Q: What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

Q: What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

Q:  In December of 2008, I completed an MLIS degree from a fairly well-respected state university. The whole time I was in library school (2.5 years) I worked as a circulation clerk in a medium-sized public library which is part of a three county system. When it came close to graduation, I started applying for professional jobs in that system. I got interviews, but no offers. At least once, I was never extended the courtesy of a phone call to tell me I had not been chosen. I ended up getting a good job with a five county library system in a small town an hour south of where I had been living. Reluctantly, I moved there. I am used to living in a vibrant college town which is full of culture and stimulating activity. I was bored and lonely in the small town. The library’s director was a tyrant who treated her employees in a condescending manner. I quit in three months after an unexpected personal tragedy, and moved back to the town where I went to college.  Since, I have been doing some teaching, receptionist work, bartending, and working in a greenhouse. I want to be a public librarian. I wouldn’t mind working in children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference. I am confused as to why the system I worked for during school won’t hire me, and no one else will either. I don’t think it’s my resume, which has been looked over at state conference by a library branch manager and met with approval. Maybe it is my interview skills. Maybe it is the fact that I quit the job in the small town so suddenly and it has affected my reputation negatively. My question is two-fold. What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future?  Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

TA:  Dear Bummed Bookworm, I am sorry you are feeling dissatisfaction with your current situation.  I hope that I will be able to assist you in moving forward with a few thoughts and action items. 

First, you need to lose the negative attitude.  I can certainly understand your frustration at not having a library position, and having to make ends meet by teaching and bartending.  You did have a librarian position, but quit after three months in the position.  You described the library director as “condescending” and “a tyrant” and you added that there was also a personal tragedy that influenced your decision.  I acknowledge it may not have been perfect, but it’s time to get angry and get over it, because your negative feelings about the past seem to be influencing the present.  You need to find a way to describe your previous experience in a concise, honest, positive and professional way.  If you disparage one employer to another, their fear is that you’ll do the same to them when you’ve moved on.  And it’s just not professional. 

You’ve got a lot of things working for you, and that’s what you need to focus on.  First, you have a couple of years of solid public library experience.  Second, you’ve had your resume reviewed by others and feel pretty good about it.  Your interests are also wide (“children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference”), which broadens your opportunities. 

Your “To Do List” from me also has a few items to consider.  First, look at your cover letter and make sure its tone is positive and professional, and that it ties your experience to the needs of the position.  Your cover letter should project enthusiasm and confidence, and should be tailored to each position you apply for.  Second, you should consider going back to your supervisors at your first library system and asking them what you can do to make yourself a more competitive applicant for their positions.  Do you, for example, need to brush up on technology or repair any relationships from your previous employment?  If you ask someone to serve as a reference for you, be sure you ask them if they can be a GOOD reference for you for a SPECIFIC position.  Ask them to discuss with you their assessment of your strengths and weaknesses for the position, and ask if there’s anything they need from you to better prepare for the reference.  Make it easy for them to talk well about you.  Third, work your professional network to see if there are any volunteer positions available.  You will need to work carefully to build this into your already-busy schedule, but a volunteer position will allow you to keep your skills current, build a wider professional network, and rebuild a professional reputation.  Prove yourself to be trustworthy, reliable, professional and invaluable as a worker and a colleague.

Q: Am I being viewed as a “job hopper”?

Q: Am I being viewed as a “job hopper”?

Q: I’ve been a librarian for nearly four years, and I am on my second job and third job title. I am not entirely satisfied with my current position and have been looking for other openings in and around my area; however, I do not want potential employers seeing me as a habitual “job hopper.” Please help!

SM: People change jobs for many reasons, and typically these moves are for the better – a promotion, more money, more responsibility, a change in environment, or an opportunity to learn new things. In many professions or industries, job hopping, defined as the “practice of changing jobs frequently, especially as a means of quick financial gain or career advancement,” is encouraged – and can be the only way to get ahead. In contrast, librarianship is a profession where loyalty and longevity have traditionally been rewarded, and “lifer” is a common term for employees. With its diversity and close ties to the information technology world, though, this can be an auspicious arena for job hoppers.

Newer librarians have less work experience, and do not necessarily know what kind of librarianship they want to pursue or what type of library they would enjoy working in. They may find themselves moving from one position to another in an attempt to find their place in the world of libraries. Outgrowing an entry-level position may also very well mean moving on, either to a different library or to a different position or role within the same library. This seems to be more and more common among newer librarians, as traditional library environments and librarians’ roles are changing rapidly with the technological age.

Librarianship is a very diverse profession, with so many different roles and types of libraries, that finding “the perfect position” may be downright impossible – especially if one is geographically limited. Many librarians, when they are starting out, take the first decent job that is offered to them. They soon realize that it doesn’t quite fit, so they acquire some experience, learn what they can, and start looking for other jobs. This doesn’t necessarily make them job hoppers. Having several jobs, or roles, in your first few years as a librarian can provide a (motivated) librarian with essential experience and wonderful fodder for a resume. It can convey positive clues to potential employers that you are motivated, not shy of change or added responsibility, and are eager to succeed.

But, if you think that you may truly be a job hopper, be careful. There are definitely negatives, if:

  1. You do not spend enough time in each position. This is generally one year, minimum. You need to give each position, along with your supervisors and co-workers, a fair chance. You need to stay long enough to gain something out of the position, and long enough to be sure that you do not want to remain in the position.
  2. There are stretches of unemployment in between jobs. Job hopping means moving from one position to another, not quitting a job and then looking for another one.
  3. You have changed jobs more times than you can count. Don’t make a career out of job-hopping. It might be fun to try something new every few years, but it will eventually make you look disloyal if you make a habit of it.
  4. You are hopping out of the profession and back in. Unless you have a good reason to leave the profession, or the position you left for is closely related to librarianship, it may be difficult to explain on your resume.
  5. Each successive position is not something more than the previous one. Your jobs should show a progression of skills and duties.

In all reality, switching jobs several times with a clear record of upward movement and responsibility will look better on your resume than staying in one position for a long period of time and not advancing in any way. But, ultimately, it all depends on how happy or satisfied you are. Some people find that perfect position, and they are very content doing the same thing and staying at the same level. Others enjoy, even crave, a constant challenge; if a position becomes monotonous or there are no new challenges in their daily activities, then they start to get an “itch” to move on.

Now, having said all that, you may not need to hop around so much after all. If you feel the itch to move, first try talking to your supervisor and letting her know that you are not fully satisfied in your current position. You do not need to mention that you might be looking for work elsewhere, but can provide some ideas on what you would like to be doing. You never know, there may be a great position, new role, or promotion right under your nose.

A couple of articles related to job hopping:

As the Job Market Improves, Job Hopping Will Heat Up” by Laura Stevens

Taking the Scenic Route: Following a Varied Library Career Path” by Priscilla Shontz

Q: Is it acceptable to pursue another position after four months of employment or should I continue in a situation that could prove to be detrimental to my career in the long term?

Q: Is it acceptable to pursue another position after four months of employment or should I continue in a situation that could prove to be detrimental to my career in the long term?

Q: I recently accepted a position that is completely different from the position advertised. It does not fit my job criteria nor will it enable me to continue to remain current in my profession. I feel that I will make a serious mistake remaining in this position. Is it acceptable to pursue another position after four months of employment or should I continue in a situation that could prove to be detrimental to my career in the long term? Please advise.

SM: You should definitely not stay in a position if it makes you unhappy. Nor should you stay in a position that you believe may be detrimental to your future career. If you haven’t done so already, start looking for a new position immediately. Do not feel guilty and do not listen to people who tell you to “stick it out for a year.” If you are miserable, you need to get out before the environment harms not only your career, but also your interest in the profession and ultimately your sanity.

There are many reasons why people find themselves in the wrong job – it may be a misrepresentation of the position and the duties, it may be a job that they have outgrown and no longer enjoy, it may be a supervisor or co-worker who is impossible to work with. Multiple factors contribute to our happiness in the workplace; the lack of one can cause the work environment to deteriorate quickly. Most of us have stumbled into unsuitable, if not unbearable, positions at one point in our careers, or had our jobs deteriorate due to environmental factors. I have a friend who has a great job at a prestigious university library but dreads going in to work in the morning because he does not get along with a new co-worker. He is content to stick it out for a while hoping that either he will be able to transfer into another position at the same university, or his co-worker will leave. In the meantime, he suffers.

Before leaving any job, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons and make sure you are comfortable with your decision. Before accepting another, similar, position somewhere else, be sure that it is the job environment that is the problem and not the nature of the work. I think that getting out of something that you know is not right for you is a wise move because it shows that you are not afraid to take action. You know what you want and what you don’t want and you are motivated to move on with your career and your life. Staying and suffering will not make you stronger. If do not have a lot invested in your position and the institution, and it sounds like you do not, it should be fairly easy for you to leave. I would, however, stress that you should have a job offer in hand before you leave your current position. Unemployment should be avoided at all costs.

While you are planning your next career move, try not to let unhappiness and frustration overtake you. Attempt to learn as much as possible in your current position in the short time you have left. This position, no matter how irrelevant you think it is, will still provide you with some kind of applicable experience that you can add to your resume. Speaking of your resume, since four months is not an insignificant amount of time, you will almost certainly want to include this position. If a potential employer asks about your reasons for moving on so quickly, your answer could be as simple as: The position turned out to be very different than I expected and I quickly realized that it does not fit in with my career goals, which are X, Y, and Z.

The work environment has a fundamental impact on how much we like an actual job. I have found that being surrounded by supportive, friendly, creative people is extremely important to my personal happiness at work. You may want to create a list of factors that are important to you, and, from this list, devise questions to ask potential employers and potential co-workers during interviews. Remember, you are interviewing them as well. Knowing what you do not want in a job will only make you stronger.

For related information and advice, read these insightful articles: How Do You Know When It’s Time For You To Go? by Susan M. Heathfield and Surviving Jobs You Loathe by Timothy Ferguson.

TA: I must admit that I am one of those folks who would tell you to stay in the position for at least a year, unless of course you fear for your personal safety or sanity. It does not fit my job criteria nor will it enable me to continue to remain current in my profession shouldn’t have been concerns that appeared out of the blue. I assume you had a vacancy announcement when you applied for the position and that you spoke with people in the organization when you interviewed for the job. Also, a position doesn’t keep you current in the profession, you do. While you may not be making the kind of contacts you want in your current position, you can still stay active professionally. You can participate in local and/or national professional organizations, attend conferences, participate actively in professional e-mail lists, and read and publish in professional literature.

However, if you still feel that you need to get out of this position, you need to do so carefully. The last thing you want is for a not-so-graceful exit from a not-so-fabulous position to haunt you. At the time of your question, you had been in your position for about 4 months. You should take the next 6 or so months to do several things:

  1. Assess your current position and determine how it is different from what you expected. Perhaps you could explore with your supervisor some ideas for moving the position and your work more in line with your original expectations and career goals.
  2. Take some time to explore how you got here in the first place. It is every interviewees right and responsibility to interview the hiring organization, just as they are interviewing you. During the interview, did you ask the right questions about the position and the organization? Did you ask questions of the supervisor, the library director and your future colleagues? Did you look at the library’s organization chart and mission, or other information available online or in published annual reports? Did you know enough about the position when you accepted? What would have liked to know more about before accepting, and how would you have found that information? At the very least, answering these questions will better prepare you for what to look for (and ask about) in the interview for your next position.
  3. And, if your efforts are unsuccessful, update your resume and start looking at vacancy announcements for other positions. After you’ve done the work mentioned above, you should be at just about a year in the position. Once you’ve reached that benchmark, start applying. Be sure you don’t burn any bridges at your current place of employment; you will need a good reference to get out of your current situation. Just let them know how grateful you are for your time with them, but you feel that it is time to pursue other opportunities. Be sure to have an answer prepared for the inevitable interview question: “I see you were only at place X for about a year. Can you tell me about your experience there and why you left?” Keep your answers positive and learn these words: advancement opportunity. Be prepared to share something positive about your current job. You can always say, “My position at X Library really helped me focus on the aspects of librarianship that I would like to explore further, such as…” They don’t have to know that what you really mean is that you didn’t enjoy what you were doing there and want to do something else.

This is a hard spot to be in. I know how important it is to wake up every morning (at least every weekday morning) and want to come to work. But I think you should just chalk this year up to a learning opportunity. Do some work, figure out how things ended up this way, and how you can get out gracefully. Then with a happy heart and healthy mind start sending out those resumes. Best of luck in your pursuit of advancement opportunities.