Library job quirks: clothing


Standard job hunting advice says “Wear a suit. Unless you’re a programmer/coder.”

That really ought to say “And libraries are complicated, too.” In every single job but one that I actually interviewed on site for, a suit would have been far too formal, in ways that would almost certainly have indicated that I wasn’t picking up on important cultural cues.

It is different if you’re looking at upper library management of a large library, a school that has a dress code, or something like that – but most of the time, suits are too much. (The one exception was a for-profit college, and they were explicit about students dressing for classes as they would in a formal business environment setting.)

(as always with this series, you can also get to the index.)

There’s also the challenge of academic library (and independent school) interviews, where there’s often a dinner the night before (which requires one outfit), the day of the interview (another), and maybe appropriate clothing for the plane and rides to/from the airport.

General advice:

Find clothing that’s appropriate, tidy, but makes you feel like your most awesome self. If something doesn’t fit well, or you’re worried about it catching on something, or whether you show too much skin if you lean over, you will not be relaxed and engaged with the interview and conversation.

Be aware of temperature issues – you may be spending time inside, outside, or more likely both, especially for a day-long interview. For women, a shawl, jacket, appropriate cardigan sweater, etc. can help if you don’t adjust temperature well.

Comfortable shoes (and well-broken-in ones) are a must. I wear a pedometer daily, and my interview days have consistently been over 10000 steps/5 miles of walking for the day. (Not including getting to the interview site or getting home.)

I usually wanted my interview clothing to say “I’m a confident person, comfortable in a variety of settings, and not afraid to crawl on the floor to fix a computer if I have to.” That’s a hard message to get across in a suit – it’s a lot easier in something a step or two less formal.

A sample:
My interview closet involves the following (note that most of my interviews turned out to be in warmer weather, which made short sleeves particularly relevant.) Mostly I wore the first dress, using the others for dinner the night before, plane trips, or other times I was interacting with the search committee.

  • A short-sleeve dress from Jones New York in a flattering (and very comfortable!) cut and a black and white print. (With it, I wear interesting jewelry with vibrant colors from a professional jewelry-making friend so it’s not all stark neutrals.)
  • A gray high-quality knit dress with longer sleeves (also Jones New York) which can be dressed up with a silk shawl or down (but still appropriate) with a knit draping cardigan.
  • A teal tank dress with a short-sleeve tunic length cardigan over it – great for wearing on the airplane, or to dinner out the night before in warm weather.
  • Black flats that are exceedingly comfy (I have a pair of Aerosole flats, and a pair of Keens).

Several of my interviewers were very clear that I should not dress too formally (and a couple made it clear that pantyhose were really not appropriate). Much appreciated! And in every case, they were not dressed formally, either – men might be wearing a blazer and button down shirt, but in only one case (the for-profit college) was anyone more formal.

Men have this somewhat easier – a blazer/sport coat, button down shirt, and clean pressed slacks (and maybe a tie) go a long way to finding that “I’m taking this seriously, but I’m not being overly formal” space. (And the jacket might actually be too much in a number of places, but could be taken off easily if it were.)

Think about travel:
If you’re flying, find something to wear that will look good when you walk off the plane. Stopping in the restroom to make sure you’re tidy helps a lot.

And of course, if you’re flying, wear clothing that will work with airport scanners. My normal skirt lengths tend to run mid-calf to knee, and I get stopped for additional scanning or patdowns about half the time these days. Think about what jewelry you’re wearing (one of my necklaces, which involves a fair amount of silver wire, sets off scanners.) Shoes that slip off easily are better than fancy things involving laces – and of course, you want something that’s comfortable in flight.

There’s also the question of luggage: I travelled with my laptop bag and a over-the-shoulder soft luggage bag (both from Tom Bihn), as I find rolling suitcases more frustrating on the plane (and the soft bag can go under the seat in front of me if space is tight.) Don’t trust checking a bag on the flight out in case something goes wrong. However, that meant I needed to pack relatively lightly when I could, so that I could be relaxed and easy while handling my luggage.

The question of Skype:
These days, Skype interviews are getting somewhat more common. When everything works smoothly, I like them a lot, especially for a larger committee, because it means less awkwardness about whose turn to speak it is. (That can be a big if, though.)

In terms of clothing, I usually went a half-level down from my usual interview formality, choosing colors that stood out well on a computer screen. Definitely test your location, lighting, and other aspects by chatting with a friend before you do your first Skype interview: it really makes a difference.

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1 comment to Library job quirks: clothing

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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