Things I wish people had told me about the job search

First of all, the good news: I have a job! (Almost—waiting on the background check.) Keep an eye out on my Twitter for the official announcement. Getting to this point, however, has not been easy. Melissa has already written an amazing post about some things that could be changed about the job search process. If you haven’t read it yet, go do that.

I’m not here to talk about what we should change (although maybe you can infer some of that from my post too). What I want to talk about are bits and pieces of advice and details that would have been helpful during this whole process that I just didn’t hear.

1. It’s (likely) going to take longer than you think

I know a few people who knew where they were going before graduation. I had no expectations that this would be me, but I did expect that I would know by the first month after graduation. I was wrong. Though I did get advice about the application process, no one gave me an idea of a reasonable timeline, so I definitely had unrealistic expectations. When people say hiring committees move slowly, they mean it.

Here’s what it looked like for me: I applied to my first job at the end of November. I received my first job offer at the end of June. I decided to accept a job in mid-July.

I also want to note that I have friends who are still looking for jobs and I continue to see job postings aimed at new graduates. For some people, even at this point, the hunt is not over.

2. Scheduling your summer will be hard

Because this process is so drawn out, scheduling anything over the summer is more difficult. Luckily, my current job has been very, very flexible about letting me take time off to go to on-site interviews. Scheduling short trips has also not been difficult. People know you have a life and will have to schedule around things to make it to an interview.

Where I’ve run into unexpected trouble was scheduling larger blocks of travel. Because my research often involves Southeast Asia, I usually spend part of the summer abroad, doing research or working on languages. This summer, I planned to do this again and even had a project lined up with a university in Indonesia that needed help processing an archival collection. Did I get to go? No. I had no idea when I might hear back from a job I wanted, when I might need to go to another on-site interview, or when I might need to start an actual job. Eventually, it got to the point where I needed to buy a plane ticket and I still couldn’t commit, so no travels abroad for me this summer.

3. Not all interviews include a presentation

Job talks were a major worry of mine going into this process. I luckily had a lot of support from my current job—they even staged a mock presentation for me so I could get used to the format and try to answer some questions (and they were good about throwing tricky ones my way as well).

It was thus somewhat of a shock when I received an on-site interview schedule without a presentation slot. But let me assure you that they do exist! If there’s any confusion on your part, read your schedule carefully and definitely ask if you need further clarification.

As a side note, the lack of presentation drives home the advice you may already have heard that the job talk is probably not the most important part of your interview. So don’t stress over it too much!

4. You might have to make really tough decisions

For example, you might get an offer from your second choice. If this happens, you can ask for some time to make a decision and see how they can work with you. You can also get in touch with places you’re hoping to hear from to ask about where they are in their process. But at some point you’re going to have to make a decision. I’m terrible at things like this, but one thing that does help me is making pro’s and con’s lists. This is also a time when you could turn to a mentor for advice.

You might also find yourself facing other tricky dilemmas. While seriously considering an offer, I had to decide whether or not to turn down other interview invitations further into the future. Scheduling dilemmas like this can be tricky and come down not only to where you are more interested in working but also to where you are in the process. Again, turn to people who have been through this before for advice. I’ve found that the librarians around me are very willing to offer advice.

5. You will never hear back about some jobs

There are some institutions where I had a phone interview and never heard another word until someone tweeted that they’d gotten the job. Months later, still nothing from the institution. This is bad, but this is a common experience across the board, so at least know that you’re not alone?

In a situation like this, you can email to ask about the status of the search. I have had marginal success with this method, but overall continue to find this aspect of job searching very frustrating.


And that’s it from me. Remember: you can do this! There will be surprises along the way, but there’s a lot to read about searching for a job, and there are people to help you when you need it. Also, remember that getting a job is really not the endgame. This is just the beginning!


Zoë McLaughlin is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at her personal blog.

Featured image from Death to Stock.

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