Review: “Career Development Workshop: Mistakes Even Competent Job-Hunters Make”

By Thomas Matzakides

Despite the fact that she couldn’t make it in person due to a travel glitch, Pat Wagner still managed to deliver her presentation as a live, interactive webinar at the ALA Midwinter Conference at Chicago on Saturday morning, January 31st, 2015. With 40 years of workplace education and experience, Wagner is known for delivering humorous programs with practical advice expressing personal opinions.

Wagner began her presentation by posing the following questions to her audience. She encouraged them to reflect on their overall goals:

  • Do you really want a new job?
  • Are you willing to change direction and location?
  • Are you willing to address skills and attitudes?
  • What advice are you rejecting?
  • Are you paying attention to your potential employer’s needs and wants?

Applicants should be flexible and address skills/attitudes.  An amazing statistic that Wagner cited was that 80% of people are fired because of their attitudes and not because of their technical skills.  Thoughts such as “I’m too old to worry about changing” are ultimately self-defeating.

An important question to ask yourself is: “are you paying attention to what the person hiring you wants?”   Wagner shared an anecdote of an applicant who had submitted a cover letter that was all about her (it screamed “Me, Me, Me!”) instead of being about the potential employer.  She had to take a step back, do research, and find out about the concerns of the employer.  She re-wrote her cover letter and ended up getting the job over 149 other candidates.  The Human Resources Department were impressed that she had done her homework and was able to really think through their plans for the position.

The cover letter should be all about the potential employer. Wagner opined that libraries are proud, so applicants should make it a point to sincerely flatter them.  Things to consider when drafting a cover letter include:

  • Why do you want to work for them?  Do you have strong ties to the area?
  • What do you think is cool about them?
  • Where do you see yourself fitting in?
  • What contributions do you want to make?

A cover letter should make you sound competent; problems arise when such letters lack specificity about who you are and what you do.  You have to ask yourself, “Why are you courting this library?”

Another interesting angle Wagner brought up was how resumes are discarded because they can’t be read. Sometimes hiring managers may be a bit advanced in years and may be suffering from astigmatism. This fact may be overlooked by younger job applicants. The font of cover letters/resumes submitted by those under 40 is “sans serif” with a smaller font size.  It is important to make documents legible for those responsible for hiring.

In regards to social media, Wagner urges job hunters to not be MIA (Missing in Action) online; it is important to keep your virtual presence current and to stay active by posting something at least once a week.  It pays to be familiar to people, since more and more people are seeking applicants on social media.   The social media sites in order of importance according to Wagner are: LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.  Some employers want applicants to apply via LinkedIn, while updating Google+ lets people know where you are in a search engine. An astonishing fact is 2/3 of employers are going to check you out online.  Of course there are some caveats to keep in mind: never use profanity or sexual innuendo.  Political diatribes make people feel uncomfortable and, along with “goofy photos,” should be saved for when you retire.

For business cards, Wagner advises to keep them simple; odd-sized cards that attempt to be clever are best avoided. All the necessary information should be on the card without the need for further clarification or for the recipient to scribble additional information on the back/margins.   In addition to promoting your blog/website (and you may need to use a tiny URL), you should make sure to  include 5-6 words about you that will get people interested.

One thing to look out for is a sense of entitlement. Wagner sounded a warning to all those who would coast on their age, experiences, tenure status, accomplishments, reputation, and credentials.  It’s a good rule of thumb not to focus on your past and its inherent limitations, no matter how successful you are.  It’s not about what has been done, but what can be achieved in the future.  In fact, some of the clues about applicants that can be “red flags” for hiring managers include:

  • Being focused on the past
  • Not talking about learning new things
  • No new, challenging personal goal
  • Expecting identical role in a different location and position with different people.

An interest in being challenged and a willingness to stretch outside your box is attractive to employers. A high percentage of the time, people are looking for their retirement jobs.  Such approaches, however, usually end in failure as applicants simply think they’ll simply continue doing exactly what they’ve done before.  The “I don’t need to do anything differently” attitude is smug and complacent.  Current accomplishments mean the most since no one cares about what happened 20 years ago.  Job applicants should instead reflect on the following questions:

  • What are you learning today?
  • What excites you about today’s libraries?
  • What new roles are you willing to take on?

Making a list of priorities listing your wants (for example health benefits, a raise in 2 years, etc.) will keep you from failing the job hunt and sending mixed messages to others who may be able to help.  Job seekers have to be specific on what they want; as a rule, too many requirements will keep you out of the workplace longer.

Wagner brought up some points on how job applicants get in their own way.  It’s recommended that people do not hide behind resumes and e-mails or rely on YouTube videos to help with how to conduct a job search. A better approach would entail getting out of the house and establishing a human connection when seeking help with job hunting.  Moving to another city is a big decision, but may be something to consider if the local job market is lacking.  Nesting too long in a particular position/city may cause job hunters to lose a sense of perspective, fall behind in skills, and become less flexible.  

“Bitterness is an addictive drug,” Wagner exclaimed.  We can end up making all sorts of excuses for staying put in our careers.  For example, waiting for the perfect job or for the job market to recover, and fearing embarrassment when taking chances leads applicants to shoot themselves in the foot.  We should instead look at ways to improve.  For example, we can have at least two people with strong English skills proofread our application materials, get help with our self-limiting beliefs, and even consider getting a fashion makeover (yep, the men too).  Being cognizant of the physical impressions we are making is important.  Wagner recommends to stay calm, don’t fidget, and practice an “elevator speech” in which you can sell yourself in 30 seconds or less.

Overall, the presentation provided a great overview in how librarians both young and old can prepare for a job hunt while being conscious of obstacles and self-imposed limitations that may prevent one from landing that dream job and reaching their potential.  There were opportunities for questions, and Wagner encouraged all those in attendance to reach out to her at:

Thomas Mantzakides (MLIS, 2011, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is a Library Specialist at the Library of the Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Circulation Librarian at Morton College in Cicero, IL.  This is his first year as a member of the NMRT Footnotes Committee.