It’s a perpetual problem: Employers complain there are no good candidates applying for their jobs, and job hunters complain there are no good jobs.
Job hunting is just hard. Sorry. There are not going to be any easy strategies here, because they do not exist!
Don’t panic! We do have some suggestions from CMLE on ways you can get started looking for a job, and how to get through the hunt.
For our purposes, I are assuming you want to work in a library, or a library-adjacent job: archive, museum, etc. First: who would want to work anywhere else?? Second: you are part of a pretty specialized audience, reading a library system’s material. So I am just going to talk about libraries here; but if you know someone else who is job hunting in another area (gasp!), the advice will probably carry over to them.First: Relax. This is the hardest step in a job hunt. I know those late-night fears: will I ever get another job? Am I stuck in this current job that is making me miserable? How long until I’m living in a cardboard box, and will be be a nice one? In December we will be discussing several strategies for stress management; so for now, I’ll just say: relax. Easier said than done, yes. But there are jobs, you will find one, and the process is not made better by being overly stressed out all the time. Focus on things you can do, and (try) don’t worry about the things you can not control in the process. *deep yoga breath in and out*
Second: Do not despair. When you are new in the profession (or anywhere), every ad seems to cruelly mock you by asking for years of experience. Why, why, why do they torture you so?? I’m going to tell you the secret: it is not (just) to drive candidates crazy. Library managers and staff have very little free time. They do not have time to spend doing extensive training of a newbie, taking someone by the hand and patiently showing them the ropes of a new job over a few months. Maybe there was some magical time in the past where that happened; but if it ever did – it’s over. Forever.
Employers say they need one to three years of experience for a new job because they need you to arrive ready to work. They need you to have the basics of “how to be in a library” or even “how to hold down a job” without being told. You need to know things like: lunch breaks are not just “whenever I feel like it” and that you need to work well with your colleagues, and that you have to work with patrons – even when they are cranky. You need to understand the basics: books come in the back door from vendors, get processes, get shelved, are hunted for by staff and patrons, and then pass through Circ and head out the front door. The fine points are slightly different in each place, of course; and they will train you in those. But you need to have the basic idea of holding down a job – this specific job in fact. Have you done things that gave you that experience? Excellent! Apply and let them know how you fit the requirements!
Third: Read the ad! Job ads are wonderful things. An employer tells you right there just exactly what they want from you! No need to guess, no worries about figuring out what to tell them about yourself. The ad says they need someone who can run story-time, design and build a website, digitally preserve your historic documents? Great! You write a very nice cover letter, telling them how you can do those things, quickly identifying where you got the experience. And…that’s it. That is a cover letter. (We will have a template of a cover letter in our Monthly Topic section of our website.)
Okay, yes: too many job ads are just lousy. (Employers! See our information on Writing a Great Library Job Ad!) I have spent years doing research on libraries, and looking at library job ads has been so physically painful at times that I do not know how we ever manage to find good people. But an ad, no matter how pathetic, has SOME information you need about the job. Be sure you address it, and be ready to go to the interview and explain how ready you are. You do not need to match Every Single Little Thing in the ad – sometimes that is an employer’s wishlist. But you need to be able to show you can do things, and will be ready to hit the ground running at a new job!
Fourth: Polish that resume! As a library professor and consultant (my life before CMLE), and as a library administrator (also my life before CMLE), I have read hundreds of resumes over the years. It is shocking how many of them are unfocused, sloppy first drafts, with spelling mistakes awash throughout. Your resume is a reflection of your professional skills; it is you on paper (on the computer). So just as you would not wear stinky, holey jeans to an interview (right??), you should be sure your resume looks nice. There are a lot of different formats you might use; just avoid looking too fun/wacky/offbeat. That is fine for some professions, but libraries like to see resumes that have a nice flow of ideas. Be sure your contact information is there at the top! If education is important to the job you want, put it up next so it is obvious. You might want to group your experience in ways that highlight your skills. So if you have other library work, that can be a category itself. Do not list every single thing you have ever done at a job; talk about the important things, the experiences relevant to this job application. Skills that everyone wants all the time, no matter what: leadership, budget/money handling, self-starting, resiliency in the face of problems, teamwork, customer service. If you do not have a lot of work experience, show how you got these skills in other ways: training classes or certifications, volunteer work with the PTA, running a student chapter at your school, knocking on doors for advocacy groups – whatever makes you qualified. Remember: employers want candidates who can do the work more than they want anything else. Show them with your resume that you are ready!
Fifth: Practice the interview! Getting to the interview stage is an achievement!! *whistles and claps* But do not let your guard down just yet; you need to beat out the three to five other people who were also good enough to get this far. Read through our material on interviewing to get some ideas. Just practicing answering questions with a friend, family member, or colleague will be the most valuable thing you can do. You might feel silly in the moment to be faking an interview; but I promise you it pays off!! Pick someone who will give you real feedback, for the best results. If you are student or a graduate of many colleges, they will provide interview practice and feedback for you long after you leave them. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce, or a local SCORE chapter, or someone else in your community who might be able to help.
Are you a CMLE member?? We are standing by, ready to help!! Is there an opening at your library you want to go for? Are you thinking about moving to a different library?? We are here to chat with you about all of that, completely confidentially.
And finally – just apply for jobs! Job hunting is kind of like dating – you ask enough people to dinner and eventually you will find someone you want to spend time with. You send out enough (good, focused, well-written) applications, and eventually you WILL find a nice place that appreciates you! As I am new in my job, I can say that it does work out – just keep going!!