I started writing a post about my interview experience because I recently landed a position as a Research and Instruction Librarian. I am excited because my university, the library, my colleagues, and job are awesome. Once I began writing about interviewing, I started reflecting on my experiences looking for a job. In the post I started, I wrote, “I didn’t have any interview clothes, couldn’t find a blazer that fit, and went back to my car and cried” and “I got sick and skipped some of my obligations. I wasn’t taking care of myself very well.” I’ve been talking to others about their job searches because many of my friends, colleagues, and classmates are still searching. Some are having success, but many are struggling to find a position in libraries. The entire process is exhausting, and it should be better.
I want to start by acknowledging my privilege in finding a position. Yes, I worked hard, but there are so many barriers in place that keep others from finding work and an inherent privilege in the library job search process. One such barrier occurs right in the beginning. Many applications assume whiteness, and applicants that cannot meet those standards are kept out. Galvan’s article “Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship” and Hathcock’s “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS” both explain what whiteness in librarianship looks like, and why it’s a barrier to job applicants. We’re a profession that’s predominantly white, and we should be cognizant that application processes contain biases that must be dismantled.
Additionally, individuals with disabilities may experience barriers when searching for library jobs. Employers are not supposed to take applicant disabilities into account when hiring; however, research suggests that applicants that do disclose their disability face discrimination in the hiring process. This leads to questions over when, or if, a person should disclose a disability to an employer. Job ads may contain language that immediately disqualifies individuals with disabilities, such as driver’s license requirements or the ability to carry 25 pounds. Lack of accommodation during interviews, for both physical and cognitive disabilities, disproportionately affects individuals with disabilities. We need to recognize ingrained ableism in our institutions and take the steps to create an equitable hiring process.
Job Posts and Salaries
Applying to jobs requires sifting through countless job posts to determine the ones you are qualified for. As part of a class assignment, I recently collected 215 job postings from HigherEdJobs from the month of April. I have just started analyzing these posts to get a better idea of the environment for job seekers. I did an initial analysis and found that roughly 20% of the positions were part-time, and 80% of the posts contained no salary information or stated that salary was commensurate with experience.
The lack of transparency and salary ranges is troubling, and adds another layer of stress to job searching. It’s frustrating to apply for a job without a salary range, only to learn that the job’s salary is lower than you expected. You can research the salaries for individuals in public institutions, but that doesn’t help if you’re applying to a private organization. Additionally, job postings that do not disclose salary disproportionately affect women and people of color. Libraries that do not post salary ranges or pay grades perpetuate the wage gap and inequality in the hiring process. I hope to see more laws that require businesses to post salaries and prevent hiring managers from asking about salary histories. Actually, I hope that libraries start posting salaries, regardless of the law. If we really care about getting the best applicants from a multitude of backgrounds, we’d ensure that every post is transparent about salary.
After the applications, cover letters, resumes, CVs, gathering of references, written statements, and whatever else is required comes the interview. For academic positions, this means making it through an interview that may last 1-2 days. In my interview, we went to dinner the night before. The next day, I met the search committee at 9 AM, answered standard interview questions, gave a presentation, answered questions from faculty and staff who attended, took a tour, met two members of the department for lunch, met with a university member, met the Dean, talked about promotion track, and then met with the search committee one more time. My interview lasted six hours (not including dinner the night before), and was fairly tame compared to other interviews I’ve heard of. The members of the search committee were cognizant about including breaks, understood when I was feeling fatigued, and tried to make the interview process as smooth as possible. I also had a list of tips for academic library interviews that were really helpful during the day (note that this list is exclusive to academic libraries and may not encompass all positions). That said, it was overwhelming, and I went home and slept for 12 hours.
Interviews can be tough for a variety of reasons. I took a day off of work to attend my interview, which is not something that everyone can afford to do. If you’re going on several interviews, this will compound. Some interviews may require travel. There’s the stress of taking off work, getting a flight, arriving at a hotel (possibly in a new time zone), and then trying to remain upbeat all day during the interview. To make matters worse, some places require candidates to purchase airfare and hotels upfront, and then reimburse the candidate later. Other places may not have the funds to reimburse candidates in the first place, so candidates pay out-of-pocket and hope that the job pans out. Not everyone has the ability to eat the costs of interviewing or waiting for a payout. We must consider ways to reduce financial barriers in the hiring process. Hiring committees can take steps such as scheduling breaks, ensuring meals meet candidate dietary preferences, providing water, and whenever possible, funding candidates and paying the costs for travel upfront to relieve stress and prevent undue burden on job seekers.
Compounding the job search problem are the amount of library school graduates each year. There are 59 ALA accredited institutions. There were 215 jobs posted in the month of April to HigherEdJobs. Graduates are not the only ones looking for LIS-related jobs. When I started my program, I’d often heard that librarians were retiring, and there would be more jobs available as a result. They aren’t. The jobs aren’t there for the amount of students who graduate from library school. I’m not saying that we prevent people from pursuing librarianship. When we do have opportunities to mentor students, I believe we should be honest with them about job outlooks and salaries. Perhaps we do not need anymore ALA accredited programs either; however, considering the ALA charges institutions to remain accredited, and institutions make money off of student tuition, I imagine the amount of accredited programs will only increase.
As incoming professionals, we have the opportunity to change the job search process for future candidates. I think the easiest step is to ensure that salary and pay are listed on any job ads we create. There were also some great suggestions listed in a Twitter thread I posted the other day. In addition to posting salary ranges, giving candidates questions beforehand, considering what parts of the interview are essential and what are not, and deconstructing and thinking about bias in our searches are changes we can make when we’re on search committees and hiring teams. Together, we can make the job search and interview process better.
How else can we make job searches and interviews easier and more equitable for candidates?
Cover photo: “Stressed” by won mohd. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Melissa DeWitt is an MLIS student at the University of Denver. You can find her on Twitter.
Categories: Job Searching, Uncategorized
One thing you may or may not realize is that in some institutions, it’s illegal, under institutional or union bylaws, to post salaries or salary ranges in jobs. Yes, it’s odd. But I’ve been at more than 1 institution with that rule. That said, many states are “sunshine states” and you can find salaries of incumbents and salary ranges for positions in many places – even when it’s officially illegal to attach a salary or salary range to a specific position! I recall at one institution, which shall remain nameless, I posted an ad for a tenure track librarian and since I couldn’t add a salary range, at the end of the ad, I wrote that we were unionized and salaries and ranges could be found in our contract, located at the following URLs. That, I could do! It was a crazy, roundabout way to get the information out there – I admit it. But with a few minutes of work, any candidate could find the info. It was ridiculous, but imy arguments that this was silly fell on deaf ears. However, I got the info out there, and I stayed on the “right” side of the bylaws by not actually listing the numerical salary or range in the ad. Sometimes those of us trying desperately to hire someone also have a few crazy hoops to jump. Also, I’ve worked in other places where I couldn’t post the salary, but invited anyone with any questions to email me. I have no problem answering questions about salaries, benefits, etc. I know not everyone’s comfortable either asking or answering such questions, and there’s no way for folks to know that – but if people would act less like folks are doing this out of love, and realize that while we may love the work, love doesn’t pay rent, then perhaps they’d be more willing to answer such questions.
That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of it being illegal to post a salary range, and I didn’t run across that point during my research. It sounds like you came up with a good strategy to get around the rule, and hopefully others can do the same. I suspect that the vast majority of posts missing salaries do not have those rules, however, so I think there’s still room for transparency with salaries.
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I am not sure that “illegal” is the correct way to describe violation of an institutional or union bylaw. If there is a union, its pay scale is known to all its members, and thus should be easy to find. If the potential employer is publicly funded (state university, public library, etc.—anything paid for with taxpayer dollars), the salary range information should be public and can be found with some search effort, often on the institution’s own HR webpages. If you’re interviewing with a private nonprofit organization, trying pulling their most recent 990 tax form(s) from GuideStar to see if the salary is listed. At least you can see an organization’s overall budget that way, which helps to guess what salary may be offered. Private for-profit employers can be as secretive in hiring as they want to be, unfortunately. Networking could come in handy to find out what the pay may be. For example, search on LinkedIn for the job title at that institution, and figure out who has held the position recently. Then connect!
Your day plus interview reminded me of the contrast in my career between academic and public librarianship. One of my first interviews to become a library director was at a small private college in another state. The interview started with the President of the college an hour after my plane landed (he was leaving town), dinner with the search committee, sleep. The next day was a whirlwind of activity of meeting with many groups of faculty, staff, and students, giving a presentation, dinner out again, and collapse. The next morning consisted of more meetings with student life staff, and flying out that afternoon. I had heard later, that I got dinged for repeating stories to different groups, some had crossover membership. I would offer that after meeting with 20 groups asking somewhat similar questions, repetition was a strong possibility. The good news was this school did practicalities right; it arranged my transportation and even got my seat assigned on the jet. I only had to focus on this incredibly long interview, not on how to get there and return. I contrast that with the interview for being director of a small town public library that I am currently at: two hours in an evening with a committee of the library board. Either the public library didn’t take it seriously enough, or academe overthinks things. So far, I’ve been much happier with a less stressful environment.
Thanks for sharing your story! I can’t believe you were dinged for sharing the same story more than once. I’ve been on interviews for public libraries, and had a few jobs before moving into libraries. Those interviews were also no more than 2 hours. Academe interviews are a totally different beast.
As an unemployed MLS graduate with a disability I can completely relate to your article. I’ve had a few close calls at this point but so far no offers. There are a lot of factors that play into the search. I also think that many jobs are filled internally or sometimes not at all. As you pointed out, the number of applicants ensures that competition is intense even if you’re well qualified. I’ve been told by some search committees that they received well over a hundred applications and in that situation simply getting an interview is a compliment. I feel as though my career is being dictated by a bizarre game of Plinko. I’ve applied to a lot of jobs that I would enjoy and that I am qualified to perform across the breadth of archives and librarianship and each would define my career and options in the future.
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