing for phone interviews and being anxious about that coveted on-campus interviews.
Throughout my residency at American University, I have been able to participate in two (and one ongoing) search committees. This has allowed me to see the job hunting process from the other side and has allowed me to reflect on how I apply and prepare for the job hunt. Getting to look at other cover letters, resumes, watching people interview, and interacting with job candidates puts a different perspective of looking at the whole process.
While in library school, I was lucky enough to have supervisors that revised (many times) my cover letter and resume. Not only that, but spoke to me about the interview process and even set up a mock presentation. It was great preparation for interviews, but in the end, you have to experience it in order to reflect on it later on. Although there is no going back, it’s good to have these experiences for future job hunting.
So, what would I have done differently? (and definitely do for next time)
Most normal people have a system that helps them be organized during the job search. Two years ago, I was not that person. This past summer when I was looking for apartments, I kept an excel spreadsheet that kept track of the craigslist post, the rent amount, date I emailed the contact person, and other important emails. I only wish I had been that organized back when I was searching for job. Instead, I would find myself overwhelmed by all of the cover letters that I had saved on my flashdrive.
Amount of experience
Looking at job descriptions, I would often see “3 or more years of experience required.” Having had only 2 years of pre-professional experience, I would go back and forth on whether to apply or not. I ended up not applying to most of those jobs, but looking back, I should have. What do you have to lose?
Wanting to cover all the points
Every job posting is different and they can be brief or very detailed. There would sometimes be a job posting where it discussed the job duties, expectations, requirements, and preferred experience. It’s an exciting feeling to have when you read a job posting and you happen to have the experience that they describe, require, and prefer.
While it’s very tempting to want to cover all the details on the job post, you ultimately have to cover the required and preferred points. You might have room for relevant points, but that usually does not happen. While your cover letter may have some interesting points that are relevant to the job duties, the search committee is looking for you to directly address the required qualifications and any preferred experience you may have. That will be your priority and may not leave room for anything else.
You’ve applied to a ton of jobs and have finally gotten that phone interview! Take the time to do some background research on not only the library, but the university and their goals. What reports have they released? What are their long and short term goals and strategies? I remember learning this the hard way while on the phone with a library search committee. I was asked, “What are some resources or programs at the university and/or library that you’d be interested in?”
Easy question, right? Not if you have not done your research. Learn from my mistake. Take the time to look at the university website and find what initiatives they are working on or any programs that you would be interested in knowing more about.
Red flags at a campus interview
I remember going on my first campus interview and 20 minutes in, I already wanted to leave. Of course, I still had the rest of the day to go, but when you immediately know that this is not going to work out, you still need to power through it. What I should have done is taken that visit as an opportunity to work on my interview and presentation skills. Instead, I continued to be frustrated at the multiple red flags that popped up throughout the day and not knowing what to do about it. However, if it’s an interview that is going well, show your excitement and energy!
Everyone has a different way of searching for jobs and mine come from experiences and mistakes that I have made. I hope that you’re able to use this post as a resource when looking for jobs, either as a new graduate or an early career librarian. What are some of your tips? Comment below!
2 thoughts on “Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve: The Library Job Hunt”
As someone who is currently on two search committees, I will disagree with point two in the case of academic librarian positions. I know it’s so, so hard to get a foot in the door, but if it’s in the position requirements (not “preferred qualifications”, but the actual requirements section), it’s the main way your application will be evaluated when applying at larger/state schools.
We have so many applicants that we screen out those who don’t meet the minimum qualifications of experience, degree from ALA accredited school (that includes May grads applying for positions that start in February), etc. to even get to the main pool.
Also, THANK YOU for mentioning the need to directly address the position requirements in the cover letter! A good cover letter really stands out to me-it’s not a formality, we really do read them (once we get to the main pool of candidates) and view it as a chance to learn more about the candidate’s potential contributions to our specific campus.
I have one of my own: to make sure I address all of the qualifications, I will copy that part of the description into the document (to be deleted later). I used to forget to address some of the qualifications because I was constantly going back and forth between the description and my document, but, once I started copying the qualifications into the document, I found that I was less likely to leave something out.