Whether we are new to the profession or seasoned candidates, we repeatedly question our approach and strategy to job hunting. We ask ourselves questions like how much detail in a résumé is too much, how much should we adapt our résumé to match the job ad, how does what we have done in the past transfer, how to best demonstrate not just what we have done but what we are capable of doing? These are all great questions—questions we should be asking. Looking for a library job is no different than looking for any job—all of the same rules apply. But there are a few library-specific tips that we must keep in mind along the way. I recently had the opportunity to tap into the minds of two hiring managers and get their thoughts on a few of the questions we all ask such as what are the top traits you look for in any candidate, what do you look for in a resume, and what is important to you during the interview?
In order to be invited to the interview we’ll have to start with a well-designed and easy-to-read résumé. “I look for the resume to match what the application has stated. I also look for it to be concise, not more than two pages,” states Lisa Mendez, Deputy Director, Yuma (AZ) County Library District. The easier it is to read, the easier it is for the hiring manager to scan and find what they are looking for. What are they looking for? That varies greatly depending on the library, the position, and the current makeup of staff skills.
If you have never worked in a library consider the previous work you did and emphasize skills that transfer. These are the skills that we use in any job such as customer service, adaptability, project management, and other soft skills useful in any work setting. Depending on the position, hiring managers will hire with no previous library experience if that person brings a skill that is sorely lacking in the organization. “This is very situational but we like people with experience in other sectors. People who have social work, business or education backgrounds are interesting to us, for example. We like people who bring something unique to the system. Language skills are also great and many people miss the opportunity to put those on their resumes.“ states Joanna Brookes, Library Administrator/HR Liaison, St. Paul (MN) Public Library.
Hiring managers do not just rely on previous experience and accomplishments to predict future capabilities. They also place importance on personality and character traits. An applicant may have the aptitude, but can they be successful in the organization? Mendez cites the top traits for any library position as friendly demeanor, prior customer service experience, passionate, cultural fit, and ambition.
Cultural fitness indicates the ability for a candidate to help the library fulfill its mission, vision and values. Watch for interview questions that illustrate whether or not we have a positive attitude, a sunny outlook or if we are curious life-long learners. According to LinkedIn Talent Solutions the top question hiring managers ask to determine cultural fitness is, “What are the three things that are most important to you in a job?” Think about how your answer meshes with the library’s mission statement. [Tip: Read the library’s mission, vision, and value statements and ask yourself, “How can I help move this organization forward?” and remember to insert that during the interview].
Behavioral questions asked during the interview are designed to extract how you exhibit those behaviors. Take adaptability, for instance. According to LinkedIn Talent Solutions, the top question designed to determine how adaptable you are is: “Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react? What did you learn?” Imagine, for a moment, you are on the other end of the interview. How adaptable is an adult services librarian who refuses to cancel storytime because the performer is a no-show and steps in with their back-up picture book routine? Very adaptable! This is exactly the answer Brookes looks for in her applicants, “The ability to respond and adapt to quickly changing environments—you just never know who is going to walk through your door on a given day! Our staff must be comfortable working in gray areas. We like people who are focused on finding solutions for the customer.” Brookes says.
Lastly, remember that although your résumé earned you a seat at the interview; the résumé cannot speak for you. This applies to those who are new to the industry as well as those with years of solid library experience. With hundreds of résumés and time constraints of the interviewers, you must reiterate, repeat, and emphasize correlations between your experience, ambition, and passion to the position you seek. Mendez looks to see if applicants have done their homework, “During the interview, I expect the candidate to listen to the question that is asked and answer it. Many times, interviewees think they know what is being asked and answer too quickly without answering the true question. I also look for candidates to know the job description or job they are applying for. I expect that candidates have done research on the library and are aware of the programs and resources that we offer. I also expect candidates to ask a few questions at the end of the interview.”
If you are looking for feedback on your résumé or practice interviewing, seek assistance from colleagues or mentors. You can do this through reaching out to your state or local library association, ALA’s Education & Careers, and PLA’s Professional Tools. Quite often you can find résumé clinics at any of the library association conferences. For all applicants, remember that hiring managers want you to succeed during the interview and show your best self so they can identify the best candidate for the job. Whether you are new to the workforce, new to libraries, or have been in the same library job for many years and are looking for a change, keep these tips in mind when you start looking for your next best job and lastly, never give up because the right job for you could be the next job ad you see!
Note: All direct quotes are from email with author on 9/16/18.