by Rebekah Kati, Head Editor, INALJ North Carolina
Tips and Tricks for Job Seekers Panel Discussion
The North Carolina Library Association hosted a “Tips and Tricks for Job Seekers” panel in late March. The panelists included Susie Corbett from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Rusty Taylor from the Wake County Public School System, Lisa Ruth from North Carolina State University and Brandy Hamilton from the Wake County Public Library System. Each panelist has experience hiring for their library. The panelists took questions from job seekers, including the questions below.
Do you have any advice for a job applicant who would like to work in a library, but does not have any library experience?
The panelists agreed that some experience is necessary to obtain a library job. This experience could be acquired through internships or volunteer work, although professional or paraprofessional library experience is preferable. Ruth advised the job seekers to work and/or intern during library school. She also mentioned that interesting internships will catch her eye on a cover letter.
Both Ruth and Corbett recommended that the candidate leverage the experience that they already have in the cover letter, even if that experience is not in a library. Skills such as retail, teaching or even hobbies might be transferable for the position. Taylor also emphasized the need for applicants to have some experience, but teaching experience is more important than library experience in a school library environment.
Will employers consider paraprofessional work when assessing a candidate’s professional library experience?
The panelists concurred that the answer to this question will vary depending on the position and the particular library. Hamilton pointed out that many libraries, including the Wake County Public Library system, have strict experience requirements and will not consider a candidate if they do not have the required level of professional experience. For example, an applicant with no professional experience would qualify for a Librarian I position, but not a Librarian IV position. However, other libraries may assess paraprofessional experience in lieu of professional experience if it is relevant to the position. Taylor re-emphasized the importance of teaching experience and work with children in a school library environment and stated that this experience does not necessarily need to be in libraries.
What makes a candidate stand out in their application materials?
Each panelist emphasized passion in their answer. Employers want to know that the applicant wants their job and not any job. Ruth explained that she looks for “the story of why you are perfect for the job.” She also cautioned applicants to be specific in their cover letters. Search committees may not always connect the dots between a candidate’s experience and the position requirements. Taylor mentioned that school libraries look favorably on candidates who are knowledgeable about instructional technology. All the panelists said that an applicant that meets the preferred skills for the position will also stand out.
Do employers prefer local candidates?
Each panelist said that they are looking for the best candidate for the position and that many employers do not look at the applicant’s location during an initial screening. Ruth mentioned that a non-local applicant may want to indicate a desire to move in their cover letter, since this could speak to the candidate’s desire for the position and the area.
How do employers feel about applicants who are starting a second career?
The panelists agreed that they look very favorably on second career librarians when screening applicants. Corbett said that second career applicants stand out to her, but she prefers that candidates be upfront about their career change in their cover letter. Ruth elaborated that candidates should say why a library career is the right fit for them in the cover letter.
Hamilton closed the session by listing the following qualities that she looks for when screening applicants: engagement, energy, a good work ethic, flexibility, creativity, a good team player, knowledge of library trends, and a good sense of humor. She also mentioned that she looked favorably on candidates who sent thank you notes after the interview. The rest of the panel agreed with Hamilton’s list and said that they would look for similar qualities in applicants to their libraries.