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Job hunting during COVID-19 (part 2 of 3)

The Core New Members Interest Group would like to present a series of resources based on survey responses from hiring institutions on what has changed/evolved in the search process as a result of the current COVID-19 climate, and any tips they have for early career librarians. We have answers from a range of institutions (academic, public) in regards to a range of career paths (public services, children’s librarian, instructional). It is our hope that this will help to prepare job seekers and hiring institutions during this unprecedented time. 

Part 2 features an interview with Elizabeth Brown, Instruction Coordinator and Associate Professor at Central Washington University, James E. Brooks Library – hiring manager for the current vacant position of First Year and Transfer Experience Librarian.

1. Has your need for this position changed since the pandemic? Have your institutional needs changed since the pandemic when it comes to hiring?

Our ability to hire has definitely changed since the start of the pandemic and our institution requires more approvals to be able to offer a position. Replacing positions is also not a guarantee and we are lucky to be able to actually run a search. With regards to institutional needs at an academic institution, the most sweeping change I’ve seen is thinking in terms of online transferability. Higher education has had to move online quickly and often with fewer resources to do so. This requires creatively assessing the services we’re able to offer and how we can make online equivalents, or safe in-person options.

2. Have you found that your pool of applicants is different now from hiring similar positions pre-pandemic?

While it’s too soon to make generalizations about differences in the applicants, I can say that the competition is significant. Restrictions on higher education has made it more challenging to run a search and there are a shortage of academic library work opportunities. Ultimately, this has meant that more people are applying to the same jobs. This isn’t particularly encouraging news if you are on the market for a job; however, it can be helpful for keeping the job hunt in perspective. It’s easy to get discouraged if you’re not getting a call-back or an interview. Knowing that it’s a competitive environment means it might take longer, but there are a lot of outside factors that aren’t worth spending job seeking energy worrying about because they are outside your control.

3. Do you have any tips for job seekers in this new environment? 

While there are definitely new aspects and challenges in library work that have developed since the start of the pandemic, the good news for job seekers is that most of the same essential skills are still as relevant as ever. Information literacy, critical thinking, flexibility, project management, communication, collections knowledge, research skills, and collaboration are as important as they were pre-pandemic. Applying these to the job hunt means reading the job description and required qualifications closely, considering your transferable skills, and addressing them in your application materials. Something new about applying for jobs now is that you also have a pandemic story. How did your library respond to state or local safety requirements? Do you have any interesting or relevant connections you’ve had to make through your work? We all have a pandemic work story to tell. How you connect that experience to your application or interview can tell a future employer more about how you respond to environmental challenges.

4. What’s been your biggest challenge as a hiring manager during the pandemic?

Some of the elements of an in-person interview are challenging to replicate in an online environment. For example, campus tours and opportunities for the candidate to learn more about the campus in real-time are hard to replicate in a virtual environment. It’s a challenge because we want to get to know the candidate and they want to learn more about the campus culture. We’ll have to think creatively to come up with substitutes and recognize that some parts of the search process just won’t be the same. Hiring for a position that will be operating mostly virtually for the time-being, but will have a significant amount of in-person contact with students when we are able to fully return to the library is going to rely heavily on prior experience.

5. What is your advice for job seekers on what it means to be a successful librarian?

It’s my opinion that there isn’t one way of being that will make you successful as a librarian. However, I do have three areas of advice for job seekers:

1) Listen to context clues. There’s so much variation between local library cultures that what works at one library may flop at another library. Whatever it is, programs, marketing, collections, campaigns, instruction, they all play out differently depending on the library environment, community you’re in, or whether the topic resonates with your audience. From the perspective of someone on the job market, this means doing your research on the library you’re applying for and being sensitive to the context clues you can pick up about that environment.

2) Keep current. The library profession has seen huge change in the last 5 years and continues to move rapidly. If you’re applying to different areas of specialty in libraries, I would highly recommend staying fluent on changes and developments in those areas. Reading journals in that discipline, blogs, and trade magazines are a good way to continue growing your knowledge of the field while applying to jobs. If you’re a recent graduate who is still growing their library experience, this is especially essential because it allows you to bring that knowledge with you into an interview.

3) Keep a positive attitude and be willing to adapt. This past year has been described by many as a dumpster fire. Many of the indicators we might look to for normalcy are missing and there’s a lot to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or hopeless about. I won’t say keeping a positive attitude is always easy, but it is essential for staying present and moving forward. It’s helpful for you, but it’s also helpful for everyone around you. I like to think of positivity as a mindset and a way of being. If you’re on the job hunt, staying positive is necessary for your own mental sanity. However, staying positive is helpful in the long-run for your success at work and is going to make the inevitable changes we’ll see in the future easier.

We would love to hear from you for future programming! Have you started a new position during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did this influence your interview and hiring process? Leave a comment below.

Narine Bournoutian and Laura Haynes, CNMIG Co-Chairs.