Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hit the Ground Running: Some (Simple) Advice for Job-Hunters, by Valerie Forrestal

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Last week at the New Jersey Library Association conference I volunteered for a resume-review service. The session was run speed-dating-style, where a job-seeker could bring their resume, and sit down for five minutes each with about 8 different librarians, who each gave comments and critiques.

The session turned out to be incredibly popular, and I ended up staying for an extra hour. It was fun to do for networking's-sake, but it was also very insightful regarding my own resume. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I have served on a few search committees for academic library positions, so I felt comfortable making some pretty basic observations, which I am about to share with you lucky readers:
  1. Stop putting "objective" at the top of your resume. Your objective is obviously to get the job you're applying for. This is assumed.
  2. Don't hurt my eyes. Seriously. This should be a given, and not that hard to accomplish given the availability of templates and such. But apparently it is *not*, in fact, a given at all. Everything should line up. Indents should be equal. Random things should not be bold or italicized. There should not be random font switching. Every person who sat down across from me that had a well-formatted, eye-pleasing resume made me happy. If I'm about to decide if you go in the "yes," "no," or "maybe" pile, you should want me to be happy.
  3. Show me your education, experience, and skills, but don't waste my time with minutia. I actually had to tell a few people to take "internet" out of their skills section. "Internet" is not a skill, and you saying it is makes me think you're either padding your skills section because it's lackluster, or that you think I'm a luddite. While we're at it, unless the job advertisement specifically requests that you have experience with certain operating systems, please don't list "Windows XP" as a skill. (No, not even Windows Vista. #rimshot) While we're at it, I noticed that the hot new trend is starting your resume off with a bullet-point list of items summarizing your skills and qualifications. I, personally, don't think this is necessary for academic library jobs, but it doesn't bother me if you include it, as long as you abide by the above-mentioned rule: don't waste my time. It seems like a lot of people are using this resume section to say generic, incredibly unhelpful things like "good communicator," and "can work independently or in team." For goodness sake, can we stop putting that in every single job ad AND cover letter AND resume? I'm not saying you are not those things, I'm just saying that everybody *says* they are those things. If the job ad asks for them (and they will, because they *always* do) put those statements in your cover letter, backed up by actual examples of *how* you are good at them. Did you work on a successful team project? Did you start a regularly-scheduled meeting or work wiki? Did you co-write a paper? (Interdisciplinary cooperation is particularly hot right now. If you worked on a project with a non-librarian, in-school or out, highlight this.)
  4. Find someone to critique your resume, but don't take that criticism personally. A resume or cover letter is not a reflection of your writing skills in general. They're each a unique beast that is hard to explain, but easy to critique. It's hard to say what makes a great resume, but it's extremely easy to recognize a crappy one. So just get started, make sure all the formatting and spelling is correct, and get it in front of as many eyes as possible. Be open to what people say, especially people who have hired or been on search committees for the specific type of job you want. I noticed from this workshop that the public librarians differed slightly from the academic librarians in how they liked a resume to look. I'm sure corporate or school librarians are a whole different kettle of fish.
  5. Finally, if possible, don't just have people read your resume, but stage a little mock-interview, like this session. When you are speaking to someone in person, you get an idea of their immediate impressions of your resume, experience, and education, not just their thought-over, carefully formatted edits. Looking at one person's resume, I was prompted to ask them questions about their previous careers/degrees, if they had them, or about what they focused on in school, and why. This is extremely useful information to have for if (when) you get the interview, because it helps you identify and prepare for any concerns interviewers might have. It also helps you your experience in the best light. Learning what prospective employers value will make it so you don't waste your time in your interview talking about what might be insignificant details.

What about you? What job-hunting advice would you give recent graduates? Have any terrible resume horror stories to share?

Valerie Forrestal is the Communications and New Media Strategies Librarian at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. You can find her on twitter @vforrestal, or at

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