Reviewing Resumes at ALA: A Great Way to Rest Your Feet, Meet New Librarians, and Give Back

By Tammy Ivins

     So much has happened since the 2010 ALA conference, and yet it seems like it was yesterday. At that time, I was an eager beaver MLIS student, bustling around the conference center, trying to soak up everything that I could. One of my stops was the ALA Placement Center, where I had an appointment for a resume review. That review turned out to be incredibly important to me. Not only did I get some fantastic feedback on specific parts of my resume, but it was also an opportunity to discuss my career as a whole, with a working professional who had no previous experience with me. It was a fresh and objective assessment of both my professional experience and my ability to express that experience on paper. That resume review was pivotal in helping me prepare for the job applications that I wrote over the next year, one of which landed me my current position.

     When it came time to attend the 2012 ALA Annual Conference, I knew just what I wanted to do. Volunteering for the ALA Placement Center's resume review service was an easy and painless online process. The center got back to me with my assigned shift very quickly, allowing me to schedule my conference events in advance. It ended up being a great experience, and I loved the opportunity to connect with some fellow (future) librarians. It took very little time out of my weekend and was well worth it. Here are my tips for a great experience reviewing resumes at ALA Annual:

1. Know Current Resume Best Practices

     As a reviewer, you are not just reviewing the resume's content, you are also reviewing its style to make sure it looks professional.  If you need to brush up on current resume dos and don'ts, I would encourage you to spend a short while perusing resume advice from both within the library world (for example, San Jose State's LIS career blog and from the general world of hiring.

2. Find Your Own Methods

     First off, feel free to find your own review style and don't be afraid to mix it up and experiment. For example, I started my volunteer shift with one method: first reading the resume cold, without learning anything about the person. However, I quickly realized that I was able to give much more constructive feedback, in a more efficient manner, if I briefly got to know the librarian and his or her career goals before reviewing the resume. You should feel free to experiment in order to find your own perfect style.

3. Refer to the Experts

     Have a prepared written or mental list of recommended resources. Bringing handouts is not efficient, but be prepared to refer the librarians to sources that might help their resumes and careers. Examples include the websites of relevant ALA sections and round tables, or helpful websites such as Ask a Manager ( or Open Cover Letters ( 

4. Bring Supplies

     Bring a pen that you feel comfortable using and a few pens that you can give away if librarians don't have their own (vendors can provide these). Also, be sure to bring business cards and hand them out. Personally, I strongly encouraged the librarians to send me their next resume draft, or a copy of their resume after tailoring it for a specific job. Water is essential; after three hours of gabbing with librarians about their resumes and careers, my voice was almost completely gone. 

5. Be Prepared to Think Outside of the Resume 

     A resume is merely a snapshot of a librarian's overall career and training. While you should always bring your conversations back around and relevant to the resume, know that you will find yourself discussing the librarian's overall career and career preparation. This is unavoidable because critiquing a resume will inherently involve discussion about the responsibilities and achievements of past positions, suggested career paths based on their qualifications, or suggested ways to fill experience gaps. So don't hesitate to engage with these tangential topics; a good resume is only as good as the experience it summarizes.

6. Don't Humiliate the Librarian

     Obviously, any reviewer should try to deliver criticisms with some measure of tact and sensitivity, but the stakes are higher at a conference wherein the librarians are also job hunting. One of your first questions should be: has the person already handed out the resume at the conference? If they have, it is important to know so that you can try your best to soften the blow if you've spotted typos, etc. You still owe it to the librarian to give them a complete review, but you don't want to crush his or her self-esteem completely. Though handing out a resume with typos is bad, don't make the librarian feel like his or her world is over. Not only is that is not helpful, it is also not true; job searching is all about bouncing back after mistakes and setbacks. 
7. Be a Cheerleader 

     It can be tempting to get bogged down in negatives and criticisms about the resumes that you are reviewing, but you also need to let the librarians know what is GREAT about their resumes or careers. Remind them that the reason why they have to spend so much time on these silly resumes is not to impress, but instead just to inform hiring managers more clearly that their perfect candidate has arrived. 

8. Watch Your Time

     It is amazing how quickly time can fly by when you are working with someone, but your review sessions are booked one right after the other. If you go over, then you have to make up the time by rushing your other reviews. The Placement Center staff members are not able to give you a warning when you are out of time, so double-check the appointment lengths when you check in and then keep an eagle eye on your watch. Utilize a cell phone timer if you need to. 

9. Budget Extra Time

     If you can, plan to serve an extra librarian or two at the end of your assigned shift. While I was there, the resume review service received several walk-ins, though the service's schedule was already full.  Hence it can be a big help when a volunteer can help a few extra librarians.

     Does any of this sound intimidating? I hope not, because it really isn’t. Reviewing resumes for the Placement Center was one of the easiest and least stressful volunteer experiences of my life. It was an excellent chance to rest my feet from roaming the vendor floor, meet some of the new librarians who will be shaping our future, and to give back to a community that supported me so much while I was job hunting. I hope the tips included in this article will help you have a great experience, when you volunteer to review resumes at your next Annual Conference.