or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Notes on Reading Resumes

   July 20th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Resume scrutinyFirst of all, let me apologize right up front, because I know I'm going to come off sounding like a jackass in this post. I really don't intend to, and I honestly am sensitive to what I'm saying.

Remember last week when I posted about our opening for a Head of Circulation? We've received close to 50 resumes so far, and I (and my coworkers) have spent a lot of time reading resumes in the past few days. I am certainly not a human resources professional, but I do have input on who will get interviewed and ultimately hired, so I thought I'd share some observations and trends I've been noticing.

But applicants, take what I say with a grain of salt. I realize I am probably not a typical resume-reader, and that every application process and situation is different. These are just my feelings concerning filling this position.

  1. Applying for a job isn't about you - it's about the interviewers visualizing you filling the open position and how that will help the library. Do everything you can to make that easy for them.
  2. No one writes a good objective, but resumes without them seem lacking**.
  3. It seems weird to start off a cover letter thanking us for giving you the opportunity to apply, yet I saw this at least five times. Just say what you're applying for, where you saw the ad, and then move on.
  4. There is a definite difference between applicants who want this job and applicants who want a job. I truly sympathize with the large number of people who are out of work. That just sucks. But this job does have requirements, and I was surprised at how many resumes just didn't meet them. Please, if you are not qualified, do not apply. This position is important to us, and we don't view it as someone's stepping stone or life preserver.
  5. Read the job posting very closely, and address those points in your cover letter. Don't just lay out what you have done - tell us why that matters and what you will/can do for our patrons. Look for themes or points in the job ad, and blatantly address them - for the Head of Circulation, we're looking for someone who can supervise a variety of staff and personalities, who can work at a fast pace in a very busy library, who can meet our high standard of customer service, and who has both a technology background and the initiative to use technology to do things better. All of these things are in the job ad, but 90% of the resumes address only one or two of these points.
  6. Your resume is not your biography. Not everything you've done in life relates to the position you're applying for, and all that extra noise (working at a pet store fifteen years ago) drowns out the important information. Understand the position you're applying for, and only include - and highlight - anything that draws a clear picture of why you would do well in this position. We know what we're looking for, so tell us why you're it.
  7. Do not tell me why this position would benefit your career or build your skill set. We're not hiring someone for their benefit, or to give them a challenge, we're hiring someone for the benefit of the library and our patrons.
  8. The word "proven" rings hollow with me, especially when no "proof" is supplied in the resume. "Proven emphasis on customer service," "proven ability to multitask," or "proven web coding skills," etc. If you want to prove what you're saying, explain it or provide examples.
  9. This might just be me, but I like show-and-tell. If you've created cool fliers or brilliant reader's advisory handouts, include copies or link to them online. It's much more meaningful to see examples of your work than just read a description of it (or worse, just a passing reference to it). Bring samples to the interview, too.
  10. Don't be wordy. We're reading dozens of resumes, and the dense ones get skimmed or skipped. Be clear and concise.
  11. Grammar, spelling and typos are all noticed, as well as formatting, and consistency. Brand yourself to stand out a bit - it shows you know your way around Word* and you cared enough to spend some time and thought making it look good (by the way, this is an excellent way to display your "proven computer aptitude").
  12. When emailing your resume, file format is important. If it's not specified in the job ad, send a pdf - not .doc or .docx or anything else. I also think the cover letter and resume should be in the same file, for two reasons:

    • 8-1/2" x 11" pages are a pain to look at on a screen. They all get printed out so I can read, compare and make notes on the paper - and going back to point #10, the less paper the better.
    • About eight people in my library are involved in the reviewing and hiring process, which means there is a lot of email attachment forwarding going on. Putting the cover letter and resume in the same file means they will always stay together. Putting your cover letter only in the body of your email means I have many resumes with no cover letters (and oddly, also a few cover letters with no resumes). Please make it easy for me to keep all your information in the same place.
  13. When you email your resume, give it a meaningful name - like BHerzogResume.pdf. Things like EMW.rtf, chelmsford_job.doc, libraryresume01-4b.docx, April 2010.wpd, resumemaster.txt, or coverletter.wpd might mean something to you, but means nothing to me - especially when a coworker forwards twenty resumes attached to the same message. I want to know your name and connect it to your resume, and if I need to go back and look up your resume again, I'll be able to find it. This is much less likely if I have to decode cryptic file names. Your resume does not exist in a vacuum - it is piled up with 50 others. Make yours easily-identifiable.
  14. If you submit both an electronic and print resume (which is not a bad idea), be sure to mention this in your cover letter. Avoid associating your name with confusion, duplication or spam.
  15. Don't send references unless they are requested, and you can leave the "references available upon request" off the resume, too. We'll ask if we want them - otherwise, it's just more stuff to sift through.

Coincidentally, the day I started making notes for this post, Yahoo ran a story on their homepage entitled What NOT to do: 7 ways to ruin your resume - that is worth reading too.

Again, I'm not posting this to criticize or to gloat about being lucky enough to have a job right now. I know my own current resume violates many things I said above, and will get a major revamp the next time I send it out. I wish the best of luck to everyone who is looking for a position, and I hope some of this insight helps.


*This is a personal pet peeve of mine: there is absolutely no reason for a pdf resume to be 2MB. That tells me you don't understand technology, and almost every professional library position now is a technology position. If you don't already have them, applying for jobs is a good time to learn the skills of word processing, file formats, and email attachments. Don't be afraid to ask someone for help (including the reference desk at your local library), or read articles or watch instructional videos online. It's worth it, because believe me, this is definitely the time to get things right.

**Update 8/13/10: Lots of people are taking issue with this point, and I'm afraid it isn't very clear. I didn't mean to say I like Objectives, just that resumes that went from the person's name right into work history or something felt like they were missing something, or that the transition was jarring. I review resumes by reading the cover letter first, then the resume, and the Objective at the top of the page was always a nice transition between the paragraphs of a cover letter to the bulleted points of a resume. I called out Objectives because that's what I was used to, but things have apparently changed since the last time I wrote a resume. Now, the thing to do seems to be a "Summary of Qualifications," and I like this idea much more than an objective. Put this at the top of the resume, and pick three or things from your work history or skill set that directly applies to the job at hand, based on the description in the job ad, and use this space to highlight those. That is what interviewers (or me, at lest) want to see - why you are qualified for this job.

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Work at my Library: Hiring a Head of Circulation

   July 13th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Library logoThe Head of Circulation at my library is retiring, so maybe you should apply. The details are below and on the Massachusetts library jobs board, but what they don't tell you is that every other week the circ desk has "treat Tuesdays" - very tasty.

Institution: Chelmsford Public Library

Job: Head of Circulation Services – Dept. Head level

This full time, 37 1/2 hour per week position is for a versatile, friendly librarian skilled in customer service, reader's advisory and personnel management. Must also have strong technology skills. Schedule includes one night and every other weekend. Job responsibilities include the following: Hiring, training and supervision of approximately 30 part-time library assistants, pages and volunteers. Directing, supervising, scheduling, and participating in tasks at the circulation desk. Explaining library lending policies and procedures.

MLS required, related Bachelor's degree preferred; experience working with the public required. Should have working knowledge of current fiction and popular culture. Candidate must be open to change and trying new ideas. Must be comfortable managing conflict. Candidate should enjoy interacting with public of all ages and must be able to adapt smoothly to patron demands. Experience working with an ILS critical, interest/experience with open source ILS management desirable

Starting salary will depend upon education and experience. Range is: $41,243 to $65,598.

Closing Date:
Applications in by July 16th get first consideration, open until filled.

Applications should be e-mailed to [email protected] Applications may also be submitted to Becky Herrmann, Library Director, Chelmsford Public Library, 25 Boston Road, Chelmsford MA 01824.
The Chelmsford Federation of Teachers, Local 3669, represents this position. The Town of Chelmsford is EEO/AA Employer

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Library Tech Job News

   January 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Help WantedTwo pieces of library technology job news I've been meaning to mention:

Kathy Lussier Named MassLNC Project Coordinator
First, congratulations to Kathy Lussier, who was recently chosen to be Project Coordinator for the Massachusetts Open Source Project. She will begin February 1st, and I really can't think of someone who would do a better job. Congratulations again, and I'm looking forward to Kathy moving everything forward.

Technology Librarian position available with GMLICS
Second, there is a great technology position open at GMLICS, a library consortium in southern New Hampshire. The basics details are:

  • The Technology Librarian will deliver hardware and software support for the central computer system and telecommunications network, maintain the consortium’s web pages and work with librarians in the member libraries to insure a well-functioning shared system. Weekly driving to member libraries. Strong customer service attitude, excellent communications skills and the ability to juggle multiple tasks with changing priorities are required. Experience working in a consortium is desired.
  • This position offers opportunities for learning and professional development.
  • Salary $45,000+ and a generous benefit package.
  • MLS from ALA accredited institution preferred. Will consider a candidate with equivalent training and experience.
  • Applications will be accepted until January 29, 2010.

See their website for more details and a full position description [pdf].

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Reference Question of the Week – 10/19/08

   October 25th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Jobs listings on Craigslist websiteBefore I get into this week's reference question, I want to point out that this is my 100th Reference Question of the Week - that's almost two years of weekly reference questions. My, my, doesn't the time just fly when you are giving patrons directions to the bathrooms?

In honor of such a momentous event, I thought I'd share one of the reference questions I just dread. I get variants of this question occasionally, but last week all the components came together in a perfect storm of reference question difficulty:

Patron: I've never used a computer before, so can you help me find a job on craigslist?

Sigh. For non-reference librarians, here's why this simple request is especially hard:

  1. Almost any kind of job-related request can be difficult
  2. Most of the job resources available in the library are online, so having no computer experience is automatically a setback
  3. Craigslist? It is certainly a valid job search tool, but there are other places I'd be more comfortable starting off a computer novice (she never did tell me how she got referred to craigslist)

Lots of people would jump on a question like this and consider it a golden teaching moment. Which I tried to do, but I was alone on a busy Thursday morning and I didn't have the amount of uninterrupted time it would take to teach the patron to use a mouse and then educate her enough about the internet and craigslist to find a job safely.

But happily, she was a fast learner, and really took to the mouse and using the browser. Since she asked for craigslists, I showed her how to get there and use it, and while doing so also told her about other job search websites she could try. We also have a handout for career resources, and pretty soon she sent me away so she could look on her own.

She left before I could talk to her again, but she stayed at least forty-five minutes on the computer. Which is not bad for a first timer. Even if nothing from her first search pans out, I hope at least she knows the library is a resource for job searching.

More About Online Job Searching
Something I've been noticing for awhile is that it seems that online job applications are becoming more and more complex. Lots of large companies are requiring applicants to fill out an online application instead of providing a resume.

The problem with this is, from my and the patron's point of view, many patrons have trouble with the website or application form itself. Some get so frustrated that they quit halfway through, cursing the company for not just taking their resume. I wonder if companies are doing this intentionally, because filling out these applications requires a certain level of computer skills, and so it weed out anyone who isn't computer savvy enough to finish it.

I've helped a few people complete what even I thought was a difficult form, and I wonder if I'm really helping them or not. If the job really does require that level of computer skill, and I spend a half an hour basically filling out the form for them, are they just wasting their time on a job they don't have a hope of getting?

Because of this need (and especially in the current economic climate), my library lately has been partnering with the local career center to hold series of job search workshops. These range from updating resumes to online searching to interviewing to networking to reentering the work force. They've been well attended, and all the library has had to do is provide the space - people from the Lowell Career Center plan and run the programs.

I feel like we can never do enough for patrons looking for jobs, but that this is one of the key roles a library plays in the community.

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Guide to Hiring Women

   May 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

1943 Guide to Hiring WomenSince I mentioned recently that it's staff review time in my library, I thought it'd also be appropriate (although I use that term loosely) to post this 1943 Guide to Hiring Women. Originally published in "Transportation Magazine," I found it over on the studio twentysix2 blog, and I agree with Tom's commentary.

As a male in a traditionally female-dominated field, of course I found this interesting. I work for and with women, and have women who report to me, and I'm happy to report that this is not at all applicable to 2008. All of my colleagues, professional and paraprofessional, have their jobs because they are good at their jobs - not just because they fit the uniforms we had on hand.

Times change. That's a good thing.

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Now Hiring

   November 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

MVLC logoMy consortium has a very important opening right now, and I'm hoping that by getting the word out as much as possible, a great candidate will be found.

The job title is "Assistant Director for User Services," and there is a full description at the MBLC's job bank.

I see this position as so important because this is the person that coordinates services and training between the 35 member libraries of the consortium, as well as the person who facilitates the flow of information between the have-libraries and the have-not-libraries.

With the right person in this position, all of the libraries can work together more closely to serve our collective patron base. A group this large and diverse has huge potential to work together and offer our patrons a tremendous amount of materials and services, as well as work together to help each other move forward and adapt as the tools of our profession and the needs of our patrons evolve.

Plus, you'd get to talk to me sometimes. Luckily, the pay is pretty good, and the benefits are almost embarrassingly good, so that more than makes up for all of the requests and work I'll be sending your way.

Please apply. Thanks.

job, job posting, job postings, jobs, libraries, library, mvlc, public libraries, public library, user services

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