Attitude Will Get You Hired (or Fired)

by Naomi House, MLIS

Attitude Will Get You Hired (or Fired)

naomihouse.indianaI have two basic rules for all my volunteers:

1) do the work assigned and be honest about it and

2) be constructive, have a good attitude and treat each other with respect

The first is pretty easy to understand and follow, and we have a system in place where people sub for one another when they need time off.  The second is just as important; attitude is key in an effective organization.  Attitude is not another word for positive/cheery/ happy.  I do not require my volunteers to have specific moods at all times.  We are human and we need the space to have our feelings and work through them.  This is why I ask them to be constructive on social media and not to attack, berate, or in general complain publicly about each other.  We all have issues that need addressing but a public forum is not always the right place.  Also a poisonous, stressed out or negative attitude can be contagious and I don’t have time for it or the fallout from it so it is verboten!  Breaking either of these rules is how volunteers get let go from INALJ.  We do this work, we volunteer our time, expertise and energy not just to develop ourselves professionally, but to help job seekers out.  That is our main mission and what is important to us.  Some volunteer gigs are different and all about volunteer development which is great, but I am truly fortunate to have so many volunteers motivated only by the desire to help people find jobs. They are incredible!  They assume the best of each other and that is key to anyone being a good fit at INALJ.

Interviews and Attitude

I have been told more than once that I was the only interviewee who smiled during their interview and both times I was the candidate that was hired.

Hiring committees are not just hiring to fill a job, they are hiring someone to work with them so they definitely want someone they will want to work with.  Alison Green of Ask a Manager has great advice on the topic of attitude in the workplace.  She says “you should always require the right attitude to be there” when hiring.  This is all great to know but what can job candidates do?

  •  Smile!  This is a simple way to show a friendly attitude and positivity.  Now I am not saying you should be forced to smile.  This is different than when patrons or strangers tell you to smile, which I find offensive.  This is your chance to control how you are perceived by a group of people you are trying to impress.  You want them to like you and you and only you can decide how you want to project this.
  • Address Expectations: Not just about the interview but about the work culture.  Are you super organized with a low threshold for disorganization?  If the place you are interviewing at seems at all disorganized (they don’t have your resume printed out, they called you late or rescheduled on you due to an oversight, they call you the wrong name) then even if you do need the job it may be a bad fit.  A bad fit can be worse than just YOU being unhappy, if they are unhappy with you and/or your work, that can be hurtful for applying to future jobs.  Look for the warning signs that the workplace may be a bad fit for you and you for them.

On the Job and Attitude

“A bad attitude is a legitimate reason for letting someone go,” according to Ask a Manager’s Alison Green.  We go to work to do work in a safe, supportive and collaborative environment (if we are lucky) and we need colleagues and employees who help, not hurt.  Mark Murphy, author of Hiring For Attitude, believes soft skills are essential clues to who will be a good employee.  “Whether a candidate is motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and coaching, collaborate with teammates, and so forth“can be determined by their attitude.  Are they a we>me candidate, or are they all about themselves and not team players.

Julie Watson, former Head Editor of INALJ Pennsylvania, has written about soft skills and offers this advice on self awareness which includes, “developing a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes you tick.” Using SWOT analysis to really define your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats can be helpful as well.

Now I want to add a caveat about feedback you may receive.  Simply put not everyone has the same opinion about everyone else.  You may get along fabulously with all former bosses but your current one sees ‘attitude’ when you stand up for yourself.  One bad impression does not a problem make.  Find coworkers,former coworkers, friends, mentors, and supervisors you trust to be honest with you and ask them for advice and feedback on your attitude.  You may have no idea that you have an eye-roll reflex that has been going on for awhile, for example.  And it might not be you, it might be them.  If you have great relationships with all former supervisors it might not be you that has the problem.  Check out this article on attitude for other tips.

Learning from Being Let Go & Letting Someone Go

I love this advice from Alison Green, of Ask a Manager: “When people behave inappropriately and you respond by trying to cajole, convince, or charm them into changing their behavior, you signal that they can get away with more of it.”  Years ago I had to let a student worker go.  My boss had assigned the task to me so I privately met with them to let them know they were not being asked back and why.  This worker had not shown up for over half their shifts in the semester, never once subbed for anyone and had been charging items to the wrong accounts.  They could not be trusted to know the work and to execute it.  Also they projected an attitude that we were lucky to have them working for us.

The first error I made was in telling them how great they were and how it just wasn’t working out.  I spent too much time on their feelings and I wasn’t clear and honest.  The student rightfully was upset. After all if they were so great then why were we letting them go?  They started getting rude and accusatory and it hit me.  I had not been professional.  I was trying to charm them into not feeling bad or being upset with me instead of being honest.  So I stopped, clarified that I should not have been using that approach and told them and showed them exactly how few hours they had worked compared to others (all names were blacked out), how they had never subbed and the issue with the two books checked out wrong during their shift.  They got it.  Their attitude changed instantly.  Hard facts are key when letting someone go.

I learned that letting someone go:

  • Requires the manager to be honest, provide clear facts and to not try and control the employee’s reaction
  • Requires the employee to be clearly told what went wrong and their role in it

Nena Schvaneveldt, former Head Editor for INALJ Utah, wrote a fantastic piece, How I Recovered from Being Fired, about being fired in which she writes:

“Be Honest:  Why did you get fired? This is tough: examine what happened and determine how much of it you were responsible for. If what you did had any part in your getting fired, think through how you could change it going forward. Then do what you can to make that change, whether it’s keeping a sense of humor that is professional, buying a fancy alarm clock to wake up on time, or asking a ton of questions instead of striking your own path.”

Being let go can teach you:

  • what work environments will not be conducive to your work style
  • to take stock of your role in work problems
  • to address these so they don’t happen again


Your attitude, your supervisor’s attitude and your coworkers attitudes can make or break a successful workplace.  It is vital when hiring that we look beyond skills (because many skills can be taught) and look at the candidates for fit.  This doesn’t  mean we should look for people with identical outlooks and attitudes  because a healthy workplace is one where a variety of perspectives are present.  Having only Yes-People employees does not make us better at our work either.  Diversity is vital in a healthy organization and can increase productivity.  So don’t confuse attitude with like-mindedness.  But do know that attitude can make or break not only your work culture but also your reputation in the field.


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.