An Open Letter to Job-Seekers, Updated for 2007

Way back in 2004, I was on a search committee which, I can only assume, ended up hiring a librarian. Honestly – I can’t remember what position it was for, but since I adored everyone who I worked with at my last job, we most likely hired someone absolutely fantastic.However, that experience led to a bit of a rant, entitled An Open Letter to Job-Seekers. I encourage you to read it, ponder it, and then come back here to read a few updates for 2007.

Are you back? Great.

As I think about how I could update that letter, I’m struck by how incredibly relevant all the advice I gave in that rant still is. At MPOW, we recently had some of those elusive entry-level openings – and we got the applications to prove it! The candidate pool was really strong, which tells me that there may be a few things going on these days in librarianship:

  1. We are graduating too many people from library schools who want to work in academia. (Another rant for another day – and I admit that I’m as guilty as the next enthusiastic librarian in recruiting people to the profession when the market is like this…)
  2. The people who are going into librarianship now have very clear reasons for doing so, and are working hard before, during, and after graduate school to make sure their experience will eventually help them find the job they want.

So given those things, what advice can I give you now that’s different from then? A few nuggets of wisdom, gleaned mostly from the part of the search before search committees even decide who they want to consider as the top third of the candidate pool:

  • If your classmates are all a bunch of dips and are applying for the same jobs you are, you’re coming to the job search from a disadvantaged position. In that case, you MUST figure out how to stand out from two crowds – that of your school (association is a bitch) and that of the entire candidate pool. Consider this when making a decision about where to go (if you can). Talk to recent grads of the schools you’re interested in and find out if they and their classmates are whip-smart, or a few crayons short of a 64-pack. If you’re limited by geography and all of a sudden get that sinking feeling about the school in your area, consider one of the fine distance education programs out there.
  • Being fluent in technology is no longer a preferred or optional qualification. If a job ad asks specifically for technology skills, please don’t talk to me about how you can search DIALOG. I don’t care if you can search DIALOG; search is no longer a “technology”. What I care about is if you can understand how RSS works and why it might be important in libraries. I care if you can get into code (html or xml) and poke it and fix it. I care that you bloody well understand that relational databases can be incredibly powerful and infuriatingly limiting all at the same time. I care that you are excited about the prospect of learning about these things if you don’t know much about them yet.
  • PDF people, PDF. Don’t upload your resume into the online application system as a Word document, but rather send it as a PDF. Why? I’ll tell you why. I prefer to see things in Word in page layout view, 75%, with spellcheck and grammar check both turned on. When you prefer to work in normal view, 150%, with grammar check off and I open your resume/cover letter in that view, it jars me. I have to adjust it until I can read it. Then I get to look at all sorts of green squiggle lines (resumes + grammar check = nightmare) and red squiggle lines (Word hate names, acronyms, and misspellings.) If you simply save your resume and cover letter as a PDF, we have no such issues. The other thing I’d suggest you do before PDFing it is to put your resume and cover letter into ONE word document, and then save that as a PDF. Name it something easy, like YourName-CollegeName.pdf. See how that works for both of us (and your references, to whom you will send your resume, cover letter, and the job ad)?
  • Speaking of, please, for the love of God, be careful about who you ask to be your references! And do them the favor of sending your cover letter, resume, and the job ad when you apply for the position, perhaps also with a personal word or two about what excites you about the position. It will serve you well in the long run to ask someone who is articulate and organized to serve as your reference. Note that this means you may have to avoid asking your “absent-minded professor” types. This underscores the advice I gave in 2004 about getting as much relevant experience as you can, even if it’s not in libraries. That way you diversify your potential reference pool.

So for now, that’s it. Good luck job-seekers of 2007! I am so happy you decided to become librarians. It’s a great profession and I know (the bulk of) you will keep us moving in the right direction.

3 thoughts to “An Open Letter to Job-Seekers, Updated for 2007”

  1. I will also say this about the applicants.. Since we got over 50 applications for my old job (para-professional) and that over 35 of them were beyond outstanding (read: MLS degrees with work experience at top notch facilities) I would say the library world is getting tighter.

    I always love your words of wisdom.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with all your comments! I recruit staff for a medium size public libary service in Sydney (AU) and the issues are ALL the same. Especially with regard to technology – sometimes I just want to scream “IT’S NOT OPTIONAL KNOWLEDGE!” The number of candidates who tell me “I’m know how to use MS Word and Excel” when I’m talking blogging, RSS feeds, vodcasts and SMS marketing can be absolutely demoralising. I also worry about anyone who attends an interview for a professional/para-professional position and wants to tell me they love to read – that’s great and can be relevant but trust me, in a library, it’s NOT going to make you stand out. But then you find the fantastic candidates who make it all worthwhile and hope returns.

  3. Thanks for the advice. As an upcoming graduate (April), I’m both excited by the career, yet discouraged by the job market. Your posts give me hope though; I feel I meet all of the qualifications. I just found your blog, but I’m looking forward to more of your posts. Cheers!

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