Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Your Mileage May Vary: Job Hunting Advice


Breaking the rules is a good idea, except when it isn't. Especially when it comes to job hunting.

Let me give you an example: We hired someone recently to work part time, evenings at the circulation desk. The woman we hired came to the library in person, introduced herself to me, handed me her resume, expressed her enthusiasm for and interest in joining our organization, and shook my hand before leaving.

I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I can be quite the stickler for following the rules and doing exactly what it says to do in the job ad, but in this instance I was completely won over by her rule-breaking. This person who ended up being my new part time employee followed traditional job hunting advice and it worked. She wasn't the only person we interviewed; and we did have a hard time deciding between our top candidates; but the early good impression she'd made served her in good stead. It was a risky maneuver, but it paid off.

I say "risky" because it might not have. Coming to see me in person might have blown up in her face. On a different day, I might have been completely taken aback and put off by her approach. A different hiring manager might have put her in the NO pile automatically for her boldness. And that's the thing you rarely see in standard issue job hunting advice: that your mileage may vary.

Here are some additional things that I've seen written up as gospel that could or have backfired with me:
  • Be Persistent: A lot of advice about job hunting exhorts the hunter to call back repeatedly because it shows your eagerness. No, don't do that. Just don't. It's irritating for most people and can backfire like crazy.
  • Networking is the Only Way. Bull. Every job I've had as a librarian, I've been the outside candidate. I knew nobody at any of the three schools where I've worked before I was invited to interview. Don't ignore networking opportunities, but don't think you won't have a chance just because you're an external and/or unknown candidate. (If you've been in the field for a while, you may be known even if you're external, but that's a whole other thing.)
  • "Go In Person, Anyway." I've seen lots of job hunting columns talk about introducing yourself to hiring managers even when they aren't advertising. Most hiring managers in libraries are librarians first and foremost, so they have lots of other things to worrying about besides filling open positions that aren't even open yet. Speaking from experience, it's likely I'd forget someone by the next time I need to fill an opening.
  • Objective Statement: Make It Match the Position. Here's another thing that I'd like to see DIAF. When I read job application materials, I'm expecting you to have all the minimum requirements and pay little attention to your resume at first. In fact, our human resources department screens out people who don't qualify - I only see those who do. Don't put your objective in your resume/curriculum vitae; put it in your cover letter. Better yet, forget the objective statement all together. That's where I expect people to tell me why they are a good fit. However, I know people who have had a lot of success.

Will I automatically reject you if you do any of the above? It's all very complicated and the rules not only vary, but they also contradict each other. Not necessarily, but there are plenty of people who will. Especially in this job market, you don't want to eliminate yourself before you even get started. TL;DR? Know yourself as a candidate and be true to yourself. But, of course, I could be completely wrong. After all, your mileage may vary.

Thanks to Kristin LaLonde and Naomi House for giving me the idea for this post.

1 comment:

  1. We had one opening at our library a while back where a candidate quietly visited to have a look around the place, scope out the collections, get a feel for it and (I imagine) take a subtle look at the existing staff. No bother to anyone, perfectly entitled to be there, and the kind of sensible preparation that I thoroughly approve of, especially given how little information you generally have to work with. The boss realised somehow that he'd been in and condemned it roundly to us all as underhanded, sneaky behaviour and a tremendous cheek; his chances had clearly dropped to zero.

    I don't know whether announcing himself would have made a difference to her reaction. Considering interviewees get a library tour anyway, offering to show him around would have been pretty redundant, and even knowing that he was scoping the place out would have put staff on edge. We'd likely have spent time talking to him, and it would have been hard for him to get a realistic impression of his own. It's entirely possible that an open approach would have annoyed a librarian, by seeming pushy and demanding. And it's possible that failing to explore the library, despite it being so close, would have earned censure for lack of initiative. There's just no way to predict some things.