Looking for Employment? Tips for New Librarians on the Job Hunt
by Michelle L. Young
Your search for employment can prove frustrating and time-consuming or rewarding and a great learning experience.
Finding job announcements is first on the agenda, and I found this to be quite interesting and challenging. My first thought was to use several popular, highly publicized, Internet, job search engines, such as Monster.com, America's Job Bank, Fedjobs.gov, Headhunter.net and Jobs.com. What I found was that librarianship was usually not a category at all. Sometimes I would find some library-job ads located under the education heading. I figured I must have been doing something wrong while searching their sites. These services offered to send alerts to possible position matches.
I soon realized that this was a terrible waste of valuable time and energy since some of the position matches were not as promised. There must be a better way to find a job, I thought. Looking to my professors for advice, I learned that professional library organizations should be the answer to my problem. I joined several to get the flavor of each, including the American Library Association, the Special Libraries Association, Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, and the New York Library Association. I quickly learned about listservs that had discussion and job postings, which would prove very helpful. I also looked to other library organizations and Web sites, such as the Virginia Library Association's Jobline, Library Job Postings on the Internet, New England Library Jobline, Vermont Library Association Jobline, and the LITA Job Site. These I used without becoming a member of any. I found all the professional libraryjob resources very easy to use and pertinent to my search.
Job announcements have education and work experience requirements in them. Most of the job announcements I read asked for a few years of professional experience. Pre-professional experience can have impact on your standing with the search committee. Do not dismiss your real-world experience, and be prepared to exhibit these additional qualities in your résumé. Think about the Web pages you created for your favorite hobby and your job at the library during college. This experience counts! Think about how your strengths may help you land this job. Without embellishing, create a picture in the minds of a search committee, showing how your talents and the position's responsibilities tie together. Remember that your lack of experience in certain areas can always have some kind of positive spin.
You must pay careful attention to the job announcement. If the announcement lists required documentation, a specific format to use, and questions to answer, follow the directions exactly. The announcement and your response can make or break your chance for an interview. Candidates have been known to apply for a position at one institution and begin writing a letter to it that continued by referencing another institution. These candidates obviously failed to proofread their work, did not use someone else's eyes, and thought that the cookiecutter approach was fast, easy, and effective. This is a grave yet common mistake that can have costly consequences. When applying for a position, your documentation should be ready to use and easily altered to fit each announcement to which you are responding. The key is that you alter it to fit, not just change the addresses and names. Each announcement is unique and should be treated as such.
Your cover letter is the very first impression you make on the organization. In it you need to sell yourself in a clear and concise way, stating your objective and why you are a match for the position in question (without restating your résumé). You need to catch the attention of a potential employer in the first paragraph. This letter is where you address the job requirements as stated in the announcement and show enthusiasm, with an overview of why you are the best one for the job.
An employer will usually spend 15 to 20 seconds reviewing your résumé. It should be neat, organized, and applicable to the position for which you are applying. Do not list every job you ever had. List only the ones that are current and applicable. You should arrange the document with the most impressive and relevant information first. References are extremely important and employers do call them. Do not list a reference without his or her permission. You must proofread your work and have someone else read it. People who read their own material over and over tend to overlook mistakes. Your résumé needs to be perfect, so ask for help. Great writers always have editors.
You need to communicate with the organizations to which you have applied. Thank-you letters and follow-up letters, e-mail and telephone calls are good and necessary. Giving a good impression and af- firming to your potential employer that, yes, you are interested and serious about the pending position will favor your case. Search committee members are very busy with other duties. Be sure that your followup correspondence is appropriate, timely, and brief.
Be aware of the various interview types and the challenges associated with each, and prepare for all of them. The telephone interview is somewhat awkward, but you are able to have notes and the comfort of your own familiar surroundings. If you are not a good telephone speaker, you should practice your technique with a third party. Be sure to schedule your phone interview at a time when distractions can be avoided, and be sure that others around you realize that you cannot have any interruptions. You should remain professional, and be careful not to become too relaxed or informal due to the venue. This form of interview tends to be dif- ficult because you are not able to take advantage of physical cues. However, it is a good option when long-distance travel would be dif- ficult or expensive.
The in-person interview is the most common, usually requiring travel and overnight stays. Here, body language and apparel come into play along with your credentials and interview style. (Remember that you can also be subject to a telephone interview and then a follow-up, in-person interview.) Keep in mind that previous perceptions of the committee members can change when they meet you. Just because you were invited does not mean they are going to ask you to stay. When at the institution, you may meet not only the search committee but also others who work for the organization. Remember that the committee usually does not have the final say on your hire.
You need to do research on your prospective employer. Prior to applying, you probably found out a few things like location, type of organization, local population, and local climate, but you need more information. Use several resources, including but not limited to the organization's Web site, library literature, and vocational guides. If possible, get an organizational chart and strategic plan. All of this information not only helps you decide if this is a place for you, but it offers an advantage over your competition. There is nothing better than being able to talk intelligently about an organization and its identity with your interviewer.
Be prepared to ask questions and to answer them. These questions can include queries about organizational structure, budget, and regional concerns. These questions demonstrate interest in the institution and the position. A lack of questions signals disinterest to the search committee. Please note that this is definitely not the time to address salary, benefits, and other related items.
Accepting or declining the job offer is as important as starting the search. This usually comes in the form of a telephone call with subsequent phone conversations, mailings, and e-mail. You need to be prepared to discuss relevant issues, such as salary, benefits, and the relocation package. Take a few days to make your final decision. It is important to set up a time and date for a call-back to accept or decline the position. You should remain calm, professional, and neutral during all contact opportunities. This is what you have been working so hard for, and it is vitally important that you handle the details appropriately and with care.
The employment process evolves over time, and experience tends to make each job search a bit easier. This is a daunting task for both the seeker and the hirer. Please note that many searches take months so be patient, accurate, and professional.
"How to Write a Winning Cover Letter." Career World, A Weekly Reader Publication, XXIX (4, 2001), 2.
Shakoor, A.T. "Developing a Professional Resume and Cover Letter That Work (2001 Career Planning and Job Search Guide)." The Black Collegian. XXXII (1, 2001), 16-21.
V.T.C. Services. (2002) [Online]. Available: http://www.career.vt.edu/ JOBSEARC/Resumes/purpose.htm/ [August 2002].
VLA's Jobline an Excellent Place to Start
Past issues of Virginia Libraries show that we advertised jobs to our members at least as early as the 1970s. In September 1977 the VLA Junior Members Roundtable under the leadership of Tim Byrne created Jobline. In its first six months of existence VLA's Jobline drew 1,600 calls, an average of 70 calls per week. Jobline began by posting only professional librarian positions. Each week about 3 jobs were added to the listing. During Jobline's first year salaries ranged from $9,000 to $33,825.
A look at Jobline as of this writing reveals jobs with salaries ranging from $28,000 to $51,000. Most are in Virginia, but jobs in both Washington, D.C. and Maryland are currently listed. Jobline has long accepted both jobs that require an M.L.S. and those that don't. Many libraries in Virginia consider VLA's Jobline one of their best sources for qualified job applicants.
Michelle L. Young is a College Librarian at Virginia Tech. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.