Monday, June 6, 2011

Surving the Job Search: From the Other Side of the Desk

Today’s guest post comes from Vicki Gruzynski, an Information Services Librarian at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO).

Being on a search committee is a valuable and rewarding experience, albeit very time consuming. It has given me a unique perspective on the hiring process that I will certainly keep in mind when applying for jobs in the future.The timing of this post could not be more perfect, as my colleagues and I finished our committee duties mere days ago. While I cannot speak for every university hiring committee, I can lend you my insight from my recent experience of being on the other side of the hiring process. For brevity’s sake, I will only be focusing on the written application portion of this whole ordeal because the phone interview and on campus interview are worthy of their own attention.

Every university is different. First of all, the level of involvement of human resources can vary. This school year, we had a shift in faculty hiring processes (librarians are considered faculty at SEMO) that entailed a much higher level of involvement from human resources. Instead of applicants sending their materials directly to the library, as they had in the past, HR vetted all applications and passed on to the search committee anyone who met the primary cut. After that, the ranking of candidates was in our hands, with various HR loopholes to jump through.

The unfortunate thing about the hiring process, from the perspective of an applicant, is that every university/library/committee is different, so I can’t give any hard and fast rules for EVERY hiring committee, but I can talk about best practices for making sure your application doesn’t instantly get tossed into the “no” pile.

First, some nitpicky things.

Sending the completed application: Double, triple, quadruple check that all requested files have been included. When a hiring committee is dealing with anywhere from 50 to over 200 applications, it’s really easy to come up with reasons why applications should be thrown in the “no” pile, so keep these things in mind.

File names: What is your file titled? The best titles are ones that make it easy for the committee to search for the file later, something like “Gruzynski cover letter SEMO” makes it clear to the reviewer who has sent the file, but also that this cover letter was written specifically for this position.

File types: send a PDF. Mac and PC users can easily download this type of file, and the reviewers won’t be able to see all of your previous edits like can sometimes happen with a Word file.

Formatting: Cover letters - no more than two pages, but don’t try to squeeze everything onto one page by making the margins and font teeny tiny. I would rather read two pages of well formatted writing than one page of microfont.

CVs - When an academic library job asks for your CV, it doesn’t have to be limited to one or two pages. My CV is currently at 6 pages, between the various jobs I’ve held over the years, scholarships I’ve won, presentations I’ve given, committees I’m on, tech skills that I have, etc, which I can easily shorten by removing certain sections. Make your CV cleanly formatted and easy to scan with well-written and clear bullet points.

Reference page - Keep this to one page. Most jobs ask for three references, but I always send a list with five to six people, in order of preference, just in case one of my top references is unavailable. And do be sure to let your references know that you’re on the job market!
For all three of these documents, use the same header so that materials that may get separated are easily reunited. I never realized how annoying it was not to have an applicant’s name on every page until I was on a committee myself! Nothing fancy, but you generally want your name to be the biggest, and you want your contact information easy to locate as well. Leave space, since some committee members will want to take notes.

Grammar/typos: I know you’ve heard this before, but proofread, proofread again, have a friend proofread, and then proofread again before you hit send. When a hiring pool is large, it is very easy to put someone in the “no” pile for a simple spelling or grammar mistake.

Addressing the letter: This is a potential sticking point for some librarians. It’s not one worth stressing out over because everyone has a different opinion. Follow the directions in the job ad. If there are no directions, I see no problem with addressing it “To the members of the search committee:”. Some applicants will try to guess who will be reading the letter (the director? the head of information literacy? the administrative assistant?). At SEMO, the letters get addressed to our Human Resources department head as per the job ad instructions, who does little more than forward the e-mail to the hiring committee, which, in this case, consisted of neither the library director nor a department head nor our administrative assistant! Some people think that addressing it to a person shows that you “went the extra mile” but frankly, I think it’s far more important to focus on the content of the letter, which leads me to my next point.

The actual letter: I cannot stress this enough. Address EVERY “required qualification” in the job ad. You may have ample teaching experience, but if the job ad asks for “familiarity with the ACRL Information Literacy standards” and you don’t work that in somewhere, you will very likely be tossed out. Use THEIR language to show you’re paying attention. Don’t lie, either. If you don’t have experience in some area - perhaps you don’t have much experience with professional uses of social media, for example - be sure to write about it more generally - why you think it’s important and how you have seen it used in other places, for example. If the extent of your collection development experience is in the confines of the classroom, write about a project you worked on in class.

Don’t write: “I love to read!” or “I love books!”. Our jobs as librarians are so much more than that, and many of us will quickly eliminate someone who holds onto the antiquated and romantic view that libraries are all about books. Don’t include that line because, even if it’s true, you want your application to stand out. It’s more important to focus on your skills and ideas than your love of books.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at vgruzynski”at” Best of luck to all of you on the job market!

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