In the December 2012 issue of Spectrum, Patrick S. Daly raised some important questions and comments on hiring new professional librarians from the perspective of a recent library school graduate. The title of Daly’s piece succinctly raises the article’s core question:
“Hey! Employers! What is it That You Want?”
In this article, I will respond to Daly’s question as well as the issue he raises about job advertisements; namely, that they frequently fall into three categories (the departing IT professional, the departing librarian resume, and the nebulous word cloud), none of which are particularly clear. I am responsible for hiring at my institution, and I have also been on my fair share of interviews during my tenure as a professional librarian. But this article does not solely reflect my experiences. I also conducted a survey of individuals responsible for hiring in all types of law libraries. Survey participants included 74 respondents from private law firms; 81 from academic institutions; 38 from state, court, and county libraries; and a corporate librarian.
Bypassing Daly’s primary question for now, I will first address some of the issues he raised about job postings with a discussion of the job posting creation process.
The creation of a job posting is unique to every institution. Some postings, as Daly mentions, are clearly created using recycled content. Of 138 survey participants who responded to questions about recycling language, 28 percent believe that 50 percent of the language in their institution’s postings is recycled, and 53 percent believe that 75 percent of the language is recycled. When new language is added to a posting, it may be written with an individual’s skillset in mind, but more often, the language added is designed to fill a gap in the skillsets of the current staff at the organization. Of 134 survey participants, 99 percent said they have added new language to job postings for this purpose, and 100 percent stated that new language is added to the position description to reflect an actual need of the organization that, once hired, the candidate will hopefully meet.
In my experience, when I am not creating a completely new position in the library, I will recycle about 50 percent of the language in my postings. The new language in the advertisement addresses an actual need of the library, often where we are lacking particular skills among those currently employed. I rarely include “wish list” language describing either skills that no person actually possesses or current buzzwords.
In his article, Daly describes some job advertisements as nebulous word clouds filled with clichés. He inferred the inclusion of this type of language to mean the librarians at those institutions were not sure what the new library employee would be doing. This may be true in some cases, but often when this type of language is included, it may have less to do with the library and more to do with too many authors or the wrong author drafting the position description. Based on the culture of the organization, the job advertisement may be written by librarians, C-level people, administrators outside the library, or the human resources department. These advertisements may even be written by a combination of all these people, and collaborations are not always successful. In response to my survey questions about language contributions to position descriptions, survey respondents said that their hiring managers contribute as little as 50 percent of the language, library staff contribute anywhere from zero to 100 percent, and human resources departments contribute between 50 and 70 percent of the content. With all of these individuals adding to the descriptions, it is easy to see where a job advertisement may become muddled. If you find yourself confused by a job description, I recommend reaching out to the contact individual whose name is given in the advertisement and asking for further clarification about the position.
“What is it That You Want?”
Now to Daly’s core question to employers: what is it that we want?
From the survey participants’ responses, I developed a list of behaviors that cause employers to remove a person from the application pool. Survey responses indicated that cover letters that weed an applicant out of the interview pool are those that have spelling and grammatical errors, use boilerplate language, exhibit arrogance, or use too much “I” and “me” language.
Some applicants may never receive an interview because their application never made it into the hands or email of the hiring party. Recently, hiring managers have seen more unqualified candidates applying for positions. A Wall Street Journal article, “Your Resume vs. Oblivion,” reported, “Most recruiters report that at least 50% of job hunters don’t possess the basic qualifications for the jobs they are pursuing.” This uptick in unqualified candidates has led many HR departments in the public and private sectors to use applicant-tracking systems to weed out unqualified applicants. The thing to remember with these computer systems is that they rank your application based on keywords, past employers, education, and prior experience in years. If your rank isn’t high enough, you may not make it to the next round. Survey participants were not specifically asked about these bot application tracking systems, but they were asked whether HR prescreened the materials; 59 percent of the 80 respondents said “yes.” In addition, 24 percent stated that they cannot view an applicant’s materials if HR or another department has determined the applicant to be unqualified for the position. If you find yourself forced to fill out an online application, keep the following tips in mind to avoid having the bot kick you out or rank you low:
- Follow directions and put information in the correct order and format.
- Add keywords that are present in the job description.
- Add appropriate language from the organization’s website.
- List continuing education courses at prestigious schools under education.
Survey participants were asked about onsite visits, as well as phone and Skype interviews. They overwhelmingly responded that a person is likely to be eliminated from the pool of candidates at the interview stage because the personality of the individual does not match up with the person they projected on paper. Both Daniel Goleman, in his Harvard Business Review blog post “The Must-Have Leadership Skill,” and Andrea Kay, in her column “Employers Look Beyond Skills to Character, Attitude,” address this issue. An individual may appear to be a perfect fit on paper, but, in reality, he or she may not possess the interpersonal skills to perform the job successfully. Goleman uses the phrase “social intelligence” to describe these key interpersonal skills necessary for a leader in the workplace. He states, “You can be the most brilliant innovator, problem-solver or strategic thinker, but if you can’t inspire and motivate, build relationships or communicate powerfully, those talents will get you nowhere.” Kay makes similar observations and states in her piece, “You can be the most talented person who walks the Earth and possess proper technical skills. Yet you still won’t get hired because of this: How you seem.”
If you believe your “social intelligence” or “how you seem” are preventing you from getting hired, here are a few recommendations for improving your interview skills:
- When taking part in an onsite visit, make sure to interact with everyone in the room, not just those who you think are important.
- During one-on-one conversations, ask questions and show interest in the other person. Don’t just talk about yourself.
- Don’t overshare about your life, and follow the “Nana rule” (if you wouldn’t tell your Nana, you probably shouldn’t share it in an interview).
- Do not complain about past interviews or your travel to your present interview.
- Respond to emails or phone calls from the interviewer promptly. Don’t make them wait a significant amount of time.
- You need to remember that during every exchange with a hiring manager or interviewer they are asking themselves whether they can work with you and are looking for clues about your maturity, ability to work with others, flexibility, attitude, and character.
I have provided you with some of the key “don’ts” for your application packet and interview, but even more important are the many wonderful “please do the following” comments I received from the voluntary participants in my survey.
In your cover letter, please DO include:
- Statements about unique things in your work history
- A demonstration that you meet the qualifications
- Enthusiasm and desire with your word choice
- Clever and relevant turns of phrase
- A demonstration that you have done your homework on the organization
- Language that is clearly tailored to the job announcement
- A desire to learn
- A diversity of interests outside of work
- A professional and personal tone
- Active voice
- A firm statement of what you will bring to this library and why you want to come to the organization
- A clean format, brevity, and a well-developed vocabulary.
During an interview, please DO:
- Be on time
- Show respect to all participants and people you meet at the organization
- Dress up, not down
- Practice eye contact and be comfortable talking about yourself and your accomplishments
- Understand the line between terse and TMI
- Match the enthusiasm in your cover letter
- Be proactive, provide samples of work product, and give examples of challenging work projects from prior positions
- Seek out opportunities to talk with the members of the organization you would be working with about their jobs and the culture of the library
- Overcome reticence, lest you be eaten alive
- Highlight the skills you will bring to the staff
- Be honest about your qualifications and what you can deliver
- Wait until the later interviews to ask salary questions
- Show employers you can think on your feet and handle yourself in a stressful situation
- Ask questions, relax, and be yourself
- Listen to the questions and comments carefully
- Be flexible, as well as willing and excited to learn
- Recognize the dual purpose of the interview: introducing yourself to the potential employer and proving your ability to interact with others effectively
- Demonstrate stability and willingness to exceed what the job requires.
Best of Luck!
This article is an attempt to demystify some of the baffling elements in the job search process and offer some sound advice from hiring managers from all library types around the country. Feel free to use this as a guide, but know that there are many others in our profession who can also offer you sound advice as you pursue your potential job.
~Kathleen (Katie) Brown~
This article was featured in the November 2013 issue of the AALL Spectrum, the official magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries.