Apply Yourself

When I tell people what I am doing in Florence, Italy for a year, I am invariably asked one question: “How did you land such a position?!” To which I smile broadly, often chuckle a little and answer simply and honestly: “I applied.” This, my LIS, MLIS and MSIT friends is one of my best hacks for library school and life.

Oldtimey Librarian

“Library Automation 6” by quisnovus via Flickr under CC.

“80% of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen

You have to show up. For most positions and roles that you want to land, that means tossing your hat in the ring with an application.

If you have been following HLS’s new series “So What Do You Do?” you have heard about a number of great internships and programs to round out your LIS education. In none of them (at least so far) does the hacker say: well I was just standing around on a street corner and someone said “come do this thing.” Whether it be getting into library school, volunteering, taking a leadership position in the club which eventually leads to the internship which then leads to a job with your dream organization… all the steps start with some sort of applying yourself — even if it is as simple as showing up.

I am additionally reminded of the “showing up” truism as I have recently been interviewing students for Library Assistant positions. Last semester, 4 students applied. Guess what? Those four people were hired. None of them seemed to be unstable or problematic in an interview so selection was easy. Those that tried, submitted their applications — a simple Google form — on time, got hired.

I was then shocked at how many more students came to me after the hires were made and work had started and said “oh, I wanted to apply but ___(forgot/was unsure/put it off/was busy/etc)____, can I still work for the library?” or “are you going to open the process again?” No. No I am not.

First, it doesn’t speak well to interest nor solid work ethic the deadline was missed. (Takeaway: send early, send often and follow the directions for the application to the letter)

Second, it would be blatantly unfair. (Takeaway: and don’t ask for special consideration or worst of all: an extension)

Third, why – as a manager – would I think that the next time would be any different? I was pleased with the work of the students that were hired and the two that came back to Florence were assured jobs against a much larger applicant pool this semester.

Those returning students that missed the deadline last time and asked about it later? Not one applied this time. A number of others who expressed interest didn’t either. Which is sad because I’m sure they would be great additions to the library but I can’t hire them because they didn’t apply. (Takeaway: Apply!)

If you self-limit yourself by not even applying you are 100% assured of not getting the gig.

If you make the attempt, even if it is an outside chance, you at least have some chance. Sure, you shouldn’t waste your energies by applying for things you aren’t interested in. Do your research and be somewhat choice (all our time is limited) but err on the side of over-spraying. What an incredible position to be in that you turn down a role that you decide isn’t such a great fit! Even if you don’t land the job, if nothing else you get cover letter writing and interviewing practice and you know that your digital resume is up to date for when the really great thing comes along.

You can go to amazing and unexpected places with your LIS degree, even while still in school. Don’t limit your options by not even trying. It can be scary to ask for the Informational Interview, press “send” on your cover letter and resume email, put in to lead a seminar at that conference, or “submit” on your application. The information is out there to help guide you (see all those links) but you — YES YOU! — have to take the leap and do it.

Don’t procrastinate  Don’t over-think it. Don’t self-limit by indecision. It gets just a little easier with practice and every other person applying is likely feeling the exact same way. You’re not a fraud! If you have the interest and take the time to submit an application, you — yes you! — deserve to at least be considered.

Put yourself out there and go for it. You truly never know until you apply yourself!

If you are looking for a good place to start we are accepting applications until March 15th for our collaborative summer (paid!) internship with Every Library. Also, we are always looking for new voices via guest posts which could absolutely turn more permanent when next we send the call for hacker-writers. So apply!

Have a encouraging story to share about applying yourself? Any tips or tricks for effectively throwing your hat in the ring? Share with the community in the comments!

Categories: Honesty, Professional Life

32 replies

  1. What a wonderful post, Joanna! When I was reading it I kept thinking, YES, THIS!

    Yesterday I posted about something new I was doing on Facebook. A friend commented “I’m so jealous of your awesome involvements and experiences! :)” The friend is fantastic in her own right and is doing wonderful things, but she is a let-me-think-and-plan-first person and I am a Yes, absolutely! person. Sometimes this gets me overbooked though. I follow a simple method—if I admire what people are doing, am interested in working on it (like Hack Library School) and they do a call out to join, I’m applying right away. With this method it never really feels much like work. The majority of great opportunities I’ve had was the result of having the guts to hit submit.

    There is always the risk of not getting a job or opportunity and being disappointed, but we need to take that risk. As you said, we deserve to be considered. Success starts with saying, Yes, I want that. It sounds magical. And then actually applying.


    • Thank you! A friend similarly recounted advice she recently received to be aware when we think “oh he’s so lucky to…” because it keys us in to those ideas and opportunities that should make us say “Yes!” Jealousy should be an indication of our desires yet we need to remember that “luck” doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Oftentimes the only barrier is ourselves. (and I need this advice as much as I give it!)


  2. Yep. I really didn’t think I’d get the Florence gig when I applied for it. But I figured it was worth a shot. And those couple hours I spent on the application changed a lot of things…


  3. This article is amazing and comes at a perfect time. I just applied for a part-time (VERY part-time, only 12 hours a month) professional librarian position at my public library. It says MLIS required or MLIS-enrolled students welcome, so I figure, why not? I have no idea if I will be considered but at least I tried! I held a student worker position working for an archaeology journal for three and a half years while in undergrad. I was up against someone who had a lot more connection with the program and I didn’t think I would get the job – but I did! That experience opened up so many opportunities for me and I hate to think what I would have missed if I was too scared to apply.

    I love your comments about people who ask about positions after the deadline. I work with art graduate students and our application deadlines were almost two months ago and I’m still getting phone calls with requests for deadline extensions. And you are absolutely right, it does not show real interest or dedication to the program. It also worries me, because students who can’t submit applications on time probably aren’t going to be successful in a demanding graduate program.


    • Kudos for going for it Courtney! Thank you for your personal experience of success against your inner “I don’t have a chance” voice too. It is always reassuring to hear that others feel/felt the same way. Even better that they got what they went after because they dared to think that they were indeed good enough to at least try. I’m sure you would be an asset to the library and sending positive thoughts your way!


    • I did the same thing. I applied for a professional, pt librarian position while I was still in school. I didn’t think I’d have a chance since I didn’t have my master’s yet. I’m really glad that I tried because I ended up getting it, and it gave me wonderful work experience.


  4. People in an applying mood should consider pitching a talk, poster session, or preconference to LITA Forum 2013: We welcome proposals from students! You don’t even have to be a LITA member; you just have to have something interesting to say about libraries and technology. CFP closes 2/25, so apply soon!

    I also recommend submitting something for the LITA/Ex Libris student writing award: (also due soon, 2/28). I won this a few years ago and served on the committee last year. Writing the paper was a great learning experience, the prize is huge, and frankly my year we didn’t get very many applicants, so if you have a thoughtful and well-written paper on library technology that you can polish in the next few days, your odds are probably pretty good.


    • Thanks Andromeda! Those are great links and resources, near and dear to my heart. If I knew that I would be back stateside in November I would definitely put in a proposal… perhaps I might anyway…. 🙂


  5. That’s how I just got both my first job in the library as a temporary library assistant for the season and just now as a library associate at a small private Catholic college. When I applied for the seasonal position, I was just about to graduate from my undergraduate elementary education program. I was pretty sure that I wanted to get my MLIS degree, but I had no formal work or volunteer experience to speak of within any library, so I was determined to get some, even if it meant taking a semester off. I’ll admit I was afraid I wouldn’t qualify for the job because it suggested 6 months library work or volunteer experience. However, since this was listed as a suggestion, rather than a requirement, I applied anyways, and got it!

    Fast forward through several other temporary jobs (none in the library), one and a half semesters of MLIS courses, and countless unaccepted library job applications later, I came across a job posting for a library associate position at a small Catholic University about an hour’s commute from where I live. This sounded like a great opportunity and perfect for someone like me who has been very active in the local Catholic community throughout my life. But, my mind chastised me. “Valerie, come on, be serious! Don’t even open the post. You’re just going to be disappointed again when you find out there’s no way you’re going to fulfill the requirements of this position. It’ll probably require an MLIS degree and a zillion years of experience. You’ve been turned down even for a part-time library [age position that only required a tenth grade education and some library experience. Haven’t you had enough? Just stop torturing yourself and give up already. Maybe check back someday when you have your MLIS degree!”

    Of course, I ignored these warning bells and whistles and opened the job post anyways… And to my surprise and delight the minimum education requirement was a bachelors degree and under experience it said that some library experience or other related experience would be helpful, but that it could also be an entry position for the right candidate. So I took a chance and applied for the job and was emailed back almost immediately. Then I was interviewed three times and offered the job all within a two and a half week period.

    It may not be easy. It may be downright exhausting and depressing. But don’t give up! All your efforts will be rewarded. Maybe that rejection is simply the work of your guardian angel who knows that a better opportunity is out there for you! Be patient and keep applying 🙂


    • I love your enthusiasm Valerie! Besides the bracket I didn’t see any errors but perhaps that was because I was smiling and nodding “YES!” too much! Thank you for giving further encouragement based on your experience. I love your message to keep trying because whatever it was was just not the right thing yet. Be patient and keep applying indeed!


  6. Great advice, Joanna. I agree wholeheartedly that sometimes all it takes is asking for something and it will be given to you. And being on top of things pays off.


  7. All excellent advice. I’d add one more thing to it. It’s so easy to find other awesome librarians and archivists doing amazing things, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that those of us who have landed our dream gigs only did so after applying for dozens, or even hundreds, of other places – some that we may have really, really wanted to be accepted to – and being rejected.

    After the nos start coming in, remember you only need one yes to be on your way.


    • Very good advice! Thank you for adding it because, indeed, it is very easy to forget yet so very important to remember. Your experience too echoes Valerie’s and, as you mentioned, likely hundreds of others. Kudos for keeping at it and landing your finally dream gig!


  8. I second Joanna. I applied for the FSU London Library internship, got an interview, and was hired for the IT intern position instead. Always be willing to go out on a limb. I didn’t apply for the IT intern because I didn’t think I was qualified, turns out they liked my willingness to try and my enthusiasm for IT in the library world.


    • Thanks for the support! Yes, that is another “apply yourself” aspect that needs retelling: be open! Follow your instincts and passions, even into areas that might not fit onto your resume (yet). Hope you are enjoying London and your IT work there!


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