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Job Searching During a Pandemic: Flexibility is Key

by on December 29, 2020

Job searching is often an arduous process, and never has this been the case more than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have the economic impacts of the pandemic driven up the demand for jobs, but the need for social distancing and other safety measures make the process even more difficult. This year, I have found myself on both ends of the spectrum: hiring new employees and taking a new job myself. Both experiences presented unique challenges.

As a library director, I have had a considerable amount of hiring experience over the years. Several things immediately surfaced as different during this year’s round of recruiting. First was the sheer influx of applicants; it is well documented that job losses have been staggering in 2020, and I had not seen so many part-time applicants since the years following 2008’s recession. Second was the need to conduct the entire interview process virtually. Interviewing via video chat was actually not entirely new to me after having met with several out-of-state applicants in years past, but this was my first time not being able to offer any in-person interviews. Third, and perhaps most jarring, was the knowledge that new hires would be starting in an environment wildly different from the library’s typical atmosphere. For example, new circulation team members likely have never known a world without some form of curbside services or quarantines of returned items.

Interviewing for and starting a new role have also been quite different from my previous experiences. Although I had conducted video interviews in the past, I had never been on the receiving end of them. My new library was closed to the public during most of the recruitment process, which prevented me from being able to visit before my first day. Actually starting the new job was different, too. In a pandemic, it is not possible to shake hands with new colleagues, for example, and it is next to impossible to truly get a sense of a library’s regular atmosphere in the world of reduced services.

With these experiences in mind, my biggest piece of advice for librarians on either side of the job hunt during the pandemic echoes a lesson that most of us learned this year: be flexible. Like so many other things, hiring librarians and job seekers alike are adjusting to our new normal and learning to navigate new territory. Flexibility is key in both the hiring process and once you land the job.

Flexibility may involve adjusting to new and different types of technology, as well as understanding that the recruitment process will undoubtedly look different than you’ve experienced before. Both sides should be as familiar with technology as possible. At this point in the year, we are likely all accustomed to Zoom. Still, it can’t hurt to devote some extra attention to the basics prior to participating in a meeting as high-stakes as an interview. Job search giant Indeed offers a great primer for success in a virtual interview, with many tips that apply to both sides of the process. Some important reminders include:

  • Familiarize yourself with the software’s functionality ahead of time, especially in terms of controlling audio and video
  • Wear appropriate attire
  • Choose a suitable place to conduct the interview with good lighting and a lack of background noise

Due to society’s newfound dependence on this type of technology, it is wise to expect some delays and snags in the hiring process. The need for flexibility does not end with the new hire’s start date, though. In today’s world of curbside services and remote work, onboarding may take significantly longer than usual. It is more difficult for colleagues to meet if they are working staggered shifts or completing some or all work from home. This can make it more difficult for new hires to learn about their library’s organizational culture or how to handle certain aspects of their jobs. This is especially the case in roles whose duties have shifted because of the pandemic: for example, an outreach librarian’s job likely looks far different today than it did back in February. This article shares five strategies that are key for adapting to a new role or onboarding a new employee during the pandemic. Although its advice is geared towards professionals working in higher ed, it remains very applicable to public librarians as well.

Whichever side of the hiring process you find yourself on, be sure to treat yourself kindly and remember that we are all in this together. With patience and flexibility, we can make the job search seem a little more manageable in an increasingly uncertain world.          

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