Recently, I attended ACRL in Indianapolis and I volunteered to do resume reviews. While I was waiting for resumes to review, I noticed there were several books about resume writing, cover letter writing, career preparation, etc. If you go to Amazon.com, there are literally pages and pages of books advising people on the “correct” way to apply for a job. There are countless websites devoted to this topic, as well. So, with all this help available, I wonder then why so many applicants don’t seem to heed any of this advice.
In my position, I serve on all librarian search committees and coordinate the hiring for non-librarian employees. From all this experience, I can tell you that search committees and hiring managers want to get a large pool of qualified applicants. People who are responsible for evaluating job applicants want to have a difficult time selecting candidates to be chosen for telephone interviews and in-person interviews. This usually does not happen. I’d like to change this, so here are some suggestions to increase your chances of getting an interview (which is the first step to getting hired). Although I work in an academic library, many of these tips are applicable to all types of libraries.
- In your cover letter, please state the title of the position for which you are applying; don’t make us guess. Often times we have several positions open, so sending us a cover letter and resume will not help your chances for being selected without telling us the specific position you want.
- Follow the instructions in the posting for submitting your materials. If the ad says to include contact information for three professional references, don’t go overboard and submit letters of recommendation. If the posting says submit your documents in PDF format, then that is what you should do. And so on.
- Make sure that your cover letter and all its references are for the position at my institution. You might be surprised at the number of applications I receive that are addressed to a different institution or have been used for a previous job application. Since most open positions receive anywhere from tens to hundreds of application, not taking the time to proofread to ensure your cover letter is actually for the job that was advertised at my institution is a good way to get your application materials to be put in the “Not Considered for an Interview” pile.
- In addition to making sure your cover letter is addressed to the correct institution, proofread your application documents. Better yet, have someone else proofread your materials for you. Job hunting is time consuming, so it is very easy to overlook small mistakes such as typos. Those are the things that will get you (fair or not) branded as careless and reduce your chances of being seriously considered for the position.
- Your cover letter should also specifically address the qualifications that are listed in the posting. Descriptions of your terrific work ethic, long sentences that promote that you learn quickly, are a self-starter, and had a 4.0 grade point average in your MLS program, will not help your chances of getting an interview if you have not addressed the required qualifications of the position posting and described how can perform the duties outlined.
- If you have been selected for an interview (which, in most libraries, will likely be conducted by telephone) in order to increase your chances of being invited to a second round, make sure to prepare. A recent LIS grad I know got hired for an academic librarian position after interviews at several institutions. After the first couple of interviews, she noticed that the questions were very similar at each institution. So she kept refining her answers to the questions and eventually received an offer. The questions in the interview will (or should be) based on the type of position available. For example, for a position in archives interviewers will often ask about familiarity with a specific format, such as photographs or paper and/or ask about trending topics within archives. Candidates should also be prepared to answer questions about the ability to successfully work in a team; the ability to successfully juggle multiple priorities; knowledge of technology and customer service skills. Applicants who don’t answer those questions well don’t get invited for in-person interviews.
- Search committees and hiring managers want to speak with candidates that have researched our library. In your cover letter, and especially in your interviews, let the interviewers know that you have done your homework. Our search committee once interviewed a candidate by phone that looked like they met all our qualifications based on her CV and cover letter. When we spoke with her on the phone, she did not really know where we were located (she lived in a different state and would have had to relocate to take the position) other than the general region of the country. Based on her answers over the phone, she knew nothing about our library, let alone our institution. It is perhaps needless to say that she didn’t move forward to the next round of interviews.
- In all interviews (especially in a telephone interview, where people can’t see you) express enthusiasm for the position. While enthusiasm does not translate to competence, hiring committees are usually looking for candidates that seem to want to work with us.
- Interviewers want candidates to ask us questions. When I am interviewing a candidate, I always make a note of the questions the candidate has for us. Good questions tell me that the candidate has done some research and wants to learn more information about the position and to determine if the job is a good fit for him or her. I can’t post everything about the job or the library or the institution in a job posting. Remember, as candidates you are interviewing the interviewers.
- Not all questions are appropriate, however. It’s not a good idea to ask about salary, benefits, or relocation during an initial interview. During the initial interview process, hiring committees are often interviewing numerous candidates. Candidates who demand a specific salary up front (or ask immediately what the position pays) or tell us that you need relocation expenses probably won’t progress further in the hiring process.
- While many candidates (and interviewers) will use social media to research the library and the people who work there, be careful about sounding like a stalker. Mentioning the award the library has won that was mentioned on the library’s Facebook page is fine; this may be an opening to ask a question. However, attempting to “friend” a search committee member on Facebook or connect on Linked In is not a good idea.
- Speaking of social media, clean up your web profile. Lock down your privacy settings, and delete pictures or references that may tag you as unsuitable for the position. Drinking over age 21 is legal; however, pictures of you drinking in public places repeatedly may harm your chances of being hired for a position such as a school media specialist. You are not breaking the law, but the hiring committee may see you in a negative light. Is that fair? No. No one will come out and say that you were not hired because of your Facebook wall, but it can happen.
I know what you might be thinking, but no, I did not exaggerate in my examples. Most of the applications I receive contain generic cover letters and resumes/CVs that are not tailored to the specific position. It is then hard to assess how that applicant is suitable for the position and if hired, can make a contribution to the library. That being said, only one person can be hired for each opening. Often when a person sees a position posting, they may feel they are the perfect candidate. Maybe they are, but the applicant is operating from one perspective: that of the candidate. Candidates have no idea who else applied for the position and the qualifications of the other candidates. Even if an applicant meets all the qualifications advertised, the hiring committee may still select someone else for any number of reasons. However, those applicants that take the time to submit customized materials for positions for which they are suitable (I’m a librarian, but I have no experience in cataloging, so applying for a cataloging position would be a waste of time for me) should eventually get an interview and eventually receive an offer. In other words, it’s worth your time to put in the effort.
Kathy Bradshaw is the Human Resources Librarian at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro. She can be reached at email@example.com.