Know the Difference: Identifying Obstacles to Employment

by Ellen Mehling
previously published 10/14/13

“Know the Difference: Identifying Obstacles to Employment”

inalj sponsor There is a curious thing I see frequently among those I advise: job hunters focusing on a smaller, though possible, less likely obstacle to employment and ignoring a much larger, definite difficulty – some have an almost superstitious fixation on a certain perceived obstacle, which many not in fact not be their biggest challenge at all.  Or they’ll focus their attention on a big obstacle they can do nothing about, rather than attend to a smaller barrier they do have some control over.

Some obstacles are big and affect many or all of those who are job hunting.  Others are smaller and affect only some job seekers.  Some you can do something to deal with, others are beyond your control.  While some obstacles may be smaller than others,any of them can make the difference between having a chance at a job, or not even being considered.

Examples of smaller obstacles:

Outside of your control: age (or other types of) discrimination within the mind of an interviewer, a number of applicants so high that the hiring manager doesn’t even get to your resume and cover letter, employers posting positions even though they have already chosen the candidate they will be hiring.

Within your control: lack of specific required skills or experience or education, poor verbal communication and interviewing skills, poor interview preparation, a sparse online presence, poor writing skills and/or resume and cover letter, insufficient network and poor networking skills, inability to “sell yourself”, inappropriate attire for interview.

Within your control to a degree but not completely: inability to establish rapport with an interviewer, a gap in employment, job-hopping history, a bad reference from a former supervisor, switching careers, relocating.

The “Big Two”:

Now to the big obstacles.  The largest one, and one that affects all job hunters, is the state of the economy and the resulting low number of job openings.  Right now there are many more job seekers than jobs for them to find, in library and information science and many other fields, and this has been the case for the past few years.  It is not unusual for a posted position to have hundreds of applicants; the competition is very tough no matter what an individual applicant has to offer.  Things do seem to be improving, but very very slowly; there is still a lot of instability and uncertainty in the job market.  Unfortunately, this is an obstacle that is not within the control of the individual.

Another big obstacle is entitlement.  This is something I see in those I advise all the time, so much so that I was almost tempted to say it is the number one obstacle, but if the economy were in better shape even some of the entitled people would be finding work more easily.  In a still-struggling economy, though, the kinds of behavior entitled job hunters engage in make a difficult task much harder.  Again and again I see that the job hunters who get hired are the ones that don’t engage in entitled behavior.

Entitlement in this context is believing that you should have something you want simply because you want it; that what you want should come to you without effort (or without more effort than you believe you should have to expend): you deserve it, you have a right to it, things should go your way.  To complicate things further, caught up in entitled behavior are past experiences which can lead to unrealistic current expectations, and an understandable feeling among job seekers that the situation they are in is unfair.  They feel they should expect fairness and justice; that they should expect a certain result from their efforts.

The pertinent words here are “fair” and “should”.  Whether the situation job hunters find themselves in is fair or not, if they get stuck on how they think things “should” be rather than how they are, the behavior that goes with focusing on that will only hurt their chances of success at finding work.

The bad news: most people who are entitled don’t think of themselves as entitled; they feel they are perfectly reasonable in their expectations and demands and any problem exists outside of them.  Another difficulty regarding entitled behavior is that it can take many forms.  There is good news though: this obstacle, unlike the state of the economy, IS within the control of the individual.

Here are some examples of job-hunt-defeating entitled behavior:

Some unrealistic expectations: expecting the state of the economy not to affect your job search, thinking the MLS degree alone will get you a job, expecting to find a job easily and quickly because that has been your experience in the past or because you really need to find work ASAP, expecting full-time-with-benefits because that is what you have always had on the past and that is your preference, expecting networking to work instantly

Public negativity in professional venues (online discussions and forums, listservs, blog comments, face-to-face conversations with other info pros, etc.): complaining, anger, blaming, disparaging the field of library and information science or library schools or a former employer, attacking others, saying “it is impossible to find a job”

Inflexibility /not recognizing how things have changed: ignoring all advice and instructions, insisting on doing things your way or the way you’ve done them in the past, giving excuses, refusing to network, volunteer, get required experience, build an online presence, etc., thinking that rules or requirements or directions don’t apply to you

Looking for someone to rescue you; clinging to or pestering those you think can help you in your job search, magical thinking: ”If I just hook up with the right person at a networking event, I’ll get a job right away”

When considering possible obstacles and devising your job search strategies, think of the categories for each obstacle you face or suspect you are facing.  Your goal should be to assess realistically the degree of control you have over a certain barrier to getting a job, do what you can to reduce its impact or overcome it, and when you have truly done all you can, turn your attention to the next task before you.  Spend less time and energy worrying over the obstacles you can do nothing about, and more on those you can do something about.

Recommended strategies for all job seekers, no matter what obstacles you may be facing at the moment: put a positive spin on your work history, volunteer in order to stay active and to add to your network and prevent gaps in work history, continue to learn and grow and acquire new skills, build your network and serve those in it, be enthusiastic, flexible, confident and positive, demonstrate persistence and determination, and focus on what you have to offer.


Ellen Mehling has been Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships at Long Island University’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science, and Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant for the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO)


Read my interview with Ellen here:

Previous articles here:

Reposted from 8/15/12 and 2/12/13 and  4/8/13 and 10/14/13
previously entitled Know the Difference: Identifying Obstacles to Employment by Ellen Mehling

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its 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. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians 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 one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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