Working in a library, either on your campus or off of it, is a great way to get some practical experience while also making some (although, let’s be real, probably not very much) money. But, how do you get your foot in the door?
I certainly can’t speak for everyone, or every campus; but I’ve sat on a fair share of interview committees in the past eight years, and made a number of hiring decisions. So, I’m happy to share what I can. (And for more great tips, be sure to check out this article!)
- Mention your degree/classes/focus, but don’t rely solely on it. I mean, you’re getting a library science degree and you’re applying to work in a library – should be easy, right? I was on a hiring committee once for a job that didn’t require an MLIS; but one of the candidates had one and my boss said something interesting that’s stuck with me. She said that the problem is, most of the time, MLIS holders applying for paraprofessional* jobs structure their resumes badly. They naïvely assume that they’ll get some sort of extra credit for having a master’s degree and forget to make their résumés task-oriented – they’re not showing that they can still do things like fix the printer and check out a book. So, don’t assume that being in library school, or having completed a certain number of credits, gets you a free pass. It definitely helps, and if your classroom experience is relevant to the job posting, talk about it! But, it’s not the golden ticket people may assume it is.
- When compiling your résumé and cover letter, or when sitting in the interview room, think about what the person on the other side is looking for. Is their first criteria that they really need to hire someone whose hobby is reading? Probably not, so maybe don’t lead with that. (This is a rookie mistake I see first-time applicants make all the time.) If you were running a library, what qualities would you want your employees to have? You’d probably want them to be polite, personable, curious, knowledgeable, or any one of a hundred other adjectives. So, pick a few that you’re really good at and highlight how those skills or qualities can benefit their library. Do you have lots of customer service experience and you’re good at making new students feel welcome? Are you a really fast typist? Do you know a little bit about lots of different genres and are always the one your friends come to when they need a recommendation of what to watch, read, or listen to next? The people making hiring decisions would love to hear about that.
- Make the job description do the heavy lifting. If it asks for someone with customer service experience, or teaching experience, or someone skilled in Microsoft Office, and you’ve done those things, mention them! Highlight it on your résumé, in your cover letter, and bring it up again if there’s a good opening to do so during the interview. It matters less where you got that experience than that you’ve done it, and that you can clearly explain how it’s applicable to the job you’re applying for now.
- Keep it short – and relevant. People are busy, and even if you have the best, most aesthetically pleasing résumé on the planet, don’t count on anyone reading past the first page. Likewise, for a cover letter, keep it to three paragraphs, maybe four, max. (Obviously this doesn’t apply to librarian jobs or things that require a CV. But, for your average student worker or page position, it’s a good rule of thumb.) So, with that limited space – don’t waste it talking about things they’re not asking for. Just because you have experience with, say, handling cash, doesn’t mean it belongs on your application. Make what you put on there really count. (On the other hand, if you’re trying to demonstrate a soft skill like responsibility, you might want to include that your last job trusted you with the cash drawer or the keys to lock up every night. That’s your call, and depends a lot on how much space you have left on the page.) What I see all too often are résumés that are just a list of things the applicant has done – but if those things aren’t relevant to this position, leave them off. Let the job description be your guide!
- Make a new résumé for every job you apply for. I know it’s a pain in the neck, but you don’t have to start from scratch. Keep a template, add to it as you go, and pull words and phrases from the job announcement. I also recommend keeping every one you make and submit – even if you don’t get a call back, it will help you to have somewhere that isn’t a blank page to start from next time you have to prepare an application.
The library job market can be tough and competitive, but organization, proofreading, and practice will get you pretty far (or, at least, into the interview room). Good luck out there, and if you have any more tips or resources, share them in the comments!
*I don’t actually like the term paraprofessional, but that’s another topic for another day…
Lauren is starting her second year (out of four, or five…) as an MLIS student at San José State University. For the last eight years she has worked in a community college library, helping student workers get a (hopefully) fun and interesting look at library work and customer service. She is always on the lookout for ideas for new staff trainings and professional development.