Q: I’m just about to finish my MLIS and I am hopefully about to begin my career in librarianship. One thing I am unsure about is whether or not you should contact the person listed for informal inquiries prior to applying. Some people say it is useful as it will put you on the radar of those hiring while others discourage it. One particular position I am looking at at the moment is listed as a Trainee role and I thought it might be useful to ask about the training they will be offering (for example). Should you contact them or just apply?
SM: Congratulations on completing your degree and best of luck to you as you begin your library career!
Trainee positions (and fellowships) are designed to provide recent graduates with experience and actual hands-on training prior to getting that first professional position. The trainee role can be beneficial for someone with little or no prior library experience and it can also be an excellent entrée into librarianship for any new librarian.
These types of positions can mean different things in different libraries, so you will want to make sure that you understand all the requirements, expectations, and terms. Trainee positions may be for library school students or for recent graduates. They can be temporary (one-year, academic year, etc.), or they can encompass the first year of a permanent position… a trial period where one learns the ropes before taking on greater responsibilities.
Overall, I think these programs are very much needed — both for the growth of our individual careers and for the health of the profession. We need to continue to develop programs for mentoring and nurturing our newest members, in order to create the next generation of dynamic and confident leaders; and we need to take the time to fully train and integrate new hires into their roles and help them to meet and exceed the demands and expectations that are put on them.
Here are my thoughts on asking questions of potential employers:
- If there is an actual person listed, and they are defined as the person to contact for “informal inquiries” then go ahead and contact that person.
- Since this is a trainee position, which is different from a typical position, you may want to clarify exactly what you will be doing on the job, especially if is isn’t clear in the job description.
- Do not think that by contacting a potential employer with questions that you are putting yourself in a better position to get the job. Getting on someone’s radar is not always a good thing.
- In the interview stage you will have a chance to get all your questions answered. This is the place to ask lots of questions, not necessarily before you apply for a position.
- Think of ‘getting an interview‘ as an accomplishment, and ‘interviewing‘ as training. The more you interview, the better you get at it. And interviewing is the only way to know if you really want a position. Something that looks great on paper may be not-so-great in person, and vice versa.
To sum up: if you have pressing questions that you would like answered before you apply and the job listing has a contact for asking questions, then you should feel free to ask. If there is no name listed, you can attempt to contact the human resources department to get your questions answered (do not contact the library director!). As long as you maintain a professional demeanor and don’t attempt to promote yourself in your correspondence (or get noticed or rewarded in any way), then all should be well.