Library job hunt : my process

This part of my series thinking about my job hunt is going to focus on how I actually handled the process and mechanics. I’m breaking this into two sections: the part before writing the cover letter, and everything after that.

You can see the full index of posts over here.

1) Reflect

What things matter to you in a job? What things don’t matter as much? For me, I was really interested in what I would be doing, and how that would continue to grow and challenge me, but I also wanted somewhere with good support and collaboration from my immediate supervisor (and ideally, other librarians).

On the other hand, I was a lot more flexible on salary and location. And I’ve got a wide range of interests, so I was open to looking at jobs that focused in different kinds of places (everything from teen and young adult services to adult-focused reference to education and instruction to technology.)

I sat down early in the process and figured out some basic priorities, which then helped me focus my time and attention. My dream set of priorities (and my new job does actually meet all of these, which is awesome) was:

  • In the Upper Midwest (where I’d been for 12 years) or New England (where I grew up, and where my mother, brother and his family, and college friends still live.)
  • Doing some kind of library work, with a preference for educational or public library settings that focused on teen or adult services. (Library work preferable to non-library work, information management, etc. because I really like both reference and instruction.)
  • Somewhat outside the nearest major city. I want to try something a little different, and I like the idea of being able to live close to work and not deal with traffic or a long commute (and a typical library salary goes further in non-cities.)
  • Where I’d get to work closely with other librarians, rather than being the solo librarian.
  • Where I’d be reporting to someone who deeply understood libraries and librarianship, and where there was room to try things that might or might not work.
  • A chance to use more than one of my interests – I was a lot more interested in jobs that had some reference and instruction and some technology work, for example, than jobs that would be mostly one thing.

These are guides, not absolutes. I applied to a number of jobs that didn’t fit some or all of these priorities – but they all had something else that really intrigued me, or that I thought made for a potentially really great fit.

Diversify your search process:
The book What Color is your Parachute (by Dick Bolles: get the most recent edition) has a great discussion of this. Don’t just rely on a single source or type of source for job ads.

However, due to the fact that many libraries are part of larger community hiring structures (town, state, university system, etc.), they often have a specific process they have to follow, and simply knowing someone who’s already there isn’t necessarily a good way to get your resume seen by the right people. (And there are a bunch of quirks I discuss later in this series of posts.)

However, you can definitely use networking to help you improve your applications, to get an idea of an institution’s culture or focus or particular needs/new projects (beyond what shows up in their public information)

I used a combination of

  • national posting sites like the ALA JobList and
  • state lists for places I was interested in
  • library lists and resources for particular kinds of libraries (PubLib, NewLib, etc.)
  • an independent school hiring agency

Each of these brought me different kinds of postings and information.

2) Prepare:

There are several things you can do to make your search process easier:

Create a clear, readable resume that highlights your skills, and is easy to edit to draw attention to skills or experience relevant to a particular position.

Talk to people you’d like to list as references (and make sure they’re fine with that!). Create a file with all their relevant contact information (most places asked for name, email, and phone number. I asked five references, and I’d pick which ones I included based on the focus of the job.)

In that file, include information for any other supervisors, if they’re not already listed. (And save this, so you don’t need to recreate it down the road for future job hunts!)

If you might be applying to somewhere with an automated system or application form, create a summary file that has a brief (50-100 word) summary of duties and experience for each position you’re going to list, along with dates and supervisor contact info, in a format that’s easy to copy and paste. This will save you amazing amounts of time and annoyance later.

Find ways to highlight skills and knowledge that don’t show up as clearly otherwise. A blog is a great way to showcase your technology skills, instructional resources, professional interests not reflected on your resume, etc. (And I know that my blogging here pushed me into the final round for at least two interviews, and was a factor in more phone interviews.)

There are tons of other options though – just make sure you’re doing something that goes beyond the skeleton information shown in your resume and cover letter.

3) Read job postings:

I had mine set up in two places: one as a folder of RSS feeds in my feed reader (for the ALA job list, and other places where that’s an easy way to scan for new postings) and then a folder of bookmarks in my browser (for places where the RSS feed was less useful to me.)

Three times a week, I’d load both of them up and work my way through. I’d open any job that looked vaguely promising, and read through it. If it looked like a match, I’d save the posting as a PDF.

Be realistic about whether you meet the requirements: My basic rule (backed up by various useful advice) was not to apply to anything where I didn’t meet the required skills (either directly, or where I had directly related experience). I’d take more of a chance with ‘preferred’ especially if I met a number of the preferred criteria, or knew I could learn the things I hadn’t done quickly.

Don’t talk yourself out of applying: If you are reasonably qualified for the job, and you’re interested, go ahead and apply. You have no idea what their pool actually looks like. As long as you’re interested, and could do the work, it’s worth a shot.

I got calls from some places where I would never have thought I’d make their phone interview or final round. And I got “thanks but no” from other places where I would have thought I was a particularly good fit.

4) File the information:

I kept a folder called “Jobs to apply for” which lived on my dock. (Easy access!) I’d save the PDFs of postings to my desktop, and then rename them beginning with the date the application was due and drop them in that folder. That meant I could just look in the folder and immediately see what I need to work on first.

At the beginning of each week, I’d also sit down and schedule the applications together in ways that made sense – for example, if I had 2 public library applications, 2 university ones, and an independent school application, I’d do the ones for the same kind of library on the same day, as it made it easier to focus.

Factor in the actual application process: I tried not to apply for multiple university jobs requiring an online application system on the same day, because they’re tedious (same thing for applications I had to hand write.)

5) Research the job:

Hi: I’m a librarian, I research when stressed. Or, y’know, when sitting in front of a computer without another pressing need. Or when there is another pressing need I’m trying to figure out. Or because someone mentioned something cool.

But I discovered that really obsessive research about a potential job was not the best use of my time. Reading the posting did not mean I had to learn everything about that school, town, or library immediately.

So, I settled into something a bit more reasonable:

  • What’s this library’s main focus/interest?
  • What neat projects are they currently working on/drawing attention to? (And are there any that would be good for me to mention in my cover letter?)
  • Is there anything I really like about their website or material, and want to mention in particular?
  • Is there anything in their HR or employment information of particular of interest to me? Sometimes the posting on their internal site had additional details that the external postings didn’t have. Or better formatting.

Most of the time, figuring these things out took under half an hour for me. I save the more detailed prepping for if I actually have a phone or in-person interview.

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3 comments to Library job hunt : my process

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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