I wrote this article to share some tips that I thought would be helpful for new and newish MLIS grads when applying for library or archives jobs. First off, this is not an article where I tell you the five tricks to help you secure your dream job! You can find those types of articles on numerous job websites. What I wanted to do here is simply share my own experience of applying for numerous jobs and to discuss some of the things that I’ve picked up along the way that have helped me stay on task and streamline the job application process. Some of these tips weren’t obvious to me before starting the job application process (though some of them may seem obvious to you), but my hope is that these personal insights will help some future professional librarians and archivists out there.
TIP 1: STAYING ON TASK.
It may turn out that some of you will only need to submit 1-3 applications before securing a full-time library position, and that’s great! But with the economy and the library profession in the state it’s in, it’s possible that some of you will need to submit several applications before securing a full-time position. And if that’s the case, the most important thing you can do is stay on task with new job postings, deadlines, and following up with HR departments.
What did I do? I built an Excel spreadsheet that holds all the data I need to help me stay on task during the job application process. As you can see in the screenshot below, my spreadsheet holds job title and location info, external links to online job descriptions, internal links to documents on my computer, HR contact info, deadlines, etc. It’s a rolling document: I constantly add new job postings (usually sorted by deadline) and color-code the rows as I apply to each job. This document helps me see the big picture of what I’ve already applied to and what I’ll be applying for in the future; it helps me meet job application deadlines; it helps me link cover letters to specific jobs and access those letters easily; it helps me know when to send follow up emails to HR contacts. Excel has worked for me, but you may be more comfortable using web-based software or a calender manager (Google calender, Entourage). Just make sure to use a system you’re comfortable with and that you have a confident grasp of. Also, save your documents and cover letters in a file directory on your computer so you can refer to them at a later date, if necessary.
TIP 2: APPLY EARLY AND APPLY OFTEN!
Okay, this one’s a little tongue-in-cheek. Obviously I don’t mean apply to the same job more than once. But it doesn’t hurt to start applying for positions even before you graduate. I’ve heard anecdotes that the average time to secure a full-time position nowadays is about 6 months. And depending on what field you’re going into, it could be even longer: public library systems (especially small ones) and private companies often have a quicker application and interview turnaround period, whereas larger public library systems, universities, and state/federal agencies can often take several months (4-6) before contacting applicants. If you’re planning to apply for jobs in a large library system, university or college, or state/federal agency, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start applying before graduation!
TIP 3: TO BOILERPLATE OR NOT TO BOILERPLATE?
I believe in boilerplating. Boilerplating can help you become more efficient when submitting cover letters.
What did I do? In the process of applying for jobs, I’ve essentially developed three boilerplate cover letters: one for university/college positions that emphasizes my academic librarianship skills, one for archival jobs that emphasizes my work in archives and special collections, and a third, which for the most part is a combination of the other two. But remember, one single template won’t work for all jobs at all times. Create a resume and cover letter boilerplate, tweak it when necessary to match the job you’re applying for. And remember, you should always be looking for ways to update and improve your resumes and cover letters during this whole process.
TIP 4: SUBMIT JOB APPLICATIONS SMARTLY.
One really important thing that I’ve learned during the job application process is to submit job applications smartly. What I mean by that is two things in particular:
(1) When submitting an application via email you should name any attached documents as clearly and descriptively as possible. Keep in mind that you want to set yourself up for success and part of this includes helping HR reps (or whoever is receiving your emails) to easily remember and keep track of your documents. Include your name and short description in the document title. What I do is title my documents in the following format: “Salvano_Archivist cover letter.pdf” and “Salvano_resume.pdf.” You could even include a datestamp or the company name within the document title if you want.
(2) Another thing that didn’t occur to me at the outset was to save online job descriptions for future reference. If you’re applying for jobs online remember to save a copy of the job description so you can review it after the job posting closes online (once it closes online, it’s gone!). As I mentioned earlier, many types of organizations can take a long time to contact applicants for interviews, and if an employer contacts you several months down the road you’ll be able to review the complete job description and be ready for an interview!
TIP 5: FEDERAL JOB APPLICATION TIPS.
I wanted to also include some information about applying for federal jobs using the USAJOBS.GOV site. The USAJOBS.GOV website is the official portal to apply online for federal jobs and using this site can be daunting at first, but it makes sense once you’re familiar with it.
Here is the USAJOBS search page: http://jobsearch.usajobs.gov/browse.aspx.
If you’re going to apply for federal positions (Library of Congress, NARA), the first thing you should do is create a USAJOBS account profile. The screenshot above shows my account profile and, as you can see, it allows you to store documents that you’ll use over and over again with each application (the only documents that I’ve stored and used multiple times are my resume and university transcripts). Creating this account profile to hold your resume will undoubtedly save you some time in the long run. With each job you apply for you’ll be to “forward” these saved documents to each application and you’ll also have the option to upload job-specific cover letters.
The federal job application process can also be time-consuming so make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to navigate the site and answer the job-related questionnaires.
TIP 6: GETTING THE LATEST JOB UPDATES.
Use technology to your advantage: use bookmarks, RSS feeds, and Job Agents to get the newest job postings.
What did I do? I have bookmarked several library/archives job websites in my browser window. Generally, I prefer to do the job discovery process myself and visit those sites on a daily basis. However, to save time searching for jobs I’ve joined several listservs and created Job Agents that automatically send me new job postings via email. For instance, I have a Job Agent through LIBJOBS and HigherEdJobs that send me daily updates on new job postings. In addition, you can use RSS feeds to get automatic job updates sent directly to your inbox (I highly recommend taking advantage of RSS feeds, they’re really helpful and really underused). That said, here are some of the job websites that I’ve used regularly to find new job postings: bookmark them, use their RSS feeds, and sign up for any automatic Job Agent services:
• The UCLA Department of Information Studies Job Listings & Resources is a great place to start (All fields, all organizations);
• American Library Association JobList website (All fields, all organizations);
• Society of American Archivists Online Career Center (Archives, all organizations);
• HigherEdJobs (Libraries & Archives, academic);
• BayNet – Bay Area Library & Information Network (All fields, all organizations, Bay Area specific);
• BAJobs (All fields, all organizations, Bay Area specific);
• USAJOBS (All fields, Federal agencies);
• LibGig (All fields, all organizations);
• LAC Group (Headhunter, job opportunities in libraries & archives);
• CalJobs (All fields, in private organizations, universities, colleges, and at the state level);
• Chronicle of Higher Education (All fields, academic);
• California State University (primarily academic positions).
Lastly, remember to also rely on professional mentors and your MLIS cohort for support and to get feedback on cover letters and resume styles. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me using my “Contact” page. Good luck with the job application process!