Q: I’m qualified. Why can’t I get a job?

Q: I am progressive, a risk taker, and a change agent. I embrace technology and believe that libraries of all types have to provide access to it for the “have nots” of our society. As librarians, we have to dedicate ourselves to lifelong literacy. I have mentored four individuals who have become successful librarians – more so than me, actually.

I have made career decisions based on the needs of my family. As a result, I look horrible on paper. I am currently employed in a Michigan school district. The last two districts that employed me eliminated my library media position because of budget cuts. My current employer is also facing a deficit for 2006/2007, so I am only 50% certain that I have a job again in September.

I am willing and able to relocate to anywhere in the Southwest or Pacific Northwest. I have applied for countless numbers of positions but get no responses and no interviews. What am I doing wrong? I know other qualified, competent, and experienced colleagues who are also applying for positions and they are not getting interviews either. We are beginning to think that this whole shortage thing is joke.

TA: It sounds like there’s a lot going on here. Personal factors (family-based job decisions, potential layoff) as well as professional topics (impending shortage of librarians – fact or fiction?) make this a pretty complicated question. Since there is considerable debate about the librarian shortage – I’ve included several articles representing both sides of the topic below – let’s focus on your personal search.

It definitely sounds like you have covered all the buzzwords most employers are looking for in their perfect candidate: progressive, change agent, risk taker, embracing technology, dedicated to lifelong literacy. It’s easy enough to espouse these virtues, but you’re going to have to back this up in your application materials. If you say in your cover letter that you have a dedication to lifelong learning, be sure to also mention a specific example – for instance, a course you’ve taken recently on web page design, and a practical application in the workplace.

Additionally, a few of the comments in your question may be interpreted as a bit negative. Try to stay positive, not only in attitude, but in tone. In her article “Cover Letter Etiquette,” Kim Isaacs calls a cover letter “your resume’s cheerleading section.” She goes on further to say: “While a resume is generally a formal document, cover letters give you a chance to reveal your personality. Not only do you want to show that you’re a good fit for the position, but you also want the reader to like you. Appropriate use of humor, combined with a friendly and professional tone, can help endear you to the hiring manager.” For the full article, see: http://resume.monster.com/articles/letteretiquette/. (You should also take a look at her article “Resume Dilemma: Employment Gaps and Job-Hopping” at http://resume.monster.com/articles/weaknesses/.)

You mentioned having applied for “countless numbers of positions.” I would recommend being more targeted and selective when applying for jobs. You don’t win the game by sending out the most applications, and employers certainly don’t like to hear that they’re just one in a hundred. People want to know you want their job – not just a job, their job. Be mindful of the job you want, and of the requirements of the job for which you are applying.

If you are applying for jobs that you aren’t really interested in, or if you don’t really meet the minimum requirements, you’re wasting a lot of time and energy. By being selective, you can put your effort, time, and energy into a position that is truly a good fit. You will feel better, perhaps even excited, about applying, and that energy and enthusiasm will come through in your letter and resume. You will also not be wasting time and effort on jobs that don’t spark your interest or that you don’t really qualify for.

Lastly, you said you were interested and able to relocate to the Southwest or Pacific Northwest. I would encourage you, if you haven’t already, to take a look at the Pacific Northwest Library Association (PNLA)’s web site, at http://www.pnla.org. Find job announcements, info on their annual conference, and an e-mail list with a policy of encouraging regional libraries to advertise job openings. You can also check out specific state chapters in the Southwest via ALA’s State and Regional Chapters page.

Other suggested articles:

“Reaching 65: Lots of Librarians Will Be There Soon,” American Libraries, March 2002: 55-6

“Start a Corps, Not a Corpse,” Library Journal, May 1 2006: 131

The Entry Level Gap

The Age Demographics of Academic Librarians

2 thoughts on “Q: I’m qualified. Why can’t I get a job?

  1. Pingback: Can a contractor find a traditional library job? | Library Career People

  2. Pingback: Career Q&A with the Library Career People » Q: Can a contractor find a traditional library job?

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