Q: I keep getting rejection letters. What am I doing wrong?

Q: I am currently working part-time as an archivist in the Chicagoland area and would desperately like to land a full-time job as an archivist. I am willing to move to a different state if necessary and I am willing to take public, academic, or special library jobs to bide my time too. The problem is that no matter how many times I apply for positions, I either make it to the interview stage and get rejected, or get no interview at all and simply a “thank you but we’ve hired someone else” letter. What can I do? This has been going on for 3 years and it is so horribly frustrating. Please help! – Desperate in Chicago

Dear Desperate in Chicago: We know this has to be a terribly frustrating time for you. Finding a job is sometimes a long and difficult process. We hope the information provided below will be helpful to you in your search. Above all, stay confident and hopeful that the perfect job for you is just around the corner.

Sincerely,
Susanne and Tiffany

TA: Looking For a Job: Where to Look and What to Look For

When beginning any job search, you want to make sure you are looking for the right job and in the right places. Your ability to relocate is definitely an advantage; you won’t have to limit your searches geographically. Don’t limit your search by format, either: monitor lists, check web sites, and look at print publications. You may also want to consider looking at job boards at local LIS schools. In academic library circles, it is common to use the Chronicle of Higher Education (vacancy announcements are available both online and in print), the Association of Research Libraries site, specific institutions’ sites, and association lists. (Some specific sub-groups include the Hispanic Librarians Association, African American Library and Information Science, Asian Pacific and Chinese Librarians Association, and Black-IP (Black Information Professionals’ Network).)

For archivist positions, you will specifically want to look at the Society of American Archivists site, specifically the SAA Online Employment Bulletin. For general searches for librarian and information professional positions, also check out Lisjobs.com. Good research, careful selection and solid preparation are the keys to a successful job hunt.

While reading vacancy announcements, there are a number of things to consider. First, are you interested in the job? Read the duties very carefully and see if they fit your interests and experience. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, are you qualified for the position? Look closely at its requirements and assess how they match your education and experience. Your goal is to find a position that closely matches your background; the closer the match, the more likely you are to be a good fit. If the qualifications are broken into “required” and “preferred,” in most cases, you must meet the required, and it is helpful if you have some of the preferred. Be sure to be very clear in your cover letter and resume when discussing how you meet the qualifications of the position. Speaking of the cover letter and resume…

SM: The Cover Letter

The cover letter is an introduction, the first impression you make on a potential employer, and the document that could get your resume in the door. If your cover letter is terrible – or terribly generic – your resume – no matter how fantastic – may not stand on its own. The cover letter is the bridge between your resume and the position. Keep the tone friendly but professional. Do not repeat what is listed in your resume; rather, relate your experience and your skills to the requirements of the position. The cover letter is where you can discuss transferable skills, emphasize your qualifications, and make it clear that you are interested in the specific position. Look closely at the job description and use its terminology as you address how your qualifications match up. Do not forget to state where you saw the ad, and do not forget to spell- check the document. Read it out loud, and have at least one other person proofread it for you. The cover letter is an example of your communication skills, so allow your voice to come through and make it shine.

Resume

A resume needs to reflect your work experience, your education, and your skills. It is a work in progress, keep it handy and update it regularly as you gain more experience and learn new skills. Make sure that all of the job requirements, and ideally some of the preferred qualifications, are not only reflected, but accentuated. If transferable skills or experience come from non-library jobs, be sure to list those jobs in your resume as well.

Content is definitely king, but formatting, organization, and wording are also extremely important when it comes to building your resume. Look at examples in books and on the web to get formatting ideas. Before sending it out, have your resume reviewed by colleagues or a friend. If you are a student, use your career services office. Or, have a library professional review your resume using the NMRT (New Members Round Table) Resume Review Service.

References

Your references are a very important part of your application, so choose them carefully. They should be able to talk positively about your accomplishments and provide details about your current, or recent, job activities and duties. It is your responsibility to keep these people updated on your professional or academic life, your current activities and your job search. Make sure that you ask permission to list them as a reference. When you apply for a position, let them know about it, provide them with your updated resume and a description of the position, and notify them if you expect that they will be contacted by the search committee. Having professional contacts who can speak well about you and your work activities is a considerable asset, no matter where you are in your career.

The Telephone Interview

If you are looking to relocate to a different city or state, then the first interview you have will probably be done over the phone. Even though telephone interviews are not as long or intense as in- person interviews, they can still be extremely intimidating.

Prepare for the phone interview as you would for an in-person interview. Have a copy of your resume, your cover letter, and the job description in front of you (it helps to be in a quiet room with the door closed). Do your research ahead of time to gather information about the institution. Have your questions written down, and make sure that you arm yourself with pen and paper to write down additional information or questions while talking. Do not be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat a question, or ask for a minute to think about your answer. With no visual cues, phone interviews are awkward for everyone, including the interviewers, so try to be as natural and personable as possible and show your enthusiasm for the position.

The On-Site Interview

Prepare, prepare, prepare! Even if you are not asked to do a presentation or instruction session, be prepared to talk about aspects of the position, librarianship, and the future of libraries. Show the search committee that you care about the profession enough to keep up-to-date on new technologies, concepts, and issues. If you need to do a formal presentation or instruction session, get some help from current colleagues, friends, or a professor, and make sure that you practice – a lot! As with the phone interview, do your research, visit the library’s web site, and find out as much information as you can about the library, its employees and the larger institution. Have a list of questions to ask your interviewers. Be professional at all times, even during dinner, and even if you are exhausted. Remember the little things that make a big difference: shake hands, smile, be charming, treat everyone equally, dress and act professionally, answer each question as it if were the first time being asked, interview your interviewers, and send thank-you letters. For tips on interviewing, see the interviewing advice section on Lisjobs.com and the job hunting section of LIScareer.com.

TA: Following up

Now that you have mailed out dozens of cover letters and resumes, and survived a few telephone and/or on-site interviews, what’s next? If you get a job offer, great! All is right with the world. If, however, you get the letter or telephone call from HR to inform you that they have offered the position to someone else, what do you do? First, always remain gracious. Thank them for the opportunity to meet with them and to visit their library. You want to always leave on a good note; maybe you weren’t the perfect candidate for this job, but there may be another in the near future, and you want them to remember you (in a good way). And while this may not be the easiest thing to do at a somewhat emotional time, you have the right to ask the HR person how the other candidate was a better fit for the position and if there are things you could do to improve your standing for the next interview.

Outside of the context of a formal interview, there are also things you may want to pursue to improve your marketability. Continue to build on current strengths and develop areas that need improvement by taking advantage of continuing education and professional development opportunities. As we have discussed in previous columns, you might want to conduct an informational interview or two. Meet with people in a job that you are interested in and ask them how they got there. Attend professional meetings and conferences to meet people and network with colleagues. Talk to a mentor or supervisor about your job searching experiences; maybe they can provide some support, insight and guidance.

SM: The application and interview process can be a long and arduous journey for many people. Take time in the beginning to narrow your search and focus on specific jobs, areas, and types of libraries and institutions. Be picky, but be comprehensive in your job hunt. The pieces listed above are important parts of a whole package, and with preparation and confidence, along with the right skills, experience, and timing, they will eventually lead you to a job. Keep in mind that the search itself is a learning process that will allow you to refine your interview skills, your cover letter voice, and your resume. It is also a great way to see what types of jobs are out there as you meet and interact with library professionals. In the end, be patient and optimistic, even if it takes an appallingly long time to get the job you want.

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