Career Strategies for Librarians
An excerpt from
What Do Employers Want?: A Guide for Library Science Students
by Priscilla K. Shontz and Richard A. Murray
(Libraries Unlimited, 2012)

Chapter 1
What Employers Want

Lemon, we're not just hiring an actor, we're hiring a coworker, a human being, and I say we hire the one
who lives by the code of the robot: Care, Love, Live. (30 Rock, 2009)

So, you’re in library school. You love your classes and are really excited about becoming a librarian. You
know this is the perfect field for you. Maybe you’ve chosen to enter the information science field as a
second career. You study hard, earn a 4.0 GPA, walk across the stage at commencement, and receive
your MLS degree.

And then what?

You send out a few resumes. And a few more. And maybe a lot more.

And you wait.

And wait.

Hey, what’s up with that? Why isn’t anyone calling you for an interview?

How can you be expected to compete with applicants who have more experience than you?

Was earning your graduate degree worth all that money and time?

Sure, you learned all about Ranganathan and reference queries and Library 2.0 in school, but did
anyone teach you how to find a real job in the real world?

Unfortunately, we hear depressing stories like this all the time. Especially in a tight job market, recent
graduates may struggle to find jobs, which may lead them to question their decisions to enter the field of
library and information science.

Wouldn’t you like to know what employers are really looking for? How can you make yourself more
attractive to a prospective employer? How can you stand out in a job search?

There are steps you can take while you’re still a student that will prepare you to succeed in your job
search and career. We’ve collected career advice and insights into the hiring process from employers
and experienced professionals. They (and we) have been where you are; we hope the ideas in this book
may help you make a successful transition from student to happily employed information professional.

You Can’t Start Too Early . . .

It may sound ridiculous, but you should start thinking about your first professional position as soon as
you start taking classes. No, we don’t advise you to send out resumes in your first semester, but thinking
ahead about your career while you are a student can help you prepare to be successful in your job
search when you graduate. If you work hard, plan thoughtfully -- and maybe with a little luck -- you might
even line up a job before you receive your diploma!

That’s not to say you’ll breeze through your first (or any) job search. Job hunts are enormously stressful
tasks that take a huge amount of time and effort. They’re also often mysterious and frustrating
experiences for applicants who wait for what seems like eternity to hear (or not) from prospective
employers. In chapter 6, employers demystify the process a little by sharing what happens on their side
of the hiring process.

. . . But It’s Not Too Late

    If you’ve graduated recently – or not so recently – and still don’t have a job, all is not lost. The
principles behind finding and getting an entry-level position don’t change drastically after the ink on your
diploma dries. If you’ve been searching for a while and still haven’t found that first job, you should
reevaluate the tactics you’ve been using. It may be that you’ve fallen into one or more of the common
pitfalls that trip up many job seekers. Perhaps rethinking your resume, cover letter, and interviewing
techniques may help. Be proactive about gaining experience, skills, and contacts that may make you
make you more appealing in the eyes of potential employers.

What Do Employers Look For?

A job search is a lot like dating: you’re both looking for the right match. When you’re searching for an
entry-level job, you’re a lot less picky than the employer: sometimes you might even feel like pleading, “I’
ll take any job!” At this stage, you do have to be flexible with your wants and needs, but you should also
look for a job and work environment that mesh well with your career goals, work interests, and

Employers often have the opposite problem: they may receive hundreds of applications for a single entry-
level position. In this situation, what will they do to narrow down the huge pile of resumes they have to sift
through? What attributes are employers looking for? What qualities do they value in a candidate or a new
employee? They recognize that you’re going to become part of their work family. Employers typically want
to hire someone who will mesh well with the other people in their organization, add positive energy, and
offer fresh ideas in a tactful manner.

We asked numerous employers, “What are some key skills or attributes that you typically look for in a
potential employee?” Most talked more about personality traits and soft skills such as enthusiasm,
initiative, innovation, communication, flexibility, and collaboration than they did about academic
knowledge. So, as a potential job candidate, how can you develop those highly desired qualities and
demonstrate them to an employer in a cover letter, resume, and interview?

Love What You Do

“Eagerness makes new grads stand out, so show that enthusiasm,” said Dawn Krause (Texas State
Library). This doesn’t mean jumping up and down on the interview table. Use your cover letter, resume,
and interview to express how excited you are about becoming part of the library community, and in
particular, how interested you are in doing that particular job at that particular institution.  

Applying for jobs you’re genuinely excited about will certainly increase your chances of getting an offer. If
you’re applying for a job as an instruction librarian and you don’t like speaking to groups, that will be
apparent in the interview, and you probably won’t get the job. (And even if you do, you’ll probably be
miserable). Don’t get carried away and scare off your interviewers with your “rah rah” vibe – you don’t
want them to feel like they need to go lie down in a dark room after they’ve talked to you -- but if you’re
truly excited about the job, your interviewers will feel your positive energy.

Don’t be afraid to show that you love what you do. “See the profession as a lively, growing, interesting
place to be,” encouraged Diane Calvin (Ball State University).

For more about the book, see the
bookstore page.

About the Authors

Priscilla Shontz and Rich Murray co-edit LIScareer and have collaborated on 2 books dealing with library
careers.  For more about us, see the
About page.

Article published  July 2012

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.