Why I Turned Down my First Professional Library Job Offer

by Natalie Kahn

Why I Turned Down my First Professional Library Job Offer

Kahn_NatalieThey offered me the job. I haven’t even received my MLIS in the mail yet, but a small college has offered me the HEAD Librarian position. They offer a little more money, fine benefits, and the seemingly limitless opportunity to explore every and any aspect of librarianship my newly-graduated heart desires: creating information literacy classes, cataloging, collection development policy drafting, and perhaps even starting a volunteer program to give student patrons real work experience.

I’ll tell you why I didn’t accept their offer.

When I hung up the phone, I wanted badly to take the position for all of the reasons listed above, but I needed to consider a couple things first. Well, really I had to consider a million things, but it boiled down to two things: risk and regret. There are countless studies that explore if, why, and how men take more risks and rise professional ranks faster than women. Leadership and strategy analyst Doug Sundheim writes in the Harvard Business Review that this is problem of perception, in that female professionals are perceived as risk-averse compared with their male counterparts. This perception is more than anecdotal, there is clinical evidence that women are less risky when debating a new job. Some psychologists have identified that risk-taking is similar in males and females until stress levels increase, in which cases women take fewer risks- link to an article with that study here.

Business and psychology research notes that women take fewer risks professionally than men, but librarianship is dominated by women, so is this true in our field? Yes. The ALA (American Library Association) notes that the percentage of male library directors salary is larger than that of female directors despite the fact that women largely outnumber men in the field. In order to climb out of the paraprofessional realm into professional librarianship, would I have to risk my current happiness and stability in order to climb the ladder?

Regret was easier to consider than risk. It is that “gut feeling” folks talk about… If I did not accept the job offer, would I regret that decision? In my case, I wasn’t taking a risk for a great reward- money had to be taken off of the table for this decision. I am lucky in that I have a financially stable current job and you know the saying about money buying happiness (it doesn’t). I felt accepting the position would be running, not risk taking, and I do not want to run a race where there is no reward at the finish line. And regret. My first thought was not the “what if” of not accepting an offer, but rather the opportunities, professional and personal, I would regret missing by leaving my current paraprofessional job. It is also worth noting that there existed things I would not regret passing on with the professional gig, like a significantly longer commute.

There is power in saying “No.” I had a real choice. A hiring committee did not choose me, I chose to be loyal to my workplace and myself. Interviews should not be a judge and jury situation, but rather a mutual selection process to reveal how the interviewee can improve an organization and how the organization can benefit the interviewee. They could not offer me more than I have and will have at my current position, so I said “No.” “No, thank you,” actually, but still “No.” Do I worry that my loyalty is a crutch that keeps me in the paraprofessional realm? A bit. Would a male counterpart have taken the risk despite the professional and personal development opportunities he’d be leaving behind? Perhaps. But will I regret not taking a job that offers little more than a title? No.

Natalie Kahn, MLIS, is the circulation manager at a community college library in Hawaii and recent graduate of San Jose State’s MLIS program. Though her days at work are mostly spent clearing paper jams, stuffing ILL bags with books, and directing patrons to the testing center, Natalie is passionate about uniting and strengthening academic services, promoting diversity in academic libraries, library management, intellectual freedom, open access, and staff training and development. She believes in the importance of upholding the tenets of the United States Constitution to ensure all patrons who seek information will find it freely and easily. When she is not working toward this goal, Natalie enjoys hiking, running, and eating in beautiful Hawaii.

  13 comments for “Why I Turned Down my First Professional Library Job Offer

  1. Matthew
    July 21, 2014 at 8:08 am

    All that truly matters is that you made the correct decision for you. I took my one and only offer out of school and it turned out to be an awful year, but, still, it gave me a good deal of practical and emotional experience. The one thing I’m wondering about is whether or not the new job required you to move from HI? If so, that’s a big leap. Otherwise, no move or job is ever permanent. Hiring committees have to check boxes when they look at a pool of candidates, so even though your work is valuable now and you enjoy it, it will be a little harder to get that job you really want without some years ‘professional’ experience. That said, you look young and you’ve got plenty of time and energy for whatever is next! Hope it all works in your favor!

  2. June 22, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I think you expressed it well. A well-timed gut feeling can save us a lot of later heartache and I do hope a fantastic position comes along for you at some point.

    A story this reminded me of, my little brother-in-law went to a small community-college/trade school as a last minute backup and didn’t have a chance to thoroughly investigate it beforehand. During the fall semester, he went from working at their little library to running their little library. I was a library school student myself at the time and appalled by the things they were asking him to do for almost no pay. It had turned out to be a horribly-run institution and he was able to leave there after one semester and go to a school that had accepted his late application. That experience left me very skeptical of places which, say, make head librarian offers to someone just out of library school (although better than otherwise). Small and trade schools may break the norms we expect, but if things don’t seem right, it’s safe to go with the gut.

  3. Michelle
    June 13, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    I’d love to know where you were offered a job as a head fresh out of library school. I’d also love to know how you presented your education and experience to make that happen! Right now I’m finding it difficult to move from middle-manager level professional work into something higher, and I’m seeing a lot of recent graduates struggle to get into something as “high” as entry level positions. And I see so many paraprofessionals whose salaries at that level can’t pay their student loans. Very interesting read!

    • Natalie K.
      June 14, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      Aloha Michelle, the offer came from a tiny private college that serves primarily as a language and immersion program for students from Japan. And I have to say, before the interview, I had just completed my ePortfolio (culminating project for library school), which prepared me so well for answering questions related to everything/anything. I agree that paraprofessional gigs barely cover the basics, let alone student loan paybacks. I enter repayment later this year, and I’m dreading it! Thank you for your comment.

  4. June 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    This really spoke to me: “Interviews should not be a judge and jury situation.” I, too, turned down a well-paying job with an established law firm in NYC right out of library school, but getting to the offer was hellish and stressful and something I never want to experience again. I’m talking 3 long, brutal interviews that made me feel worse each time I left. Also, I genuinely did not like the woman who interviewed me for several reasons, one of which was that she was on her Blackberry during half the interview, which showed me that she lacked common courtesy. Sure, the money was great and I haven’t seen an offer like that since, but 3 years later I’m in Hawaii, happier than I ever could have been had I stayed in NYC. Anyway, great article!

    • June 13, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Quaid! Wow, it has been over 2 years since your interview: http://inalj.com/?p=2301

      Loved this advice:

      Be diligent: It WILL happen!
      Be courteous: Never burn bridges…ours is a small, tight-knit community, and we’re good about looking after our own.
      Be realistic: Dream big, but don’t waste time applying for jobs you don’t want or for which you know you shouldn’t be applying.
      Be optimistic, even when it’s difficult and not completely sincere.
      Be kind to yourself and to others.
      Take a tropical vacation at least once (if you can afford it).

      If you ever want to write for INALJ let me know :) -Naomi

  5. John Schoppert
    June 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    HI Natalie, a well reasoned article. If the opprotunities aren’t there for professional growth and mobility then you may have made a sound decision. I wonder though, was the directorship in a Hawaii CC? So, you’re going to stay in a larger Hawaiian CC as circ manager? I would weigh how the Hawaiian upper ED system works, isn’t it all part of one system, 4 year and 2 year?
    I just met colleagues of yours, from the Hawaiian system at a Open Education Resources conference and Hawaii is ready to roll out OER efforts system wide. If you can make an impact with that in your present position, all good, if you could make a bigger impact from a small director’s position, I might have weighed that factor in. I guess, I’m firmly in the belief that anytime you can move into the professional rank you should think long and hard for not doing so, which, as your blog indicates, you did. Good luck, and something great will come along.

    • Natalie K.
      June 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Aloha John and thank you for your thoughts. The UH system is a giant that offers many wonderful opportunities, and while this did influence my decision, leaving the UH does not mean a closed door. The professional job I declined was at a private institution (with its own exciting opportunities). I wish there existed a spreadsheet or machine that could prioritize the seemingly unending list of pros and cons, but alas, I was left with my gut!

  6. Michael Wahl
    June 13, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Great article! Sometimes the right thing is not the riskiest thing. In fact, you may have taken a bigger risk in staying at your current position. I think either way you will be successful at whatever you put your mind to because of your patron-focused work ethic and your sober ability to weigh the pros and cons of even the most lucritous positions. Lucky you live Hawai’i!!

  7. Julia Mendoza
    June 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I enjoyed reading this very much.

  8. June 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Hi fellow 2014 SJSU Graduate!

    I remember seeing your name at the convocation, but I don’t think I saw you. Anyway, I felt the same way after finishing my degree. Instead of applying for jobs that I didn’t feel confident in going for, I sought to gain more experience. In my city, Las Vegas, jobs are hard to come by and majority of the time they hire from within. So I wanted to plan out my plan of attack. What did I want to do for the next 5 years? Where did I want to live? How much experience do I want to get? When did I want to go head first into the job market? I know it’s hard, so I wanted to be prepared for the defeat that came before I landed this paraprofessional job. It’s nice to know that I am not the only person who feels that it’s better to stay where you are at then going into a job that may or may not make oneself happy.


    • Natalie K.
      June 13, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Aloha Markita! Thank you for reading and sharing thoughtful contribution. I agree- weighing out happiness is something I didn’t consider before it was time to apply to professional jobs (I thought it was all about salary, increased responsibility and experience, etc.). Congratulations, fellow grad!

  9. Natalie
    June 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you so much for the timeliness of this article. I am currently wrestling with some career decisions and your insights have given me courage to make the decision that is truly best for me. I am also taking it as a sign because I am also a “Natalie”.

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