Job Search, Part 2: Searching & Applying for Positions

Obviously every job search is different, even within librarianship, even with academic librarianship! So I won’t try to speak to every type of librarianship or specialty. Head over to Hack Library School for a wider variety of info, folks (of particular interest: the “After Library School” section of the HLS ebook)! As I mentioned in my last post I really appreciated finding detailed accounts of library job searches, so that’s what I’ll give here, peppered with some advice and resources that I found useful.

Finding Positions

I was fortunate in that I did not need to limit myself geographically when searching for positions. I’ve heard that this can be the hardest factor for lots of folks. That being said there were some areas and states I purposefully avoided. Wisconsin is going through a crisis of tenure and academic freedom that I didn’t want to get involved in; Texas had recently passed legislation allowing concealed-carry on college campuses, which I also didn’t want to get involved in. These were personal choices for me that led me to more critically evaluate whether or not I wanted to apply for jobs in these areas. I wouldn’t advise necessarily ruling out areas before applying – you may visit for an interview and get a better sense of the climate around a certain issue or problem. But have a general sense of what is acceptable or desirable for you.

I mostly searched INALJ and ALA JobLIST for positions and areas that interested me. Specific state-level library associations often also have job boards (and advertising on them can be cheaper than ALA JobLIST, so be sure to check them, especially if you’re limited geographically). I checked large board sites like this once a week – scheduled, in my calendar. Keep in mind that just because you put a job on your list doesn’t mean that you *have* to apply for it – you can just be pulling it aside for further review! I also found out about a few positions via ALA listservs – again, these often present a more cost-effective (/free) option for advertising positions, especially for smaller institutions with smaller budgets. So don’t be afraid to get on listservs for topics that interest you! They are often peppered with job listings and usually the person who posts is open to questions if you have them.

A note on position names: different institutions will use a variety of names and descriptions for jobs and duties. Don’t be thrown off by strange/unusual wording – get in there and read about the position, the duties, the qualifications, and see if it’s really right for you. I came to my job hunt with interests and experience in instruction, outreach, reference, and a variety of subject areas. Here are the job titles I ended up applying for:

  • Information Literacy Librarian
  • Research & Information Services Librarian
  • Reference & Instruction Librarian
  • Research & Instruction Librarian
  • Reference & Archives Librarian
  • Reference Librarian
  • Instruction & Liaison Librarian
  • Teaching and Learning Librarian
  • Graduate Librarian
  • Digital Learning Librarian
  • Online Learning and Digital Media Librarian
  • Online Instruction Librarian
  • Teaching, Learning and Research Librarian for Science and Engineering
  • Science and Engineering Librarian
  • Research Librarian for Science Teaching and Learning
  • STEM Librarian
  • Liason Librarian – Sciences
  • Engineering Librarian
  • Dental Library Instruction & Communication Specialist
  • Social Sciences and User Experience Librarian
  • Social Sciences Librarian
  • Social Sciences Librarian/Lecturer
  • Humanities Librarian
  • Humanities Librarian/Lecturer
  • Government Documents Librarian
  • Liaison Librarian
  • Assessment and Collection Development Librarian

Keeping Positions Organized

When I found a position that interested me I would chuck the details into my master spreadsheet. The first tab of this spreadsheet was my “To Apply” tab. The columns at the top were: Position Title; Institution; Deadline; Link. This was a quick and easy way for me to keep myself organized and on top of approaching deadlines. I would link out to the position listing whenever possible to allow for easy follow-up. I would also suggest adding a column: “how I heard about this position” – sometimes this is obvious from the link, but sometimes not, and it’s often asked about in online application portals. Also, if other criteria are very important to you (e.g. location, position type, specific duties, etc.) then feel free to add those in as well.

“To Apply” tab of my jobs spreadsheet, with my current position as the example row!

Application Checklist

When I would sit down to work on applications (which was usually in a big chunk on a weekend, and was separate from my weekly position searching time) I ended up going through a fairly specific checklist:

  1. Make sure you really want to apply. This is key. Just because you plopped it into the spreadsheet doesn’t mean it’s ultimately right for you. Sometimes upon further reflection I decided the position wasn’t the best fit for me. It’s *better* and less demoralizing if you come to this conclusion *before* you spend time on the following steps.
  2. Take a screenshot of the posting and save it. I learned this one the hard way pretty quickly. Position listings get taken down, often very quickly after the application deadline. It’s SUPER annoying when you want to go back and look at the listing, say, before a phone interview, and it’s hard to find. Do yourself a favor and save them as you apply.
  3. Create unique resume/CV, cover letter, and (if needed) reference list files and tailor to the job. In addition to my master spreadsheet (which I kept in Google Drive for universal accessibility), I also kept a system of folders and files on my laptop (which I backed up on an external drive and in the cloud very regularly!). For each position I would make a new folder, paste in copies of my cover letter and resume/CV, and then start massaging and working on both to tailor them to the positions. This takes more time up front (because you need to get a nice resume/CV going and you need to create some core cover letter content that you can reshape and use depending on the individual position).Try to mirror the language used in the job posting and address all of the required qualifications (and any preferred qualifications that you can speak to). Also, even (and especially) if you’re still in library school, be confident and assertive. Don’t diminish or belittle your own experiences, and don’t make excuses. Present what you have done confidently and talk about your vision/philosophy in areas where you don’t have direct experience. I found Open Cover Letters to be an amazingly helpful resource for getting into the right mindset, playing around with language and different writing styles, and seeing what others were doing in my areas. *Get feedback.* Get feedback from librarians, but also get feedback from at least one person outside the library world. Try to do this early (although the job ads will certainly end up shaping your letters) and work through any feedback you get.You might spend time on adapting each cover letter and then just throw in your resume/CV without changes. This is a mistake. Your resume/CV should be somewhat tailored as well. Don’t bog people down with every position you’ve ever had – think about what each item adds to your argument for why you should get this job. If it doesn’t do much besides “this is an example of a time someone hired me” then consider whether or not it needs to be there.

    Also, don’t be afraid of extra work! Consider and value your time, obviously, but don’t rule out a position just because it asks for a teaching statement or a diversity statement in addition to the regular documents.

  4. Check to see if a specific person or code is needed in the cover letter. Sometimes they will ask that you reference the posting number/identifier somewhere in the letter. Also, sometimes the search committee chair or HR contact person will be listed by name. If so, address the letter to them!
  5. Change the address and date on the cover letter. Little details but they matter!
  6. Change any in-letter references to the position title or institution. Consider keeping these highlighted or called out in a VERY obvious way in your base-letter. That way you won’t forgot and look silly!
  7. Submit application! Give everything a once-over for typos. Plan to have time to enter things into online application portals – some of them still require you to enter things like your education and professional history into a form (even when you’re attaching a CV). This is maddening, but shouldn’t be a reason you don’t apply somewhere. Make sure you have plenty of time.
  8. Update spreadsheet. Once I finished everything I would “cut” the position row from my “To Apply” tab and paste it into my “Applied” tab. The “Applied” tab had the same first four columns, but then also had columns for “Date Finished” (for the date I submitted the application) and “Status Updates” (so that I could keep track of rejections, next steps, phone interview dates, etc.).

In total I ended up applying for 32 positions from November 2015 to April 2016. If you’re applying for academic library jobs the time to start looking is late fall the year before graduating. And the time to stop? I stopped when I’d secured multiple on-campus interviews, mostly because I didn’t have *time* to do any more applications. Do what’s right for you, and remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so plan to set aside dedicated time every week.

Next post: Phone/video interviews!


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