Reflections on the Job Search
By Maureen Cropper
At some point, every library school student begins to think about the job search. When I began my search for my first professional librarian job, I was not sure how to go about it. There was no ready-made guide to the process, and each person around me seemed to have a different approach. I discovered that success in the job search depends a lot on trial and error, and that there is not one right way to do it. Still, once I was done with the process, I looked back and realized that there were certain ideas and approaches that helped me more than others. Because of this, I would like to share a few tips and suggestions I have for conducting a successful library job search, with the hope that they might be valuable to others starting out on the job hunt.
1) Cast a Wide Enough Net
Probably the hardest thing for me to realize in the job search was that it might take sending out ten resumes before you get even one substantial interview offer, even if you are a good candidate for all of the jobs for which you apply. The fact is, for every librarian job advertised, hundreds of resumes are submitted by MLS or MLIS degreed candidates, and of those, only three resumes are typically pulled from the pile and the applicants called for an interview. I was not a math major in college, but even I know the odds aren’t particularly good for my resume to be selected for any one particular job, so it pays to apply for several jobs to increase the probability that eventually one will pan out.
This is not the same as saying apply to everything and anything, but do apply to enough positions to give yourself a fighting chance. I remember one student I knew in college who only sent out one job application at first, because the student was absolutely convinced that the one particular job he was applying for was the perfect job for him. It did indeed look like it was the perfect job for that student—he met the qualifications listed in the job description exactly. Unfortunately, it was also the perfect job for several other equally qualified candidates, and the student did not get an interview. It was not his fault; it is really true that sometimes there are more than enough qualified candidates applying for the same job, and it is better to have more than one ball in the air at a time, just in case.
2. Don’t Agonize Too Early in the Process
Which brings me to my second bit of advice; don’t agonize over specific job ads too early in the process. I talked to one student last year who was just starting her job search, and she studied every job advertisement so closely that she got caught up in miniscule details of the job descriptions, so much so that it stopped her from applying to anything but a handful of positions. Instead, pick several job openings that are fairly well in line with what you want, apply, and then wait and see. Try to be open-minded, because the job ad description is only the tip of the iceberg. When you are on the interview, you will have a better sense of what the library is like, what the job offers you, and whether the working environment and people are a good “fit” for you—all factors equally important to, and more informative than, any job ad will ever be. So, try to be open-minded and do not stress out over minor details too early in the game. Look at the big picture: is the job in the area of librarianship I want to be in? Is it located in a state I want to live in? Is it in the general ballpark of my job experience level (i.e., if you are a new graduate, don’t apply for jobs requiring 5 years experience)? If you answered “yes” to those top three questions, then go for it. Apply, and then move on to the next job ad. Soon, the interview offers will start to roll in.
3. Do Individualize the Cover Letter
While you do not want to obsess too long over any one job ad, you also don’t want to project to the libraries receiving your resumes that you haven’t considered their needs at all. Do make sure you cover letter reflects some of the main qualifications indicated in the job ads. It does not have to take a long time to customize a letter; use a form letter to start with, and then just adjust it slightly with a few added sentences or words pertinent to the position. Above all, though, check and re-check to make sure all names and addresses are correct, and that you’ve proofread your resume. These are basic things, but it cannot be underestimated what a bad impression it makes on a search committee if you even have one small spelling error or other typo in your cover letter or resume. I don’t know why that is so unforgivable in this case, but it just is.
4. Stay Organized!
We all know that librarians are supposed to be organized. Well, sometimes I think I may not be as organized as some, but I found it very helpful, once I got started in the job search, to keep an electronic record of letters/applications/resumes sent out, to whom, and what action resulted. I created a folder on my computer for each application sent out, with a file copy of the letter and resume sent, as well the job ad and any other relevant information. I named each folder by the college and job ad title. That way, if a library called me about a job, I’d be ready to go with the information about the specific position. Also, it saved me the embarrassment of ever applying for the same job twice, by accident. If you start you job search early, you may find that you are busy juggling class assignments and work obligations, while also applying for post-MLIS library jobs at the same time, so it pays to be organized so that you can keep all of these things going at once. Somehow, having the electronic files seemed easier to me than having paper file folders, but you should do what works best for you.
5) Be Creative When Finding Sources of Job Leads
Library job ads appear in some of the strangest places, and not all of them obvious. Many people start their jobs search by looking at the job listings collected by their library school department for the benefit of their new graduates, and others peruse publications such as
American Libraries or the
Chronicle of Higher Education for job ads. Other popular sources for job listings are the major online library job listing sites such as LISjobs.com (
http://www.lisjobs.com/), the ALA JobList (
http://joblist.ala.org/) , the ALA LITA job site (
http://www.lita.org/ala/lita/litaresources/litajobsite/litajobsite.cfm), and Library Job Postings on the Internet (
http://www.libraryjobpostings.org/), to name just a few. There are also more specific job listing sites, such as the AALL Job Placement Hotline (
http://www.aallnet.org/hotline/), for law librarian jobs; the SAA’s job bulletin (
for archivist jobs; and the ALA LITA job site ( http://www.ala.org/ala/lita/litaresources/litajobsite/litajobsite.cfm), for librarian jobs with more of an information technology focus. For school library media center jobs, often the best source is your local school board’s job search site.
Some less obvious locations for job ad postings are listservs. For example, for those interested in archives jobs, subscribing to the Archives and Archivists Listserv will give you access to many job listings in that field. Other specialties have listservs as well, and monitoring listservs can also give you a better idea of what the day-to-day concerns and issues are in that particular area of librarianship. In turn, that information may prove useful when trying to sound somewhat informed on interviews later on, as well.
State library associations often have their own job listings pages. Also, it sometimes pays to look for library job openings posted on other websites, such as art, museum, and other sites, if you have a subject specialty degree that you’d like to focus on. In addition, one often underutilized source of library job ads is USAJOBS: Official Job Site of the U.S. Government ( http://www.usajobs.gov/). Sometimes very good-paying government librarian jobs listings are available there.
Job opening information can also come via word of mouth. Sometimes librarians at conferences can be a good source of information about upcoming openings at their own libraries. If you are a student attending a conference, be attentive to any information of that sort. ALA has a Placement Services area at every conference, where you can actually interview on the spot for certain jobs, in some cases.
6) Don’t be Afraid of a Challenge!
Some of the library job ads you run across will seem quite daunting: “Manage what? Oversee what project? I don’t have any idea what that is, let alone how to do it!” Before panic sets in, remember that most employers expect some sort of learning curve when they hire a new librarian, and they are looking for potential, not instant expertise. While you should not apply for jobs that are completely beyond your experience level, do not be afraid if you do not meet every last suggested qualification listed.
There usually is the distinction between what are “required qualifications” and what are only “preferred (i.e., desired but not essential) qualifications” on any job ad; don’t confuse the two. Generally, you must have the “required” qualifications, but you do not necessarily have to have any or all of the “preferred” qualifications, at least not yet. If one of the preferred qualifications is to have experience with metadata creation for digital objects, and you have never done that, then stress in your cover letter that you are willing to take a workshop or training to obtain that skill. If an additional subject degree is desired, write that you would be willing to pursue a subject area degree in the immediate future while on the job to fulfill this desired qualification. Future employees want to know that you are willing to grow and develop your skills, even if you do not currently have every desired qualification yet.
7) Start Early
It is usually better to start your job search while you are still in library school, especially if your goal is an academic library job. In general, most academic libraries start looking for people in late fall or early spring to fill positions for the following fall semester, which is when the majority of the academic or school media positions open up. There is a little more variety in the hiring timetable for other library types, but it still pays to get started early, while still in library school. That way, you will have some idea of what current employers are looking for, and that may indeed even influence the classes you choose to take your last semester in library school.
I hope that some of these job search ideas help get you started on your way to your first librarian job. Be sure to return to this NMRT RRS Job Talk column in future issues of NMRT Footnotes, because we will have additional articles about other topics related to the job process featured here, as well. If you have suggestions for future topics you’d like to see covered in this column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Job Talk Idea” and we will consider you suggestions for future columns.
Thanks, and happy job hunting!