Standing Out: Becoming a Star Candidate in a Highly Competitive Job Market

This is a guest post from Elizabeth Szkirpan. Elizabeth’s first post can be found here.

It’s no secret that the last two years have been exceedingly challenging for new LIS graduates on the job hunt. When you take a highly competitive job market and fewer LIS positions in general, combine then with a global pandemic and hiring freezes, the pool of library school graduates competing for positions is more saturated than ever before.

As a library hiring manager, I have the opportunity to meet current library students, interview for open positions in my library, and to mentor recent graduates who are searching for their first post-degree position. These are the tips I share with all recent graduates seeking their first library job with an LIS degree in hand.

Don’t lose sight of emerging library field trends. It is easy during library school to keep up with new trends and topics because you are constantly studying, researching, and discussing them in class. After graduation, keeping up with the latest library developments can also set you apart from other candidates. Interview questions frequently center around these trends, their implementation, or your interpretation of them, so make sure that you are regularly taking time to flip through library discussion forums, articles, and blogs.

Set yourself apart from other interview candidates by honing a library specialty. I see a number of qualified candidates applying for open librarian roles at my library, but generally, most candidates have similar GPAs and work experiences. The candidates that stand out are the ones that have taken an interest in an emerging field trend. Data analytics, open research, and decolonizing the catalog are all specialties recent graduates have had in our application pools. While candidates may have no prior experience working directly with these topics in a library, their passion for these areas combined with background knowledge makes for memorable candidates that we want to hire.

Strive to take continuing education, even if you do not have a library position lined up yet. It can be hard to attending workshops and webinars post-graduation, especially if you do not have financial support to do so. Luckily, there are numerous freely available library tutorials and classes online that can help you better understand librarianship in practice, technical topics, or emerging trends. YouTube, WebJunction, National Network of Libraries of Medicine courses, and free vendor webinars all offer freely available training. I relied on all of the above when I was applying for my first library positions and I wanted to learn more about certain topics or trends for interviews and future use.

Be flexible when selecting your first library position. I rarely meet a librarian who has ended up in the type of librarianship that they originally thought they would; many “accidentally” develop specialties along the way. We may not always have the option to turn down a library job post-graduation if it isn’t the perfect fit, so I encourage you to apply for positions that will give you an opportunity to explore a library career path, even if it isn’t your dream position. With that being said, make sure you also pay attention to your instincts. If you are financially able, decline positions where institutional culture isn’t a good fit or that veer too far outside your career interests to avoid burnout.

If you do not yet have your dream library position, determine what you can do to make “the leap” to that role. I always find it beneficial to review job ads for roles I am interested in and to determine if there are new skills I could develop to apply for a similar role in the future. For example, if you would like to become an instruction librarian but have no instruction experience, is there an avenue for you to gain instruction experience in your current position? Perhaps you could help onboard new hires, give a building tour, or shadow an instruction librarian. There are numerous ways to develop the skills you need to apply for library jobs even if you do not have prior library work experience.

Would you try any of these steps? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Elizabeth Szkirpan is currently pursuing a Master’s of Science in Business Analytics at the University of Tulsa. She achieved her Master’s of Library and Information Studies and a Bachelor’s of Journalism-Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma. She currently works as the Director of Bibliographic Services and Federal Depository Library Coordinator at the University of Tulsa McFarlin Library overseeing acquisitions, cataloging, electronic resources, collection management, library data, and the Federal Depository Library. Elizabeth plans to pursue her PhD next and would like to continue her technical services and library data research topics in that program. She is extremely active in the library field, having presented at more than thirty library conferences, serving in various leadership capacities with both the Oklahoma Library Association and Beta Phi Mu’s Lambda Chapter, and earning numerous awards. Since 2020, Elizabeth has been recognized as an Oklahoma NextGen Under 30, a Mountain Plains Library Association Beginning Professional, and most recently, Library Journal’s Mover & Shaker Award in the Advocate Category. In her sparse free time, she enjoys spending time at home with her cats, travel, and decor projects.

Photo via Unsplash

Categories: Job Searching

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