Sponsored by: Student Interest Group (SIG) and MLA
MLA/DLA Annual Conference
Friday, May 6, 2011
Written by: Amanda Bena, Allegany County Library System
This year at the annual Maryland Library Association/Delware Library Association conference in Ocean City, Maryland, the Student Interest Group sponsored a session "Getting the Library Job You Want! Secrets from Library Leaders" featuring a panel of experts in a Q & A style format to get some answers about the hiring process for students and library school graduates. Darrell Batson, Director of the Frederick County Public Libraries; Dr. Lucy Holman, Director of the Langsdale Library at the University of Baltimore; and Terri Schell, Senior Administrator in Human Resources at the Harford County Public Library all provided a broad range of expertise and advice for those of us searching for that perfect library position.
Because our panelists came from a variety of libraries and backgrounds, what they had to say was rich in detail and perspective. Much of the advice is also applicable to those working outside the realm of librarianship with general tips for crafting resumes and strategies for interviewing well. Some common themes started appearing early on in the discussion which might be helpful to summarize here. If you're interested in a question by question summary, please visit the Student Interest Group page on the MLA website here: http://www.mdlib.org/divisions/sig/default.asp and click on "Program Notes".
- Experience is key. Get it however you can. Whether it's an internship, an externship, volunteerism, or actual paid employment, experience is what will get you in the door and prove to employers that you can do the job.
- Craft your story. MLS's are a dime a dozen these days, so while it's important to acknowledge that you do indeed have the professional training necessary to perform the duties, it's just as important to focus on the skills, experiences, and specializations that make you unique. Employers want to know who you are, so make sure that your story is clearly visible on your application materials.
- Bring something to the table. Employers want to know what you can do for their organization, so be prepared to showcase your special skills and unique abilities with specific examples of how you can be of value to them. Were you a teacher in a past life? Took a summer marketing seminar? Use those experiences to offer a perspective or a specialty that they may not have even known they wanted.
- Embrace change. It's not secret that the role of the librarian is drastically different from what it was twenty years ago. New generations of librarians are making leaps and bounds into areas often thought to be outside the realm of librarianship. Employers are looking for candidates who can adapt in a fast-paced and constantly changing arena. Yet, adaptation is not just about surviving, it's also about thriving, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Show your willingness to innovate and create. Demonstrate your initiative and resolve. Be open. Be flexible.
- Use common sense. Whether it's knowing when not to answer the phone, or understanding that the refreshments are for everyone, not just you, use your head and remain professional in all situations, whether in person or not. The real interview process begins with the first contact between you and the organization, so treat everyone with respect and put your best face forward at all times.
- Be honest. Remember, you'll have to work with these people every day, so it won't take long for them to figure out that you don't actually speak fluent Finnish, or that you aren't really interested in young adult services. Use what you have to showcase your best self, but don't embellish with experiences or attributes that you don't have.
- Find the right fit. The organization wants you to be happy just as much as you do, so do your research before applying to make sure that it's the kind of place where you can see yourself growing professionally. Check out their website. Read their mission statement. If it's not the right organizational culture, acknowledge that and move on. You don't want to begin a new job fighting against the cultural current. There are many different types of libraries and many different types of organizational cultures out there. You'll know when you find the right one.
- The 3 T's: tailor, transfer, and translate. Tailor your resume and cover letter to reflect the values and mission of the organization to which you're applying. Read the job ad carefully and make your own skill-set transfer to the specific job. Translate your experiences and activities, even if they are outside the library realm, to reflect the your value as an employee and your commitment to the profession.
- Choose early and choose wisely. As a library school student, it is imperative that you consider your professional goals early. Choose your coursework based on what kind of librarian you want to be and what kind of library you want to work for. Follow that path, as it's built to support you and your goals. Don't try to hope that you fit in anywhere.
- Experience is experience is experience. Use what you have and what you know. Even if your current repertoire of experience seems unrelated to the library profession, chances are it's not. Make it work for you. Libraries are constantly changing and the demands of the profession often require skill-sets not found in library school programs. Outside experience is valuable, gives you a different perspective, and makes you more interesting to an organization if you can relate it to the profession.
- Remain relevant. Show you commitment to the profession by keeping up with library trends, joining professional organizations, attending trainings and workshops, and getting involved in projects. Use current terminology. Stay up to date on emerging technologies, even if you don't use them, read up on them. Know what's going on.
- Be passionate! Love what you do. If you are excited about the job and the possibilities of working in an organization, that passion will translate into your interview. Employers are looking for candidates who are excited about the future of libraries, so let your passion show.