Posted on May 12, 2011.
by Linda McKell
This is a question I am frequently asked since I work in a library staffing company. It is an interesting question, involving understanding people, organizations and what they need to keep viable.
In the library world, we have for-profit special libraries, non-profit academic and public libraries as well as an entire array of free-lance contract workers/consultants and vendors. While there are differences in funding sources for all of these entities, it still boils down to “where’s the money?”
That is why it is helpful to know about the overall structure, funding sources and directions for any organization, employer or customer that you are trying to work with.
How do you find this out? There are certainly unlimited amounts of information on the web; however, making connections with people inside the company can give you more insight on that and many other aspects of the organization.
Understand the Environment.
First, use your research skills to understand as much about an organization before applying and interviewing. Then you will be able to convey some understanding of their situation rather than just come across like a deer in the headlights.
Some possible questions to research are:
- How is the organization doing financially? Have they experienced layoffs, downturns and how have they handled them?
- What achievements, successes and goals do they have?
- What challenges, obstacles and set-backs have they experienced?
- Who does the library/dept. serve in the organization?
- Who does the library/dept. report to?
- What size staff do they have in the library? Do they have satellites, branches and other locations that they serve?
- What services are offered by the library/dept.?
- What is the job description for the advertised position?
- What other services could be supplied if appropriate skills and resources are available?
- How can you make a contribution/difference and generally be an asset to the library/dept.?
Get to Know People.
Second, explore your people network. There are more ways to network now than ever before. Now, in addition to just getting to know your immediate neighbors, you can explore the following areas:
- Get social. Visit Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and other social and professional networking sites like listserves to find people who work where you would like to work. Ask them some of the above questions or others to more fully understand the environment.
- Get professional. Attend professional meetings. Mingling with people in the profession provides information and direct connections. The programs also give you a heads up on what is currently going on in the field. Getting information virtually is great, but meeting and greeting live provides additional advantages.
- Broadcast to your local network. Let people know that you are interested in certain organizations, venues or types of jobs. You will be amazed at how even your local network has connections. I once asked the head of an academic library who had worked in a corporate library originally what it was like to work in academia. She told me a few things and then said, “Why, are you interested in working in academic?” I said I would be interested, but now I was working full-time as an engineering librarian in a corporate setting. A few months later she called to ask me if I would like a part-time job in their engineering library while one of the staff worked on a special project somewhere else. I jumped at the chance and learned a lot even though I ended up working both jobs at 12 hour days!
- Set up informational interviews. Find someone in an environment where you would like to work and ask if you can interview them about their job over coffee or an ice cream cone! Stop by the reference desk at your local library, find a willing person and start talking to them. Don’t monopolize their time, but you can glean a great deal of information from many small interactions over time.
- Look for problems that need to be solved. See if you can volunteer in an area of interest and do a special project for which there is no funding or no time. This will not only give you a chance to see what the environment is like, but to gain some experience. Who says you have to be paid for work to list it on your resume?
By doing these things before you begin talking to a prospective employer, you will distinguish yourself from others by knowing something rather than little or nothing about them.
Make the Employers’ Job Easier.
You might think that looking for a job is the most stressful situation, but employers are under stress as well. They have to cope with work overloads, staff shortages, budget restrictions while conducting a candidate search. They have to justify their need for a person; handle recruiting activities directly or work with their Human Resources department which can be more of a wall than a door. They then either filter through a mountain of resumes and applications or find that too few qualified people are responding to ads. Lastly, they have to conduct myriad interviews with candidates who either know little or nothing about the job or they are faced with too many qualified candidates making the decision difficult. After making the hiring decision, they have to train and orient the new hire and hope that the person is not only what they seem to be, but, hopefully, better and not worse!
Keep in mind that the employer may be distracted or unskilled in interviewing, as well. You can help them along by creating a friendly atmosphere as you start talking to them. Make them feel comfortable with you. Don’t monopolize the conversation, but be relaxed and try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to make the interview a conversation and not a monologue on either side.
Meanwhile, what employers are really looking for is a person who can not only do the job, but who can bring more to the table, fit in with the work group, and generally make the services rendered the best they can be! They are not looking for people to do the minimum, don’t mix well with the existing work group, and are focused on what’s in it for me versus trying to achieve the goals of the department/organization.
In short, employers are looking for good employees. And that is the best thing you can be!
Linda McKell is President and Founder of AIM Library & Information Staffing headquartered in Mountain View, California. For more information about the library job market, visit the company website at www.aimusa.com.