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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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  1. Jonathan wrote:

    Thanks for this post – couldn’t have come at a better time as I just got three rejection emails this week. I’m heading over to my alma mater’s career services department this week to get a lookover on my resume and cover letter. Wish me luck!

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  2. Job-seekers, read this again and again, it is gold. And also remember, many of us who have been around the block a few times also remember other TJMS periods, perhaps even lived through them, and would like to help you, if we can. The important thing is to remember not to take that lack of response personally (” … the hiring process is a crapshoot … “) and let it turn you into something you don’t want to be: angry, sour, defeated. Be persistent, look for support from your peeps, volunteer if you can to maintain or increase your skills, and keep trying …

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  3. sharon wrote:

    We’re actually kind of lucky that real human beings still read our cover letters and resumes or c.v.s, for the most part. In a large part of the commercial world, that’s done now by OCR, and your documents get scored by whether and how often you hit each and every one of the keywords in the job description. Not that a real human being won’t notice, too, but we hope that they are looking at our documents with a bit more holistic view. A poor resume/c.v. can be cured with several cycles of review and polishing, until it really reflects us and our abilities and accomplishments.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  4. Good work, Jonathan! The tiniest changes can make a difference. Plus it feels good to know you’ve done everything you can.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  5. Dale wrote:

    Great comments; I completely agree. Having hired or overseen the hiring of a couple of hundred librarians at this point, I’ll add a couple of thoughts.

    *Do some research about the employer. That seems self-evident and most people do it. However, if the employer follows civil service rules, for example, there are often “points” for each year or quarter of work. When asked for all work experience, provide it. Right back to the first job you had the involved a paycheck. In other enviromnents, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

    *If the library requires an application, please use the application. You can almost always attach a resume or c.v. also, but complete the application. A few years ago, I worked for a large city. The application, under “duties of the job” said something like “include important responsibilities for this position; do NOT write ‘see resume’.” Fully 15% of applicants wrote “see resume” across this section. The same people often wrote in their cover letters that they were detail-oriented.

    *Don’t be afraid to talk with people at the library. Especially if it’s a big library. I’ve always called a few branches when applying to urban libraries. Ask a reference question. Or say you’re thinking of applying for a job there and ask what the person thinks of the place. Of course, just talking with one person isn’t too helpful, but 3 or 4 people can start giving you a good idea of the organization.

    *If–when–you get to the interview stage, have a few questions. This gets to Karen’s point about being interested in the position. Ask about future funding, successful grants they’ve applied for, innovations of the library, how the library fits into the funding organization’s structure. Don’t ask (and I’ve heard these) how many branches the library has, whether the salary in negotiable, when the process will be over, those kinds of things. Ask those one on one with someone in human resources.

    *If you’re doing some other kind of work, still planning to work in a library, good for you. What can you learn about customer service as a server? (I learned a lot, including techniques I still use when talking with angry customers.) If you’re doing temp work, think about how you would give the assigments or how information could assist both the temps and the work locations. You can mention those observations in a interview. Because libraries are about, essentially, all human knowledge and culture, there’s really not a job that doesn’t give you useful insight into the work of libraries.

    Though I’m super busy and it may take me a few days to answer, I would be happy to talk with job seekers one-on-one. Just so you know, my library isn’t hiring this fiscal year.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  6. Jen Waller wrote:

    All of this is fantastic advice, and I hope it gets read widely.

    There’s an important concept buried in your content though: “submit to every job that seems like a good fit.”

    Too many people take themselves out of the hiring process prematurely by deciding not to apply to jobs in the first place. They have reasons like, “I could never live in West Virginia” or “I’ve never created a project plan” or “cataloging librarians don’t work at the reference desk, so I won’t apply for this cataloging position.”

    Making premature decisions like this is crazy for a number of reasons. Firstly, job seekers have numerous “opportunities” to be cut out of the hiring process by any number of people along the way. So why are they cutting THEMSELVES out of the process?

    The crazier thing about job seekers “deciding” they can’t/won’t work someplace? They are making their decision SO prematurely. In order to make a decision about living somewhere or working in a particular role they have to 1) send in their job application materials, 2) get an interview, 3) do well on an interview, 4) get offered the job. Job seekers? You will have plenty of time to decide you don’t want to live in West Virginia AFTER you’ve been offered the job. So why are you making that decision now? Just because you apply for a job in West Virginia doesn’t mean you have to move there.

    Repeat the mantra, “All I want is an interview. All I want is an interview.” And then take it from there. Don’t cut yourself out of the process prematurely.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  7. Jen, great comments. Geographic flexibility is huge. I’ll go out on a limb and add that women in particular tend to underestimate/under-stretch. I say this as the librarian who walked into a job interview for a librarian position and walked out as the director.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  8. Super response, Dale. And since your library isn’t hiring this year, it’s an even better time for job hunters to approach you. Who knows, they could be first in line next year because they know the institution and why it’s a good fit.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  9. Bess Reynolds wrote:

    As a manager that just spent months to fill a position, I can say that one of the most important qualities to convey to a prospective employer is your enthusiasm for the profession. If you have no memberships in professional organizations – they often have student memberships – I might be skeptical.
    I work for a director who values professional development as much as I do and we both look for people who want to be information professionals, not just doing a job in a library. The rewards are not just financial.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  10. Lorcan wrote:

    mmmm… Is Segoe UI an “itsy-bitsy, fancy-ish” font? I quite like it and have been using it in various places recently :-)

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  11. Julian Gautier wrote:

    Thanks for this encouraging post. It reaffirms a lot. I’ve seen positions go unfilled for up to a year only because hiring pools are too small. Oh, the grimaces I see when I say that to job seekers at my library. Geographic flexibility cannot be a stressed-enough asset.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  12. See why we didn’t hire you, Lorcan?

    Seriously, I just looked at this font and like it. It feels very “open” and readable. That said, if a jobseeker did use an unusual font, then he or she should be very careful to use PDF so the document kept its look and feel.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  13. Andrea wrote:

    I’d like to add — please *don’t* tell me that this position would be “a foot in the door” or some such thing. I read this all the time and it pretty much always lands you in the reject pile. First, what manager would want to hire you if you make it clear right in your cover letter that you’re already looking past the position at hand to the next job?

    Second, your cover letter isn’t about what’s in it for you. It’s about convincing the employer that you will fit this job better than any other applicant. Of course, the employer knows you will gain experience and eventually move on. If you’re lucky, he or she will nurture your growth and encourage you to spread your wings when the time comes — but now is not the moment to discuss it.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  14. Rebecca T-S wrote:

    One recent cover letter we received wrote how pleased she was to apply for a position at a different library. I wanted to throw her out of the pool immediately for such failure to proof her writing but since i wasn’t on the search committee. And heard this second hand it wasn’t my decision. Apparently she was one of our strongest candidates so we may well interview her despite what i believe to be an immediate mistake so grievous to knock her out of the running. It seems then that an impressive resume but a crappy cover letter might work okay for you in a rare instance.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  15. Rebecca T-S wrote:

    P.s. my own inability to proof previous comment stems from difficulty in doing so via a mobile device. Apologies.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  16. No worries, Rebecca — this is a blog, not a cover letter. :-) And we had the same thing happen (an applicant directing her letter to a different library). In our case, out she went.

    Also, for at least a couple of years I used “lead” where I meant “led” on my c.v. Not even a typo, but a genuine belief that lead was the past tense of lead (like read). No, really.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  17. Laura wrote:

    Agreed with all of this. In terms of cover letters and resumes. I’d also see recent posts by Jenica Rogers and Colleen Harris plus

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink
  18. Suzanne wrote:

    Great post! I’ve considered writing a very similar post myself. I’ve only hired for a few positions but was surprised at how many applicants missed the opportunity the cover letter provides. Resumes (especially a stack of them) can get tedious to read. Applicants are sometimes overly creative with their resume-speak and can make even the dullest temp job filing paperwork sound like more than it is (“took initiative to employ taxonomy scheme to facilitate information gathering process”). This can be overwhelming so that’s where the cover letter comes in.

    I explained my first hiring experience to a graduate student recently who seemed to appreciate hearing about the other side of the hiring process…

    I had around 80 applicants. From these I had to weed the stack down to 6 to do phone interviews with and then 3 to do in-person interviews. My weeding looked something like this:

    60 of the 80 had the very basic qualifications (like a graduate degree)…
    50 of these had at least some of the core skills/relevant experience needed…
    30 of these had a combination of skills & experience that seemed like a good fit for the job…
    10 of these had articulate and thoughtful cover letters that were clearly written for my position (not recycled from another application) and seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of getting THIS job.

    So, out of 80 there were really only about 10 that stood out. “I am interested in obtaining a job in the information science field and feel I’m extremely qualified for this position, see resume for details” isn’t going to help me pick you.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
  19. rachel wrote:

    Just chiming in to say thanks for this post–I’m another new librarian who’s seen a couple demoralizing rejections just this week, and I have definitely been crying in my beer a little bit. Reading this has reminded me to do the only thing one can do in these situations: keep trying, move forward. Onward!

    Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  20. Suzanne, that winnowing process is identical to what we see.

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  21. Anon wrote:

    I’m getting interviews, but no offers. Any help there? I mean, other than TJMS. :)

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  22. Mary wrote:

    Very helpful! We just received a resume and cover letter that was unchanged from a previous job application. The cover letter referred to a totally different position, all the applicant did was change the address. Who didn’t get an interview?

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  23. Margaret Espinoza wrote:

    Thanks for this-not just for me, but everyone looking for work. I am not a new librarian, but I am recently relocated due to a family transfer to San Diego. I am fairly work-obsessed, so being unemployed for 6 months is very difficult for me. In September I will have reached a self imposed deadline and begin adding other types of employment to my searching. It is a cycle and no skills you learn are ever wasted. We all need to remember both of those things.

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  24. Patricia wrote:

    I checked through the text, and perhaps I somehow overlooked it, but what does “TJMS” stand for?

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  25. Jane wrote:

    I have a bit of a different problem. Getting an interview, but failing to get the job. I’m looking over public speaking/interview books to try to figure out why I’m bombing this portion of the hiring process- any advice would be appreciated.

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  26. mc wrote:

    To speak to Suzanne’s post- 30 people qualified for a job, out which 10 “seem” enthusiastic enough to *maybe* get a phone interview? I probably don’t have good frame of reference for the hiring process- I’ve admittedly never been on a hiring committee- but such a position must either be very generic or advertised in a very generic way.

    It’s just frustrating to see confirmed in some of these posts that the hiring process is practically arbitrary past a certain point- yes, the candidate should be enthusiastic, they should have a record of experience and development relevant to the position, they should be able to get along with everyone in the department, and contribute in a meaningful way to moving the organization’s mission and goals forward. But if you’re fortunate enough to have 10 people that fit *all* of this criteria, how do you narrow that list down to 6? Draw straws, flip a coin? I’m not being sarcastic- I really want to know.

    Because let’s face it- half of any job at any library is going to require on-the-job training, to get accustomed to the new ILS/ERMS/protocols/Digital Repository/cross-walks/workflows, policies, and procedures/politics and hierarchy that every institution has. I feel that the main reason a library wants to see what software or protocols or professional development a candidate is familiar with, is so they can determine how much on-the-job training said candidate will require. Since libraries are always at the mercy of some funding body or another, they pretty much can’t afford to hire anyone less than the perfect candidate (the person who’s used the same software in the same type of library with the same number of staff involved in the same type of projects)– except there’s *no such thing* as the perfect candidate, because every library does things differently. Right? So candidate selection pretty much ends up being an arbitrary decision based on tangential factors. If I’m wrong, I would love to be shown the light, believe me…

    If only library schools would teach us something we could use- like Project Management skills (since librarians- in larger institutions, at least- are always overseeing the work paraprofessionals are doing) or how to manage a budget, then candidates would have some skills that would actually set them apart right out of library school, and which any library could have plenty of use for.

    Personally I’m in the interesting space where because I entered the vendor side of the library world pretty much right out of library school, every library job I apply to I’m either over-qualified for, because it’s entry-level; or I’m under qualified for something in management, because I don’t have entry-level *library* experience. So I’m pretty much convinced that the only way for me to ever work in a library again is to quit the job I have (which I’m not happy with and there isn’t any room to grow in) and volunteer at 5 different places until one *maybe* hires me part-time, because I either am or at least seem enthusiastic enough for the job- a judgment call the hiring committee will make when they’re flipping coins.

    And I’ll admit I could probably use an attitude adjustment- I’ve soured so much on the whole job search process that my cynicism is really showing here, so I apologize. Things could be much worse- I could be unemployed- but things could be better, too. Probably not while this economy is with us, though (thanks, Wall St).

    It’s nice to know people on library hiring committees are actually reading the cover letters in applications. I’ve always purposefully kept mine very concise and brief- out of worry that I may be talking someone’s ear off, so to speak. I guess it’s a balance of tooting your own horn just enough so that you demonstrate how your enthusiasm and experience would benefit everyone involved in a way that potential employers can see the value you’ll add right from the start. Still seems to me, however, that whether or not your horn is in the same key as the hiring committee’s is the thing that’s going to get you the job or not.

    /end rant

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink
  27. Claire Cramer wrote:

    Fantastic post, and quite apropos, as I’m currently searching through the job postings myself. The comments everyone made are extremely helpful. Jen Waller made a salient point in keeping your options as wide as possible when making the first pass. I’m off to polish up a cover letter and check out some the links that Laura so kindly shared.

    Monday, August 8, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  28. Remember, even in the interview process you might still be edged out by experience. But if you want some tips, contact me offline.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  29. You are entitled to rant, but a course in project management isn’t going to be as compelling as actual, real-world experience. I could go on at length about library schools, who are producing students familiar with all kinds of in-the-moment jumping baloney but not, apparently, with anything as mundane as basic MARC fields, but we can’t fault library school for not substituting for real-world experience.

    I would add that familiarity with specific “software” holds very little water for me as a hirer. Also, the question becomes what kind of OJT we’re going to provide. Are we expected to teach someone time management, teamwork, project management (the real kind, not the book-larnin’ stuff), etc.? Some institutions have the resources to do that. Others do not.

    On the horn-tooting, heed the advice to talk about how your skills are a fit for the INSTITUTION and the POSITION (yes, I am raising my voice a little).

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  30. Anon, contact me offline if you like. On the upbeat front, it may just mean you’re an outlier candidate with a lot of potential who keeps getting edged out by the person with that extra experience or other qualification.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  31. Jen wrote:

    I really appreciate hearing “Employers seek a known quantity.” Maybe I’m misreading your intent but it sounds to me like you’re saying it can be extra challenging for those who don’t have solid library experience. So often lately I’ve heard librarians proclaiming that if your cover letter is good, it won’t matter that you have limited background in libraries–that you can make employers see and appreciate your transferable skills. I’ve only been involved in 2 hirings myself so I’m no expert, but based on those experiences and my own job hunting I am starting to doubt that this is true in today’s job market. There are more than enough candidates who DO have library experience, meeting all the required qualifications and then some. And volunteering in a library and doing a couple internships probably *isn’t* going to hold as much weight as being employed as a librarian for several years, at least not when you’re competing against people with much more experience than you. Many employers have no need to “take a chance” on someone with no library background, someone who has little practical experience. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a library job, but I’m wondering if entry level job seekers with no experience may have to compromise *significantly* more than they realize and likely still won’t end up with the kind of job they wanted. It’s awful to say but those of us who are job hunting and have lots of experience are seeing almost no interest. I can only imagine what it must feel like for those just starting out.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  32. “but I’m wondering if entry level job seekers with no experience may have to compromise *significantly* more than they realize and likely still won’t end up with the kind of job they wanted.” … I think that has often been the case. It also needs to be clarified that your cover letter can kill a job opportunity, but it can’t nail it. The winnowing process described earlier holds true.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  33. JT wrote:

    @Jane – Check out – there’s some great advice on interviewing (and all aspects of getting and keeping a job). The author also has a book on getting a job. A lot of the advice is similar to what KG wrote here, but even more in-depth (though not library-specific).

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  34. Eric Hellman wrote:

    As a private sector employer who recently hired a recent MLS grad, I would encourage library job-seekers to search widely. But the most thing a job seeker can do is to DO STUFF! If you love to write, then write. If you love to organize, then organize. If you love to make videos, then do that. Build a website. Create a database. Teach a class. Some paths may be long, but if you keep walking, you will get somewhere!

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink
  35. Erik, hitting the “like” button on that comment!

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink
  36. Gloria Ballard wrote:

    This is my first look at the Free Range Librarian website. I think that it is great and very helpful. I am a newly graduated librarian. This is my second career and I am over 50. I have loads of great experience in another area of business(title insurance),and I have a JD which I earned in the 1970′s. I am afraid of being unfairly judged because of my age even though I am energetic and youthful in appearance. I I have just begun my job search. Is there any advice for someone like myself entering the current job market?

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  37. Ruben Ortiz wrote:

    I would suggest that new MLS degree holders apply for smaller city and county systems. My wife couldn’t find a job in Charlotte and so we left to work for a smaller populated county where she worked as a library assistant for 9 months and then became a branch manager, all at the age of 25. There are opportunities out there, you sometimes just have to go outside your comfort zone and move to where the jobs are.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  38. K.Q. wrote:

    My “favorite” comment in a cover letter was that the health benefits offered with the full-time position would be very beneficial to the applicant and his wife. Duh! Benefits are beneficial to just about everyone, but Don’t. Say. That. In. Your. Cover. Letter. Please. Just don’t.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  39. Andrea wrote:

    M C, you’re right, at a certain point the process does become arbitrary, because a perfect world would allow hiring committees / managers to do nothing else but interview dozens of candidates until they find the perfect one, but the real world does not. In the real world, time spent interviewing is time spent not doing the rest of one’s job, and there is a finite amount of such time. Is it unfair to some candidates? Undoubtedly.

    However, the reality is that probably not one of those 80 applicants is a cookie-cutter fit for the position. Some may have more experience; some may have less. Most will have some of the experience or skill set sought by the employer, but not all. Some will have personalities/attitudes/people skills that will mesh well with the rest of the department, and some will not.

    The difficult part of hiring is plotting the Venn diagram of the candidates’ backgrounds with the skills needed for the position, and trying to decide who matches best. It is inexact and unscientific.

    The best way to overcome the hurdle of mismatched experience is to sell it. Do all you can to build relevant experience for the jobs you seek, and frame the experience you do have through the lens of the position you want. And SELL it. *Convince me* that your experience working for a vendor is relevant. Tell me how your skills and experiences have perfectly prepared you for this job. Tell me about all the great skills you have from your other life that make you *more* qualified than your library-only competition. Make it an asset, not a liability.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink
  40. I would say you have a huge advantage, deployed correctly. Life experience is a big deal. It’s how I got my first director job 3 years out of library school. More than simply getting you in the door, it’s a career advantage because you’ve learned all that stuff that work teaches us. Wear an attractive suit, practice your winning smile, and be very careful to preempt any assumptions that you aren’t technically-inclined. Walking in with an iPad in a cover that matches your outfit wouldn’t hurt. :-)

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  41. Kim Humberd wrote:

    Thanks for this post, it is encouraging to know that everyone else is in the same boat and that there are SOME things I can do to improve my chances!

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  42. bb wrote:

    A couple things that I like to see in your cover letter: tell me what skills you will bring that benefit us. We’re doing the hiring, therefore it’s about what our library needs, not your personal goals.
    If you’re stretching yourself geographically, give me something that indicates that you’re seriously willing to move to our town. You should already have said you really want to be X-type of librarian, but it’s also good to show you’re interested in our town/state. If I’m looking at two otherwise equal candidates, the one I think could find our town on a map does have an advantage.

    I’ve noticed that we tend to hire based on potential for additional growth. Experience is important, but don’t rest solely on your past; show your enthusiasm and interest in current/developing areas too.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  43. robin wrote:

    Hi Karen, Excellent & timely post! I think you touched on some great points, especially in terms of the known quantity. My thoughts were soooo long I blogged a response and linked to yours ;-)

    Friday, August 19, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  44. Pam wrote:

    Great information, but I will point out one disadvantage with some positions, you must apply on-line and you can’t up-load a cover letter, just a resume! Any advice? Ideas?

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink
  45. Franklin wrote:

    “If the library requires an application, please use the application.”

    There is this attitude like applying for jobs isn’t hugely time consuming. The more you make it about jumping through stupid hoops, or a crap shoot because of a process that doesn’t actually evaluate people in a valid way, or even look at the applications that come in after the first week despite a posted cut off date a month later, the more you contribute to an environment in which investing in any particular application at the expense of others is difficult. But because spreading thin is obviously likely to get you cut out early, it makes sense to invest in fewer, better applications. So if you look like a backward/strangled institution, with a stupid application review process, yet are even more of a PITA to apply to than alternatives, you might expect the highly qualified, able people to not even bother, or not bother with the hoops and say, “Here, take it or leave it. If you aren’t clueless you’ll look at my resume and portfolio (that I also sent you directly, being able to use this internet thing to find information) and see I’m way better than the duck organizers dotting their “i”s and contact me, but I haven’t got time for this nonsense.” Not that I imagine this would be an option for the hiring manager…

    I.e., you might consider that detail-oriented people abandon that trait in the face of extremely low expected value, in the face of senselessness, etc.; that their submissions might mirror the lack of evidence of a considered hiring process in the profession (you can’t chalk it all up to TJMS when you know something of who is getting hired, let alone not fired).

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  46. Franklin, applying for a job IS a job. I would add that life is about learning to take “stupid hoops” in stride. You do make a good point to pick and choose where you apply very carefully. As for ignoring instructions and sending resumes in “directly,” you have overlooked the advice that people are really busy, even in the middle of the search process, and that the applicant is not the main event.

    Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  47. Franklin wrote:

    Well, actually listing a salary range might cut down on applicant volume, since libraries aren’t generally able to offer more for better. I don’t miss the point about people being busy, but when most people don’t even bother to look up who their manager would be, having done so might be taken as something to pay attention to. The main point is that stupid hoops and other indications that applicants will not be evaluated sensibly makes for an even less attractive prospect for those capable of doing basic cost/benefit analysis (i.e., people who aren’t dumb). Not to mention that it makes you look like a loser industry. And you are already losing there; walk into a tracked I-school and see what the HCI people think of the library students. Yet, this buyers market is a chance to hire great people who actually want to move libraries forward. Watching libraries squander that is infuriating.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  48. Franklin wrote:

    BTW, in the actual situation behind my original comment, instructions were not ignored as far as who was sent the application. However, I have personally contacted people directly in the past, along with submitting resumes through the absurd systems schools use. It struck me as low risk with potential gain. Why? I had never met anyone in HR I thought competent to screen applicants, especially unconventional ones, and I had no idea to what extent they were told to weed out people. When I’d hired people, I had screened everyone myself, and been glad to be able to do so. It never took long to thresh out the chaff. The people I chose went on to do great things. They might have looked like every other applicant to some pencil pusher.

    While I’m at it:

    Portfolios. Require them, or at least move applicants with them to top of review pile.

    Actually interview people: Don’t read questions asking people to restate their resume. Interact with them (Hint: that requires follow up questions that you didn’t prepare in advance). (Yeah, I don’t care about the policy…).

    Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  49. “I had never met anyone in HR I thought competent to screen applicants” — way to go, building those cross-departmental relationships!

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  50. Alan Needham wrote:

    This post is good advice for any vocation. Make sure that any relevant experience appears on your resume or c.v., even if it was an unpaid internship. Attitude and your ability to fit with the other employees is often what tips the scales when comsidering applicants of comparable skills.

    Friday, September 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink
  51. Connie wrote:

    I’m late to this discussion but I am compelled to comment on the online application process. In our case the process is in place to protect the employer and the applicant from unfair or illegal practices.

    We need baseline information in the same format to aid us in comparing applications. The DOL, EEOC, HR attorneys need to have a documented portfolio should questions of illegal bias arise.

    Successful applicants are able to use the online form to summarize education, experience, etc. This form is a clue to the applicant’s ability to organize thoughts and write brief statements.

    One other thing to know about the hiring process is even if hiring for entry level jobs we are looking for career candidates,
    people who display interest in the entire library.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
  52. Randi Lavik wrote:

    I’m halfway through my MLIS program at San Jose State & have been applying for entry-level library positions like crazy… thank you for the great advice–I’m off to edit my resume/cover letter format now :)

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  53. Connie, really good perspective. So true on all counts.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink
  54. Good luck, Randi!

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Permalink
  55. Anon as well wrote:

    I have two particular questions. The first deals with references. I presently include my present supervisor as a reference when applying for jobs. These jobs are always actual librarian jobs or at a significantly higher pay rate. Is this bad practice? I’m somewhat concerned that my present supervisor will provide a negative reference because losing me at this time would present a significant challenge. Additionally, my present workplace has a negative reputation due to managerial incompetence. Should I continue to use this reference? Will it seem strange to potential employers if I do not use my present employers as a reference.

    The second question regards health history. I had a traumatic brain injury 5 years ago that left me in a coma and unable to work for 2 years. I’m fully recovered now and have completed my MLIS since then. Additionally, I have been successfully employed full-time for 2 years. I often feel that it is difficult to avoid referencing this event when asked about my past or what I did for two years without working. It presents a black hole on my resume. I have never mentioned it in reference to a job or in an interview. I feel that this life experience is an excellent qualification in many ways. Am I correct in avoiding the subject?

    I’d be happy to correspond with anyone, yet the personal nature of this comment leads me to remain anonymous.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  56. My question back to Anon is whether your present supervisor is aware that he or she is a reference. If not, then don’t list this person. Because (and this is more universal than your experience) you should never list a reference without that person’s prior approval. Never ever.

    I don’t have any comments about the traumatic brain injury. Thoughts from others?

    Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  57. Amanda B. wrote:

    As a current job seeker myself, I don’t have any practical experience as an employer to offer Anon as Well. But from the many, many books and articles I have read on the job hunting process I gleaned the sense that it is good to clear up confusion about “missing time” but to do it in the broadest way possible. In your case, it seems safest to state that you had a serious injury which you have since fully recovered from which left you unable to work during that time. That avoids the possibility of making the interviewers or application reviewers feel uncomfortable about being given too much personal information. I also imagine that describing the ways you reacted to this event and how they demonstrate your aptitude for the job (i.e. your perseverance during your recovery) do not require details about the injury itself. Again, please take my observations with a grain of salt. I am very much in awe of your strength of character after such an ordeal!

    Monday, October 31, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  58. Great post! I always tell my students that when the time comes they have to apply for work and gets rejected, DO NOT WORRY. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not because they don’t have what it takes, but there are a lot of reasons, like all those you mentioned above. Really interesting!

    Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  59. Jessica wrote:

    And, honestly, as the child of a military family whose only two siblings also went on to join the military, I can tell you that even their “remorseless quality controls” fail (probably more often than we’d like to think) and keep ridiculous or unqualified in positions they should not be filling.

    This is a great article, some of the best and most solidly practical advice I’ve come across. Thanks!

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  60. Ah well, you are correct. Though I think the signal-to-noise ratio is better in the military (or at least it was).

    Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  61. This is a great article that will help many. May I add the observation that the applicant should always follow the instructions in the posting/ad and should always provide everything asked for in the first communication. I would add to the font comment to not use paper that cannot be faxed or scanned easily. As a “recruiter” for a LJ 4-star library trying to build an applicant pool for openings in 2012, some of the cv need work and a lot are incomplete.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  62. Ray wrote:

    So now you are all running to take a second (or 4th) look at our resumes and cover letters…. great! Now it will be even harder for me to get an interview!

    Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

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