Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Get the Job: Resume and Interview Tips

We've recently been through the process of interviewing and hiring several new librarians at my library (yay!!). These were my first times on the other side of the table, so to speak, and interviewing was definitely an eye-opening process. As I was poring through resumes and cover letters and Skyping with candidates, I thought about what advice I would give to people applying for librarian jobs. A lot of this might be stuff you've heard elsewhere, but evidently not everyone has heard it.

(Here's where I have to tell you that none of this stuff is directed at any person directly, just some general advice! And also that this is my personal opinion - other hiring librarians might have a different view or different advice, so check the comments to see what they have to say. And if you have a different view or different advice for job seekers, please leave it in comments!)

You may also be interested in my advice on how to make the most of your library school experience and make yourself employable!

On resumes, cover letters, and references:

Your resume and cover letter are SO IMPORTANT because they're your gateway. It's the first thing potential employers are going to see. If something in your resume doesn't add up or you don't showcase your skills properly, you may never get to the next step.

Fancy doesn't hurt, but it's not the be-all, end-all. Of course, a resume is an opportunity to show off design skills if you've got 'em. It doesn't hurt to have a snazzy layout. But simple resumes are fine. The content is most important. Make it snazzy if you can, but don't stress over that part too much.

Customize your resume to the job you're applying for. Look at the job ad. Myself, I would assume that they're going to list the most important duties or aspects of the job first. If you have experience that is relevant to these items, list it more prominently in your resume. For example, I would assume that most teen librarians have done some sort of collection development and reference work (even just in MLS classes). As a potential employer, I'd be much more interested to know about the cool technology program you developed or your partnership with a local organization to bring a great teen program to your library. That's the stuff that not everyone has done. Make sure potential employers know about it!

Try not to have gaps in your resume. If you have worked somewhere other than libraries for the past few years, list where you've been employed, but leave out information about duties that are irrelevant to the specific job search. If you've been unemployed for a time, that's understandable, but be prepared to explain that in your cover letter and show how you've been staying involved in the library (or literary or technology, etc.) world.

Include your social media accounts (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LibraryThing, etc.) IF:

1. They are PROFESSIONAL in nature. That means you're blogging, Tweeting, etc. about library programs, library issues, your grad school projects, books, etc. It means you're NOT blogging mostly about your cats, knitting, cooking, fashion, etc.


2. They are current and updated regularly. I have no interest in looking at a Twitter account that you have only updated three times since you were at ALA Midwinter in January. Instead of listing your actual account, I would just include Twitter under computer programs or social media platforms with which you are comfortable. (One exception might be a blog you kept during an internship or for a special project in grad school. Even if your internship has ended, if you feel that your blog has valuable insight as to your experiences, feel free to include it.)

And remember that your blog can be a powerful tool if you think of it as a digital portfolio. Add clear links to the content you want people to find: posts about library programs (with photos!), storytimes, or book reviews that you're proud of. If your blog is centered around books, think about how you can highlight the breadth and diversity of your reading - an essential asset for a librarian.  

If you mention you write a book blog, include the URL. Otherwise, I think you're hiding something or it's a blog that is not professional in content or quality, in which case do not mention it at all.

It's perfectly okay to call, unless it's not. If a job ad specifically asks you not to call, I wouldn't. Otherwise, if it's been a while and you haven't heard anything, it's perfectly fine to call and check up on your application. TRUE STORY: when I applied for the job I have now, my email with my application materials didn't go through the first time. If I hadn't called to check up on it, I would not have gotten this job! It's fine to call (once!) and say something along the lines of, "I was just calling to check up on the materials I submitted for XX job posting. Is there anything else you needed from me?"

Provide references from relevant past employers. Make sure the contact information is current. If you're applying for a public library job and have worked in a public library before, but the only references you're providing are from grad school and unrelated jobs, the committee is going to wonder why. Make sure that the contact information you're providing is up to date and let your references know that you're applying for jobs so someone might be calling. If your relationship to your reference might be unclear, clarify it.

On interviewing:

Okay, you're through the door and you've been asked for an interview. It's just as important to put your best foot forward here. There's only so much an employer can tell from your paper application. The interview is where you can let your personality shine and show potential employers what they'd be getting if they would hire you.

So, before the interview, do your research. Spend 30 minutes looking at the library's website. Make note of the programs and services they're offering. Check out their social media presence. You don't have to memorize the whole thing, but a committee will be MUCH more impressed with a candidate who's done their research rather than a candidate who doesn't know whether or not the library's already on Facebook.

Research the community, too. Especially if you're going to be moving for this job, do some research on the community. Demographics, community organizations, local schools. For youth services jobs, take special note of local organizations that serve youth and think ahead of time about how you might partner with them to promote library services. Check out what clubs and activities are offered at local schools (this info is often available on school websites).

Reread the job ad and pay attention. If a job ad mentions specific programs or services that the library offers, figure out what those are and prepare for questions relating to them. Remind yourself of what skills the library is looking for and brush up. If you're doing a phone or Skype interview, you can even have notes alongside you to help you remember.

Dress to impress. Yes, some libraries have casual dress codes, but you don't know that about this library yet. Always, always, always err on the side of being overdressed. For ladies, this means a nice (clean, no stains) top and slacks (not jeans) or a skirt. It could mean a suit or a dress. Dress conservatively - cleavage has no place in a job interview (um, at least a library job interview). For guys, this means at least a button-down dress shirt or a nice sweater. A tie or suit jacket never hurt anyone. Even if you know the library has a more casual dress code, there will probably be occasions where you'll be asked to look more professional (think: giving a presentation, meeting with someone important in the community, etc.). Dressing professionally for your interview shows the committee that you can pull it together, even if you would be wearing jeans to work most days.

Take notes. If you want to. While you're actually answering questions, you may not be able to concentrate on taking notes, but you'll have time to ask questions and you'll want to at least jot down what the rest of the interview process will be.

Smile! Be able to laugh at yourself. It's nerve-wracking, I know, but try to relax as much as you can. Your job search may be wearing you down, but you need to keep it positive (especially when you'll be working with children or teens). You want the search committee to want to work with you. It's okay to talk about weaknesses, projects that didn't go perfectly, mistakes you've made. The people who are hiring know that you're not perfect. Show them that you've learned something from your mistakes and that you strive to improve yourself.

It's okay not to have all the answers! Believe me, experienced librarians do not always have all the answers. But you're a librarian (or will soon be one). If you don't know the answer to a question, if you're not familiar with a computer program or book series mentioned in the interview, it's okay to admit that (we can't all know everything), but make sure you let them know that you're willing to learn. A simple "I'm not familiar with that, but I would use x, y, and z resource to find the answers" or "That's a skill that I would be able to develop with mentoring" shows your interviewers that you know you're not perfect and you know how you would improve in that particular area if asked to do so.

Ask questions. It's perfectly fine to have a list of questions prepared. An interview is your chance to find out about your employers as much as it is their chance to find out about you. Ask about the teen or children's space, find out who you'll be reporting to and working with, ask about the teens or kids you'll be serving. We're happy to tell you anything you want to know about our library and it reassures us that you'll have an idea of what you're getting into if the job is offered to you.

Send a follow-up note. It's always nice to send off a brief email after an interview, thanking the interviewers for their time, responding to anything that you may have blanked on or forgotten to mention in the interview, and letting the committee know that they can contact you if they need anything further. Keep it brief, no more than a couple of sentences. A handwritten thank you note will not go amiss either.

Don't burn your bridges. If this job's not offered to you, it's best to accept that gracefully (as least as far as the committee can see). You never know what's going on behind the scenes and it's always possible that an employer may have another opening coming up soon. Of course, if the library's not a good fit, it's not a good fit, but if you're tempted to respond with sour grapes or making yourself feel better about not being hired, just tell it to your friends instead.

What advice do you have for librarians applying for and interviewing for jobs? Leave advice in the comments!