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Resume & Interview Tips

from James Hill, Executive Director of the Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library

The library has a small staff, so we don’t do a lot of hiring at the library, but when we post an opening we often get a lot of resumes. It’s a very competitive process. I’m not an HR expert, but I know what appeals to me as a library administrator. Here are some of my thoughts and opinions about the hiring process.

The resume:

  • Your resume represents you in a small space. It’s the first impression. Choose a readable font. Use spellcheck and ask someone to proofread for you. Typos are absolutely untolerable [sic].
  • Pay attention to the job posting. Saying “I love to read” and “I love books” is not a skill. It’s true that librarians read, but not on the job…typically. Besides, don’t we all love books? I can think of very few jobs that don’t require customer service and/or interpersonal skills. Run with that.
  • Don't be a rando. Read the "how to apply" section in the job posting again. I promise that no where does it say, "Send an email to the library's Facebook account for more information." Everything is there. If you do have more specific questions, send them to the email address in the posting.
  • Using a resume template is fine, but be sure to make it your own. We get a lot of resumes with green headers, for some reason. It's easy to change a color. We also see a lot of bulleted lists that say, "Insert experience here." (Did I mention proofreading, already?) The template is a starting point, but shouldn't be used just to fill in the blanks. And don't use the first template you find. Review a bunch. Styles change, but your information should always be clear and concise whatever your resume ends up looking like.
  • In my opionion, objectives on resumes are unnecessary; we know you’re seeking a job, thus the resume! If you’re still going to use one, at least change it to fit the job/organization you’re applying for/to. “I wish to gain full-time employment in a field utilizing my background in space sprockets” doesn’t get you an interview at the library. That’s probably cover letter fodder, anyway.
  • Speaking of cover letters:  they’re an important part of the package. Make it meaningful and specific to the job. The resume is a laundry list of your experiences. The cover letter is what you gained from those experiences and how that will help you in this job. The cover letter is also a chance to explain why you’re changing career paths, or why you’re looking for a part-time job now. It doesn’t have to get personal, but, if necessary, it should address obvious questions.
  • Putting links to online portfolios and resumes is okay (especially if specific skills are listed in the job description that can be represented visually), but keep the url/link short. Use a URL shortener or a QR code generator (or both). While your link will be active in your email, a lot of times the resumes will be printed out for a committee, thus making longer URLs prone to being mistyped and/or not worth the bother.
  • Don’t use words specific to a location or a specific job (unless you’re applying to similar job where the jargon would be understood). It probably doesn’t mean much if I tell a non-librarian that I have all the MARC subfield indicators memorized for the 245 field. (I don’t, by the way!) Several years ago a candidate’s resume said he was an organizer of a comity at work. At first reading, I thought he’d misspelled committee. I had to get out a dictionary. It was a workplace culture-specific word that didn’t translate well on a resume. He still got the job, though.
  • Just go ahead and list your references. “Available upon request” is annoying and a barrier. It’s a small city/world. Everyone knows everyone. Even if I don’t call Mary Elizabeth Smorgasbord, just having her name there means something. There’s someone willing to speak on your behalf.
  • It’s okay (and encouraged) to make your resume creative and memorable. Sell yourself. One person said she was “fascinating.” I believed her, or at least remembered her.
  • Also, resume paper is so 1985. Your resume is going to get photocopied and emailed and scanned and ultimately shredded. Make it memorable in other ways. A lot of color doesn’t help. Show us how creative you can be in black and white, literally.
  • Adding your photo to a resume is a new trend. I don't mind it, but make sure they're current (recognizable as you, in other words) and not heavily filtered. It doesn't have to be a professional headshot. A tasteful selfie is fine. If you list hiking as a a favorite activity, then a photo of you under a waterfall might make sense. Reading to children in a village? Perfect. Ask yourself why you're including the photo. Does it relate to an aspect of the job or your resume or cover letter? If not, I wouldn't bother.

The interview:

  • Your resume is the tool to get an interview, not the job. The interview gets the job. It’s a linear process. Re-read the job posting. There are clues there about which types of questions will come up in the interview.
  • Poke around the organization’s web site. How many locations are there? Any exciting programs? Anything unexpected? Take notes.
  • Your attire is only memorable if it’s inappropriate. You don’t need to wear a power suit and, please, no perfume or strong odors. Imagine how you’d dress for an average day at work and maybe spruce it up a notch, but don’t stress out about it.
  • Be on time. Actually, be a few minutes early. Catch your breath. Settle down. Look for emergency exits. Introduce yourself to the front desk staff.
  • Take a water bottle with you. You can bring extra resumes (but we probably have multiple copies already). Reference letters are nice to bring, but not required or expected.
  • In general, the committee asks the same questions of all the candidates to keep the interviews fair. But, expect questions directly related to your resume, too. Once, when calling references for a potential hire, the person we thought was her current employer asked, “Did she say she still works here? She quit coming in two months ago and we haven’t seen her!” So, now we might ask, “is everything current and up-to-date on your resume?” Don’t fret, just make sure it is. Or, if it has changed, that’s when you need to bring extra copies and maybe point out what’s different.
  • Make the interview a conversation. Sometimes a yes/no answer really is all that’s needed, but more often, expand and expound. Those silly questions and scenarios are more about watching you as a candidate think through a process than about the answer, and doubly-so with specific situations. We don’t expect you to have had that exact experience before. We want to watch you puzzle it out. Take your time. Don’t be afraid to be funny. Go on instinct. You’ll learn policies and procedures after you have the job. Don't be afraid to be yourself.
  • Chances are the interview will end with something like, “Do you have any questions for us?” Don’t say no. Engage. A good starting point might be asking about professional development. What are the opportunities to learn even more about doing the job well?  When you reviewed the website, didn't you see something unexpected? An odd program or resource that was new to you? Flatter us. We love to talk about library stuff! If you really can’t think of anything to ask, throw one of our own questions back at us! One or two questions is great, but be mindful of time, too.
  • End with a hand shake and a “nice to have met you.” We tell everyone what the timeline is and when they can expect to hear from us, but don’t be afraid to ask if it wasn’t covered.
  • Finally, a follow up “thank you” email is appreciated. It won’t get you the job, but it doesn’t hurt. Do it fast, though. It’s been my experience that decisions are made quickly. If you don’t have the name and email of everyone on the committee, just send it to the HR manager or Director and ask them to share it with everyone else. It’s a chance to follow up on a question or situation that came up in the interview, but keep it super short.

Let’s say that after all that, you still didn’t get the job. Don’t be discouraged. Just interviewing is good experience. Practice makes perfect, etc. When you get the phone call giving you the bad news, it’s okay to ask for advice for the next time, but keep it general. Don’t compare yourself to the successful candidate. Something along the lines of, “Is there an area I could be stronger in?” or, “Do you have any pointers for me?” is appropriate. I’m not a life coach, but I will always spare one or two minutes to help.

Hopefully these tips are universal and translate to other employment opportunities beyond working at the library.

If you’re looking for educational, career, and skill-building opportunities, check out some of our digital resources.