(…to which there is sometimes resistance!)
By Ellen Mehling
I’ve been advising job hunters, including librarians and library school students, for over ten years. As you might imagine, there are pieces of advice I give again and again, whether in an individual advising session or during a workshop for a group, and for some of this advice there is resistance at times, or a misconception that these things are not that important. Disregarding these things, though, can result in missed opportunities or a job search that is more difficult and/or longer than it needs to be.
Many people are uncomfortable with networking. It really is necessary though, and not just for job search success, but for continuing career success. Students should begin networking before graduation, with their professors and classmates, supervisors and other staff at internships, co-workers if they are employed in the field, and other members of professional organizations. Being known in the profession and by hiring decision-makers can greatly increase your chances of finding employment.
Having the specific, required skills and experience for the job is crucial. On a regular basis, though, I talk to MLS students who have the idea that the degree alone will get them interviews and job offers. Even some job hunters who are not new to the field will discount the need for specific experience, thinking they can just talk their way in and they’ll “wing it” and figure things out on the job. If you can’t convey that you have something of value (relevant experience and skills) to offer the employer, though, you are very unlikely to even get a chance to bluff your way in.
Review job postings to see what skills employers are seeking for the positions you are interested in, and figure out how to get them however you can, including part- or full-time work, internships, and volunteering. If you are reluctant to volunteer, know that employers will always prefer job candidates with experience to those without. (FWIW, I started volunteering while still in graduate school, I still volunteer and do pro bono work, and expect to continue to do so for the rest of my career.)
Customized application documents
Having one version of your resume and cover letter that you send in application to all positions is simply not effective in getting interviews. You can be sure that others applying for that same position are tailoring those documents to each position to catch the attention of the hiring manager reading them. Employers want to see that you are putting more than minimal effort into your application documents, and that you are very interested in that specific job that they have open.
Job searching, writing effective application documents, and networking take time, effort, and perseverance. When you are applying for jobs, you won’t hear back from all employers. In fact, it may be a rare thing to get any kind of a response, no matter how strong a candidate you feel you are. An interview is not a job offer, and having an interview (even a second or third interview) does not mean that the job is “yours to lose”. Until you are formally offered the job, negotiate and accept it, and begin your first day, the job is not yours and you should continue your active search for employment.
Trust your gut when deciding to accept a job. Accepting a job when you have doubts or serious concerns about fit, or that you would not accept if not for desperation, is a recipe for disaster. Consider all of the aspects of the job offer, and use your intuition as well as your head in making the decision to accept or decline.
Other unrealistic expectations include anticipating a salary that is out of line with job requirements (do your homework), thinking that interview preparation is unnecessary (mock interviews with honest feedback can make a huge difference) and thinking that gimmicky tactics like “pain letters” will impress a hiring manager (they won’t).
Before a hire, employers will want references (usually three) and references in the field are preferable to those doing a different type of work (another reason to get library-related experience, as you will be connecting with others who may be willing to recommend you to a potential employer).
Keep resume up to date
This one is like flossing your teeth daily: everyone knows they should do it, but some people just don’t. So many of the resume reviews I do are under time pressure because someone who hasn’t looked at his/her resume in many months (or years!) needs to send a current version that same day or the next day. Your resume should always be up to date or so near to current that it could be updated quickly. You never know when an opportunity may arise, and it really isn’t difficult to spend a few minutes reviewing it every couple of months or whenever you have something to change or add, and keep it ready to go.