Things I wish I had known about job hunting for newer academic referencelibrarians
In January, I begin a new chapter as the Foreign and International Law Librarian and Lecturer in Law at Vanderbilt Law School. I also just participated in the hiring committee to hire the reference librarian who replaced me at Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL).
Top 5 Things I Wish I had Known While Applying for Jobs
- Be tenacious and use those information skills to set up alerts and saved searches so you have a constant influx of information from a variety of sources on open positions that meet your criteria. Then, when the 5 O’clock bell rings, apply for jobs that match your skills in places where you can enjoy your life .
- Be honest about what you know : do not inflate or be overly humble. By the same token, remember, we are people who know how to handle situations by analogy. If you have an experience that is similar enough that you know you can hit the ground running even if the facts are slightly different, then make that clear in your cover letter.
- Drive by the location of the interview the day before so that you know where you are going and use the directions on their website, not the directions on Google Maps. Google does not care if you get the job.
- Bring your personality to the table. If you are the gregarious person who everyone likes and you are selling yourself as an extrovert whose milkshake brings all the law students/law professors to the library, then be that person during your interview. That said, your personality is what it is. Be yourself in the interview even if it means that your interviewers do not end up liking or hiring you. You want to be desired for who you are, not for who you pretended to be during the interview. (Plus, what if you have to pretend to be that person every day that you work there. Sounds stressful.)
- Smile, be polite, but not patronizing or fawning even if the person interviewing you is many years your junior or your senior. It’s time for your poker face, regardless of how you feel. Times are hard and sometimes the over 50s and under 30s are applying for the same job. Emphasize your equality with your interviewer by treating them with the same respect you would any other colleague.
After Getting the Job…Or Not
If you Get it Yay!
- Negotiate your salary. They will low-ball you. You high-ball them. You will come to an agreement somewhere in between. This is business. Academic librarians are hired by universities and stand-alone law schools. These are institutions and institutions do not need your empathy. If you accept a salary that you can’t live on in that region, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
- It feels like you have arrived. You have your 3+ degrees, you did your internship, you are probably late twenties to mid thirties and you are ready to live in a real house/apt without roommates who are unrelated to you. Reality check, you are applying for an entry-level position. If you want a middle-class lifestyle, you might have to wait a few years, or get a job in the middle states where the cost of living is lower. New York City or Los Angeles might be your ideal place to live, but maybe you can move there later in your career. If you are offered a job with a salary that you cannot live on…turn it down.
- The academic application process can be very long. What if you get offered a job and they want you to answer within two weeks, but you are still waiting to hear back from other jobs for which you have applied? This is a hard but good place to be. Ultimately it is all about timing and negotiation. Each situation will be different. For various reasons, I chose the bird in the hand. When the 3 in the bush came fluttering by I expressed my gratitude and explained why I needed to withdraw my application or why I would no longer be able to apply for a position for which I was being solicited.
If you Don’t Get it ::sadface::
- Don’t take it personally. An academic law library is a team environment. There are a lot of factors that the hiring committee take into consideration and in the end they pick the person who is the best fit. Moreover, you may not be a good fit for the team this round, but that doesn’t mean that in a few years when the team changes that you might not be just what they are looking for. If you didn’t even get a call back on your resume, the reason could be geographical. Sometimes, there are many strong candidates who live nearby and are easier to interview. An institution that does not have a lot of $$ may not be in a financial position to fly you out for an interview even if your resume was the best in the pile.
- Be sure to keep at it. If you only applied for jobs in limited regions, but you have the ability to move, then try applying for jobs anywhere that look like they will afford you a lot of experience. If it says entry-level but the job description looks intense, let the hiring committee decide, don’t take yourself out of the race because you fear you do not have sufficient experience. (Caveat: This worked for me, but may not work for you. I’m an ENTP, if you throw me in the pool, I’ll swim and I’ll start making water wings for everyone around me, starting with the weakest swimmers).
I can’t tell you what I would do differently with respect to my job application process because the end result has been just right for me. I initially got a job in a city I knew so I didn’t have to stress too much about learning my way around and finding my favorite grocery. My job at TJSL as the only full-time reference librarian for 1,000 students was intense. I learned a lot. I learned about teamwork and using honey instead of vinegar (thanks Eliza). I learned how to manage my time, how to manage a classroom full of students with different personalities and learning styles, and how to get stakeholder buy in from professors and the IT department. I am so grateful for all those who believed in me and helped me along my way, especially the TJSL library staff and the extended TJSL family.
I truly feel like I have reached a milestone in my life with this new position at Vanderbilt. I know there will be challenges just like anywhere else, but I am excited for new opportunities and new adventures and I am ready to keep learning and growing.