Addressing Diversity in the Job Search Process
by Oscar Giurcovich, Senior Editor
As an LIS job seeker, I come across something along the lines of the following quite frequently when looking at the requirements of a position: interest or ability to work in a multicultural environment.
What does this mean? What are they looking for? How can I talk about this in a genuine way? These are all questions I have asked myself as I go through the motions of the application process, particularly when an ad explicitly states to address a position’s requirements in a cover letter.
Though I found this quite challenging at first, once I sat down and hashed it out in my head, I actually have quite a bit of experience with diverse populations, far beyond my own status as an ethnic minority. If you are faced with this yourself, here are some things to consider when preparing to write a letter or participate in an interview.
School Experiences. Though I was fairly shy for most of my undergrad years, I did eventually become involved with the LGBTQ organization on campus and an annual cultural leadership retreat. Besides these and other overtly multicultural activities, you may want to think back to the everyday experiences you had as a student. Did you have an on-campus job where you regularly had contact with international students? Perhaps your housing situation led you to meet classmates from different backgrounds.
Previous LIS Work. While working as a library technician, I spent about a quarter of my work week at the computer help desk I managed, helping students and faculty. Though it was an academic institution, we got our fair share of tourists and community members. I now remember some of these experiences quite well, along with the challenges they presented and how I overcame them. Language barriers and differences in customs in a customer service situation come to mind, for example.
Work and Activities Outside of the LIS Field. Unlike the job I just described, I do not interact with customers face-to-face at my current non-LIS employer. Nevertheless, I do regularly work with individuals from all walks of life via email and phone. Some have visual impairments, for instance. In the context of providing support of an electronic resource, this work can transfer to library and IT-focused positions. For those who are transitioning from other careers or who regularly participate in social events outside of work, for example, your experiences with diversity from this perspective may yield the best results.
Researching the Prospective Workplace and The Population It Serves. As I mentioned before, remembering specific situations was a bit difficult for me at first. Something that has proven quite useful is taking a bit of time to scan through annual reports and related documents published by the institution. In academia, this should include materials from both the library and the school itself. Many places make these publications easily accessible online though some of it may not be current. Most importantly, this is material to think about if you are asked to talk about outreach and multiculturalism in an interview.
Touching on personal experiences you have had and illustrating how you will fit into a culturally diverse work environment will most effectively show prospective employers you have an understanding of how to work with colleagues and patrons of different backgrounds. Also, specific knowledge of the types of diverse co-workers and library users you will interact with regularly at a prospective employer will not only show interviewers you have done your homework, but It may even inspire ideas you can discuss on the spot and further demonstrate your commitment.
With a little introspection and creativity, your approach to talking about these topics can give you that needed edge to land your next job!