Landing the first librarian job

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Emily Zerrenner, Research and Instructional Services Librarian at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

The process of landing my first academic job was a whirlwind with a steady downpour. From about February on, nearly every day I was scouring job boards, writing cover letters, tweaking my resume and creating a CV. First interviews were always exciting before nerve-wracking; I could count on some of the questions asked (Why do you want this job?) and I would daydream about the location. In every place I applied, I checked PetFinder. I wanted a job, and I wanted a dog. Sometimes my questions would have less of a straight answer. Could I fit there? Could I make a life there?

I distinctly remember the first interview I got. I was so excited, because it was on the East Coast and the campus was beautiful, and, and, and. I came up with many reasons. I thought I nailed the interview. It was a bright spot in the seemingly endless gloom of a Midwestern February.

Then I wasn’t invited for a second interview.

I wasn’t surprised, necessarily; but I had hoped so hard that it would work out. I had long been warned about the academic job seeking process, and I saw the graduate assistants a year before me go through it in Spring 2021. At that point, I steeled myself for the marathon ahead.

I had a spreadsheet to input information about every job I applied to. Light green highlight meant I got a first interview, dark green meant a second round, and I just moved the rows of rejections to a separate sheet so I didn’t have to look at them. No highlight meant my application was received, but I didn’t hear anything. (This happened to more jobs than you might expect.) Google Drive learned my habits of opening that sheet pretty much anywhere I went: “you usually open around this time.” I had a general resume and CV, a general cover letter with everything I could possibly talk about, and folders where I dropped the customized materials for each position.

I was still in three graduate school classes during this time, working 15 or so hours a week as a graduate assistant, and teaching workshops and one-shot library instruction in the meantime. Even though I began graduate school in Fall 2020, this felt like the hardest pandemic semester yet; I was so close to the end of my degree and so burnt out from juggling not only my responsibilities as a full-time student, but also managing the risk of COVID-19 at every turn.

April was the worst month. I had a second-round interview every week; all of them were over Zoom (which, eight hours over Zoom is perhaps its own form of torture) but I was flown out to visit one campus. The day after I got back from that campus visit, I had the second-round interview for the place I work now. I was so incredibly exhausted that I was convinced I wouldn’t get that one, but I kept pushing through. It was like having a final project every week, except these final projects determined the course of my life. In total, I applied to 17 jobs and completed 30 hours of interviews across institutions (not including the travel and preparation time).

I received and accepted a job offer at Salisbury University a week before I graduated, which I recognize is so lucky on my part. Moving to an entirely new state alone, away from everything I knew was its own challenge – one that I am still adjusting to. In this field, it’s almost expected that you will move away from friends and family; you have to follow the work. The long job application process is well known and documented, and yet we’re still using that same system. Additionally, I have a lot of thoughts about reimbursement culture in academia; grateful as I am for moving cost reimbursement, that initial financial burden almost made it impossible to actually make the move for this job.

But I’m happy to report that my Petfinder browsing paid off, and I’m slowly making a life here – both as a new academic librarian, and as Emily.

A dog's face with black and white markings