HOWTO:Apply for a library job
If you're new to the profession or haven't searched for a library position in a while, this guide is designed for you. It contains some checklists, guidelines, tips and tricks for how to get a library job. Questions candidates should ask are also listed.
Find Job Listings
Here's where you can benefit from the nature of the profession. Librarians have a natural tendency to gather and organize information. As a result there are several ways that you can search for library job advertisements. However, plan ahead when starting your job search! The time between a job's posting and hiring dates can be as much as six months or more.
I Need a Library Job is a good site to start with. E-Mail discussion groups are also a good source for job postings. LIBJOBS and LIS-JOBS are two of the more popular ones. Topical groups are also a good place for finding advertisements in a particular field of librarianship. For example, Web4Lib often receives Web and systems librarian job postings. Sites such as ZipRecruiter are great job searching resources.
Another place to check is the major library trade publications, such as Library Journal and ALA JobLIST, which is affiliated with ALA's American Libraries magazine and ACRL's C&RL News magazine. There are also related publications, such as The Chronicle of Higher Education for academic library postings or Aviso for archivist jobs.
If you're targeting a specific institution or geographic area, take a look at individual sites. The Folger Shakespeare Library, for example, has its own employment opportunities page. Libraries.org can help you locate library homepages.
Lastly, if you are a library school student, be sure to check out the career resources your school offers. Many library schools have placement offices that offer help with the application process, including web and e-mail lists for job openings.
Prepare Your Application
Plan ahead in gathering materials that are sometimes required for a library job application. These include writing samples, official copies of academic transcripts, and professional references (choose these wisely).
Microsoft Word has a Resume Wizard that can help you create or update your resume. See the book Writing Resumes that Work: A How-to-do-it Manual for Librarians by Robert R. Newlen (ISBN: 1555702635) for guidance on preparing your resume.
Your cover letter explains why your resume is the best match for the position to which you are applying. Take a look at the organization and find out as much information as you can. If you're responding to a paid advertisement, you may need to look elsewhere for a fuller job notice and/or a complete position description. Always prepare a customized (and proofread!) cover letter for each application. See How to Write a Great Cover Letter for more information.
Most institutions now accept applications submitted online or via e-mail. Pay attention to each posting's file format preferences (and required application materials) when dealing with such situations.
Practice Interview Questions
During the phone and in-person interviews you are usually presented with a standard set of questions asked of all candidates. Good reads in preparing for such questions include:
- List of Tested Questions from Indiana University Bloomington Libraries
- 101+ Commonly Asked Interview Questions from an Illinois Library Association conference session
Preparing for Interviews
If your resume and cover letter make the first round of cuts you are usually contacted for a phone interview. There are a number of things you can do in order to prepare yourself for the interview.
- Obtain the names and positions of those conducting the phone interview. Do research on these individuals to find out what roles they play within the organization. Find out if they are mentioned anywhere on the Internet such as on their own blogs.
- Find out how long the interview is expected to last.
- Read the board/committee minutes for the organization going back at least six months.
- Read the strategic plan (if any). Be prepared to ask questions based on this.
- Find a quiet place to receive the call.
- To get in the proper mood, you may even want to dress as you would for an in-person interview.
The Phone Interview
This may be with a single person, or with an entire search committee via a speakerphone (complete with echoes, feedback, and not being able to tell who is talking – do your best to remain patient and professional with any possible technical difficulties).
When you are given the opportunity to ask questions, take advantage of it. This is your best chance at showing your interest in the position, and gathering information for deciding if you want the job. Some of the topics you should be clear on by the end of a phone interview are:
- Why is this position open?
- What is your interviewing/hiring time line (and procedure)? When can I expect to hear back from you? It may be quite fruitful to ask, possibly later on in the search process, how many other candidates you are competing with. Some libraries force probationary hires through the formality of applying to keep their job, so knowing if there is an internal candidate may also be very useful. As with all sensitive questions, be tactful but direct in asking for this information.
- Please describe the organizational structure of the library, and where I would fit in it. Who all would I be reporting to, and who would report to me? What committees and working groups would I be a member of?
- Tell me more about the position and its duties. What types of clientele would I be serving, and how? If the posting is brief, ask for a full position description.
- What are you looking for in a candidate? What are some of the challenging and exciting projects that the person in this position will be tackling (both short term and long term)?
Try to get in as many of these questions as you can, but keep in mind that the primary purpose of the phone interview is to select candidates for the next round of interviews.
The Video Interview
In some cases, prospective employers may want to conduct a video interview by Skype or on another platform as an alternative to the phone interview. While a video interview provides an opportunity to demonstrate technological skills, it can also present several challenges. According to Curt Schafer, director of career services at Texas State University (San Marcos), below are video interview preparation tips:
- Check your computer and webcam equipment in advance to see that they are functioning. A smartphone is not recommended for video interviews as it's easier to lose a connection on these devices.
- Test your Internet connection in advance. If there are problems, it's best to postpone the interview for another time. Identify a different location with better reception in the meantime.
- Dress professionally and conservatively as you would for an in person interview. Avoid busy patterns and loud colors as they may be distracting on screen. Solid colors typically work best. Look at yourself on screen prior to the interview. You may get away with wearing strong perfume or cologne during a video interview, but appearance still counts.
- Position the camera so the interview is being conducted "eye-to-eye." If the prospective employer is staring at your forehead for the entire interview or your face appears too close to the screen, it can have an unsettling effect on the interviewer.
- Stage the background setting to eliminate all audio and visual distractions. Be sure to remove distracting photos and items. Keep the door locked to your interview room to reduce interference. Keep pets contained where they can't be seen or heard. Advise others not to disturb you during the interview by posting a sign on the door or advising them in advance.
- Practice makes perfect. Have a friend, family member, or colleague practice video interviewing with you a few times. Critique your performance. Use the "picture-in-picture" feature to see how you are appearing to the interviewer, but don't spend too much time staring during the actual interview.
Before the In-Person Interview
The next step after the phone interview is usually an on site interview. If you have made this next cut and are asked to come in for an interview, there are some extra questions you should have answers to:
- What is the salary range for this position? [I would consider this a red flag if you have not been told by now, or if you are unfairly asked to provide any salary requirements.]
- What do I need to bring? A presentation may be required. Ask about available software and hardware. Topics are often vague, so use them to your advantage, and deliver a customized talk for discussion on what you know best. See also HOWTO:Give a presentation for more advice on public speaking.
- It can be interesting to note the differences in how travel arrangements are made. Do they book the flight and pick you up at the airport, or ask you to take a cab? You should never have to pay any of your own expenses, including meals (even if you later turn down an offer). Make sure this is clear before your trip.
- You shouldn't have to ask for an interview schedule, but make sure you have one ahead of time. You should minimally get to meet everyone you would be working with.
The In-Person Interview
A day-long interview can be an ordeal, and health and stamina can be a factor. You may have free cable at the hotel, but still be sure to get a good night's rest! The typical one-day interview – a whirlwind tour from department meeting to department meeting – can be a drain. Make use of break times to recharge (take frequent time-outs in the bathroom if you need to).
Keep in mind all of those "firm handshake"-type interview tips throughout the day. Dress professionally, arrive on time, do your research, don't air dirty laundry, be yourself, and be mindful of what you say. Your interview may even begin the night before with an "icebreaker" meal with the screening team, which, while casual, is still part of the interview. Be prepared to meet with large groups and individuals, deal with repeat questions, and realize that not everyone may have seen all of your application materials. You could have just finished a presentation on a topic you'd like to discuss, but get asked, "what type of tree would you be?" by an audience member, for example.
R. Lee Hadden has written a post to LIBREF-L on some of the finer points you should notice and ask about during an on site interview. Look for important cues about how polite people are to each other, and how much people seem to enjoy their work. In addition, these are some questions that are likely worth asking:
- What are the biggest challenges this library is facing? What would you change about the library, if you could?
- Do you have a healthy collection development/departmental/overall budget? Are there any cancellation projects or other cutbacks in the works?
- Ask for an organization chart and formal job description if you don't have one already.
- Can you describe a typical day's duties? How accurate is the official job description?
- How bi-directional is the decision making process within your organization? [This one is best asked repeatedly, especially at the end of the day during the obligatory one-on-one with the director.]
- How productively does this department interact with others? How about the library with the computing center and other departments? Ask for specific examples. What opportunities would I have to work with others?
- General policy questions as they relate to your position: do you charge for printing, use censorware, have printed policies for collection development and access to the library, etc..
- General services questions as they relate to your position: do you offer document delivery, e-mail reference, chat, etc..
- Use some questions to demonstrate your knowledge of how libraries work: ask the interlibrary loan librarian if they are a net borrower or lender; ask the government documents librarian what percentage of publications they receive; ask the circulation librarian how they handle "lost claims returned" items; ask the automation librarian what systems the web server and OPAC run; ask the collection development librarian about the approval plan; and ask the bindery librarian if they do dissertations or in-house deacidification.
- What types of official performance reviews and informal feedback would I receive?
- Is there a union on campus? Many libraries have unionized staff support. Be sure to ask about the nature of any such environment.
Make sure you get a picture of the physical working conditions as well.
- Where would my desk/office space be located? Show me! Examine the area carefully; you could be spending a lot of time there. Do you have any natural light? Where's the closest bathroom? Is the workspace ergonomic? (i.e. is the chair a nice wheeling, reclining one with lumbar support, armrests, and height adjustment, or a 70s-era folding chair? I'm not saying you should demand Corinthian Leather… but an office job or repetitive tasks require a comfortable place to sit.)
- Would you have your own phone extension or remotely-accessible voicemail? Many library positions require a good deal of telephone time. If you've ever worked in an office with shared extensions (and co-workers that take frequent or personal calls) you will realize the importance of this question.
- If you're on the computer a lot, take a close look at it. How big is the monitor? How durable is the keyboard and mouse? Where's the printer? Is the computer new? What are its specifications? What productivity software is available to you? How fast is the Internet connection? What level of technical support is available? If this stuff matters to you, you should ask.
- Is there a break room with amenities (microwave, fridge, tv) that staff socialize in? Where do people eat? What areas of town to people live in, and how do they commute?
- Make sure you research the typical weather and cost of living for any place you're considering moving to.
Below is another set of questions that you should know the answer to before accepting a job offer. If you have time and to convey your interest, these can also be asked during the interview.
- Obtain a clear idea of when and how many hours a week you'll be working. It could be forty plus occasional evenings and weekends, or thirty-five including lunch breaks. Get details on lunch and other legally-required breaks, flexibility in working hours and shifts, compensation for overtime if any, and when and how you are compensated for working any required nonstandard hours such as evenings and weekends and holidays. You should be comfortable asking about all of this. Make it clear that you are willing to do the work you are paid for, but also convey your understanding of the fundamental philosophy behind the employer-employee relationship: you are paid to work, and should not be forced to work for free.
- Get a written description of all benefits: parking availability and costs, mass transit discounts, available health/dental/vision coverage and premiums and deductibles and co-payments, eligibility to pensions and retirement plan options, flex spending accounts (for tax-free health and dependent care), direct deposit schedules, number of vacation/sick/personal/holiday days awarded and accrued, and so on. [These things are best reviewed with a human resources person. The sum of all this can make a big difference when comparing offered salaries.]
- Do you reimburse association membership and/or travel to conference attendance? [Get specific details in percentages or amounts allowed per year. If you care about professional development, these figures can really add up.]
- Some places, especially those ascribing to the faculty model of librarianship, have extracurricular requirements for satisfactory job performance and retention. Be sure and get a clear picture on this.
After your interview, many people suggest promptly sending individual thank you notes to the decision-makers. While it might not accomplish anything, it could help you stand out against other candidates. It's also an opportunity for you to reiterate your "hire me" sales pitch, follow-up on any questions you fumbled, or address anything that didn't get covered. If you're comfortable writing a note after your interview, there's little reason not to.
The Job Offer
Ask for time to think over the offer if you need it. Some closing points:
- The offered salary usually has some wiggle room. It is usually best not to demand anything, just be firm ("an extra few percent would really help… because I have to pay for parking/insurance/mandatory conference attendance…"). Check out Salary.com to see about how much you should be worth. Working hours, telecommuting arrangements, additional time off, and conference funding models may also be open for negotiation.
- Get a clear answer on when the next salary review (raise) would be.
- The starting date may be negotiable as well. [It's amazing how the same places that require 60-days notice and take 6 months to conduct a search expect you to break your lease and uproot yourself in 10 days. Demanding expectations like this can be another red flag.]
- Don't forget moving expenses! Get a clear offer on this before accepting any position.
If you are provided with a written contract, of course you should read it before signing.
For More Information
- The Information Professional's Guide to Career Development Online, by Sarah L. Nesbeitt and Rachel Singer Gordon.
- LIScareer.com, The Library & Information Science Professional's Career Development Center, has several articles worth reading.
- National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2012, August). Job choices: Interview essentials. p. 59-64 provides information about career resource tools.
- The LIS Employment category at the Open Directory Project.
- Chapter 7 of Public speaking handbook for librarians and information professionals, by Sarah R. Statz.
- Chapter 23 of The librarian's career guidebook, by Priscilla K. Shontz (Ed.).
- What Questions Would You Ask? "The questions you forget to ask when you are interviewing for a job, but wish you'd asked after taking the job."
- What Not to Do When Applying for Library Jobs
- Hiring Librarians Short, mostly anonymous interviews with people who hire librarians.
- I Need a Library Job Job listings and interviews with hired librarians.
- Open Cover Letters Anonymous cover letters from hired librarians & archivists.