Quetzalli Barrientos is a reference/instruction resident librarian at American University. This is her first year as an academic librarian and she is a graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana
While in library school, I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by amazing librarians. When it came time to start applying for library jobs, I knew I could count on them to help me with the process of writing resumes and cover letters. My last semester of library school was the most stressful. In terms of classes, it was not the hardest, but it felt like all the projects piled up and with the knowledge that graduation was coming soon, it was hard to keep focused.
Now that I have graduated and no longer have to attend classes, I can take a bit of time to reflect on the job-hunting process. It is my hope that this post will serve as a good starting point for those of you starting. I have a lot to say, so bear with me.
The most difficult part of the job-hunting process is getting started. It’s getting started on the search, the cover letter, and the resume. Once you have the perfect cover letter, you can use that as a template for other job positions. I am not going to lie; the job-hunting process is time consuming and frustrating. At the time, it also felt like the whole process was soul sucking.
OK, I might be exaggerating, but it definitely felt like it. By now, you should have started looking for jobs. If not, start today! Here are a couple of tips for the LIS students who are graduating soon and looking for jobs. Although I only applied for academic libraries, most of the advice on here can be transferable to public libraries or other library settings.
- Be realistic about the timeline. When you’re looking at job posts, each of them have different deadlines. Mark these on your calendar, planner, or wherever you keep your schedule. You will have class, work, etc. to keep in mind.
- Organize the jobs you want to apply to. The first year I was in library school, a second year student that was applying to jobs, used a spreadsheet in Google docs to keep everything organized. When it came time for me to apply for jobs, I attempted the spreadsheet. As it turns out, this method did not work for me. You know what did? I kept a draft in my email and I copied and pasted links to job postings. Along with this link, I added the name of the institution and the deadline for it. Everyone has their own method, BUT please use something to organize all the job posts.
- Take some time to truly think about where you are going to apply for jobs. Are you going to only apply to academic libraries, only public, or maybe both? At the beginning of my job search, I decided that I would focus on mostly academic libraries and some adult services positions at public libraries. However, as I looked at positions and started writing cover letters, I had to ask myself a couple of questions. For example, would I be willing to move to another state for a job that is not the ideal library setting? After thinking about this, I decided to only focus on academic libraries and I continued with my job search.
- Treat it as a second job. During my past semester, I felt swamped by assistantships at two libraries, class projects, figuring out a family trip that summer, and feeling anxiety about where I would be that summer and if I would have a job. My suggestion would be to make time during a day where you are not too busy with classes or work. I would work on job applications on the research desk (when we were not busy of course!), in between supervision shifts, and weekend afternoons.
- Be as flexible as you can be. I think that one of the reasons that I was able to get a job almost straight out of library school was my flexibility. We all have different situations, but if you can, be willing to move anywhere.
- Always be on the lookout for job listings. Put those job postings aside in your Google docs (or in my case, my email draft). I am guilty of doing this during class (instead of paying attention), but really, it’s the last semester and everything feels so rushed.
- Have someone look at your cover letter. For one of the first jobs I applied to, my supervisor and I did about 5-7 revisions of it. It took a lot of effort, but once that cover letter was perfected, I used it as a template for other job positions.
- Same as above with the resume.
Once last thing before I move onto what to do after you apply and get that interview (yay!)
- Your heart will get broken. My heart was broken once during this job search. There will that one job that you think you are perfect for. The excitement of writing the cover letter and submitting your application will be too much. It’s hard to imagine being excited enough to write that cover letter. Well, that is what happened to me. I saw a job posting for a reference (with some instruction) librarian at a community college in a good-sized town in Wyoming. I know what you all are thinking, Wyoming?! Those closest to me would know that this was a great job in my dream location. I immediately saw myself working there, living in a rural area, enjoying the harsh winters, and attending the rodeos. After applying, I immediately started looking into the area, rent prices, and outdoor activities in that location. I think this was my first mistake–I got my hopes up almost immediately. After a couple of weeks after the deadline, I did not get notice for a phone interview. That is when I knew that I did not make the cut. It was hard to walk away from that, but with school, work, and other job applications, I could not afford to wallow in self-pity. So, it’s ok to fall in love and get your heart broken, but accept it and move forward.
If you’re applying for academic jobs, there are a couple of steps involved in the application process. First, you will receive a request to have a Skype or phone interview. If all goes well, you will be contacted to have an on-campus interview.
Let’s begin with the Skype or phone interview.
First, practice as many sample interview questions as you can. I found some great questions on the blog Mr. Library Dude. At first, I read these questions aloud to myself and answered aloud, but found that I could not express myself the way that I wanted to. So, I wrote these interview questions down and I wrote out my answer as well. This helped immensely and once I took my time in answering these questions, I read the questions and answers aloud.
Second, write your own questions. During the interview, they will ask you if you have any questions for them. This is a great opportunity for you to ask about any questions you have about the institution, position, or them. I would suggest keeping these questions “light”, questions about salary and other important matters should be saved for the on-campus interview.
Third, do your research about that institution. What jumps out at you? What interests you about their library space? Once, during a phone interview, I had the interviewer ask what I liked about their institution. I completely blanked and quickly googled them and found something somewhat interesting. The interviewers saw through that and needless to say, I did not get to the on-campus interview phase.
Third, dress like you would for an in-person interview. This is especially important for a Skype interview. I will admit that sometimes, I cheated. I once wore a nice blouse with a jacket, my hair was straightened, and I wore makeup. However, the people interviewing me did not know I was wearing some gym shorts.
Fourth, do the Skype or phone interview someplace where you have good cell reception/good Wi-Fi and someplace quiet. This got a little bit complicated for me since there was construction going on right next to my apartment (literally, 7 feet away from my window), and it was very loud. My Internet would also go in and out and although my place of employment had study rooms, it would get loud there as well. Luckily, I reserved a room at the engineering library and conducted the interviews there.
When you are in your room or place where the interview is going to be conducted, have everything ready. When I was doing interviews, I had my notebook with notes in it, the job description for that institution, a separate page with my questions for the interviewers, a water bottle, and I always made sure that the computer was plugged in (I had a weird paranoia about the computer suddenly losing power and that everything would go to hell).
Finally, practice, practice, practice! Find a friend to conduct a mock interview on you or do it yourself. Definitely find the time to prepare for the interview because this is your time to make a great impression.
Now that you have concluded a Skype/phone interview, relax. Email a nice note to the head of the committee and thank them for their time. Now, all you can really do is wait and see if you’re contacted for an on-campus interview.
In the exciting event that you do get contacted, there will be a couple of things that you have to prepare for. Chances are that the library will give you a presentation topic or require you to do a sample library instruction session.
Here are some tips to prepare and survive the interview.
Prepare for the presentation. DO NOT LEAVE IT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE (I did this and it sucked). Do some brainstorming, prepare your notes, and have handouts. I was able to have the help of a couple of librarians and they gave me some tips and I even did a mock presentation for them. From that mock presentation, I was able to get feedback. I will say this, my mock presentation was awful. I stuttered, went too fast, and did a bad job at maintaining eye contact.
Print out your resume (I printed out 10, just to be on the safe side), carry a notebook, have a water bottle, have a granola bar, carry a couple of pens, wallet, and of course, in order to carry all of this, you will need a professional-looking bag.
Do you have professional attire? If so, great. Have your outfit planned. If you’re like me, someone who only had black slacks, then you will need to go shopping. My mother, being the great woman she is, decided to take me to the mall. I got a nice blouse, new black pants, a black jacket, and some shoes (with a small heel).
Have all your information in regards to flights, transportation, and hotel. The library will send you an itinerary about the interview day. This on-campus interview will include a meeting with the committee to do another interview, presentation/mock library instruction session, meeting with human resources, a meeting with potential supervisor, lunch, and meeting with the University librarian.
This can be very overwhelming and draining. I have often heard from other librarians that the day is long and tiring. I went into an on-campus (where I am now a librarian) and instead of being tired, the exact opposite happened. As the day went on, I felt energized and I was truly surprised at how much I was enjoying myself. I went home from that interview with a good feeling and smile on my face. However, one can have the opposite experience. I had another on-campus that week and within an hour of being at that library, I wanted to go home. However, I had to be there and so I continued that day to the best of my ability.
I hope that the above has been useful and to remember that everyone has a different way of going about jobs, interviews, and preparation. That’s OK, just make sure to find what works for you. I wish you all luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.