Q: What do I say about my last job (which did not end well) when I go on an interview?

Q: I have over 12 years experience with public libraries. I stayed in one place for 11 years. Since they would not promote me, I left to get a promotion with another place – which lasted 8 months. What do I say when I go on an interview about my last job? I never bad-mouth my supervisor when I interview, but they still want to know what happened. My boss was an autocrat. I also believe my age (53) is a hindrance, even though I am willing to relocate. It seems like experience doesn’t count for anything. I believe in participatory management, which I do not think most library administrations believe in despite what management books say! I have an interview in a couple weeks for a branch manager job. What am I doing wrong?

TA: I’m of the opinion that the power is all in the spin. First and foremost, take a positive approach. In any interview, it is always best to focus on your strengths. Talk about your strengths and your qualifications for the position. Describe the experience you have gained in your 12 years of working in public libraries. Don’t talk about your age – talk about your life experience. Look for transferable skills – if you worked somewhere prior to your work in libraries, look at the experience gained there and relate it to the position for which you are applying.

Your willingness to relocate is also an asset. If someone asks why you left your first position, don’t say it was because they wouldn’t promote you. Take a more proactive position: say that you were looking for an advancement opportunity. If you are asked why you didn’t stay longer than eight months in your next position, simply say that you realized it was not a good fit and you wanted to pursue something more in line with your career goals, such as managing people, managing collections, or managing services. Keep your answers relevant to your experience and to the position for which you are applying. It is very wise of you to not speak negatively about your former supervisor in an interview. Speaking ill of past employers doesn’t reflect well on you, and it sends the message to the potential employer that if you speak negatively about one employer, you may speak negatively about them.

Now let’s address your question about participatory management. Every library is different, and, frankly, there are some that do not welcome input on management decisions from everyone. Keep in mind that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. I firmly believe that no one should come into a new position and institute change as their first item on the “To Do” list. I think you need to learn a job before you change it. But if participation is something that is important to you, ask about it during the interview. Ask how often staff are invited to participate in major decisions. Do support staff employees serve on library-wide committees and task forces? Are there opportunities for asking questions and providing feedback? If this is something that is important to you, you can inquire about it in the interview.

ALA’s Human Resource Development and Recruitment (HRDR) web page links to various support staff web pages that you may find interesting in your path of career development

ALA’s Library Support Staff Interests Round Table also has activities and resources you may be interested in pursuing. Their online newsletter is a great resource.

SM: Librarianship can be a very competitive field, and self- promotion is extremely important when attempting to move up the ranks. There are many positions in many libraries that are “dead- ends” – that will never result in promotion. Most librarians need to move around in order to get ahead, gaining experience in different places and hopefully acquiring promotions and different skills along the way. Library managers understand this, perhaps more so than others. Diversity on your resume will help you in the long run and will entice future employers. You left a dead-end position for a promotion at a different library. That shows that you are motivated and determined, and that you have relevant skills and experience to get promoted. And experience definitely counts, just make sure that your resume and your cover letter accurately reflects it.

If you feel uncomfortable during an interview, or as if the interviewer is not treating you fairly because of your age or your previous library experience, then perhaps the position you are interviewing for is not one you would want. Keep interviewing until you find the position that fits you. Being willing to relocate should make it a little easier to find that ideal position. As Tiffany mentioned, keeping a positive attitude about the profession, and especially about your experience and skills, will help you immensely. Good luck!

The Public Library Association’s (PLA) web site is a good place to look for information on career development, e-learning opportunities, and advocacy for public librarianship.

For tips on interviewing, writing cover letters and more check out the Job Hunting section of LIScareer.com.

Writing Resumes That Work: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, by Robert R. Newlen, provides useful advice on how to create a resume and how to keep it up-to-date, using real resumes from different types of librarians.

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