Lib school students: follow these job search tips

I like to think I’m pretty good at getting library jobs and also at giving advice. I’ve also been on the receiving end of a lot of badly-executed job applications.

Want a better chance at getting a job? Here’s my 2c for you to consider as you go on the hunt.

Get to know the places you’re applying to

A half-hour of research into a library’s strengths can go a long way towards showing the hiring committee that you take this position seriously, and that you want to work for them.

Of course, if you’re applying to 75 jobs at once (or however many recent MLS grads have to apply to in order to get some callbacks in this awful economy), that’s a major time suck. At least try to put in that amount of time for the positions you’re the most excited about.

Write a good cover letter

This is one of the most-repeated bits of job search advice, I know. But I’m including it here because it doesn’t seem like many people heed that advice.

What does it mean to write a good cover letter? Well, there are heaps of guides out there, so I won’t go into detail, but a quick list includes:

  • Check your spelling
  • Check your grammar
  • Address it to a human (not to “Search Committee” or “To Whom it May Concern,” if possible)
  • Indicate the _soft skills_ you’ll bring to the position (you’re good with people! You are a quick learner!) rather than the skills you’ve already summarized on your CV
  • Talk about why you’re a good fit for that particular position, not why you’re just awesome in general (tailor the heck out of your cover letter, and do the same for your CV)

Want an example of a decent cover letter? I’ve put my cover letter from my most recent library-land position online, for you to reference. I’m by no means the best at writing these things, but hey, it worked out OK for me.

Be yourself

I’m gay. (Surprise!) I also have dabbled in pornography studies and volunteered at a rather risqué art gallery when I lived in SF.

I put all of that (well, except the gay part) into my CV (also available online) because a) community involvement is community involvement and b) sometimes the things we study don’t always relate to the positions to which we are applying, yet show that we have scholarly interests (even if kind of blue). (And any university who doesn’t believe that porn studies is a (fun, younger, but) totally legit sister of communication/mass media studies isn’t one I want to work at.)

Similarly–even more so, in fact–I’m always very open about my gayness in job interviews. (I mention my wife, etc.) Because if someone I’m interviewing with is weird about that, they’re not someone I want as a colleague.*

From another angle, being open in job interviews can also make you more relatable  to the hiring committee. A guy who interviewed with our department at IU was very up front about how he wanted to find library work in Bloomington, where his wife was in grad school, because family was very important to him. I was touched by that, and appreciated his honesty about the importance of a work-life balance wrt priorities. He later got the job.

That said, had he mentioned his wife in his cover letter, I likely wouldn’t have picked him for an in-person interview. It’s a weird trade-off, one that gets easier to negotiate as you have more jobs and learn more about professionalism. (Probably doesn’t help you freshly-minted, wet-behind-the-ears MLSers, but oh well.)

Use your good judgement when deciding what to share with prospective employers. If you are a volunteer coordinator for the local Binge Drinker Championship, you might want to leave that out. You also shouldn’t be too blunt about the fact that you’re keen on a job because you’re having trouble getting hired elsewhere.

Hack the application process

This Silicon Valley job search description includes a lot of actionable hacks for any job candidate, not just those in IT:

  • Keep good track of all the applications you have out
  • Do your own write-ups of how the interview went, including whether you want to work for the organization after meeting your prospective co-workers
  • How to negotiate (which you should ALWAYS do)

Follow the link for more juicy bits.

Got more tips to share? Add them in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter at @skonkiel.

UPDATE: A great Vitae article on negotiating salaries went online recently. Go read it now!

* I recognize that I’m able to be as open as I am because I have a good amount of privilege–I’m white, able-bodied, and was applying to my most recent library position while still employed (a safety net makes it a heck of a lot easier to say things like “if they don’t find porn studies to be legit, screw ’em”). So, take what I’m saying with a grain of salt, and disclose only what feels comfortable to you in your cover letter, CV, and interview.

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4 Responses to Lib school students: follow these job search tips

  1. Jenn Riley says:

    Another piece of cover letter advice I got from a friend/colleague and have put to good use – tell the organization you’re applying to how awesome *they* are. Don’t fall all over yourself doing it, but say what they’re working on that excites you or inspires you or makes you want to work there as opposed to anywhere else. Tell them why *this* job was a draw for you, beyond it being a job. Make it as much about them as about you.

  2. Followed this from @figshare on Twitter. Be yourself? No. Be better than yourself. I’m concerned you did not address the “digital fingerprint.” Job seekers are wise to leave a digital identity to be proud of. My first job as an information professional had someone do some digital snooping. Every interaction I’ve ever had online is fair game for job professionals – including this one.

    • skonkiel says:

      That’s a good point–what does it mean to ‘be yourself’? You shouldn’t have to hide aspects of your identity/personality during the hiring process, but at the same time, you have a responsibility to represent yourself in a good light online. I always google prospective job candidates, and often google colleagues as well.

      Being yourself =/= free reign to behave unprofessionally, for sure.

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