Jun 21 2010
Q: Are you getting many questions about ageism in hiring librarians or library staff? I am a librarian with 22 years of experience, an MLS, and an advanced certificate in preservation management. I don’t consider myself old (I’m in my late 40′s) but feel like I am seen that way when I apply for jobs. I tried to get a volunteer position at a public library, and was asked if I was retired. I have applied for various positions, both professional and paraprofessional, part-time and full-time, over the last four months, and have not even been called for an interview for any of them. I even applied for a library page position, hoping to bring in a little bit of money, and did not even make it to the interview stage! I applied yesterday for a temporary contract position that stated a preference for recent library school graduates. I used to think that years of experience was a good thing, but apparently if I just graduated from library school and had little or no experience I would be a more attractive candidate.
I’m just curious as to whether or not others have written in with similar issues, and whether or not you had any advice on how to find a job after being in the field for over 20 years. Thanks so much!
SM: We get many more questions from people who lack experience and the advice we give to them, as you can guess, focuses on how to get that much needed experience.
Each person’s situation and experiences are unique, which makes it difficult to determine why or why not someone is a good candidate for a particular job. You have lots of experience, which (you are correct) is a very valuable thing to have, but (you are also correct) it might not be helping you out in your current search for a job.
Here are some possible reasons:
- Entry-level: Many of the available positions are entry-level jobs – jobs that require little experience and jobs that are at the beginning of the pay scale. For these positions, an employer may avoid candidates with years of experience because they might consider them overqualified or feel like they cannot justify paying them less than they deserve. In this case, your years of experience may indeed make you a less desirable candidate.
- Technology-centric: This is not a recent trend, but it is becoming increasingly critical for all librarians, in every role in the library, to have technology skills (have you seen the recent job ads for “emerging technologies librarians”?). These are skills that are being taught in library schools today, skills that are highly desired, and skills that those of us who graduated years ago need to pick up on our own.
- Geographic mobility and timing: Job openings continue to be sparse. Budgets are in crisis, institutions are experiencing hiring freezes and positions are being filled on an as-needed basis. If you are able to move for a job, it will open up more opportunities. If you are unable to move, you will need to be more patient as you wait for positions to open up in your area. Continue to seek out alternative positions, such as volunteering and part-time jobs or seek out a library employment agency [http://www.libraryjobpostings.org/placement.htm], in order to maintain and utilize your skills. You’ve only been searching for four months, which (even though I’m sure it feels like a very long time) is not long at all. Give it more time, and rather than apply for any available job, try to find one that suits you.
- It is easier to get a job when you have a job: If you do not have a current job, you are creating a gap in your work history. Potential employers will notice this and wonder why you are not currently working… so you will need to explain the gap in your cover letter. The longer the gap, the more difficult it can be to find a job. Employers expect their new employees to be on top of current trends and aware of emerging technologies, and they want to avoid conflict. So, if there was any at a past position, you can be pretty sure they will find out. If you are unemployed due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., temporary position, relocation, budget cuts, etc.), then you need to relate that information in a cover letter. Be honest about your past work history.
Here are some things you can do that might help.
- Update your resume and tailor it to highlight specific skills and experience that relate to a specific job. For example, if you are applying for a public services position, play up your public service experience even if it is minor compared to your experience in technical services. And, it is always a good idea to have someone review your resume for you. You might even want to look into a resume reviewing service.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of a well-written and convincing cover letter. Like your resume, tailor each cover letter for each position. Your cover letter should communicate confidence, uniqueness, and enthusiastic interest in the position. This is where you can connect your years of experience to the job at hand and explain any gaps in your resume. Be positive and address how you can meet the requirements of the job. Avoid overconfidence, generalizations, and negativity.
- Attend classes, webinars, symposia, and conferences. You can update your skills and network at the same time.
- Become involved in local library organizations and take advantage of their meetings, programs, job lists, and people who might be able to help you in your job search.