Q: What do I say about my last job (which did not end well) when I go on an interview?

Q: What do I say about my last job (which did not end well) when I go on an interview?

Q: I have over 12 years experience with public libraries. I stayed in one place for 11 years. Since they would not promote me, I left to get a promotion with another place – which lasted 8 months. What do I say when I go on an interview about my last job? I never bad-mouth my supervisor when I interview, but they still want to know what happened. My boss was an autocrat. I also believe my age (53) is a hindrance, even though I am willing to relocate. It seems like experience doesn’t count for anything. I believe in participatory management, which I do not think most library administrations believe in despite what management books say! I have an interview in a couple weeks for a branch manager job. What am I doing wrong?

TA: I’m of the opinion that the power is all in the spin. First and foremost, take a positive approach. In any interview, it is always best to focus on your strengths. Talk about your strengths and your qualifications for the position. Describe the experience you have gained in your 12 years of working in public libraries. Don’t talk about your age – talk about your life experience. Look for transferable skills – if you worked somewhere prior to your work in libraries, look at the experience gained there and relate it to the position for which you are applying.

Your willingness to relocate is also an asset. If someone asks why you left your first position, don’t say it was because they wouldn’t promote you. Take a more proactive position: say that you were looking for an advancement opportunity. If you are asked why you didn’t stay longer than eight months in your next position, simply say that you realized it was not a good fit and you wanted to pursue something more in line with your career goals, such as managing people, managing collections, or managing services. Keep your answers relevant to your experience and to the position for which you are applying. It is very wise of you to not speak negatively about your former supervisor in an interview. Speaking ill of past employers doesn’t reflect well on you, and it sends the message to the potential employer that if you speak negatively about one employer, you may speak negatively about them.

Now let’s address your question about participatory management. Every library is different, and, frankly, there are some that do not welcome input on management decisions from everyone. Keep in mind that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. I firmly believe that no one should come into a new position and institute change as their first item on the “To Do” list. I think you need to learn a job before you change it. But if participation is something that is important to you, ask about it during the interview. Ask how often staff are invited to participate in major decisions. Do support staff employees serve on library-wide committees and task forces? Are there opportunities for asking questions and providing feedback? If this is something that is important to you, you can inquire about it in the interview.

ALA’s Human Resource Development and Recruitment (HRDR) web page links to various support staff web pages that you may find interesting in your path of career development

ALA’s Library Support Staff Interests Round Table also has activities and resources you may be interested in pursuing. Their online newsletter is a great resource.

SM: Librarianship can be a very competitive field, and self- promotion is extremely important when attempting to move up the ranks. There are many positions in many libraries that are “dead- ends” – that will never result in promotion. Most librarians need to move around in order to get ahead, gaining experience in different places and hopefully acquiring promotions and different skills along the way. Library managers understand this, perhaps more so than others. Diversity on your resume will help you in the long run and will entice future employers. You left a dead-end position for a promotion at a different library. That shows that you are motivated and determined, and that you have relevant skills and experience to get promoted. And experience definitely counts, just make sure that your resume and your cover letter accurately reflects it.

If you feel uncomfortable during an interview, or as if the interviewer is not treating you fairly because of your age or your previous library experience, then perhaps the position you are interviewing for is not one you would want. Keep interviewing until you find the position that fits you. Being willing to relocate should make it a little easier to find that ideal position. As Tiffany mentioned, keeping a positive attitude about the profession, and especially about your experience and skills, will help you immensely. Good luck!

The Public Library Association’s (PLA) web site is a good place to look for information on career development, e-learning opportunities, and advocacy for public librarianship.

For tips on interviewing, writing cover letters and more check out the Job Hunting section of LIScareer.com.

Writing Resumes That Work: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, by Robert R. Newlen, provides useful advice on how to create a resume and how to keep it up-to-date, using real resumes from different types of librarians.

Q: How exactly do I get my employer to give me what I want – a promotion?

Q: How exactly do I get my employer to give me what I want – a promotion?

Q: I completed my MLS in May of 2003. Both before that time and since, I have taken on increased responsibilities at the special library where I work (in a non-professional position), most of which are at the professional level. I have been at this library for almost 2.5 years. I really like my workplace and would like to continue here as a professional. How exactly do I get my employer to give me what I want – a promotion? (Sooner, rather than later, because I won’t wait forever.) I am working on a document that demonstrates my worth (from my past reviews, accomplishments, etc.) and I plan to present this to the head of the library. My current boss is very supportive of me and would like to see me promoted into a professional position, but this usually happens when a position is “open” and currently there are none. I think the situation warrants either my promotion or the creation of a new position, especially since I will be filling in for my boss – in a professional capacity – when she is on leave (for a year). Please help.

SM: It sounds like you have already made up your mind and have started to implement a good plan. Creating a document that demonstrates your worth and discussing it with the higher-ups at your library is an excellent idea and a sign that you are not content with the status quo. Many academic librarians are required to do just that, document and demonstrate professional activity both during work and outside of work, for promotion and tenure. So this is good practice for you.

In my experience, it has always been my immediate boss who lobbied for me and procured my raises and promotions, which makes sense because he knew my work better than the director. Since your boss is supportive of you, I would try to engage her help as much as possible. Her words and opinion will mean a lot to her superiors and she should be involved in your discussion with them, if possible. If you do not have much contact with the head of the library, she may not be aware of everything that you have accomplished while working there or of your desire to move into a professional position. However, she cannot be surprised, considering you recently completed your MLS. In fact, I am a little surprised that your employers did not approach you after you finished the degree to discuss your future in the library. This could be a sign that you have a losing battle on your hands.

Unfortunately, there is only so much you can do. Some employers, as much as they would like to, cannot create new positions. It is possible that they only have budgeting for a certain number of positions. This is the case in the small academic/special library that I work in. So it may be unfeasible to think (or hope) that they will be able to create one for you, even if they want to; you may have to wait until one opens up. But, like you said yourself, don’t wait forever. If your employer does not give you what you want, start searching for a professional position elsewhere.

With your current boss leaving, this is definitely the time to make things happen. You do not want to be weighed down with more responsibility and more work with the same pay and same non- professional role. This is a crucial time – you have ambition, aptitude, and, most likely, student loans, and you are anxious to begin your professional career. Start looking elsewhere! You have an MLS and you have years of great experience; you should be working as a professional librarian. Don’t stay too long in a non-professional position if you can find a professional position elsewhere. This may reflect poorly on your resume.

Remember, even though you may not want to leave, there is always the possibility of coming back once that professional position opens up. Many new librarians move away to obtain that first position, and, after a few years, move back “home.”

As for looking into how to write a performance plan or how to begin documenting your professional activities, you may want to check out what other institutions are doing (or requiring their librarians to do) and see what guidelines and competencies exist to assist you in your career planning.

Several university libraries have information on the web about librarian performance reviews. The University of Michigan Library Human Resources Department provides a description of their performance review process for librarians and also defines and provides good examples of goals.

The Special Libraries Association (SLA) has developed Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century (revised in 2003).

TA: I couldn’t agree with Susanne more. First, and foremost, engage your supervisor and keep her involved in every step of this process. If your library is anything like the “typical” library, it’s all about the hierarchy. It sounds like she is already supportive of your efforts and this will lend a great deal of credibility to your negotiations. Her support and knowledge of the organization will be a real asset when you are working your way up.

Secondly, as Susanne points out, now is exactly the right time to start your job search. You have recently finished your degree and have some valuable experience; start looking for professional positions inside and outside of your current organization. You may find your dream job – just not where you expected. The word that you are “looking” may get around your workplace. If they are unable to put you into a professional position, you can at the very least argue for a temporary increase in salary while you assume additional responsibilities during your supervisor’s leave of absence. Your employer will likely want to keep you instead of having a vacancy on top of the extended leave of absence. Also, consider the experience you will gain assuming the additional duties. You will come out a year later more valuable to the organization (helped see them through a tough year), and more marketable to others (new responsibilities, new skills…).

Unfortunately, your argument of “they should just create a position for me” isn’t one that is likely to work. Libraries are generally limited by external agencies (universities, governments, businesses, etc.) and the structures and restrictions imposed by these parent institutions. Creating any position, much less a new position for a current employee, is difficult. It is my opinion that doing anything in an organization should be for the benefit of the entire organization, not just one person. Having said that, however, I don’t believe you should just surrender to the status quo. Keep working hard and proving yourself to the organization. Continue to look for professional positions inside and outside of your current organization. And, most importantly, continue to look for opportunities to build on your strengths and experience. Ask for special projects. Take on new responsibilities. In the end, you’ll be marketable to someone, even if it isn’t your current employer.

In addition to checking a specific institution’s home page for vacancy announcements and monitoring professional e-mail lists, I would recommend the following web sites when looking for professional employment:

Association of Research Libraries Career Resources

Chronicle of Higher Education

Lisjobs.com & Library Job Postings on the Internet

Society of American Archivists Online Employment Bulletin

Special Libraries Association Career Services