Tips for Job Searching in the Library World

I don’t think it’s possible that anyone has been to more workshops, lectures, or job-searching events, or spoken to more career advisors, professional librarians, or colleagues about finding a job in the library world. After all of this advice (some of it contradictory) and a little bit of experience actually navigating the job-search process from job ad to on-campus interview, if I can’t boast an actual job offer, at least I can share a bit of what I’ve learned with others going through the same stressful process.

First, a caveat: as I hinted to earlier, you may notice that as you ask for advice about the job search, the advice you get may vary widely, or even completely contradict other advice. So take all job-searching advice with a grain of salt (including mine).

Resume/Cover Letter

1) Read the job ad carefully. If you can pull out the top 5 or 6 things that the ad is looking for in a candidate, you can address those issues a paragraph at a time. Also, find words in the ad and include them in the text of your cover letter–it shows them that you’re really paying attention.

2) Do your research! If you can find a way to show the search committee/HR that you’ve actually visited the institution’s website, that’s a great first impression. I like to mention the library’s mission in my first paragraph and describe briefly how I envision this position supporting that mission.

Phone Interview

3) Phone interviews are awkward. For everyone. Don’t get flustered if you answer a question and hear dead silence–the search committee (all of whom may be on the other line, by the way) is probably just taking notes about what you said or deciding who will ask the next question. That said, it shouldn’t take you more than 3 or 4 minutes to answer any question. If you catch yourself rambling or getting off topic, reign it in quickly!

4) Always say thank you. After a phone interview, send a thank you card to the head of the search committee and shoot off an email thank you as well. After an on-campus interview, send thank you’s to every member of the search committee, thanking them for their time and mentioning something specific about the visit that impressed you or made you excited.

5) Before the interview make sure you have the following in front of you:

-the job ad

-your cover letter and resume for that position

-answers to common interview questions (for a compiled list of library interview questions from interviews in the last six months or so, click here)

-questions for the interviewers (there’s a great list of questions for them here)

-researched information about the school, the library, and the city (I like to check both Wikipedia and the school’s website)

-some water

-a watch–so you know you aren’t rambling too much! (Also, **make sure you know what time zone the interviewers are calling from!! Speaking from experience, it really sucks to miss your interview because you thought it would start an hour later.**)

On-Campus Interview

6) There will be a LOT of small talk. Just be prepared and don’t get discouraged if you find yourself having lots of conversations about the weather, sports, and the local cuisine. This is especially true if you are having meals with the search committee or other library staff. It helps to come with a few ideas of safe topics to talk about (i.e. how much you love baking, your enthusiasm for the local music scene, questions about recreational activities in town, etc.).

7) Don’t be afraid to take short breaks when necessary. I don’t think I’m the only librarian who, while appreciative of socializing and a public service environment, is actually an introvert. If you need a little time to relax your smiling muscles and take a mental vacation, just ask to use the restroom. If it’s empty in there, you can even do some stretches to keep your energy up and wake yourself up if necessary.

8) Try to make connections with your interviewers. This sounds kind of vague and obvious, but this has been one of the most important lessons I’ve taken from the four on-campus interviews I’ve had. The interviews that went the most successfully were ones in which I invested time and energy into really getting to know my interviewers and imagining/acting as if I was already an employee there. Show them how much you enjoy their library with specific compliments because, honestly, every good librarian loves to hear how great his/her library is. And be yourself (corny, I know) by showing them not someone who is fake and overly chipper, but someone who is sincerely enthusiastic about the position and the library.

9) Don’t force it. If you feel like the school or library isn’t a good fit for you, don’t try to convince yourself (or your interviewers) that you are the perfect candidate for the job. Even if you do end up getting hired there, you will be unhappy, the library staff will be unhappy, and the library won’t improve thanks to your presence. It’s a losing situation for everyone!

10) Be patient. Especially for academic library jobs, plan on waiting a while before you hear from anyone, whether you’ve just turned in your application, just finished a phone interview, or made a visit to the campus for an interview. Keep in mind that the waiting isn’t necessarily the fault of the search committee or even the library–often, the final decisions are made by those in higher administration, and deciding whether or not you will get your dream library job may not be their top priority.

I guess I can’t count myself as a true expert at job searching until I land myself a position (fingers crossed!), but hopefully these few tips can make it a little easier for someone just starting their journey into the terrifying job market. Please feel free to add your own advice below!

Other Resources

Mr. Library Dude Blog – This is an awesome resource full of other resources!

Preparing for a Phone Interview – Includes a great list of things to have in your environment for the interview.

Open Cover Letters – Examples of cover letters from successful library job applicants

Ten Tips For Refining Your Cover Letter – From LibGig, which has tons of other resources for job-seeking librarians

Congratulations! Now Get a Job. – A great post from Library Hack School by a fellow recent grad

Career Related Articles Useful to MLS/MLIS Students – Some great resources for those not quite in the thick of the job market yet


2 thoughts on “Tips for Job Searching in the Library World

  1. Melissa Cornwell

    I love your post Mandi! I would also say to remember to carve out time in your schedule to do the applications. If you’re like me and always seem to have tons of things to do, it really helps to set a scheduled time during the day or week to work on them.

  2. Good point! Sometimes I have to treat it like homework and give myself due dates. And I often don’t have time to do all of the applications I want to, so I have to prioritize them as much as possible.

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