Jan 01 2001

How to Find That First Job: Tips and Techniques for LIS Students

Published by rachel at 2:41 pm under Job Hunting

by Lisa Taylor

The brevity of library school can be both a help and a hindrance. On one hand, you won’t spend a lot of time getting your degree or accumulating debts. On the other, you need to start thinking about job-hunting comparatively quickly.

Even if you have little familiarity with libraries, you should start looking at library job advertisements during the first semester of library school. See what jobs are available and what experience and qualifications they require, and plan your studies to ensure you get the knowledge and practical experience you need to be competitive.

A good place to start looking for job ads is your library school; even if it has no job placement service, your professors may have information about job services or opportunities in your local area. ALA offers a placement service during its conferences — as do many state library organizations. Many “conference” jobs are already advertised online, but employers often use the service to “look over” candidates or to arrange second interviews.

Although print publications frequently have job ads, try searching online as well. E-mail discussion lists and web sites are easily accessible and often more current than their print counterparts. The more of these online resources you examine, the more jobs you’ll find. Also note that relatively few jobs are advertised in major journals such as American Libraries or College and Research Libraries. Smaller colleges, public libraries or private employers may be unable to afford the cost of advertising in such publications, but may post advertisements on online library job banks or on general web sites such as Monster Board. Consider bookmarking interesting web sites and surfing them regularly.

If you’re interested in working in a particular specialty or type of library, you may want to subscribe to relevant e-mail discussion lists. If you’re interested in working at a particular library, check THEIR web site — sometimes you can find jobs listed there before they’re advertised elsewhere!

At the beginning of your second-to-last semester, start identifying types of work that interest you. There are lots of choices to make, so you need to know what’s available. This is also a good time to ensure you get the experience you need to apply for the jobs you want. Besides choosing additional classes, you may need to get an assistantship, find an internship, or do fieldwork, volunteer, or paraprofessional work.

At the same time, you should start working on your resume. When formulating your resume:

a) Find some good examples to follow. An excellent source for these is Robert Newlen’s book Writing Resumes That Work: A How-To-Do-It Manual For Librarians (reviewed below).

b) Do not be overly modest about your abilities or experiences.

c) Be as specific as possible (e.g., “Using over 150 print and online databases and resources, provides rapid and accurate reference service to students, faculty and community users”).

d) Add any training (outside formal academic education), academic honors, or volunteer work, especially if your employment experience is limited.

e) Consider using Microsoft Word’s Resume Wizard or a similar tool to help give your resume a polished, professional look.

Once you’re satisfied, ask someone who’s been on search committees, one of your professors, or someone who does the type of work you’re interested in to proofread your resume for you. It is always helpful to have more than one person critically proofread your resume.

Then, start considering your list of references. You may use professors, employers, or both, but always get permission from your references before providing their names to prospective employers. Select references who know you sufficiently well to provide a substantive evaluation of your performance and potential. You may provide them with a brief summary of your accomplishments or a copy of your resume.

During the last month of your next-to-last semester, start sending out your resume in response to job advertisements that interest you. When identifying potential jobs:

a) Only apply for jobs you are qualified for. If you won’t have the qualifications by the date specified in the ad, it’s better not to apply at all.

b) Send out a reasonable number of resumes. You don’t want to be so restrictive that you’re unable to get a job, but, if you send out too many, it may be hard to make a choice.

c) Keep track of where you have applied — print out a copy of the advertisement and/or your cover letter.

d) Let your references know where you’ve applied and your order of preference. Provide them with brief job descriptions and URLs (if applicable).

When writing cover letters, keep these pointers in mind:

a) Tailor your cover letter to fit the job.

b) Address as many of the qualifications specified in the ad as possible.

c) Keep the letter short — no longer than three paragraphs.

d) Do not reiterate your resume in the cover letter. Emphasize why you are a suitable candidate and expand on your qualifications.

Once you’ve applied, be prepared to wait at least two to four weeks before being called for an interview. Many employers will promptly send you a note acknowledging receipt of your application, but it may be much longer before you are contacted again. If you are not selected for an interview, you will usually receive a rejection letter. (Don’t let this bother you; you should still be waiting to hear from other prospective employers!)

Even before you are contacted, you should start getting ready for the interview process. Many institutions will conduct a telephone interview before meeting you in person. Regardless of the type of interview, be prepared:

a) Do some research on the institution — surf their Web site (especially an “About the Library” link), use their OPAC, look at their databases, and read up on the history of the library.

b) Based on your research, make up a list of questions to ask. A telephone interview may not be the appropriate time to discuss serious or personal human resources questions (e.g., salary, specific benefits, etc.), but it’s a good opportunity to ask about the work environment itself, such as the research focus of the library, patrons or clients, etc. You may also politely inquire when you might expect to hear from them again.

When you get to the on-site interview, expect to meet with many different groups of people throughout the day (or days). You might begin with the search committee (who will have questions), then the professional staff (who will have more questions), then the department you would be working in, then department heads and administrators. The composition and number of groups varies from place to place.

During the interview (whether over the phone or in person), DON’T exaggerate your qualifications or experiences. Be honest, but, when you must admit you don’t know something, do stress that you are more than willing to learn! Pay attention to what interviewers have to say (or, in some cases, what they don’t say) and take advantage of any opportunities to take a good look around the library. If you have a chance, talk to some of the recent hires, and also to those who have been there for a while.

When the interview is over, make sure you thank everyone for their time. You should also send an e-mail or thank-you note to the primary point of contact.

Now comes the most nerve-wracking part — waiting to find out the results of the interview(s). An offer may take a long time, or. . . it may not! Again, there is no consistency from institution to institution. But, when an offer does come:

a) DON’T accept the first offer unless it’s the job you really want. Don’t take it just because you’re afraid it might be the only offer — you may live to regret your hastiness!

b) Ask for some time to consider. Employers often want you to commit on the spot and may pressure you to do so.

c) Once you’ve verbally accepted, you may not want to start letting the other organizations you’ve applied to know you’ve accepted a job until you get a firm commitment (i.e., a printed contract). Then you should do these prospective employers the courtesy of sending them a letter to notify them that you’ve accepted employment elsewhere and no longer wish to be considered for their positions.

If you ensure you get the education and experience you need, check the job ads early and often, stay organized, and have a tight, professional resume, you’ll likely find yourself getting multiple job offers!

Lisa Taylor is a Monographs Original Cataloger at the University of Georgia Libraries and a May 2000 graduate of the University of South Florida’s School of Library and Information Science — so her job-seeking experience is very recent!

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