How Not to Impress a Hiring Manager: Lessons I’ve Learned from Hiring Student Assistants

by Ruth Harries, Content Editor, INALJ Alaska

How Not to Impress a Hiring Manager:
Lessons I’ve Learned from Hiring Student Assistants

RuthHarriesI’ve been supervising student employees in academic libraries for around five years, during which time I’ve had to hire one or more employees almost every semester. Going through this process on a regular basis has taught me some lessons about job searching that I might not have learned otherwise, including what hiring managers (including me) find irritating.

Here are some surefire ways to get your resume tossed in the “no” pile.

 

  • Don’t read the instructions on the job posting. At my previous library, I asked applicants for professional references such as a professor or previous supervisor so that I could ask questions about work performance, but I still received applications that listed only personal references. This sent up a red flag for me – did the student not read the directions, or did they really not have any professional references? Either way, I didn’t usually interview applicants who did this unless the overall applicant pool wasn’t very strong. Employers have reasons for asking for asking you to include things in your application packet and for submitting your application a certain way, and it reflects poorly on you if you don’t follow the directions.
  • Use the same resume and cover letter every time you apply for a job. Student job openings at my previous institution frequently attracted engineering and computer science students; those departments were too large to offer assistantships to every graduate student, and competition for the assistantships that did exist was fierce. I saw plenty of resumes that had objectives* relating to someone’s area of study, but that told me nothing about the candidate’s customer service or library experience. Maybe the applicants who did this had relevant experience, but since I based my interview offers on what showed up on candidates’ application and resume, I didn’t usually find out. Likewise, being a branch manager requires different skills than being a reference librarian, and you should tailor your cover letter and resume accordingly.
  • Send e-mails/cover letters/resumes without proofreading them first. This advice appears in every resource for job seekers, and it should be common sense, but it bears repeating. I am not impressed when candidates send me e-mails that are riddled with typos and grammatical errors, and the jobs I hire for do not require written communication; I imagine that employers who hire for jobs that do require written communication would be even less impressed.
  • Pester the hiring manager for updates. One request for an update a week or two after the application deadline or interview is fine, but contacting the hiring manager daily (or even every few days) is a huge turn-off.
  • Try to convince the employer that they should have hired you after you’re rejected. It’s incredibly disappointing to be rejected from a job you really wanted, and the repeated rejections that come with job searching can be downright soul-crushing. However, trying to argue or bargain with an employer after they’ve rejected you can sink your chances for future opportunities at that library; it can make you come across as demanding and entitled, and I don’t know any managers who want to hire someone with those traits. It’s fine to ask for feedback about why you weren’t hired, but don’t use your request as a pretext to argue with the hiring manager.
  • Be rude when you ask for feedback. When I post a job opening, I typically receive 50 to 100 applications. I send a form letter to the people who I don’t select, as I simply don’t have time to give individualized feedback to everyone. I’m typically willing to give feedback if someone requests it, especially since a lot of my applicants are new to the job-seeking process, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when someone acts as though they’re entitled to feedback or gets defensive about what I say. If you do request feedback about how you could improve, remember that you’re asking the employer for a favor, so be polite.

 

*Lots of people who do hiring (including me) think that objectives shouldn’t be included on a resume, although not everyone agrees.

 

Ruth Harries was previously the Evening Circulation Supervisor at Wichita State University; she is now the Access & Instruction Librarian at Butler Community College. She holds a BA in art history from Wichita State University and an MLS from Emporia State University. In her spare time, she plays Euro-style board games and reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy. She tweets occasionally.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 18 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website, KhanMoving.com, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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  6 comments for “How Not to Impress a Hiring Manager: Lessons I’ve Learned from Hiring Student Assistants

  1. December 6, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    I appreciate and agree with the author that professional references are not just from “jobs” (please re-read the article if you missed that point) but can be from supervisors and professors. Supervisors could be in volunteer roles, maybe if you are a student who ran the yearbook club your adviser would work as a reference too. Professional does not equal paid work (though it would be awesome if we did pay more workers too!)

  2. Rebecca
    December 6, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Proofreading, following instructions, and being respectful are all things that students need to demonstrate. However, it’s a bit much to be expecting young college students to have multiple professional references, especially when jobs for teenagers have all but disappeared. An academic library exists because of the institution where these students are studying. It exists *only* because students are attending the institution and paying tuition. If its students are not able to get the jobs they need to pay to go to college because the colleges themselves are expecting students to have job experience to get job experience, it’s going to be a problem. It already is a problem.

    • December 6, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      To quote the article “I asked applicants for professional references such as a professor or previous supervisor” – so young students if they have at least one semester under their belt, should be able to have a professor as a professional reference. I agree with the author’s generous extension of what it means for a “professional” reference. Nowhere in the article did she limit it only to previous jobs / work. She clearly says Professors count too. Yes, they would need at least a semester in, but that might be what she is looking for. I also like the idea of advisers and former supervisors in volunteer work.

  3. LMS
    December 4, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    I do disagree a bit about “professional” references. You do realize that the current job market is especially tough for young people, and expecting them to have “at least 3” professional references is unrealistic, especially for someone who might only be 20 or 21 years old. How many professional jobs could a 20-year-old possibly have had? Also, many young people work for parents or relatives who have their own businesses as a way to start out and learn some skills, since as you know, most employers want employees who already know how to do everything. A reference from the owner of a family business who happens to be related to the employee should be permissible. You are talking about hiring student assistants who are probably making minimum wage.

    • December 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm

      To quote the article “I asked applicants for professional references such as a professor or previous supervisor” – so young students if they have at least one semester under their belt, should be able to have a professor as a professional reference. I do not disagree with the author’s generous extension of what it means for a “professional” reference. Nowhere in the article did she limit it only to previous professional “jobs” work. She clearly says Professors count too. I would add high school club advisers or any volunteer supervisors. Yes, they would need at least a semester in for Professors, but that might be what she is looking for.

  4. Silvia
    November 30, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Yes! It was not until I had to hire student workers that I truly understood some of these things and others, such as the importance of writing a cover letter with substance and relevance.

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