Three from Two: What are three things that are very hard to get job seekers to understand and/or accept?

Three from Two: What are three things that are very hard to get job seekers to understand and/or accept?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Today we have a guest contributor helping with a short list (in this case, three things) from a number of advisors (in this case, two). Eric Cohen is Job Training & Outreach Specialist at Brooklyn Public Library’s Business & Career Center.

What are three things that are very hard to get job seekers to understand and/or accept?


1) It’s going to take time for employers to get back to you.

Job seekers often come to the library discouraged that their resume and cover letter aren’t drawing a positive response, even when those documents are quite good. When I ask them how long they’ve been at their job search, sometimes the answer is as little as a week or two. [Employers can take a long time] to get back to applicants and, more often than not, won’t even acknowledge candidates who haven’t been selected for interview. If you’re without a job and soon will be in dire straits financially (or are there already!), this can be understandably hard to swallow.

2) Employers will most likely be quickly scanning your resume – in as little as 6-15 seconds – so it’s critical to convey the most important information about yourself quickly.

I’ve seen multitudes of resumes with a dozen or more bullet points for each job, summary sections that are rich with cliches and buzzwords (“self-starter”) but don’t list actual hard skills, or that focus excessively on positions held 15 or more years ago. Job seekers are often resistant to omit details or have trouble judging which ones are most important or relevant, so they include everything. (Other times, like an author who’s toiled away for years on a novel they’re trying to sell to a publisher, they can grow very attached to what they’ve written and become blind to how it may be received by others!) But a hiring manager really wants an applicant to quickly convey what skills, experience and accomplishments they have that directly relate to the specific job they’re recruiting for.

3) Having the appropriate technology skills for the job is really critical.

We’ve reached the point where being computer literate is mandatory for everyone, but so many of our patrons are resistant to typing a resume or filling out a job application on their own. That doesn’t portend well for their success on the job market, because even the most seemingly unskilled job today is probably going to require checking email, using a spreadsheet, typing a document, and (if nothing else) using an electronic timekeeping system at some point [and possibly Zoom too]. There are no shortcuts anymore.

Job seekers in all fields must keep their tech skills up to date, and what this means specifically for any type of work is going to differ depending on the job, even within the library profession.

Ellen Mehling:

1) Job seekers themselves have to write and customize* their resumes and cover letters, prepare for an interview, network, etc.

[ *customizing your documents each time you apply for a job is extremely important ]

SO MANY people just want someone to write their resume and/or cover letter for them or otherwise just get them a job. Or they’re unhappy and want out of their current position but won’t take any action towards that goal. I see this in all levels of experience, age and education.

They see people getting jobs and promotions and other career achievements and don’t seem to understand the effort that takes place and the competition involved, often behind the scenes, over time. There is an element of luck in the job search, to be sure, but some people seem to think it is all luck or kissing up, instead of actual hard work and integrity, mutually beneficial networking, acquiring the right skills, etc.

Your resume and cover letter represent you and therefore they need to be written by you. If your career is a car, you are the driver. Not your current or past employers, not your boss, not your network, not a recruiter, not your school or graduate advisor, not a career counselor or advisor or mentor, you.

2) Switching from one kind of work to another, whether within a field or between two different fields, takes time and preparation.

Just saying, “I don’t want to do that anymore, I want to do this” is not going to be enough to convince a hiring committee to give you a chance. You must have more to offer than that; you must have what the employer is looking for and you must convey those things specifically and clearly in your application documents and your interview.

Read job descriptions carefully for the kind of jobs you are interested in and make sure you have the required skills, experience, education, etc. before applying.

3) An interview is not a job offer.

It is a good sign and a necessary step in the hiring process, but getting an interview does not mean that the job is “yours to lose”. It means only that the employer wants to learn more about you, and they are still considering other applicants. You must prepare for the interview and do well in it to stay in the running.

Thank you, Eric!

How I Got My First Job: Lila Freeman

How I Got My First Job: Lila Freeman

Posted by Ellen Mehling

What was your first professional position after you got your MLS? After graduating from Pratt with my MLS in 2006, I transitioned to working as a librarian officially, and was assigned to a branch location, at Brooklyn Public Library. This was all planned, as in 2004 I had been the very first hiree in the first cohort of the PULSE (Public Urban Library System Education) Trainee program, an IMLS-funded grant partnership between BPL and Pratt Institute’s Library and Information Science dept. I had worked at BPL for 2 years already within that trainee program when I got my master’s degree completed.

How did you get it? I applied, I believe, for a librarian trainee position at BPL, just before they got the PULSE grant. By the time I was hired, BPL/ Pratt had received the grant. I don’t remember, but I probably checked the BPL website for open positions and saw the “trainee” one listed. At that point, I had already begun my LIS studies, but I didn’t know if I would proceed as Queens College was so hard for me to get to, but Pratt was too expensive compared to Queens. I didn’t want to go into debt for a “means to an end” masters degree, as I viewed it. Fortunately, the grant was awarded and the PULSE program commenced at the perfect moment in my life, providing funding for the majority of my tuition at Pratt, while allowing me to earn a salary and learn on the job/ work full-time in an urban public library system.

How long did you work there? I worked for BPL as a trainee for approximately 2.5 years ( I believe, can check this for you), and I’ve worked for BPL a total of 16 years this month.

To what do you attribute your job search success? A few years after graduating from art school – studying fine art – I got sick of patching together part time jobs – artist’s studio assistant, babysitter, life drawing model, etc – to pay the rent. I wanted a secure job with paid vacation, health insurance, other benefits, etc. Having a family which contained several role models who also were librarians was instrumental to my decision to go back to school for this degree, and my awareness that this could be a viable career for me. I needed a job that would work well alongside my art career, and I had a feeling this was it. (I was right!) I also credit the PULSE program, which I was so, so fortunate to participate in. It allowed me to shadow librarians in different roles for months at a time, and showed me how many diverse job opportunities there are within a large urban public library system. Learning on the job, and knowing I would HAVE a job at the end of my post-grad education, felt like an incredible privilege. I still marvel at my good fortune/ the good timing involved!

What advice do you have for librarian/info-pro job hunters? When people tell me they love libraries/ librarians or have fantasies of BEING a librarian, I tell them to pursue it! I say, if you have to have a job/ day job, this is a FANTASTIC one, and it’s never too late! I wish more folx knew about this career path, but I know little about the career outlook at this time. Certainly when I knew people pursuing a library degree, or trying to find a librarian position during so many hiring freezes over the years, I tried to reassure colleagues that the job outlook would improve, and tried to stay positive. I also tell people, because they often don’t know, that there are so many KINDS of librarians, and that there are librarian jobs for a great many diverse types of workers.

Lila Freeman is an artist and librarian living in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Thank you, Lila!

Interview with the Freelancer: Bayleigh Janusik

Interview with the Freelancer: Bayleigh Janusik

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Name: Bayleigh Janusik

Location: Brooklyn, NY

What is your side gig? I paint portraits of people and animals

How long have you been doing this freelance work? I’ve been doing this as a hobby for around 5 years, but recently started promoting it as a side gig as my skills have improved over the last year and a half. 

What are your qualifications for doing this kind of work (credentials, experience, etc.)? I am a self taught painter and I have a background in the arts.

How did you get started? Are there start-up costs for this type of work? I watched a lot of online tutorials and read books on techniques from the library. The start up costs depend on the quality of the supplies. The first few orders for oil paint supplies were certainly an investment. 

Is the gig work done for an employer or are you truly “your own boss”? I work only for myself at this time.

What is your primary reason for doing the side gig work? I love to paint and I wanted to share this with people who have lost someone important to them. Having a painting of a family member who passed away can be very powerful and I’m honored to do this for my clients.

What is the approximate number of hours per week or month that you do the freelance work? It depends on the commission, but I average 10 hours a month of active painting time. 

How do you get clients? How much marketing/advertising/promotion do you do? What are the costs for that? I only have my art instagram: @bayleighart where I post my pieces. I usually get clients from word of mouth when they share the work I’ve done for them.

How do you set your fees? I set my fees based on materials used and time spent on the actual painting.

Is this work steady throughout the year or is it seasonal, or does demand vary? The work picks up around the holidays as portraits make for a unique gift. 

Can the work you do be done virtually/remotely? I can paint anywhere and my apartment has become increasingly taken over by art supplies. 

Do you get paid in advance or do you invoice after the work is done, or do you have some other payment arrangement? The price is set once the size and scope of the piece is determined in the beginning of the commission.

What do you like most about the freelance work you do? There is just something really special about having a painting of someone in your home instead of a picture. Often times, pictures don’t always capture the nature of a person that can come forward in a painting. The same goes with pets. It’s also really fun to paint pets that were a part of a family and deserve to have their spot on the wall, too.

What do you like least about the freelance work you do? I wish I had more time to do it! 

What is the biggest challenge of doing this side gig work? Being self taught, I’ve had to research and grow on my own and it’s been a challenge to expand my hobby into a side gig.

If someone is considering doing the same side gig work that you do, what would be your advice to them? Don’t doubt your talent and ability to learn and grow as an artist. Practice comes from dedication, not motivation. It won’t happen overnight, but honing a craft is worth it. Also, just because you’re a new artist doesn’t mean you should under charge. 

Bayleigh Janusik, MSLIS, is a Library Information Supervisor at Brooklyn Public Library.

Thank you, Bayleigh!

Q&A: Is there a certain resume format for freelancers and entrepreneurs?

Q&A: Is there a certain resume format for freelancers and entrepreneurs?

Q: Someone told me that a certain format for the resume (with a narrow column on the left for skills and education, and the name, contact info and experience appearing to the right of it) must be used for success if you are an entrepreneur/small business owner or freelancer seeking to work for someone else. Is this true; that employers for certain positions are looking for, or prefer some specific format?

A: I don’t know of any resume format that is recommended specifically for entrepreneurs and/or freelancers. In general, employers want your resume with the experience in reverse chronological order, and a format that is clear, logical, and consistent, so they can easily find the information they are most interested in reading.

Job hunting can be an uncertain and frustrating thing. There is always an element of luck to it, for example: what jobs are open in your area that you are qualified for at the time you are actively applying, whether your application documents arrive at the right time to be read by a decision maker in the job search process, the relative strengths and qualifications of others applying to the same job, which skills/experience are most important to the hiring manager, etc. It can, unfortunately, be a situation where you can do everything right and still struggle.

And sometimes struggling job seekers become superstitious in their job search efforts. They want so badly to believe there is some secret, some foolproof action they can take, that will guarantee a favorable outcome.

If someone else has success with a certain resume format, or other job search tactic, then following their example as closely as possible may seem it will work for you too. It is far more likely, though, that their success came from their experience and skills and strengths and the fact that their application documents conveyed those things effectively.

If columns were the easy answer, and all by themselves gave any entrepreneur or freelancer that used them a significant advantage, then what would happen if 20, or 50, or 75 applicants for a single position used them? Would the columns still give an advantage if large numbers of people used them?

Columns on a resume are not so impressive that they will make a hiring manager more likely to call you for an interview or hire you; they’re just columns. And in some cases, columns (and tables, boxes around text, even fancy bullet points, etc.) may interfere with Applicant Tracking Systems making sense of the information on the page, which can hurt your chances of being called for an interview. A resume that can be easily read by an ATS and by a human being and that shows clearly and compellingly that you are a good match for the requirements of the job is your best option.

That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

Posted by Ellen Mehling

A few weeks ago I was advising new-librarian job seeker K, who was frustrated that he was not hearing back from employers after applying for open positions. He asked if he should show up in person to ask about the status of the hiring process…

Part of my role as an advisor to job seekers is to manage expectations. The do’s and don’ts of job hunting are sometimes not covered in library school except in a cursory way, and many applicants suffer needlessly and even hurt their chances for success, by having expectations that don’t line up with reality.

“If I feel I am a strong candidate, I should get an interview.”

“If I apply for a job I should get some kind of response.”

You may believe your application is a strong one but the employer may feel differently. Or your application may indeed be strong, but it arrives along with dozens or hundreds of other highly qualified applicants and the employer finds a sufficient number of candidates to invite for interviews before they get to yours. Or there may be an internal applicant who is favored for the position, or some other scenario that you would have no way of knowing about from outside the hiring process.

You may get an auto-generated reply from some applications, but from others, no response at all. Is this frustrating? Yes, but it will be a lot less frustrating if you decide not to expect a response that you are unlikely to get. 

(For the record, I think this is rude and unnecessary on the part of the employers, especially as an auto-reply is so easy to set up. Some employers will even ghost applicants they have interviewed, which is just disrespectful. It is still best not to expect a reply, and to keep applying to other positions.)

“Standing out from the competition is always a good thing.”

K’s expectation was that any way of making himself visible and memorable to the employer would improve his chances of getting the job. That’s not how hiring works. 

Your goal with the resume and cover letter is to get the interview, not to “be remembered” or “just get the attention of the hiring decision makers”. If you show up in person to a workplace uninvited, to check on the hiring process or drop off some documents or any other reason, they’ll absolutely remember you, but they won’t hire you. The same goes for contacting the hiring manager directly by email or phone.

Standing out from the other applicants because of your skills, experience and strengths is good; standing out because of inappropriate, pushy behavior is not good. Also to be avoided: gimmicks on the resume, such as an image of yourself, personal quote, quote about you written by someone else, graphics, emojis, word clouds, etc. 

“The more jobs I apply to, the better chance I’ll have of getting hired.”

I do tell job seekers that they should apply to multiple jobs and as soon as they finish one application they should begin the next. Applying for one job at a time and then just waiting to hear back is a strategy that can result in long-term unemployment. The more hooks you have in the water, the better chance you’ll have of catching a fish. 

You need to convey your qualifications and reasons for applying for each specific job though, and that means customizing your resume and cover letter for every position. That takes more time than writing one resume and cover letter and sending them as-is over and over, but it gives you a much better chance of getting interviews and makes the best use of the time and effort you’re putting into your job search. Quantity without quality is unlikely to result in many interviews.

“If I get an interview it is just a formality; at this point the job is ‘mine to lose’.”

If an employer is interviewing you they are interviewing others. An interview is not a job offer! All it means is that the employer wants to speak with you to learn more about you and your qualifications and work history. They are impressed with your representation on paper and want to see how you present yourself in person. It is a necessary part of the process but it is not a promise of any kind.

Interview skills and preparation are crucial. By “winging it” you can seem unprepared and interested more in getting any job than in getting the job you’re interviewing for. I strongly recommend a mock interview with someone who has real-life interviewing skills (ideally in the LIS field) and can give you honest feedback. I recommend practice interviews all the time and many interviewees skip them, which is unfortunate because they can make a huge difference in how well the interview goes. 

“I can focus on my preferences rather than the employer’s, and even ignore instructions/directions, and still expect success.” 

Many (many!) people ask for advice, even pay for advice, and then don’t take it. Or they regard instructions as not important or optional.

I regularly encounter job seekers who seem to just want my blessing regarding what they have already decided to do or are doing, even if it is not working. This is baffling to me but very common. 

My goal in advising is not to tell a job hunter what they want to hear. My goal in advising is to give job seekers solid, practical advice  and effective strategies, so they will have the best chance of reaching their goals. My goal is also not to get advisees to take my advice; I have no control over that, and the consequences of their choices are theirs, good or bad. 

If an employer gives instructions for applying (for example: to include certain information in the cover letter, to submit the resume and cover letter as Word docs only, not to call, etc.) and you don’t follow those instructions, you are letting them know that you are someone who can’t or won’t follow instructions. That’s a dealbreaker, plain and simple.

“I will connect with someone and be hired soon after.”

“Any contact with someone who works at a place where I want to apply will result in insider info and give me a better chance of getting the job.”

Networking is building relationships of mutual trust and benefit over time. Networking is not meeting a magic person who instantly presents you or connects you with a job, like winning a lottery. If you are approaching your contacts and asking for/demanding insider information or approaching anyone and everyone thinking only of what you can get from them, you’ll be seen as predatory and desperate. This is worse when you are approaching a stranger but it can be a grave misstep even if you are already connected.

Keeping your mind on your goal of getting hired and assessing whether your efforts are working towards that goal are crucial and should be ongoing. You may find that you need to seek advice or assistance, or change tactics re: your networking, resume & cover letter writing, and interview preparation. The more you know about how the hiring process works, what is expected of you and what you should expect, the better chance you’ll have of navigating it successfully.

Q&A: Returning to a professional librarian position after years in para-professional roles

Q&A: Returning to a professional librarian position after years in para-professional roles

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I qualified as a librarian in 1997 and worked full-time in the profession until 2005, the year my first child was born. A mum of three, each child brought new work-life balance challenges until I eventually stopped work altogether when my third child was born. Four years later I returned to a para-professional position. I’ve been working as an assistant in a public library for 15 months now and would like to move into a part time professional post before my contract ends in December. However, positions are not really being advertised and when they are, I’m finding it hard to get an interview. Do you have any advice for career break librarians like me?


EM: Right now you have some significant obstacles, including many years out of the workforce in a professional position, which can impact your job searches and career trajectory for a long time, and the posted openings that are few and far between. At this point your job search may be more like that of a recent graduate than of someone who received their library degree over 20 years ago. (I am not sure but it sounds like perhaps you are outside the U.S., so we may not be talking about an American MLS/MLIS, but in general my advice would be the same.)


You have some recent/current experience, which is good, but you’ll have to convince hiring managers that your skills and experience as a professional are up to date and competitive with other applicants who are currently in librarian positions.


The first thing I would do is (more) networking. Having a large, solid network is one of the best ways to hear about unadvertised positions, and/or to learn about positions before they are posted publicly. Become active in your local library community. Become known to many, including leaders if possible, and make sure those in your network know what you have to offer and what you are seeking. If you haven’t been doing much networking recently, know that this will take time.


If you’ve lost touch with former colleagues and supervisors, get back in touch and see if there is some way you can be of service. Volunteering, even just a few hours a week, can help to build and strengthen your network and enrich your resume. Take care not to get back in touch and then immediately ask for something, though – that can make you look desperate and is not likely to be received well. 


Expand your search to a wider geographical area if possible and to different types of libraries if your local public libraries are not offering many opportunities at the moment. Consider using your library-related skills in a job outside of a traditional library (INALJ article: If You Want A Library Job, Look Outside the Library!) and/or freelancing, even just temporarily. You can search for open positions based on skills rather than job titles too, to expand the number of positions you may find that you’d qualify for. A position outside a library may not be what you really want right now, but it may help to position you for the job you do want down the road.


I’d also have your resume and cover letter reviewed by a professional reviewer, to be sure that you are presenting yourself effectively and compellingly for a professional position. Ask those in your network for a recommendation to a reputable reviewer. 


Good luck!

Q&A: How do I build a build a client list in a new area?

Q&A: How do I build a build a client list in a new area?

 Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I’m an Architectural Resource Librarian and moved from Maryland to TN.

I serviced most of the popular Architects and Interior Design Firms in DC by managing their Libraries. My goal is to provide the same service to the Firms in Nashville but having a challenging time to do such.

It seems like the service I’m providing is not as common in Nashville. Hoping I can get some helpful pointers as I’m really passionate in what I do.

EM: I would start by connecting with the community of architects and interior designers in Nashville, and as with all networking, this will take time; you’ll be building your reputation with a new group of people in a new area. Think back to how you built your network in DC. Consider people who are currently in your network who may be able to make introductions in Nashville. As you connect with people in that field in TN, look at the professional organizations they are members of and active in, and consider attending the events they hold and perhaps joining and becoming active yourself. You’ll also want to join and become active in local library-related organizations, of course.

Do some research into who else is doing the kind of work you are hoping to do in this area – these people may be your allies or competition, depending on how in-demand your skills and experience are in TN. You may also find a gap in services – something you can now offer.

Consider doing some local pro-bono work to make yourself known, and try to set up some informational interviews (which should really be used for gathering info about the field in this new area – NOT as a stealth job interview or a pitch for your services). If you don’t already have it, create a website/portfolio/Instagram where you highlight past achievements and clients and demonstrate clearly what you have to offer. A blog writing about topics of interest to your potential clients can help too – convey and share your passion – this can make you stand out in a good way.

I would also consider your transferable skills and what other, related kinds of work you can do with those skills, just in case continuing what you did in DC proves to continue be challenging. Focus first on the aspects and tasks of your work that you enjoy the most, determine what the demand is for them, and see what jobs come up when you do a search for open positions based on those skills rather than a job title. It doesn’t hurt to have a “Plan B”, even if you end up not needing it.

Good luck!