Career Strategies for Librarians
Why I Won’t Hire You
by Matt Wilcox
There are many fine articles about applying for jobs and preparing for an interview. But if you have never
served on a search committee, their inner workings can seem mysterious. Just what are they thinking
about as they go through the process of filling a job and finding a colleague? Have no fear: I will let you in
on a few of the secrets of what goes on behind the closed doors of the academic library search
committee. To make things a little easier, I’ll boil it down to three main things most important to you as a
candidate: why I am not going to interview you, why I am not going to hire you after interviewing you, and
why I am not going to hire you even though I want to.
A caveat that will likely be ignored (perhaps by a search committee considering me at some point in the
future): I do not personally believe half the stuff below. I am acting as reporter of what colleagues and I
have encountered being a part of search committees over the last several years.
So, here we go. These are not in any particular order.
Why I am not going to interview you
--There are better resumes in the pile and we are only going to interview three or four people. I am
looking for the best set of skills packaged in the best person I can find. Someone else can worry about
giving the mediocre a shot. I have to work with the person I hire. In some cases I will have to work with
them for a looong time.
--All your experience is in public/special libraries and you did not do a good job reminding me that most
of the skills are the same or transferable. Yes, yes, I know we are all the same. A librarian is a librarian
and so on. But the resumes I am looking at from academic types look like my resume. I understand
them better. You have to make me understand you better and not assume that I will translate your
experience for you.
--You are a recent MLS graduate and I look at your resume/cover letter and I see what? That you went to
library school. Okay, good, you have the absolute minimum requirement. Anything else? Did you work
at a library while in school? An interesting internship or practicum? Anything at all that stands out? Now
I have seen resumes and cover letters from newbie librarians that make the most of what they have,
even though they list no real library experience. They point out how previous work experience in another
field showed them how to be helpful, or how to teach, or how to deal with unreasonable expectations
from clientele. Or how they turned some boring library school class project into something interesting
and relevant to the position I am advertising. Remember, I am "search committee member" which
means I am judging you when I read your resume. And even if I am an enlightened search committee
member, and we are trying to hire a fresh newbie because we want new ideas and to help someone get
established, I still want to hire someone who did more than just show up.
--Your cover letter makes you sound like you are dumb or stupid or bitter or a whiner/loser/incompetent
person. Or I cannot tell from your resume/cover letter that you even read the job description. Or you
misspelled something in the first sentence. In short, you couldn't handle polishing one of the more
important sets of documents you will put together. Remember, your resume/cover letter and Google is
all I have to go on at this stage.
--And speaking of Google … I googled you and found that:
a) You are weird, frankly, or
b) You whine a lot on listservs with searchable archives or
Do I think that this is wrong, this wanton googling of candidates? Should I be evaluating your skills that
you carefully outlined in your resume and not your personal life? Yes, of course, and that is what we will
do in the interview process. But I am still going to google you.
So, should you hide your personal life? That’s up to you. Our googling you often works to your
advantage because it adds life to your boring resume if we know you are also a writer/Harley
owner/dominatrix/whatever. Or because you strangely left out pertinent data from the resume—a
conference paper, perhaps. But I google every serious candidate, so you might want to google yourself
first and see what I will see. And if you think about it, it is only fair. After all, you googled the library you
are interviewing at and likely googled members of the search committee, didn’t you?
Why I am not going to hire you after interviewing you
--The person I interviewed the day before was better. Define better however you wish. I am sorry about
this. Nothing personal. Sometimes the blessing on our end of a great pool of candidates means we
went though a painful decision-making process and had to turn some great people down. You were one
--Hanging out with you for the day, you give off the impression that your MLS is a consolation prize
degree for you. I just get the feeling that you are a frustrated academic that couldn't hack it so you are
slumming with your PhD in the library world. That you think that “if the academic departments out there
were more enlightened they would hire you in a heartbeat and beg you to teach.” Or that “if those PhD
programs knew how you and your MA in English/Whatever are the future of their field they would have let
you in.” Not that I am bitter, but I deal with academics that could hack it and get the job and they are,
sometimes, pains in the ass, so why do I want to hire you? And an MA with the frustrated broken dreams
of a PhD? Dime a dozen in the library world (and I have the MA in English to prove it, too). It is ok to be
all of the above, but you might not want to show it in an interview. Do not underestimate the
oversensitivity of librarians to slights of their noble profession.
--Sigh…. You looked so good on paper; we were excited to bring you in to interview. But at some point it
became quite clear that you didn’t really want the job. Oh, you wanted a job at our institution, or your
spouse got a job in the area and you need something to do, or you have always wanted to live here,
whatever. The point is, you really don’t care about this job we are offering. We, however, do. Similar to
the last point, it is okay not to care about the job we are interviewing for, but you might want to think about
the impression you are leaving.
--Around lunchtime (remember, academic library interviews usually last a long day’s journey into night),
you started to get unintelligible. Now I am on the search committee and I had dinner with you the night
before and have seen you at various points in the day—I know you were cogent at one point, but some
key people will have only seen you once and they cannot believe you have a brain.
--You did not, at any point, show any knowledge or curiosity about important topics affecting the
library/information world. If you have no publications or experience I am trying to see if you have anything
to build on as far as whatever tenure/promotion process our institution has in place. And when I asked
you what you were reading/following, you had nothing. Being incurious might be fine if you are, oh, I don’
t know, President of the USA, but it is not a promising trait in a librarian.
-- There are one or more members of the search committee that I cannot stand. They like you.
Therefore, I am immediately suspicious of you and your qualities as a candidate and potential
colleague. Every little fault is magnified and every glowing trait is darkened. Do I feel bad about this? It
probably doesn’t even enter my conscious thoughts. I am probably thinking I am being a good judge of
--There is a small chance that I am threatened by you because you are so good and so I pick a more
mediocre person so I can continue to shine. Obviously this doesn't refer to me…or you, probably. But it
Why I am not going to hire you even though I want to
--That point above about my not liking members of the search committee … well, it works both ways.
Some of them do not like me either, nor will they like the candidates I champion.
--We went into a bad budget cycle and we cut/froze the position (or, more likely, it was cut/frozen by
someone higher up the food chain). We would have preferred to find out before we went through the
time and expense of interviewing people, but things do not always go our way. Or yours, in this matter.
--Unfortunately, I am only one member of the search committee, and while I see you as a top-notch
person – a kindred spirit even – the rest of the search committee thought you were not. Instead we are
going to hire someone depressingly just like everyone else around here.
--Your references didn't check out. Remember that person you put down as a reference? Well, they don’
t remember you. Or they remembered you all too well.
--The long arm of the plot against you got to me first.
Acknowledgements: This article started as a post to the NEWLIB-L (http://www.lahacal.org/newlib/)
listserv. So, thanks to the list members whose bitter bouts with the interview process got me thinking.
About the Author:
Matt Wilcox, when not scrounging through the cushions of the library furniture for coffee money, directs
the library and academic technology for the Yale School of Public Health.
Article published December 2004
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