Common Misconceptions about Library Job Search: What I have learned from the other side of the table

I have been invited to speak as a panelist for the American Libraries Live Episode 2 on Thursday, January 10th at 2pm EST. Since this program will feature David Connolly, who manages the ALA JobList site (which every budding librarian should know about), and Jill Klees, a Career Liaison who works with the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science, it is going to be informative for sure. So if you are looking for your first librarian position or getting ready for job search, make sure to tune in.

Previously, I wrote about personal branding for new and budding librarians and interviewed a few librarians for my blog who were successful in landing their first librarian job. (Search for ‘Interview with brand-new librarians’ in the search box on the right if you want to check them out. The links are also at the end of this post.) But for the last four years or so, I had opportunities to serve on several search committees, to hire many library assistants myself, and to be at many candidate interviews and presentations. So, in this post I would like to share several things that I have learned about library job search from the other side of the table, that is, not the job-seeking but the hiring side.

As everyone knows, job search is a stressful process. You may have been searching for a job for a long time. You may have been without a job for a while. You may have been selected many times for a phone or in-person interview only to hear that the job went to someone else. You may even had been offered a job and then told that the position was canceled last minute for the budget issues. You will be anxious and worried about the future. You might even doubt if any library will ever offer you a job. You may start to feel desperate and depressed. Well, this is not just you but something that almost everyone goes through a job search process. But still, that won’t cheer you up much while you are still looking for a job. The worst part of job search is the feeling that you are powerless.

But what I have learned from being at the hiring side of the table is that this is not necessarily the case. The hiring process is just as stressful to an employer as the job search process is to a job applicant. There are many misconceptions that job applicants tend to subscribe to but are not necessarily true. Here are several of them, and I will explain why these are misconceptions even though each of them may appear pretty convincing. Hopefully this will help you to get a more balanced view about the whole process than I had and reduce some of the anxiety and stress you are bound to feel during the job search.

1. Since my MLIS degree is brand-new, I won’t stand a chance competing with more experienced librarians applying for the same position, right? No.

This is common fear that many new LIS graduates have. But the truth of the matter is that many employers actually prefer new graduates to experienced librarians for a variety of reasons. Many employers think that new LIS graduate are likely to be (a) more up-to-date with new library trends, (b) more capable with technology, and (c) more enthusiastic and energetic. These are great strengths to many employers’ eyes.  Now it is up to you to show them that all these strengths apply to you.  Sometimes, employers explicitly look for candidates with a specific amount of work experience in a particular field. But if that is the case, the job positing will clearly state so. If no such condition is found in the posting however, you can safely assume that new graduates are welcome to apply.

So don’t worry in advance whom you are going to be competing with. Instead, focus on what contribution you can make to the position if you are selected.

2. I will be at a disadvantage if I don’t want to relocate. I will be at a disadvantage if I apply for a job far away from where I currently reside. Right? Not really.

Generally, finding a job can take less time if you are willing to relocate. However, it is also true that many employers prefer to hire local candidates for a variety of reasons. Many employers are willing to fly qualified candidates across the continent for an interview as long as a candidate has qualifications they want. But some employers like to save expenses involved with bringing in a candidate from far away. In such cases, you may get invited for an interview even if you are not the top candidate because there is little cost involved. Sometimes, it is not expenses that make employers prefer local candidates. They may be interested in those who are more likely to stay with them rather than leaving after a few years of service. They may want someone who is more familiar with the local culture and environment.

The point is that many employers will make different decisions based upon different considerations at different times. Those considerations are almost impossible for a job candidate to predict. So my advice is to simply apply for the positions that match your experience and skill set. If you are willing to relocate, apply for out-of-state jobs. If you are unwilling or unable to relocate, then focus on the jobs available in your area and don’t worry about others.  Do your best at what you can do, and do not worry about things that you have no control over.

3. Applying for as many jobs as possible will increase the chance of landing a job. No.

This seems to be simple enough. The more jobs you apply for, the more chances you will have in getting an interview at least, right? Well, unfortunately, finding a job is not like winning a lottery. The fact that you submitted your resume and cover letter has almost nothing to do with the chance of being considered as a candidate for the position. You will be considered so only if your resume and cover letter actually show that you are qualified for and likely to be a good fit for the position. Otherwise, the act of submitting an application is just a waste of time. I know that many send in applications to jobs that they are remotely qualified for or are not even half-enthusiastic for the reason of ‘just in case.’ This is understandable, but what it does is to lessen your anxiety by giving you a false sense of doing everything you can more than to actually raise your chance of being called for interviews and getting actual job offers.

Therefore, invest your time and energy in selecting the most relevant jobs to your qualifications and in making your applications for those jobs as good as they can be. This takes time and focus, and you cannot maintain this level of perfection if you are applying for as many jobs as possible. It will be hard, but be wise and selective in applying for positions, so that when you do apply you can give all you got.

4. In order to get the job offer, I have to meet ‘all’ the qualifications in the job posting. No. 

A job posting is often a wish list of qualifications and skills. So if these do not match 100% with what you have, don’t be discouraged. Apply if you meet their base qualifications, that is, all of the required qualifications. But focus in the cover letter and the resume on showing that you do have relevant experience and skills and how they will allow you to quickly learn the rest of needed skills, that is, some of the desired but not required qualifications.

If you are unsure, step back and try to think in the shoes of a hiring manager. If you were a hiring manager, what would be the absolutely necessary qualifications and skills for the position? What would they consider as great strengths? What would they consider as something that they can easily teach you or something that they need you as an expert for? What would be a reason for the hiring manager to prefer you to more experienced candidates? Try to answer these things from the employer’s point of view while being honest and realistic about yourself. If you are called for an interview, be sure to ask about these things. The interviewers will be more than happy to tell you about the position you are applying for.

Also important is your interest and eagerness to pick up new skills and apply them to work. This is really important to employers. They know that skills can be learned but passion and enthusiasm are harder to find. So make sure that this comes out during the interview process.

5. If I am being called for a phone or in-person interview, the search committee and the hiring manager would be already familiar with everything I wrote in the cover letter and resume for sure. No.

The search committee members do their best to prepare for interviews, but they deal with a large volume of cover letters and resumes. They interview multiple candidates and can be serving on multiple search committees at the same time. Scheduling interviews itself can take up to 2-3 weeks at a large organization. So even if you were selected for an interview, your interviewers may well have to be reminded of why they picked you in the first place and what makes you a great candidate for the position.

Never assume that your interviewers would remember everything you wrote in your application. Do not repeat everything you put down in your cover letter or resume. But make sure to present the most important part of it in your interview more succinctly and convincingly. The search committee knows that they have already liked what they saw in your cover letter and resume. But it is up to you to make them remember and be assured of that in person (or over the phone).

6. Those who interview me will be looking for my weaknesses or flaws. Not at all.

When one is interviewing for a job, the whole interview process can seem intimidating. But believe it or not, the search committee and the hiring manager are the ones who want to see you successful most. They will ask questions, hoping and praying that you would give good or correct answers, and they really want your presentation to be excellent.

Why? It is because they already picked you once, twice, or three times out of a huge pile of resumes and cover letters. Just as you have worked on your cover letter and resume for hours, your search committee worked for hours to find out qualified candidates for the position. (And you would think that there would be plenty of qualified candidates in a tough job market. Surprisingly, this is not the case, more often than not. It is really really hard to find good candidates for many positions. So if you are one of them, they are more than happy to see you!) Remember this, and you will find a whole job search and interview process less daunting, intimidating, and stressful.

Last thought

Mostly what I really wanted to address is how to eliminate some of the anxiety and stress that are bound to go along with many new LIS graduates’ job search process. This is best dealt with by realizing that (a) some of the worries may be groundless, can be handled productively, or simply beyond control and  that (b) job search and hiring are two sides of one coin and share one and the same goal: a fit between a person and an organization. No doubt finding this fit can take a while because the ‘fit’ is more than just a sum of work experiences or the list of skills. But with patience and smart strategies, you can make the process as less stressful as possible. Please share any tips you can offer in the comments!

I am closing this post with some really excellent tips from the librarian who has a great deal of experience in hiring librarians (much much more than I have) and was generous enough to share them with me for all of you.

  • Never hide who you are or what’s happened in your career.
  • Don’t avoid dates on resumes and make a resume a clear and simple progression of what you’ve done.
  • And being clear about your jobs and education is infinitely more important that some bland statement of objectives.
  • Do not repeat what is on the resume in the cover letter.
  • Look for an eloquent and simple way of expressing who you are.
  • Demonstrate your ability and confidence; don’t just state that you are capable
  • Ask lots of good questions.



About Bohyun (Library Hat)

Bohyun Kim is the Associate University Librarian for Library Information Technology at the University of Michigan Library. Formerly, she was the Chief Technology Officer and Professor at the University of Rhode Island Libraries.
This entry was posted in Library, LIS and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Common Misconceptions about Library Job Search: What I have learned from the other side of the table

  1. Sarah Steiner says:

    You are awesome and this is a great post. I’m going to link to it in a course I teach on job hunting skills. 🙂

  2. Very well written piece. Having served on search committees myself, I concur with most of this advice. The only additional thing I would note regards #1: on the flip side, some organizations are adverse to hiring new grads, or in the least, have a tradition of only hiring “the most qualified candidate on paper.” It depends on the culture of the institution, which as an outsider you can’t possibly know. That said, don’t take it personally if you don’t get the interview: it’s them, not you. 😉

  3. @Sarah Thanks! : ]

    @John Yes, one point that I wanted to put in initially and didn’t (because it was getting too long) was that getting a job is not like getting the highest score in a test although many tend to think so. There is a lot of luck as well as some organizational and human factors (which can be quite subjective) involved in the interviewing and the final hiring decision-making process whether employers like to admit it or not. I think it is the best for applicants to take this as a way to de-stress themselves when the search was unsuccessful. We cannot control random factors but those can be sometimes deciding factors. So, it is important to be patient and not to equate one unsuccessful job search with the end of the world. Persistence is crucial in the job search process.

  4. Grace Yoo Young Lee says:

    As a student graduating soon, this post is really helpful. Thank you so much for sharing and I am tuning in this Thursday too.

  5. Pingback: Blog Love: Library Hat | INALJ (I Need a Library Job)

  6. Santina says:

    I’ve been on both sides of the table and here’s the best piece of advice I can give a job seeker – write a better cover letter. Most of what I’ve seen coming from library school graduates could’ve been written by a third grader. Poor sentence structure, terrible spelling and grammar, and nothing that indicates you’ve even read the job description. Your cover letter should not be a template used for every job you apply for. Let the employer know you’ve read his advertisement – not just pushed something through the copy machine. It’s downright embarrassing when reviewing apps from library school graduates – all of whom have GRADUATE degrees – and trying to explain and apologize for the horrible non-relevant writing.

  7. Great post. I am in the midst of hiring right now and these are all EXACTLY the points I would love to make with candidates. We have a small and close knit team and I am also looking carefully for the person who has strengths to fill in places where we are weak as well as the resilience to handle some tough personalities. I think I need to link to this on my blog and talk a bit more about this all…but down the line awhile once the hiring dust has settled.

  8. Pingback: Common Misconceptions about Library Job Search: What I have … | Job Offers

  9. greyninja says:

    Thank you for this! I have one question. At the end of your post you say that the experienced hiring librarian says not to repeat what is in the resume in the cover letter. This confuses me. I have always been told to make sure that everything I say in the cover letter is backed up in the resume. How should I tell my story (especially in regards to my degree and most recent work experiences) if I repeat some things in the cover letter? Is this not the case? Or one of the many differences depending on who you are asking?
    Thanks again! As a new grad who is out searching I appreciate this post!

  10. slmcdanold says:

    Santina is correct. PERSONALIZE your cover letter. Let me know you’ve actually read the job ad and requirements.

    Use the cover letter as an opportunity:
    *to provide examples of things in your resume,
    *highlight strengths,
    *tell me why you’re interested and what you’ll bring to the job, and
    *explain any oddities/gaps in your resume.

    Again, the cover letter is YOUR TOOL to present yourself to the committee. USE IT EFFECTIVELY. Grammar errors, spelling errors, having the wrong library/institution name, etc. will all get you immediately put in the “no” pile no matter how many of the requirements you meet.

    My other main suggestion: PROVIDE EXAMPLES. Even if your experience in libraries is weak, if you can show me through examples how your job at xyz big-box store is relevant and translatable to the job you’re applying for, then do it. It will be to your advantage.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Thank you for this terrific article. My only comment is regarding #4 – on sites like, the HR people interviewed seem to rail at length about their biggest pet peeve being people who apply without the required qualifications. So what is it? Will we annoy the HR people or should we try if we have *most* of the qualifications?

  12. @Jonathan Do not apply if you don’t meet all ‘required’ qualifications. That is just a waste of time. Apply if you do meet all required qualifications but do not meet some desired qualifications. And you should focus on demonstrating that you have the capability and experience to pick up those desired qualifications you do not have quickly.

  13. @Greyninja You are welcome! Don’t repeat word by word what you wrote in resume in the cover letter. Write your cover letter so that the interviewers can get the feel of who you are and what you have accomplished. Don’t make interviewers feel that your CV is just repeating what they already read in your resume. Think from the interviewers’ perspective and try not to waste their time. And yes, make sure what you say in cover letter is backed up in the resume. See the advice above from @slmacdonald. Good luck!

  14. @Grace You are welcome and best of luck on your job search!

  15. greyninja says:

    Thanks Bohyun, and thanks for the AL Live session today!

  16. DarknessFalls says:

    I am so disheartened. I have been trying to get hired as librarian since I graduated in 2009 but I am stuck in a library assistant position. Recently, I had an interview that was the best one I have ever had in my life. I was well prepared and met all of the qualifications that the posting asked for but I still did not get it. It seems like the same thing happens in every interview: the panel seems to like me but once I say that I have helped with programming but never created and run a program myself – I am out. The problem is that I will never be able to gain this experience (creating and running a program) until someone takes a chance on hiring me as a librarian. The fact is it seems like they want you to be a librarian before you will be hired as a librarian. I am deeply depressed at this point. How will I ever get hired? I try to stress all of the things that I do for my library that are the same as what librarians do (reference desk, roaming, displays, assisting with programs, create bibliographies) but I can’t claim to be a librarian even though I have my MLIS. Loan bills mount, sadness grows, jobs go to more experienced candidates…

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