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Why You Didn’t Get An Interview

Crying in your beer

Crying in your beer

This is a bummer of a job market for librarians, and if you’re fresh out of library school you are probably crying in your beer, wondering why you didn’t get a degree in something practical and career-oriented, like medieval cookery.  But a few months back a newish librarian asked me in frustration why she was having a hard time getting interviews — let alone job offers — and we chatted back and forth on Facebook. Let me attempt to sum up what I shared.

The job market sucks. Did I mention the job market sucks? This will sound crass, but TJMS creates a buyers’ market for employers, including organizations that normally wouldn’t have access to seasoned candidates.

Employers seek a known quantity. This may sound hard–“give me a chance, I can do the job!” — but bringing in an employee (by far the most expensive resource in most organizations) must be done as carefully as possible, and this is even more true in a small organization. Someone with proven experience in the core responsibilities of the position, as well as general career experience, is going to have an edge over the give-me-a-chance crowd. The bottom line is the need of the institution. Plus, see above, TJMS.

Your c.v. and cover letter need work. In a bad economy, employers are deluged with c.v.s,  which in some organizations may be first filtered through a human-resources department who is helping the job-search team by excluding applicants who appear to not meet basic requirements. That’s two hurdles to get over. So your c.v. and cover letter need to directly answer the question: why are you highly qualified for this job?

This question is important not only for what you say, but how you say it. I recently found a c.v. on my hard drive I hadn’t looked at twice during a job search, and was startled to connect it to someone I know who is both highly skilled and highly underemployed.

Take your c.v. and cover letter to a mentor or friend and make sure they really sing to the position you are applying for–and that they are typo-free. Speaking of typos and formatting issues, here are some I’ve seen recently:

  • A cover letter with a gross grammatical error in the first paragraph.
  • A cover letter where the author had left in the Word track-changes edits (if you’re going to send a Word doc–and PDF is a better bet–save changes, email it to yourself or better yet, a friend, and make sure it reads ok)
  • A cover letter in an itsy-bitsy, fancy-ish font.

Probably the most frequent issue I see in cover letters is a failure to address the responsibilities of the position. Most jobs include things you know how to do, things you really like to do or think you would if you knew how, and things you aren’t all that interested in. But while there are institutions where people are allowed to cherry-pick their work, gravitating to only those tasks they like or can do well, most of us have to actually fulfill all of our responsibilities, and your cover letter should reflect that.

You are not the main event. If you’re miffed because you sent in a c.v. and no one responded, consider that job searches are something done on top of everything else an organization is trying to accomplish. You sent in a c.v., one of perhaps hundreds the organization received. Based on what they had in hand, they didn’t think it was a match.

See it from their point of view: they need to fill a position while they continue with their other responsibilities. You still think you should have seen some follow-through? Ask a peer or mentor to be honest with you about your submission.

May I offer one key tip? Most job submissions involve electronic documents. Give those documents meaningful filenames that demonstrate you understand you’re submitting documents to a busy organization that will be fielding a lot of candidates–and therefore, a lot of files. Not resume.doc or references.doc, but doe.jane.resume.doc or doe.jane.coverletter.doc. If you force your very, very busy organization to rename your files, you’re off to a bad start right there. (It’s ok to add other information to that filename — we know you’re applying for other positions, and that you update your resume based on the position and other factors.)

Plus, see above, TJMS.

You aren’t projecting enough interest in the job you’re applying for. This is a particularly hard observation in this economy, and I don’t fault you for seeking work–any work–and giving that job your very best.  I worry about the legions of quasi-employed librarians without health care or other key benefits. One health crisis could bankrupt you.

Note that even in TJMS, or perhaps especially, employers are using their radar to sniff out candidates who are genuinely enthusiastic about the position — people who will stick around post-TJMS. This is our chance to recruit candidates who we know will be a great fit but in a stronger economy wouldn’t look twice at us.

Fit counts for a lot. My own job offers me tremendous opportunity and latitude, and it is a great fit for me. Someone recently asked me if I was applying for Job X, and I was genuinely startled. Yes, X has more resources (money and people). A lot. More. Resources.

But the fit is here, at Cupcake U., where I have a university president with a strong vision, a boss who lets me run the library, a marvelous and growing team, a university community that warmly responds to our outreach, and my faith, backed by what I see every day, that we will continue to make great strides and do wonderful things.

The ironic part about all of this advice is that the hiring process is a  crapshoot. Most of it is a mirage: great candidates hidden by bad c.v.s, bad candidates hidden by great c.v.s, an interview process that can barely weed out the most obviously unqualified candidates and handicaps candidates who don’t do well in that setting, and references that too often are only a useful metric when people refuse to supply them.

In many ways the military has it right: give people aptitude tests, make expectations clear, then assign people according to workforce requirements, without any of the hiring voodoo, and kick them out if they can’t perform. The military may be remorseless in its quality controls, but it also knows how to fly and fight and win.

But until we get the killer Hiring App, and especially during TJMS, do the following:  make that c.v. and cover letter  shine, submit to every job that seems like a good fit, go ahead and cry in your beer — you’ll feel better — then get some post-submission analysis from mentors and peers. Once you’ve done all that, ease up on yourself — and potential employers. TJMS.

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