by Rebekah Kati, Head Editor, INALJ North Carolina
Five Things I Learned While Searching for a Job
After two and a half years of searching, I began my new job in mid-August. As you can imagine, I filled out countless job applications and had many interviews during this time. I learned a lot about job searching and myself during the long, often frustrating search and I wanted to share my most important observations in the hopes that they will be beneficial to others.
1. Attitude counts.
It is very difficult to keep a positive attitude during a long job search. I often felt that I was not good enough to get a job and these feelings spilled over into my personal life. I felt like I was just going through the motions when I applied for jobs – the employers were just going to turn me down or never notify me like all the other jobs so why should I bother putting in the effort? Eventually, I learned that my negative attitude was hurting my chances of obtaining a job. Employers like to see an applicant who is enthusiastic about the position and the work environment, and they are often skeptical of an applicant who appears unengaged. To get out of this negative cycle, I started volunteering for INALJ. The INALJ community helped me realize that I was not alone in my frustrations and I now had a support group in a positive environment. The positive environment made all the difference in my outlook and I obtained my job soon afterward.
2. Take time to observe during your interview.
Many of my most valuable insights into the culture of my potential employers came when I took a few minutes during my in-person interviews to observe how employees and administrators interacted with each other. At one interview I noticed that the employees’ attitudes changed drastically whenever the dean came into the room. Their neutral mood shifted to almost comically cheerful and friendly, which told me that I would have to constantly suck up to the dean to be successful, and this influenced my opinions about the department. Also, I found it useful to make note of the personalities and attitudes of the people who would be working with the position frequently, as this could illuminate potential conflicts if I was the successful candidate.
Observations can also help assess the organization as a whole. During one on-site interview, I met with campus administrators who were incredibly supportive of the library and the its mission. This assured me that the library was an important part of that school’s culture and identity and that my contributions as a librarian would be valued.
3. Get comfortable talking about your accomplishments.
I have never been comfortable selling my achievements during interviews, which means that the search committee was hard pressed to get an accurate picture of my skills. Search committees only see what my references and I tell them, and they had no way of knowing my accomplishments if I was overly modest in my cover letter and interviews. Before each interview, I looked over the job ad line by line and brainstormed examples of achievements that would fit each point in the ad. I referred to this document during a phone interview or reviewed it before an in-person interview to refresh my memory and to help me become more comfortable with my presentation.
4. Be realistic and trust your gut.
At one point in my job search, I wanted any library job that I could get and I applied to many jobs that would not have fit my professional goals or lifestyle. I had to make tough decisions whenever I was invited for an interview, which showed me that it is very important to realistically assess how a job will affect your life and how it will fit into your overall career path. Additionally, I had to remind myself to trust my gut. Some jobs seemed very good on paper, but when I went for the interview, I realized that I didn’t feel right about it. I had to get used to the idea that I was interviewing my employer as well and that I could turn down a job. This is a good thing – I would not have done my best work at a job at which I was not happy, and that would not have been fair to me or my employer.
5. Consider alternatives to libraries.
I know what you’re thinking: you went to library school to work in a library. Why consider alternatives? A non-library job can be a good fit if it fits your lifestyle and career goals. For example, my ideal job is to work with metadata and digital objects. As I went through my job search, I found that full time, permanent metadata librarian jobs were scarce in my area and I was not in a position to take a temporary job or move. I was faced with a choice: do I look outside of libraries for similar work, or do I look for work that was not as interesting to me in a library? After a long, unfruitful dalliance with the latter, I chose the former, and couldn’t be happier. During your search, think about what job duties would make you truly happy and think about whether those duties require a library environment. If a library environment is optional, expand your search to non-library jobs. You might be surprised!