MLS Alumni Talk Job Tips and Librarianship during Pandemic

Over the summer, Luddy Career Services hosted a virtual career panel featuring eight 2018–2019 Master of Library Science alumni across different ILS fields. Facilitated by Megan Walsh and Larry Ailes, current students were given an opportunity to learn tactics for finding jobs in the current Covid-19 climate.

The following is a curated list of alumni responses obtained from the webinar. Click here to watch the full webinar.

Question 1: When applying for jobs, did anyone have to perform virtual interviews? Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

Ashley Hosbach — Education and Social Science Research Librarian at the University of Virginia: My recommendation for Zoom interviews is to really be more dynamic in gesturing and smiling because you can look very static on camera. Record yourself answering questions and see how you look on-screen. I’ve been on the other side of this too and sometimes a candidate may look uninterested. Clearly, you are interested, but it can be very difficult to communicate enthusiasm over video. Sometimes I say to over-exaggerate a little bit when talking on video. Make sure to practice interviewing on camera and also make sure to ask for a link to the Zoom or software early.

Alyse Camus — Collection Development Manager for EBSCO Information Services: When I was interviewing for a couple of positions, I received an email that said that we’d have a phone interview, but it turned out to be a Zoom call. So always prepare for a video call even if it says it’s a phone call. It’s also really tempting when working from home to lounge around in your pajamas, but make sure you are dressed and presentable. If I hadn’t been, I don’t think things would have gone very well. When you present yourself in a professional way, you’re already in that headspace anyways, and it’s a good habit to be in when you are interfacing with people either by video or phone call.

Tracy Johnson — Adult & Young Adult Services Librarian at Fremont Public Library: It’s tempting to look at what your own face is doing during Zoom chats, but it’s more important to make eye contact with the person who is speaking on the screen. Just really tune into the other person and try not to worry about your own face so much. Also, virtual eye contact is a little unintuitive because it involves looking more into your web camera than looking at your computer screen where the person’s face is.

Question 2: How far in advance of graduation did you start applying for jobs?

Tracy Johnson: I graduated in December, and I started applying for jobs in August of that same semester. But I think that it also depends on what library industry that you would like to get into. Public librarians typically want someone more immediately, but it doesn’t hurt to get the job interview process down and get as much experience as possible.

By all means, start applying early and get those interviews. If they want someone right that minute, it’s no big deal. You have the experience and confidence boost of “Hey, we did want you, but you’re still in graduate school and we need someone right now.”

Ashley Hosbach: When I was at IU, a lot of my colleagues at IU were telling me that, “Just so you’re aware, the academic library hiring process will take a very long time”. And I knew that in my head, but seeing it play out was much different for me. I had applied to my current job in July of 2019, they brought me on campus in October, and I started actually working in January. The process can be a very, very long time, so plan accordingly.

Question 3: Do employers want one-page resumes or multiple-paged curriculum vitae?

John Henry Adams — Special Collections Librarian at the University of Missouri: I get the impression that that’s going to be very field-specific, for example, I’m in special collections, right? And being a librarian is already a really nerdy job. So, if you’re going to be a special collections librarian, then you’re sort of really slamming your fist on the nerd button. And so as a result, they usually want a CV. But I would imagine that if you have this huge, massive CV then maybe there are other branches of librarianship where they’re like, ‘Get that thing far away from me.’ So, it’s going to depend on the subfield, I think.

Mallory Nygard — Director of Library and Information Services at St. John Neumann Catholic School: I’ll say that for school librarianship, I was specifically told that they don’t want a CV and to give them a one-page resume. However, I also know that my cover letter was much more instrumental in me getting an interview and the job than my resume was. I had a really robust resume, I had been working for a few years, but they were more interested in getting into my approach, my philosophy, and how I was going to fit in with the culture of the school.

Alyse Camus: I work for a vendor with academic libraries. Being in an academic market, you always need your CV that details everything you can do in every possible realm. But for the vendor position, I wasn’t sure if I should’ve used a resume or CV. I ultimately went with a resume, pulled out the relevant things, and made it into one page with a one-page cover letter. After getting the job, my boss told me, “Your resume was perfect, it was just exactly what I needed to know.” So you have to really gauge your employer and the position you’re applying for. Because you don’t want to over-apply.

Question 4: What job websites did you normally use?

Amy Yarnell — Health Data Sciences Librarian at the University of Maryland and Baltimore:For academic jobs, I recommend HigherEd Jobs and other places that advertise for faculty positions overall. You can also go directly to university websites because things tend to get posted a little bit earlier or join a listserv in a specialty that you are interested in.

Alyse Camus: If you know the region that you’re going to be working, identify the places that you want to work and just check their websites constantly. I knew that I needed to get a job in Raleigh, North Carolina. And so, I made a list of everywhere I could possibly work in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I just checked it. Some state libraries like the State Library of North Carolina maintains a list of all library positions that come open in the state, which was really helpful. And so you’ll start digging into all of these kinds of alternative resources.

I also feel like ALA JobLIST updates really late and sometimes not at all. But if you know that you want to work at UNC-Chapel Hill and check their website all the time, you’ll never miss a job posting at UNC-Chapel Hill. So this is kind of a multi-pronged approach, and it’s something that you have to be diligent about because sometimes postings will only be live for a short amount of time.

John Henry Adams: I was in special collections, so I used RBMS, which is the national organization for people who work in special collections. They have a special list that they would post, and that was where most things would appear. But I did sometimes see things on ALA and on a website called Archives.gig.

Something weird, however, is that I did a campus visit for a university in Minnesota when I was trying to figure out more about them. I ended up stumbling upon their job ad again. The same job ad. Except this one had way more detail and was on a local site. It wasn’t even their institutional site, it was a local consortium of libraries in that region. So, if you have a specific region in mind, check what the local and regional resources are because I think they had twice as much information on that local site than what was in their job posting to the nation.

Question 5: What worked for you during your job search? How important was networking to your job search?

Stephanie Porrata — MPK Diversity Resident Librarian at Ohio University: I might be a bad example for this, but my primary tactic was going to LP. (note: LP Ailes is the Senior Associate Director of Luddy Career Services. He and other Career Service administrators assist students in building their resumes, LinkedIn profiles, et cetera). I needed help from my resume just starting off. I had never interviewed for a position in a library since my time as a student worker at my undergrad library. And so basically, it was about going to the Career Services, going to LP, and going through those steps with him. It was mostly just me looking for the jobs that interested me and then applying for them with LP’s help and hoping for the best case.

Emily Baumgart — Archives Processing Technician for the Music Division of the Library of Congress: I rarely used Luddy Career Services because I was more focused on the music side of things. But networking was a giant factor. My boss, when I graduated, happened to teach the head of the hiring committee for the job that I have now. There was a conference right around the time that job was posted, she basically marched me up to him saying, “Hey! This is my student, she’s really great!” Through him, I met the other people on the hiring committee and by the time I got to the interview, I already knew all of them and had a conversation with them. It was really the perfect storm for me.

Ashley Hosbach: For the network, I would say tap your IU colleagues: your bosses, your mentors, your supervisors. They just helped me in preparing materials, prepping for interviews, and knowing what to say. My mentor, Julie Marie Fry at the Education Library, just really told me, “Own the experience that you had as a student. Don’t let them tell you that that didn’t count as librarian experience.” Because a lot of times people will kind of infer that your student experiences are irrelevant, but say ‘no’ and stand strong. Advocate for yourself. That’s what I did, and that’s ultimately how I got this position.

Also, utilize the reputation of Indiana University. I know it’s kind of silly and dorky to say that “I came from a really great university”, but the ILS Program is nationally recognized and Indiana University librarians from the academic sphere are very highly respected in terms of research and the collection. So having employers know that you came from a larger system sometimes can be beneficial just based off of what IU has done.

Tracy Johnson: How I ended up in my current job was because I was the intern there. Working an internship really does give you valuable experience and it helps you build a relationship. But additionally what I’ll add to that is, you can join a professional organization as a student because if you can get funded to go to meetings then totally do it. I’m currently an ILF member, the Indiana Library Federation, and what I’m slowly learning is that all Indiana librarians know each other which can help you can find other opportunities. For example, if you get your starting job and you know that’s not where you want to stay forever, but you still want to move around in that same circle, it’s really good to show that you can be amiable and can demonstrate your personality to people that you work in the bigger community. Being part of that really showcases your talents and makes you really hirable.

Alyse Camus: When you’re branching out into the bigger world, I would just say don’t be afraid to name drop. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I went to IU that has a leading world-class collection. I worked with x, y, and z. I know these things front and back.’ Then you can say, ‘I worked with these librarians and that librarian’ because chances are someone reading your letter is going to know those librarians, hopefully positively. But don’t be afraid to lean on your experiences and to lean on your relationships because it can work out for you and it can snowball into this really positive thing. So yeah, name drop.

Mallory Nygard: I used networking mostly for behind-the-scenes things of like writing cover letters and looking at resumes. But also, when I started getting job offers my mentor sat me down and we wrote an email to ask for more compensation, more days off, and more healthcare. These are things that I would have been terrified to do by myself, but she walked me through the whole process. So, having somebody beside me through the whole process of finding the jobs, reading my emails, and helping me write my e-mails was the most valuable thing.

And I’ll just put a plugin, Meggan Press, who works in the undergrad library at IU, has been working on a book about asking for raises and making the most for your compensation that you’re being offered across whatever library you work in. And I don’t know if that book has been published yet, but she wants you to cold email her about that sort of stuff, she will just give you that information. She’s so nice.

Question 6: How has the current pandemic impacted your work?

John Henry Adams: Effectively, we all got a completely different job. So for us, a lot of it revolved around the little electronic upkeep of the website, of the finding aids, everything that we had not been doing because we were busy doing all the other things that needed doing.

Most of my work is professional development, as well as, essentially getting a new web presence, building lib guides, building the website, building documentation that we can provide to faculty, and reaching out to faculty.

Tracy Johnson: So it’s a really weird time in a public library because, for the most part, people were just kind of coming here for entertainment, enjoyment, and personal use. So, you build a lot of relationships with your patrons-at least, that’s what it’s like in my library because it’s such a small town. We have all our regulars, and we know most everybody who comes in by their name. And so it’s really weird knowing that we don’t really see them anymore, but we’re still trying to find a way to interact with them and do that in an easy way because not everyone has reliable internet at home.

Also because a lot of people around here are unemployed right now, you really have to revisit those moments where you have to ask, ‘What are we trying to do for our community? And how can we make that happen with the tools that we have?’ So you just have to really sit with yourself for a minute and really think on those things. If you’re trying to find a job in this pandemic, you should really come in with a clear mission for the patron audience that you’re trying to work with.

Stephanie Porrata: For non-technical employees, there was a big rush to find them work so they could continue being paid. What happened is that nontechnical employees had to take on work typically done by student workers since there weren’t any student workers anymore. And so people would throw out projects, many of which involved inputting metadata for the digital collections. My organization was really quick to act so that everyone had something to do from home. When interviewing for a job, ask your potential employer how this time went in the organization because how they responded to the pandemic could be pretty telling of what the culture will be like.

Ashley Hosbach: One thing I will say about the change to our jobs and the changing environment in higher education, for those who are job hunting or may start soon, is to be very aware that this is a rapidly shifting landscape, and our budgets are being cut dramatically. I was reading a report that 60% of academic staff are now furloughed across the country. It’s a big situation that you have to be aware of going into. So I think definitely of asking how were employees treated during the COVID period. But also for those looking for jobs, maybe don’t restrict yourself to one industry. I would really recommend getting into a job where you can because we put in a hiring freeze here. I know a lot of major universities won’t be hiring until 2021 or 2022 even. So I would just say, if you can, spread out the search and work to get that job. We’re going to be understanding on the other side of that hiring committee if you worked a different job that wasn’t in the library or museum setting, or whether it was public versus private versus academic versus school. Just try and get in there and get that paycheck would be my advice.

And especially on the academic side, if you can take -while you’re at IU- some sort of instructional design online multimedia course, that’s what I’m going to be looking for when we eventually start hiring again because we don’t know how long this period of social distancing could last. So I would see it as a strength to advertise: “I am trained in instructional design. I’ve taught remotely.” That would be something that would look really good on your CV.

Mallory Nygard: The phrase that floated around a lot at our staff meetings this last quarter of school was, “We’re going to approach this time with compassion,” in terms of thinking about that for our students and our families. As Ashley said, do what you need to do to survive. Nobody is going to hold that against you. It’s a global pandemic. Nobody’s going to hold it against you and say, “Why didn’t you get a better job while the world was shut down and you couldn’t leave your house? How dare you?”

John Henry Adams: And if that is their response, “There was a global pandemic. Why didn’t you get a better job?” You don’t want to work with them. They are not worth the time of day. I can work literally anywhere and have a better work experience.

Amy Yarnell: Having an employer that values your mental health is really important. My library has been telling us to take vacation days. Even though you’re at home, you might feel like you’re sort of on vacation, but take an actual day where you’re not connecting to the internet and checking your emails.

The full webinar is available online at IU MediaSpace. For more tips and services related to career development, visit the Luddy Career Services website or reach out to them directly at luddycareers@indiana.edu. They are happy to talk with students further about job searches or any other aspect of their career preparation.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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