Q: I received my MLIS in March of this year and have now been called in for my first interview. I just learned from the institution today who my competition is and what her qualifications are. I’d thought I was a great candidate for the position — until I saw how much more experience the other candidate has! Do you have any advice for new librarians competing for their first librarian jobs against professionals with years of experience? Thanks.
SM: Yes. In a nutshell: stop worrying about the competition.
But… here’s the thing — you usually wouldn’t know who your competition is when you are interviewing for a position. By knowing this information, it puts you in as awkward situation and has the potential to play havoc with your confidence – which is so not what you need when you are in the process of interviewing.
So, let’s pretend that you don’t know who your competition is or how much experience he or she has. In fact, you should not be thinking about your competition at all (or, you should expect everyone to be your competition). Ultimately, you should not be thinking about things you have no control over. You should be focused on the job and the interview and your rapport with the people you are meeting. You should be concerned about the requirements of the position and about figuring out if you really want the job should they offer it to you. You should be concerned about your own abilities and experience and motivation and about selling those, and selling yourself, to the hiring committee.
You will always be competing with candidates who have more experience than you, and are more skilled at something than you are. But, that doesn’t mean that they are right for the job. Hiring committees don’t hire the candidate with the most experience, because they have the most experience. They hire the right candidate, the one who fits into the environment and meets the requirements of the job. A good personality, the ability to adapt to different situations and environments, and an affinity for learning can go a long way. I’m assuming that you meet all the requirements of the job, if you are applying for it; so therefore, you have just a good a chance as someone with more experience.* And, depending on the type of job it is, you may have a better chance. Many candidates may not be right for the position because they have too much experience. Hiring committees may not want to hire someone who has years of experience for an entry-level position that requires minimal or no experience. So, look for entry-level positions and only apply to ones that you are qualified for.
*Caveat: this can get tricky if you have no experience, or very, very little… which is why we always recommend to get some experience (doesn’t need to be professional) before or during library school, so you have it under your belt when you start applying for positions.