HR Confidential

Inside tips from higher-ups who hire

November 1, 2018

You’ve checked your résumé for typos and had your interview outfit dry-cleaned. What else can you do to make the best impression on your would-be workplace? We asked three library HR experts to spill the beans on the secret things—little and big—that can help candidates get the (best) job offers.

Applying for a job

“I know we’re all guilty of this in the HR profession: We sometimes create a very lengthy list of qualifications in our job postings. I have heard that that can be daunting to early-career people. I would suggest they go ahead and apply but try to amplify in their cover letter or résumé things they’ve done that show they have some of these skills and that they have the potential to learn more.” ­—­Kathryn Kjaer, head of library human resources, University of California, Irvine

“Do provide a cover letter. Not everybody does, and that’s a big mistake.” —Anonymous public library HR ­manager, southwest Indiana

“We really don’t care about your GPA. Your experiences are what’s important.” —Anonymous

“In our postings, we indicate that we’re a welcoming environment to all individuals. It’s not just that compliance statement that a lot of companies use; we actually put time and effort into creating a more comprehensive diversity statement that indicates that everybody is welcome. And we like to see that reflected in some way, shape, form, or fashion in an applicant’s résumé or cover letter.” —D’Shaundra Wolfe, human resources senior business partner, University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor

“It’s a pet peeve when you reach out to [an applicant] for an interview and you don’t hear from them. It’s okay to say, ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘I’ve found another position.’ I think sometimes applicants feel like, ‘Because I’ve withdrawn, they might not consider me for future opportunities,’ and that’s not the case. We actually appreciate it, because then we can move on.” —Wolfe

“If you’re going to apply for a librarian position, it’s about community. It’s no longer going to be somebody sitting behind a desk. You need to be willing to go out in the community, walk around the library, and be there for your customers. Demonstrate that.” —Anonymous

Navigating the interview

“One of the things that people aren’t conscious of is the handshake. There was a guy I interviewed for a position, and he didn’t realize his strength. He almost broke my hand, that’s how hard he was shaking it. It was just a combination of him being excited and nervous at the same time. You don’t have to shake so hard.” —Wolfe

“Do your homework. People come in and they’re like, ‘Well, I don’t really know much about you.’ It’s like, ‘Have you seen our website? That might give you a clue.’ Look at the website, go through the board meetings, look at the programs, really immerse yourself in what’s going on at the library you’re applying to.” —Anonymous

“Sometimes we have candidates find out who’s on the search committee and try to talk to them and get an in that way. We tell our search committee not to respond to queries like that but to direct them to HR. Our process needs to be very fair. If you do know someone on the search committee already, I don’t think there’s any harm in highlighting ‘I’ve worked with so-and-so.’ But you shouldn’t be overly optimistic that throwing names around will give you a particular edge.” —Kjaer

“In academia, most people will need to do a presentation as part of the interview. The ones who are a hit are the ones who aren’t just reading their slides. They have engaging visuals, and the candidate really engages with the audience. Some folks think, ‘Let me put together a very scholarly impressive text,’ which is not what people are actually looking for. You want to show a little bit about yourself and your communication style and try to connect with the audience, not just give textbook answers.” —Kjaer

“If someone says anything obviously offensive toward another group or demographic, that is definitely a no-no. That will automatically leave us feeling like this person’s not a good fit. And just because you look like me doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable having certain conversations with me. For example, I’m black, and I’ve been in interviews with people who are black, and sometimes they get comfy because we’re the same race, and it’s like, ‘No, you can’t say that [offensive thing about another race], and if that’s your mindset, you’re obviously not a good fit for us.’” —Wolfe

“I have seen a shift toward emailed thank-you notes. That might be sufficient for the interview team, but from an HR perspective, I still think a handwritten note shines. You can also say something specific about the interview, so you’re communicating that you were really present. Maybe even include a follow-up like, ‘I was thinking about that on the way home, and I wanted to expand a little more on this.’” —Anonymous

“Just know that just because you didn’t get the job doesn’t mean you aren’t well qualified. It’s not an exact science, so don’t take it as total rejection. We’ve had people who applied multiple times and were eventually hired.” —Anonymous

Getting (and negotiating) an offer

“When we’re talking about salary negotiations, a lot of candidates don’t think they can counter, and they don’t do their homework. For many colleges and universities, salary information is public, so you can do your own research and find out what individuals within a particular classification are making. If you’re offered a position and the salary is not what you’re expecting, or it’s below the median, you can come back and say, ‘Hey, the market median is $80,000. I would feel more comfortable being in this range.’” —Wolfe

“If you are the person offered the position, while the administrator might not come right out and say, ‘This is totally negotiable,’ you should understand that there is an expectation that you will want to have a conversation about compensation. If there is no back-and-forth, the person’s supervisor might be alerted: ‘You might want to work with this person on their collaboration skills and ability to be a little more assertive.’ I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that would make us say, ‘We’re not going to offer that person a job.’ It would just highlight that this individual is pretty inexperienced, and we’ll need to work with them a little bit.” —Kjaer

“I’ve had people who have negotiated their office, down to a particular chair. At the same time, the administrator has to take into account equity within the organization. It’s not like the sky’s the limit if you just really press. You don’t want to be too obstinate or ask for things that are out of line. This could convey that you might be difficult to work with.” —Kjaer

“Regarding sign-on bonuses, you have not because you ask not. A lot of times, people are so excited about getting the job that they don’t want to disrupt that. They feel like, ‘If I ask for a sign-on bonus, it’s going to appear that I’m greedy.’ When you know your worth, it’s not a problem. If that person is extremely strong, and we’re hungry for that person, we’ll make it happen.” —Wolfe


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