I’ve been on many library search committees in my eight years as a librarian, and about half of them have been in the last two years. After looking at that many resumes (so. many. resumes.) and going through that many interviews (so. many. interviews.) there are a few things that happen again and again that never cease to surprise and frustrate me. I’ve hesitated to write a post with advice to job seekers, because I feel like there are already a lot of these kinds of pieces out there. But I still keep seeing the same tiny mistakes that make a big difference, and I figured one more thing on the internet aimed at helping those applying for work in libraries can’t hurt.
Please keep in mind that my experience is related entirely to the academic library environment. Hiring may work very differently in public libraries, and I’m sure it works differently in corporate and special libraries.
In every environment in which I’ve worked, and in most of the places I’ve applied, there’s a search committee made up of people who work in the library who are responsible for most of the process, from drafting the position description to reviewing resumes and conducting interviews to making a recommendation for hire. It’s almost never the decision of a single person, and because the work is done by committee, it takes a long time. You may apply for a job and completely forget you applied by the time you hear anything. This is terrible, and we do our best, but it’s inevitable when you have people who already have full-time jobs who are taking on this additional task. We try really hard not to leave people hanging for too long, and we hope you’ll be patient with our timelines.
When you are looking at position announcements, there are a few things to think about. Generally, if the description says that an MLS is required, that means an MLS is required. Other requirements may be more fungible, but where I’ve worked, that one never is. It might be ok to apply if you will have the degree by the time you begin the job, but that depends on the position and sometimes the institution. When I got my first full-time library job, I interviewed before I’d completed course work and got the job offer on the day of graduation, but I’ve seen other positions and worked in other places where that doesn’t happen as much.
And yeah, I said other requirements may be more fungible. I know position announcements usually have a section for required qualifications and one for desired qualifications, but I also know that sometimes those required qualifications can be interpreted broadly. Think about whether or not the qualification has a definite yes or no answer. For example, if the requirement is “fluency in Chinese,” you either are or aren’t fluent. If it says “at least three years experience,” that is a specific number and you need to have at least three years experience. But if it says “familiarity with COUNTER stats,” well, there’s no specificity about what familiarity means. Do you know what COUNTER stats are? Can you read up a little bit about them and be able to say something halfway intelligent about them? Then you’re familiar. “Experience” can also sometimes be interpreted broadly. I think a lot of people (ahem, mostly women) take themselves out of the running because they are strictly interpreting criteria where there is flexibility. Likewise, though, sometimes people put themselves out there for positions they really, really aren’t qualified for. Be flexible in your thinking, and willing to do a little research, but don’t be unrealistic.
When you’re writing your cover letter (and you should ALWAYS write a cover letter, unless the position announcement specifically says not to include one), think about the people who are looking at it. They are probably looking at a stack of applicants, and trying to do it quickly (because they have that other full-time job, remember?). The easiest way for the committee members to see that you are qualified is if you specifically mention points from the position description. Use the same language used in the position description. Use bullet points if it makes sense, because that will make it really easy for the person reading (let’s be honest, skimming) that letter to see that they should interview you. Same thing for your resume. And yes, you should tailor your resume specifically for the position for which you’re applying. Highlight the experience and knowledge that is specifically mentioned in the position description. Make it easy for the committee to know they should interview you.
Another small detail that people don’t seem to think about is how you submit your interview materials. The committee is probably getting a big batch of digital files filled with a lot of very similar documents.
- Use a consistent naming convention for your files (like krier_cv, krier_reference, krier_coverletter).
- Include your last name in the filename (like krier_cv, krier_reference, and krier_coverletter). And put the last name first, so things sort in a useful way if the files are all in one folder on someone’s computer.
- Submit PDFs, please please please, unless the position description specifically asks for another format. PDFs are way easier to deal with than Word docs, and you can be more certain your formatting will show up the way you want.
- If it’s an option, submit your cover letter, resume, and references as a single file.
- ALWAYS put your name on every page of the documents, and especially on the first page. Page numbers never hurt a person, either. I can’t tell you how many cover letters I’ve seen where the applicant’s name is only at the end. And pages of references where the applicant’s name doesn’t appear at all!
It drives me crazy to get disorganized, unlabeled documents. I mean, come on. You’re applying for a job as a librarian. Submit organized documents.
Oh, and people often think a cover letter and/or resume should be no more than one page. That’s not a requirement. No one wants to read a five-page cover letter or a 47-page CV, but sometimes you can’t describe your amazing qualities and attributes in one page, and that’s ok. In academia, it’s actually a little weird to have a one-page resume or CV.
It goes without saying that you should proofread, although I’ve been known to overlook tiny typos and errors. Some people are real sticklers about it, though. And if your materials are riddled with errors, you’re not getting an interview.
And finally, for the love of god, get the name of the library and/or university where you’re applying right. I’ve gotten applications for CSU Sonoma (we’re actually called Sonoma State University), and even cover letters that were clearly written for another position because they mention a different university entirely.
I’ll write a separate post about interview preparation and etiquette, because I have a lot to say about that, too. And interview etiquette goes both ways! I’ve definitely seen not-so-great behavior on both sides of the table.
I hope at least one person out there finds this advice useful. And if I’ve saved one search committee from receiving a page of references with no name on it, I’ll consider this post a grand success.
Any other tips for job seekers? Do any of you have pet peeves that you see in applications, things that just make your want to bang your head on the desk? Share in the comments!