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Tips for Interviewing: Your Best Self

I saw a lot of discussion about this blog on a couple of the listservs I subscribe to -- and then a SI student sent the link to me. There is some great advice here about writing cover letters and interviewing, especially that of your search should be not about how great you are but about what you can do for the organization. Its a bit quirky, a bit irreverant, and I don't agree with everything that she says, but it gets you thinking. Enjoy!

Your best self Part of: Librariana

“Be your best self,� I told my students about job interviews. Two elements to that: being yourself (not somebody else), and putting your best foot forward.

Why on earth does this seem to be such difficult advice to follow? I am irked at what some librarians think is sufficient and acceptable behavior on the job market. People, I am gonna tell you this stuff once, and I don’t ever want to have to say it again, okay? Don’t make me go for my stompy boots.

If you cannot write a business letter, you have no business being hired as a librarian. That means the fiddly little bits like finding an actual name to write to, and putting a colon (a COLON, not a COMMA, and if you don’t know the difference you have no business with a baccalaureate degree, never mind a master’s) after the letter salutation. If I am on the search committee, damn straight I am not your friend. I might like to be your friend someday—but for now, I am a professional acquaintance and you’d better treat me as such. There are books and websites about business letters. Read and ponder.

The question you are trying to answer in your cover letter to me is not “Why are you awesome?� It is triply not “What do you want?� I don’t care what you want right now. (I will care once I decide to interview you, but I’m not there yet if I’m just staring at your application package.) The questions you are trying to answer are “Why should I hire you? How will you solve my problems?� You had better speak compellingly to that, and “I am awesome!� is not a compelling answer by itself. How do you know whom I want to hire, and what my problems are? I told you in the job description I wrote. This is why your cover letter needs to repeat as many of my buzzwords as possible.

In other words, your cover letter is all about me. No, that doesn’t seem quite fair, but it’s what will get you an interview. Look, I’ll tell you a secret, okay? I’ve been on search committees. The way we do the first cut on applications is to sit around a table with a grid in front of us. Across the top of the grid is a list of the skills we asked for in the job description. Down the left is a list of applicant names. We sit there and we check off boxes. If you don’t have enough boxes checked when we’re done, you’re chucked. Get it now?

The other thing that will get you chucked is telling me why I should chuck you. I should not have to say this. It is common sense. But some cover letters I’ve seen go all-out to “aw, shucks� me into dumping the app into the garbage. Don’t do this. It is not charming, not endearing, not amusing, and (worst of all) not helpful to either of us. It is inane, people. I don’t want to hire somebody who focuses on their faults. If nothing else (and there’s a lot else wrong with that attitude), they’re depressing, and I don’t come to work to be depressed.

(I even know of one or two people who bring this behavior into interviews. Well, look, if you don’t want the job, why are you bothering exactly?)

It’s simple. If you have a skill I want, highlight it. If you don’t, look for experience or education that will transfer over well, and highlight that. If that comes up short, look for something that speaks to your aptitude, and highlight that. If you’re completely at sea, shut up about it. Maybe the rest of your skills will cover for that one area. Maybe not. Maybe we’ll see a transferable skill that you didn’t think of. Maybe not. But pointing out the deficiency will get you chucked, every time.

(When backed into a corner at interviews, mention transferable skills, say you’ve been reading the literature and are rarin’ to go, talk about how you learn fast—just do not say “I don’t have any idea how to do this� or “I’m scared of it.� Ever. Do not. Chucksville.)

Believe it or not, I understand the cold feeling in the pit of the stomach from feeling whole leagues out of one’s league. Been there, done that. I have never been so intimidated in my life as I was facing a roomful of scholarly-publishing muckety-mucks in London. I was lucky to have a sprained knee to distract me from stone-cold terror. But there are two ways to respond to that. You can hunch your shoulders, turtle up, and mumble self-deprecating mumbles, which only makes you look foolish—or you can go for broke. Maybe you’ll still look foolish; there are no guarantees in this life. But there’s a chance you won’t. A chance, against a certainty.

New MLS holders tend to put their education first on their résumés. I get that you’re proud (I do!), but this is greenhorn behavior. Don’t do it. Lead with experience. Why? Because everybody in the pool has a bloody MLS, okay? That doesn’t set you apart, and you want my eyes to light first on what sets you apart. The only time your MLS coursework is going to count is if you’re short on experience and we have to test for aptitude instead. So put education later, except perhaps in the (somewhat rare) case where you have another advanced degree (master’s, professional degree, or higher) that is directly on point for the position. For example, if it’s a business bibliographer or liaison position and you’re an MBA as well as an MLS, by all means put education first. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Nothing guarantees you a job in this field, sad to say. Some things, however, absolutely guarantee that you won’t land one. Please avoid them. Please. Source.

Posted by kkowatch at March 24, 2008 12:31 PM

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