Meredith Farkas has a great post today on tips for library applicants in a tight job market. It focuses mostly on do's and don'ts for the cover letter and resume, which is, of course, a crucial part of the whole thing.
As a blogger, I have a great platform for dispensing unsolicited advice. I'm going to use it. :-) Having been on both sides of the table, on search committees and as an applicant, I wanted to give a few tips on the interview stage, for folks who make it that far.
Secret #1: If you have landed an interview, the search committee already believes that you are capable of doing the job as they have described it and as you have indicated on your CV and Cover letter.
No, really. They do. They need to figure out how stretchy are some of the "stretches" on your resume? Can you really read Mohawk, or is it just that you cataloged one book in Mohawk once using a dictionary and a language guide? And how do you describe that?
(This is a true tale, from my own CV. I once cataloged a book in Mohawk, back when I was a cataloger, using a dictionary and a language guide. Mohawk is therefore on my list of "cataloging" languages--which is separate from "reading knowledge" or "fluency" on my CV.) Important safety tip, Egon: Do NOT lie on your CV. EVER.
Are the "stretches" barriers that are easy to overcome (i.e. learning a new ILS system, which we all have to do every time there's an upgrade/contract change/new shiny anyhow), or will they require extensive training/learning time and energy? Are you (the applicant) and we (the search committee) willing to invest that time and energy in each other?
Secret #2: Interviews really answer the question "am I willing to work with this particular person every day for the next 10 years?" for good and for ill, on both sides.
How well do you as a person "fit" with the organization? Are you a button-down suit in a jeans-and-tshirt library, or vice versa? Do you bring energy to an area that needs it? Do you bring skills that the library didn't have before? Does the organization reward innovation? Do they encourage their staff to keep learning? Do the staff (both professional and paraprofessional) seem happy to be there?
Secret #3: The search committee is terrified that you won't like them, either.
Really. They have spent a lot of time winnowing down a big pile of CVs, and spent a bunch of money to bring a small number of candidates to their library to check them out and be checked out (pun intended). They don't want their search to fail: it doesn't look good to spend all of that time and money without a tangible result, and they will then be stuck doing it all over again. They don't want you to decide that you could never: live in that place/work in a cubicle rather than an office/deal with that "vintage" decor from 1977/use that old, clunky ILS when the one you have at your current Place of Work is far superior/have such a limited travel budget/ do that many weekend reference desk hours ... I could go on.
They want you to like them, love their library, think their town is charming, and declare by the end of your visit (and mean it) that this job is the best possible job for you in the history of ever. They want your interview meeting to be like the Kermit/Piggy romantic scenes in the Muppet films: running across a meadow full of flowers, on a gorgeous sunny day, to meet in the middle where Happily Ever After is. No allergies. No falling down. Just a great fit for everyone involved.
Secret #4: We're all hoping for The One. The Perfect Gig. The You-Can-Pry-My-Awesome-Job-Out-of-My-Cold-Dead-Hands connection. But mostly? Especially early in our careers, we're looking for a job that will work pretty well for us, and the search committee is looking for someone to fill their job without making them regret their decision a year or two down the line.
They've already decided that 3-4 people from their pool are capable of doing the job--hence the interview. Now you need to convince them that you, individual, wonderful you, are the specific person that they want out of that group of 3-4 people.
Which means that your best bet for getting hired is to be yourself, but present yourself as you on your Best! Day! Ever!, if at all possible.
- This is the version of you that has had adequate sleep and caffeine to be pleasant in the morning (even if that's not your favorite time of day), and has had enough prep time to be eloquent when answering and asking questions in such a way that indicate that you've looked at the library's website for more than 30 seconds.
- This is the version of you that is pleasant, remembers your manners, and is careful to be nice to everyone you encounter. (I have been through interviews at places where the first thing that happens once the candidate leaves is that the secretary for the administrative suite or front desk is asked "were they nice to you?" If the answer is negative, that's bad.) Rudeness is never appropriate on either side of an interview.
- This is also the version of you that is flexible and maintains a sense of humor, especially if and when things go wrong (like they do).
- This is the version of you that is comfortable in your own skin, and confident in your abilities. If you can't project this for whatever reason, despite the fact that your CV already documents the awesomeness that is you, pretend.
Be honest with yourself, and with them. A bad fit is a waste of everyone's time, energy, and money. A good fit, however, benefits everyone in the transaction. Which would you rather have?