An Open Letter to Job-Seekers

I’d like to address job seekers out there, specifically those in the library world. See, I’ve looked for jobs before. I’ve looked for jobs when I had very little experience, I’ve looked for jobs when all I knew was that I needed to live in a certain geographic area, and I’ve looked for jobs when I had both experience and geographic flexibility on my side. And I need to tell you, I have gotten interviews in all of those situations, and think that most job seekers just don’t know how to position themselves or present themselves in the best light to land interviews. I especially write as someone who has recently been helping with a search. My comments in no way are directed to any one individual who might have applied for that job – these are more observations I’ve gleaned from the past several search committees I’ve been on (in Louisiana, Iowa, AND Pennsylvania). Now I’m finally ready to write my letter. So without further ado, my open letter to the job-seekers of the world.

Dear Library Job Applicant,

I see that you want X particular job in Y particular organization. I’d like to give you some advice so that your application, complete with cover letter and resume, doesn’t end up in the circular file.

First and foremost, please have someone other than your cat proofread both your letter and your resume. Sloppy spelling, bad punctuation, and poor grammar are death knells for your job prospects – particularly when the job ad asks for “excellent written and verbal communication skills.” Seriously, unproofed applications that contain errors prove that you do not have excellent written skills, and you immediately disqualify yourself from consideration for the position. For most of you, a trip to your library school’s job placement office/career counselor is in order. Really – trust me – many of your resumes and cover letters just plain stink. I want you to do better – I want to have a difficult time figuring out who among you is the best candidate, not who among you is the least bad. It is a scary thing to ask someone else to critique a resume and cover letter. But trust me when I say that it’s 10 times better for the job placement officer to do it (so you can get it better) than for the search committee to do it (when you have no chance for improvement.)

Second, about those dates in the job ads you read… Those dates (particularly in this market) are final, drop-dead dates. As in, when the ad says, “first consideration given to applications received by August 15,” that means that any applications received after August 15 do not have to be considered. AT ALL. EVER. If there is a date in the ad, get your application in before that date. No questions asked. That being said, sometimes the first round of a search will FAIL and then your application may be considered. But taking that route is a risky one, as searches often do not fail, or if the search does fail, the search committee may already have more candidates who got their applications in on time waiting in the wings to be interviewed, and they might be very strong candidates.

Third, if you are facing staying in the area where there is a library school, you have some particular challenges ahead of you. Make the most of your time in library school by doing internships at local libraries. Volunteer if you can’t do an internship. Go to local and regional library conferences. Apply for scholarships to ALA. Find people in library school or in your place of employment who will mentor you. And keep in mind that because you are in a place where there is a library school, your classmates and all the other people who went to other library schools but want to move to your town are your competition. Your job search may take a lot longer because of this. Do not get discouraged by that prospect. Those of us who work in these same geographic areas understand why someone may have gotten a degree in one year and not found a professional position until another, later year.

As an aside, this is one reason to consider going to library school in a place you could never imagine living full-time (if you have that luxury). For example, I went to Syracuse, land of the interminable winter (and I’m *from* Minnesota, so you should get an idea of how long winters are in Syracuse by that statement.) But I knew that I wanted to work someplace Not Syracuse when I was done, so going to library school there seemed like a good choice, rather than, say, going to school in Madison, my dream-college-town. Another friend had the dream of working at UT-Knoxville. Because UT doesn’t typically hire UT library school grads, he went to UW-Madison and worked elsewhere before finally getting a job at UT. If you don’t have that luxury, then know that your job search will likely take longer than that of someone who is able to relocate, and plan accordingly.

Fourth, for those of you who come to library school with no library experience (an increasing number of us, I find), learn to find related work, and then learn how to talk about that work as it relates to librarianship on your application! Find a job related to the type of work you’d like to do in libraries – if you want to be an instruction librarian, find opportunities to teach. I hear that Kaplan and other test prep places often need SAT tutors and that they pay pretty well. Try that – it’s not doing library instruction, but it is INSTRUCTION. If you want to be a reference librarian but can’t find a gig doing that, volunteer your time to a crisis hotline. You may help someone, and you will definitely gain skills in how to interact with people who may have difficulties articulating exactly what’s going on at the moment. You get the idea? Be creative and think outside the box! Your skill set (especially if you are looking for an entry-level job, the seemingly most elusive of beasts in libraries these days) does not necessarily need to come from working in a library or related organization – but you do have to show how you can transfer your skills into your new, desired job. If you have interesting and relevant experience, but it’s not in libraries, you must talk about it in your cover letter and resume. If you don’t, and it is your most substantial work experience, you may be disqualified for not being qualified, even if you really are.

Fifth, after you apply for a job, feel free to follow-up to make sure that your application has been received. You may even ask the person handling the search about the timeline of the search. But that’s all you should do. Do not contact the person who is running the search with constant inquiries about the status of the search. If your cover letter and resume have shown that you are a good fit for the job, keep in mind that you may be one of 100 people who applied for the job, and they may be similarly strong candidates. Those applicants who are persistent in trying to contact the person running a search may only serve to annoy that person, thus disqualifying them from consideration.

Finally, be qualified for the job for which you are applying. If there is a requirement of an ALA-accredited MLS degree and yours is not accredited, don’t waste your time, effort, hopes, and energies by applying. If the job says that you need to have a degree by a certain date and you will not have it by then, do not apply. On the other hand, if a job asks for 1-2 years of relevant library experience, and your experience is in someplace other than a library and you can articulately talk about why your experience is relevant to the job at hand, then apply. But if you can’t do that, don’t apply. If a job requires that you move and you would not move, do not apply for the job, even if you think, “But the interview experience would be good!” or “I could use a free trip to X locale!” That’s wrong of you to do. But if you would consider moving, get an interview, and leave the interview feeling that the job isn’t right for you (whether you get the offer or not), that’s okay.

So, my dear applicant, those are my words of wisdom. I know that in the course of my career (3 jobs, 15 or so phone interviews, 7 or 8 in-person interviews, and 4 job offers) I’ve probably broken one or two of the pieces of advice I offer above. I’m still here, working away in a place I love, doing work I value, with people I like. I wish the best for you as you begin your journey towards such a work environment.


librarygrrrl (a.k.a. Megan)