So You’re Looking for a Job: Now What?

January 25, 2014

At Saturday’s 9 a.m. session at the JobLIST Placement Center, two human resources directors offered some insight into what makes an application stand out, how candidates can best prepare for an interview, and how to negotiate a salary offer.

The one-hour session, titled “HR Confidential: Insider Tips from Library HR Directors,” was presented by Kathryn Kjaer of the University of California, Irvine, and Leo Agnew of the University of Iowa.

The search

The two HR directors began by explaining what search committees look for. For starters, speak to the job duties, especially the requirements listed on the job announcement, Agnew said. Candidates who do that, either on their résumé or cover letter, have a better chance of getting to the short list than those who don’t, he said.

Both Kjaer and Agnew emphasized that they strongly consider candidates who are invested in the profession. That could mean membership in associations, committees, or programs. “This is the time to boast,” Agnew said. “It’s a one-time shot. Brag a little bit. Have some swag.”

The two reminded the 30–40 attendees to use power words like “led,” “developed,” “organized,” and “co-facilitated”—words that allow HR directors to know you were in charge of something.

They cautioned against cookie-cutter résumés and cover letters, which search committees will quickly spot and remove.

Interview dos and don’ts

Kjaer said that at academic libraries, candidates should expect the interview process to be an all-day affair. Her biggest advice is to show up prepared. “Anticipate the types of questions you might be asked,” she said, including behavioral questions such as “How do you deal with conflict if it arises in the workplace?” or “What do you bring to a team as a member or leader of that team?”

She advised applicants to explore the library’s website and, to a lesser extent, the campus website to gather your information. If you make it clear that you’ve done your homework, “that’s going to be impressive,” Kjaer said.

When giving presentations at your interview, keep it within the allotted time, said Kjaer. “The goal is to start the conversation.”

The job offer

It’s okay to make a counteroffer, Agnew said. “In fact, I expect it.” Negotiation points could include salary, but areas that HR directors have the most flexibility to negotiate are the perks—moving expenses, signing bonuses (if the institution offers them), and professional development funding.

Agnew advised session attendees to research cost-of-living data when developing a counteroffer. He said that he himself researches that data before making an offer, so a prospective employee should do the same.

Even at public institutions where union pay structures may dictate salary, there may still be some flexibility, Kjaer said. “It’s kind of like buying a car,” she said. “You don’t have to accept the sticker price. You can have a conversation, at least.”

Once hired

But the work doesn’t stop after being hired. Both HR directors encouraged attendees to get involved right away with professional associations and other organizations, and to explore local and regional opportunities. Find a mentor; and if one is assigned to you, then find another, more informal one you can have coffee with on occasion. And use that time to find out what is valued and what is expected at your new workplace.

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