Job Tips for Future/Recent LIS Grads

If there’s one thing I know for certain it’s this: you can never know anything for certain. With that in mind, some of us are facing an frighteningly exciting time in our lives — we’re going to graduate and look for a job we will LOVE! Most of us have had jobs before, but now that we’re finishing our degrees, we’ve found our passion and we’re ready to head out into this (not so perfect yet) world of employment! So, save this post. Use it when you’re ready. Be ready for anything! And please share what you learn. With that, I offer you a 3-course meal of Job Tips [the search, application, interview] and some leftovers. This uses resources from a previous post on my blog.

The Job Search

Location. Location. Location. The more flexible you are with the state or city or country you live in, the better. This cannot be said enough. See #5 (and #6) of this post by Abby Johnson (@abbylibrarian).

Know what your salary requirements are. If you can’t afford to live off of what the job will pay, it isn’t the job for you. But also remember that what you’re paid will be based on your education and experience.  Try Library Journal’s Placements & Salaries Survey 2010 to get an idea of your salary expectations.

Look for jobs any and everywhere you WANT to work. If the library you’ve got your eye on isn’t hiring right now, bookmark their HR page and look at it once a month until they ARE hiring. In the meantime, broaden your horizons and look other places (listservs, ALA JobList, State Association job boards, regional job boards, etc.)

Stay organized and on top of deadlines. You could do this through the use of a spreadsheet like this one.

The Application

It is tough to know how many applications to send out. The more time you spend on them, the better they’re done and therefore the fewer you need to send out. However, if you can compose a well-crafted cover letter that can have minor adjustments for future job applications, you are saving yourself time. But make sure you make all the necessary adjustments. Don’t apply to a job at the Green Library and give them a letter addressed to the Yellow Library. ZOINKS!

CV vs Resume

Both are acceptable; pay attention to what the job description requires.

CV is usually for academic professions and can be as long and detailed as is necessary.

Resume is for business professions and is usually 1-2 pages.

Cover Letter

Develop and deliver your message early in the cover letter. This is your chance to shine!

Look back at the job description and highlight the required and preferred qualifications listed. Focus on your strongest qualifications.

Explain how your interests or your career path or personal goals fit with the organization’s goals.

If your experience isn’t library-related, explain why it is still relevant and how it improved your suitability for the job. (This can also include education and volunteer experiences.)

This should be well-written, proofread and be 1-1.5 pages.


Choose your references wisely. If the description is looking for someone with supervisory experience, your reference should be someone who knows about your skills in this area.

Prepare your references by sending them an updated version of your CV or Resume, a copy of the job description and your cover letter.

The Interview

An interview doesn’t mean you’ve gotten the job, or you’ve got to accept an offer if (when) it comes. It just means you have an interview! See Jen Waller’s (@jenniferwaller) post.

Know something about the city and org you’re interviewing with. Check out the web site, their blog, Twitter, etc.

Be able to answer: “Why do you want this job?”

Familiarize yourself with these library-specific-typical interview questions from Marie Potter and the University of Washington iSchool
Sample Tips and Library Interview Questions

Sample Interview Questions – Specific and Generic

Show engagement, enthusiasm and leadership in librarianship.

Remember that search committees are not necessarily skilled recruiters. You may have to ask them questions if you the questions you were asked do not cover everything you have to say.

Don’t leave the interview without asking at least one question. That can be as simple as, “Will there be an opportunity for another time to talk with you if I have more questions?”

The Leftovers

Rejection isn’t the end of the world. In fact, rejection means you applied and they considered you! That’s more than nothing. You WILL get a job. You WILL!

You can reject a job offer. Don’t feel pressured to work somewhere you aren’t personally and professionally comfortable. You WILL get a job. You WILL!

That’s all I have for you. Now go brush your teeth, practice your smile and get a job! Who else has tips to share?

Categories: Job Searching

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43 replies

  1. I am totally reading and re-reading this post as I sit down to a full, fun-filled day of seeking out and applying for jobs. Thanks Heidi for the resources, and good luck to all of us who are on the market!


  2. Great post, Heidi! Thanks for the insight and the nifty spreadsheet. Your suggestions about the cover letter are especially helpful–that’s the stage I’m at right now, and it gives me no end of anxiety


  3. Very helpful, Heidi 🙂

    Here’s a question, maybe especially for any of you women who have had or are anticipating an interview:
    What are you going to wear?

    I do not have confidence in my ability to dress professionally. It’s certainly not the biggest thing in the world, but it matters. So I’d love to hear thoughts about that…


    • That is a GREAT question. I have a couple of pair of pants that I call my “interview” pants. They are nice slacks that I had hemmed to fit me just right. It’s worth a little extra money. Then I usually wear a nice blouse with a light, colorful cardigan over it. No one has ever told me I looked unprofessional, but I know I’m not dressing up A LOT… it’s difficult for me, too.

      Hopefully other people have ideas for us, too! I’d love to hear other “interview outfits”


      • I have some work slacks but I am the type of person who isn’t a huge fan of pants.
        *Future employers avert your eyes, spoiler alert on my outfit*
        For my interviews I’ve been wearing a skirt suit I found at a Banana Republic Outlet store, it’s sorta a beige color. And then I pair that with a colorful silk blouse, and sensible heels. I think the suit element makes it professional and put together but I still get to feel like myself and when I unbutton or remove my suit jacket I get all the pizazz I need. Libraries tend to be casual places so at work right now I tend to just go with a nice blouse, a plain skirt, and a cardigan or a fancy skirt, plain shirt, and cardigan.


      • I definitely go back and forth in the “library world” of whether you can be too dressed up or not. I just feel like you can’t go wrong with a suit. I mean it doesn’t have to be crazy fancy. H&M have really nice affordable suits. I have a simple black pants suit and a simple black dress suit. That way I can interchange, wear with cardigans if I want, etc.

        I also just think it makes life much easier when you have one or two interview outfits that fit you perfectly, like Heidi said. That way you have one less thing to worry about!


      • These are great suggestions. If anything, like you both said, if you have something to wear that you feel confident about and that fits well, then that takes the worry away from clothes and allows you to focus on the interview itself 🙂 Thanks for the tips!


  4. May sound stuffy to some, but I treat it as common sense: it’s ALWAYS safe to dress on the conservative side for an interview. I know a lot of people use clothes to express personality, but you need to be dressed PROFESSIONALLY for an interview. The job market is tight. Why make it harder on yourself? You may like to wear graphic tees and sneakers (I do!), but NOT for an interview.

    Thinking back, in my 8 years as a librarian, I’ve watched upwards of 30 people interview for various librarian positions—and I’ve served on some of the search committees. This is what I would consider to be standard dress (of course, my view only): For a guy: slacks/button-up shirt/tie is standard. A suit is excellent if you have one. No denim, no corduroy pants. I just had an interview in December in Wisconsin (read: cold), so I opted for my heavy black wool coat over my shirt and tie and did not wear the suit jacket. So sometimes, the geographic climate may affect your clothing choices. And for the record, the interview was successful. For a woman: slacks/blouse, skirt/blouse, cardigan/blouse, two-piece suit is standard. No denim, no corduroy. Also (and I don’t mean this to sound offensive) if you wear a skirt, sit down in it in front of a mirror so you can check to see how much of your thigh is covered (otherwise people may talk more about what you were wearing than about your skill set!). I know some people recommend specific colors (black, navy, gray)—but I’ve never really cared about specific colors when being on the hiring side of things. Women have more alternatives in terms of fabric and colors, which can make things more difficult. For me, I just like to see a professionally dressed person who exudes confidence. Don’t wear anything that you would think would be distracting: after all, your personality and expertise that you bring should be the STAR!

    When you’re on the interview you can then get a feel for how people dress. The library where I’m at now in Green Bay, WI is pretty casual: I usually wear khakis and a button-up shirt (no tie) most days. I call it my “guybrarian” wear. Jeans on Fridays, weekends, summer are ok. And, of course, Green Bay Packers shirts during football season are encouraged 🙂

    As a side note, you may want to err on the side of caution when packing for an interview: bring an extra tie/shirt/blouse. On one of my very first librarian interviews in 2002, I spilled juice on my tie the morning of an interview. I had to go tie-less for the interview and ended up getting reamed royally by one of the library administrators for not being dressed professionally. The experience, of course, helped me realize that I probably wouldn’t have like working there 🙂 and I happily accepted a job elsewhere.


  5. This is so wonderful! I’m obsessively checking job postings, even though I’m about 6 months out from being able to change jobs. Every little bit of preparation helps. Quick question: when do you think it’s a good time to officially start the job search?


    • Poppy – I might be worth it to start putting your feelers out even now. I started thinking about jobs in December ’10 and am not graduating until this May. The earlier you start the better. Writing out a few different resumes and cover letters, getting feedback on them from peers and supervisors, updating and investing in your online presence, finding out who is hiring and what sorts of jobs are available, planning for a move if that may come with a job… all of this can be done much easier early than late. Good luck!


    • I think Micah’s points are good, but I would also say that your job search timeframe depends on the type of library you’re interested in. I’ve noticed that academic libraries usually post their job openings months and months in advance (to accommodate for semesters) and public libraries tend to have shorter timeframes.

      One thing that bothers me about many job postings is the fact that they leave off the “start date” of the job.


  6. Excellent post! I’ve been in the working world since 2005 now, so I’ve had my fair share of interviews. I agree with everything said, however I’d like to touch on two things: For resume, make it as as point blank as possible. I’ve hired people before, so I can say this – don’t put fluff on resumes. Use the cover letter for that. Point out the main things you did in previous positions, and highlight achievements. I say stick with a one page resume unless you have significant experience in the job force to back up multiple pages. Same with cover letter. Stick to one page, unless you have a lot of job related experience to add. Highlight what you’ve done, and what you can bring to the job. Showcase why you’re better than the others applying (without saying that, of course!)

    Of course, all of these things are hit or miss. I don’t think there’s one specific way to do a resume/cover letter (as the post says, we can never know for certain!) So give each interview your all. And good luck!


  7. Love those links! I’ve attended so many career workshops I didn’t think there was much left to talk about beyond just getting down to the job search, but there is really good information here.


  8. The comments for this post are rife with other things to read!

    My two cents: go for informational interviews with people who have jobs you want (in the near or far future) or with people who work at organizations that you think you’d like to work for. You’ll learn about the responsibilities of the positions, the culture of the organization, get some good advice, and come out with a good idea of what it’s like to do that job or work for that organization. AND: you’ll have a new professional contact!

    I’ve had great luck with informational interviews, especially in the library field. We just love knowledge sharing!


  9. Am finally catching up with Hack Library School and you guys are doing an awesome thing with this!

    I’m a fairly recent grad, December 2008, and have been in my first full-time professional position since August 2009. I can also now say I’ve been on three search committees (one done, two in progress), so I’m close enough to both sides of this to add additional advice.

    *For the love of all things holy, have someone in the profession who has hired people read your stuff. I learned so much from the folks who read my materials and a well edited letter/cv/resume shows through. If you’re an ALA-NMRT member, you can take advantage of the resume review service if need be.
    *As Heidi mentioned, tailor your cover letter to the job requirements/description. Just swapping out the name of the institution/library does not count. I’m fascinated by how many people skip this step and it makes a monumental difference.
    *Be so, so careful with adjectives in your materials. It does not take much to come off as arrogant in writing.
    *Something that seems to always be left off lists like this: submitting your application materials. Provide what’s asked for. Consider file format (I highly suggest converting everything to PDF) and give your files distinct names that makes sense to someone other than yourself.
    *When you get an interview offer, whether phone or in-person, do your homework! Develop an understanding of the institution/library you’re interviewing with and have questions ready for your interviewers. Prepared candidates shine bright.

    Good luck to all those job hunting!


  10. Just for the sake of contrast to all the airy enthusiasm and optimism. Call it realism, or perhaps sour grapes. I got my MLS in 2007 and have yet to find a full time, permanent job in what I set out to do: be a reference librarian at a public or university library. I have certainly done everything suggested in this blog to a T, and more. Most jobs seem to want someone with at least 3 years experience in a specific thing. Not a good fit for newly minted MLS’s no matter how much you try to b… s… (which, though no one will come right out and say so, is what all believe you should do). Perhaps you should get an internship while in school in something highly specialized and especially high tech. Unfortunately, I did not and high tech is not my interest, which is, I realize, a big minus in current IS.
    ALSO, I am a middle aged white male. This will sound like whining – I know white males have traditionally had all the advantages. But “diverity” is now the rage, which is fine, but somehow being a male in a traditionally female-dominated profession is not seen as a diversity factor. Score another for blind, irrational political correctness. Now 4 years out of my program, having gained no real experience except part time jobs shelving and copying, the truth dawns: I will not get a job, I will not get a job, I will not get a job. For middle-aged white men considering career change, I have two words of advice: aluminum siding!


    • Richard, sorry to hear the market has not been good to you. I think we can all sympathize and shudder, hoping that’s not in the cards for us too. A few things I’d like to point out – we do all agree that having extensive experience before entering the job market is a must, whether through internships or part-time work. Also, I read recently (can’t remember where) that to really have possibilities for landing a job in librarianship one might have to be willing to relocate to where the jobs are. Also, there are plenty of related career paths to take that might allow us to bide our time before finding the job in the library we always wanted.

      On the diversity angle, that’s a complicated one. I am and will be in the same boat you are as far as demographics, and while I want a job too it is important to remember that diversity matters. As someday you and I may be on the hiring side of this, it is a consideration we will have to account for, in order to keep the profession broad, interesting and representative of our society.

      I do wish that you wouldn’t give up hope yet. We’re all hoping for an economic turn around, and if so, jobs that will be available to students of LIS. Thanks for the comment and best of luck in the future.


    • Richard, thanks for this comment. When I wrote this post, I knew that we (current LIS students) were heading into a huge challenge. The job hunt is a challenge because of the economy, the state of libraries themselves, and of course, because changing/finding a career is a huge lifestyle change.

      I hoped that it would be a helpful post for people who are heading out to get their “first” job or who haven’t applied for jobs for years. And from most of the comments and feedback we’ve gotten, it has been helpful for people to use as a resource.

      Like Micah said, I hope you don’t give up hope yet. I do, however, hope that you continue to share your perspective with us here. Thank you!


      • Well, we Africans are finding it so difficult than any other person because libraries are not given much recognition therefore, we need a vast knowledge to be able to meet the world’s standards. We might work elsewhere other than our continent.


  11. I’m re-reading this post so many months after it was published since it’s landed in my inbox a couple times this week. I’d like to add a point re salaries: remember that it can be difficult to compare salaries from one region to another. Research the costs of living in a certain city or state, and research tax rates (income, state, local), and the cost of benefits.

    As a Canadian always on the lookout for work on both sides of the border (thank you, NAFTA – it applies for Americans on the job hunt north of the border, too), I’ve learned to be far less discriminating when it comes to salaries. Salaries often appear higher in Canada, but it, and the cost of living, often balances out once tax rates are taken into account.


  12. An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I believe that you ought to publish more about this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but typically people do not speak about such issues. To the next! All the best!!


  13. Well, we Africans are finding it so difficult than any other person because libraries are not given much recognition therefore, we need a vast knowledge to be able to meet the world’s standards. We might work elsewhere other than our continent.


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