I wanted to write a post about job-hunting, largely because I am the only person I have ever known who actually quite enjoys the process. I can only say this as someone who has not faced a prolonged period of unemployment however, so obviously that’s a massive dose of privileged position right there. With that in mind, all of this is said without the pressures of needing a job immediately, without the stress of a family to support and all of that. It is just my experience with it, and how I got more comfortable with the whole process.
I used to hate job searching, enormously and miserably. I applied for countless jobs before I became a Library person, and had many a disastrous interview and mammoth application forms that didn’t even manage a rejection letter. When I became a library person, my attitude totally changed. I loved working in a library from the get-go. I knew immediately it was where my career would be if I had any control over it whatsoever. I also knew I would have to work hard to get where I wanted to be. So this is basically my whole job-hunting process.
1. Know where you want to go.
That isn’t to say that you need a rigid path – my path has diverged quite enormously (but happily!) from where I thought I wanted to be, but I always had job descriptions in mind when pursuing professional development opportunities. These were skills I would need to do the job, so I wanted to make sure I would have plenty of evidence for them (for when you get interviews!). In order to do this, you need to read job descriptions. I don’t just mean the one for the job you want at that moment – but for jobs you might want in the future, one day, that might be good in ten years, or six months – I have a constant subscription to job alerts (lots of resources for this can be found at NLPN, it varies depending on what field you’re interested in as to where you’ll find these) and I read them. Whenever a job was advertised that looked remotely interesting to me, regardless of whether or not I was going to apply for it, I had a quick scan of the job specifications. This fits in to your routine much easier than you might think, and I developed a really rounded understanding of the kind of skills that were sought after for the type of role I wanted. I made sure I put effort in to developing my experience in these areas. I was unlikely to get a job just by remarkable coincidence of having everything they were looking for – you have to work for it, and you need to know what to work for.
2. Application forms.
I actually love application forms. I am delighted when friends apply for jobs because then we can have an application form evening where we fill out the application form! It’s weirdly joyous for me. I have totally disengaged myself from the process in a personal sense, it becomes an academic exercise – I miss being in education quite terribly, so the joy of being able to complete an assignment? Ridiculously satisfying. My approach to the application is really to read through the job description and specification so thoroughly you could recite it. Try and understand the kind of person they are looking for, what skill sets are given priority, the kind of experience they want the candidates to have. Try and gauge if it’s a standard job description, or if it has a focus towards information literacy skills say, or understanding of technology. If you do enough of step one, you’ll know job descriptions well enough to make this kind of judgment. it’s exhausting pouring yourself in to an application form, especially when you’re rejected without acknowledgment. It’s disheartening and discouraging and you start to think there’s no point making such efforts when it leads nowhere. I DISAGREE. The only way to move forward, to be successful, is to put your best foot forward each time. It is exhausting and time consuming, but if you know your application was the very best you could do, then you have nothing to feel disheartened over. You complete the best application you can, they might reject you. There are many reasons why that might be, but you probably just didn’t have the experience of the other candidates. You told them what you have achieved so far, but it’s not quite right for them yet. It’s not the job for you. The next one might be. But you complete a half-hearted application form, and you’re rejected? Well, you can console yourself with the fact you didn’t complete the form very well. Apparently I am all about failing well.
Address all the points they’re looking for. Make sure you take your time over reading your answers. Re-read it the next day if you can to make sure it actually makes sense. Try and be conversational – a real live human is often reading this, it’s to your advantage if you can reflect some of your self in to the document. A conversation with your new boss is the tone I try and strike, not a conversation with your best friend.
Interviews are terrifying. Everybody knows this – including the people interviewing you. Particularly for academic Librarian jobs where a full day with a presentation is the standard. Remember the interviewers are people too – and they’re hoping to find someone to fill their vacancy that will be a great addition to their team. You are having a conversation with other people about things you are interested in (presumably, I don’t know many uninterested, accidental Librarians) to see if this would be a good place for you to work. It is a two-way process. You need to evaluate them as much as they are evaluating you. Take a deep breath, continually remind yourself that they wouldn’t be interviewing you if there wasn’t a chance of you getting the job.
Prepare as much as possible for the interview – understand as much as you can about the place. Not just random facts, but the type of library they have, or want to have. Think about the culture they promote with their organisational values and how this ties in to your views of librarianship. There are many endless lists of interview questions online, but as long as you can confidently answer “So tell us a little bit about yourself.” and “What attracted you to this post?” then you’ll have a nice smooth start.
I always work through a day or two before the interview of feeling completely miserable about it. I gorge on all the reasons I won’t possibly get the job, fill myself with nerves and a total inability to even form a reason for why I applied in the first place. And then I think “Right. I won’t get it. So let’s get some interview practice in for the job I do end up with” and whenever those nerves or doubts creep in, I can dismiss them with a shrug. For the jobs you don’t get, you can feel sad for a bit. But remember, there’s a valid reason out there for that – even if that reason is “another candidate was more qualified.” You as a person did not fail a grand test of worthyness, you just didn’t get that particular job. Nobody is less of a person having had a bad interview.
Feedback is an astonishingly useful thing. It is also agonisingly excruciatingly embarrassing to hear more times than not. Do not argue with the feedback you are given – you will not magically win back the job. Take it on board as much as possible. I had an interview where I was a jittering bag of nerves and ended every answer with “…so..that’s my answer. Sorry I rambled!” Dreadful. I had no confidence in my answers and this was abundantly clear when every response was summarised with what was effectively “I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about! Sorry for being here!” The feedback I received from the panel said this, but in kinder words. I re-read the feedback – not in a destructive way! But so I could absorb what they were really getting at, and what my behaviour showed to them. So when my next interview rolled around, I took a breath before every answer. I slowed my pace when I realised I was talking too quickly. And I finished my answers! And then smiled. That concludes a response far better than “That’s the end of my response.” It really boosted my confidence in that very moment when I realised I had control over this, over how I projected myself. I have still had interviews for jobs I didn’t get, but at least I knew I did the best I could and that other candidates must just have been better. There is a comfort in that! I have had such better interview experiences since taking that feedback on board.
Job-hunting is mind games with yourself. It is confidence tricks and strange academic exercises involving your work history. The more confidence you can project, the more at ease you will be for the whole process. It will still be aggravating and bewildering and depressing, but eventually you will get there! And then there is all the joys of a terrifying new job instead. Totally worth it.