Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why We Hired Who We Hired, The Aftermath

Because more people read posts than comments on posts, and because hey, more content, I'm going to do something like a Q & A using feedback about Why We Hired Who We Hired, one of the more popular things I've written on this site.

K Lowry wonders how I feel about thank you notes. Answer: I like them. A lot. It's a little gesture, but a meaningful one. And yet that being said, two of the people we brought to campus sent us notes (one, handwritten!, arrived after the initial post), and these two people weren't offered the positions. As for whether they should be handwritten or not, I have no preference, though getting mail at the library that isn't an invoice or vendor junk mail is always exciting (it's the little things, people). I get the convenience of emailing and don't understand why more job seekers don't do this. It takes maybe a minute, it's polite, it signals increased interest, and is the right thing to do. UPDATE: a 3rd thank you note has arrived, also handwritten (1:58pm, 8/22/12).

Nicola Franklin asks about resume targeting and specificity of cover letters. I'll address the former here, and the latter a bit later on in the post. I have two versions of my resume, an academic CV, for teaching and such, and a resume for library jobs. That's it. I'm not sure if that counts as targeting. I've applied for at least a dozen jobs over the past eighteen months or so, after all, what's the fun of having a title of "director" if you can't take it out for a spin, and received zero job offers in that time, so make of this what you will. However, if I get a resume from you, it's because you're applying for a library job, and as such I assume the resume is going to be at least somewhat targeted towards that. Even if you have no library experience, and we've hired people with none before, show strengths that apply to libraries, like customer service, problem solving, initiative, and finding information for yourself or others in digital environments, among others. The cover letter should also mention these skills, without being repetitive. It's worth mentioning that Nicola is a library recruiter in the UK, thus knows a lot about the job hunting and hiring processes. She blogs here. Do check it out.  In general, however, I think cover letters are harder to get right than resumes, and I like reading things that flow, so much so that I'll read a cover letter first at times, which brings us to this.

Commenter beckitty asks how I know a cover letter mentioned in the initial post was written in a few minutes? Here's how:
Thank-you for receiving my call today.  I am applying for the advertised Library Intern position at [redacted].  I have several years of experience in an academic environment with through [sic] knowledge of internet searching, teaching, and use of the technologies associated with academic librarianship. Please consider my resume and references as evidence of my commitment to the student learner, faculty, staff, and stakeholders of the incumbent institution. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing the possibilities. 
With Regards, 
That's the whole letter. All of it. In its entirety. Read these posts about cover letters. Then try harder. Give details. Proofread. This commenter mentions that she omits cover letters if a job posting indicates they're optional. I couldn't disagree more. If you're applying for a job and the cover letter is optional, write one anyway. If you're good at it, and it seems she is, it can't hurt. If you're not good at it, it's practice.

Again, what works for me, what I'm looking for, what other library staff are looking for, what non-library staff are looking for, at this institution may not be exactly what other people at other institutions are looking for. I know the job market is stressful, that it's hard to get noticed, that as of right now there's one job posted on the American Library Association Jobs List website for Washington, DC, and only four in Maryland. If you're looking for larger trends, I can say that we, at my place of work, aren't alone in looking for a particular set of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and that while I can't claim universality, I can claim some wider applicability. If you want a larger data pool, read through Hiring Librarians to get a sense of what other libraries and staff are looking for, and do your research on a particular institution or organization before applying. Good luck.

I leave you with this Facebook comment from an ALA JobList fan and my response.

  • Fan: So not helpful. One person's experience and preferences? As if he were thinking the same way as every other place looking for people. All this shows me is how to talk to him, knowing that what works for him could be a total disaster at another place.

  • Me: I'm sorry you didn't find this helpful, [redacted], but to my credit, the post is titled "Why We Hired Who We Hired," not "Why Libraries Hired Who They Hired." I suspect that a post about larger hiring trends would send mixed messages to job seekers; as you note what works for me might not work for someone else, though I know that there are other academic libraries that operate a similar way in terms of hiring. The job search process is stressful enough as it is, and my hope is to offer some insight and transparency into that process at my institution. But thank you for reading all the same, and best of luck.


  1. This is great! Thanks for the follow-up (and the link!)

  2. Thank you for the very useful thoughts on targeted resumes and cover letters, and the link to my site :)

    Apart from tailoring a resume to be 'targeted' at an academic library vs a public library (for example), I was also thinking of tailoring it to suit different job roles (eg, if someone felt they had skills for both a subject specialist librarian and an outreach librarian and were applying for both types of role).

    In this case, I often advise applicants to re-order duties or skills on their resume to highlight the ones most relevant to the type of job they're applying for at the time, or to pick achievements that are particularly relevant to that type of job.

    The same thing applies to cover letters, when selecting which experiences, skills and achievements to showcase - it's better to match them to the job in question, rather than have a generic list of 'library skills' that you use for any and every job you apply for.