The Grad School Student’s Guide to Getting a Job
By Paula Pergament on behalf of the NMRT Resume Review Committee
You just graduated and are excited about the prospect of getting your first professional job as a librarian. You’ve applied to every job opening you’ve come across, re-drafted your cover letter dozens of times, and revised your resume over and over again. You have been invited to interview once, but have not been called back to interview a second time. What is going on? A lot has been written about the tightness of the job market for librarians, yet there are jobs out there, and people are getting them. Why not you?
Job searches take time. However, recent MLIS graduates are making mistakes guaranteed to lengthen or torpedo their job search. Here are the most common mistakes:
Not networking: I often hear, “I hate networking.” From the moment you meet your classmates at orientation, opportunities to network abound. Your classmates, especially those who are already working in a library, are your current peers and potential professional colleagues. They are sources of information about job opportunities available at their libraries, and can help guide you to an internship or practicum.
Outside of school, there are many opportunities to connect with library professionals. Every state has a library association, and usually a more affordable student membership rate. Join it today. Go to your state’s annual conference, and learn what libraries are doing, who the leaders are, and what future trends are taking shape. Sit with people at lunch you don’t know, talk with them, and have questions prepared (e.g. what do you wish you knew at the start of your library career that you know now?). Some state library associations allow students to make proposals for panel discussions; if you have a great idea, submit it. Putting together a panel provides opportunities to connect with current library professionals, and gets your name in front of conference attendees.
There are many opportunities to network on a national level within ALA. The New Members Round Table (NMRT) was established in part to support incoming ALA members. With a student membership rate, joining ALA can be affordable, and there are opportunities to join NMRT committees. Being on a committee demonstrates your interest and engagement in the field, and helps you connect with librarians working in a variety of settings across the country.
Not using all of the resources available: Most, if not all, graduate schools have a career services center. The staff has expertise and contacts to help you get an internship, practicum, and a job. Make an appointment to chat with someone during your first month of school, and to review your resume and cover letter. Internships and practicums are offered year-round, and resumes and cover letters are typically required. You don’t want to let a great opportunity to gain experience pass you by because your resume is not ready, and you have no idea how to draft a strong cover letter.
Not getting experience: Career services can put you in touch with libraries looking for interns and practicum students, and may also be aware of pre-professional opportunities that have not yet been publicized. Also talk with your advisor; most programs will give credit towards graduation for practicums and internships if arranged in advance through your advisor or career services. Your advisor can help establish a class schedule to balance the demands of an internship or practicum.
Not selling yourself: The best way to stand out from the applicant pool is to write a cover letter and resume that celebrate who you are and what you have done. Even if invited to apply for an internal job vacancy, your cover letter and resume should tell your prospective supervisor a story about the right candidate for the job: you. Prove you are the most qualified candidate in your cover letter, by sharing your experience and knowledge to succeed in the job, and by sharing examples of projects you have completed and patron expectations you exceeded. Your resume should outline your achievements, skills, professional affiliations, and where your qualifications align with the job you are pursuing. Not sure how to get started writing your cover letter? I like to pretend Anderson Cooper is interviewing me about why I am the best person for the job; it helps me translate my enthusiasm for the job and why I am the best candidate into my cover letter.
Not checking your resume and cover letter: When I was a fundraiser, I needed to hire a grant writer. One applicant had a fantastic resume, and a beautifully written cover letter discussing her passion for nonprofit work and the experiences that had prepared her to succeed as a grant writer. She was my top candidate until I noticed that she had the name of an organization in the closing paragraph of her letter that was not the name of the organization I worked for. Grant writing is detailed work, and I could not risk she would do this in a proposal or report. I did not call her for an interview. An error like this – along with typos, and grammatical and spelling errors in your resume, cover letter or both – quickly ends your chances of moving forward. Even if you have your resume and cover letter reviewed by the career services center at your school, have another objective party review it, then check it again yourself. Remember these documents are your future employer’s first impression of you.
What if you have a perfectly written resume and cover letter? NMRT offers members a year-round Resume Review Service (RRS). Your resume and cover letter will be reviewed by a librarian working in the type of library you aspire to work in, or doing the work you want to do. Most RRS reviewers are involved in the hiring process at their library, and will offer feedback on what works and what doesn’t. This is especially helpful for students applying for librarian jobs in a library setting different from where they currently work.
Not following directions: The job posting gives clear directions to submit application materials via an online application system, email or postal mail. Yet someone is advising you to stand out to a prospective employer by dropping off your resume and cover letter in person. If you do this, you will stand out, but perhaps not in a favorable way - not adhering to directions in a job posting almost always guarantees your application will be put in the NO pile immediately. It shows you don’t know how to follow directions, and don’t respect the library’s policies and procedures. As a result, you have given the impression that you are a potential problem employee who thinks the rules are for everyone else, but they don’t apply to you.
Someone recently suggested that I look at a job search as a game. Eventually, the pieces will be in the right places, and you will win. You may make a few mistakes along the way, but these are a few that are within your control to avoid.