By Meredith Farkas | May 25, 2005
This morning (at 8 am Central Time) I got a call from a college on the east coast. They wanted to interview me for a reference librarian position I’d applied for months ago. First, however, they needed me to get my references to write letters of recommendation that specifically addressed the job responsibilities. Personally, I think it’s unfair to constantly bother my references with these requests unless I am a finalist for the position. From the number of slots I was offered throughout the month of June for the interview, I was probably one of 20 or more people they’d be interviewing. But I picked a date the day after the ALA Conference ended for what I thought I would be a phone interview. Then she asked me if I needed directions to the college. OK, so I have to go there? “Yes, of course!” she said. “You thought it was a phone interview? I guess some schools are doing that now. Well, maybe when we get more into technology we’ll do that too.” More into technology? Wasn’t the phone invented over 100 years ago? Hmmm… is this somewhere I want to work? So I asked, “is there some funding for flying to the interview?” “Oh no,” she replied, “not for the first interview. If you make it to the second interview there will be some funding.”
So basically this library wanted me to pay to fly, rent a car, and stay in a hotel for a probably 1-hour-long interview where I’d be one of 20 or more applicants. All this for a library where the telephone is considered a newfangled device. OMG! Needless to say, I declined. And I wonder if this library really wants to hire the best person for the job. They put so many obstacles in front of the people applying and then basically limit their pool to people who either live right nearby or are desperate enough to pay to fly out there. It makes absolutely no sense to me.
I didn’t expect the job search to be easy. I knew there would be plenty of hoops for me to jump through. I knew I’d be giving talks and answering questions in front of large groups of people. I knew I’d have to travel (and perhaps pay for some of it) and really sell myself. I knew it might take time. Nevertheless, I’ve been surprised by the way that some applicants are treated by their fellow librarians. How people can be kept waiting over a month to hear about the results of interviews they flew across the country for. How they are asked to pay their own way for interviews where they’re one of dozens of candidates. How they never hear back from places they’ve interviewed with. How when they are offered a job, they’re expected to uproot their life and move in two weeks.
Doesn’t every librarian remember a time when they were new librarians and were trying to get their first job? I know some policies are dictated by the human resources department at the institution or municipality, but many hiring faux pas come from a lack of empathy and common courtesy. Mind you, I have dealt with some wonderful, honest, considerate search committees who have kept open the lines of communication, never asked ridiculous things of me, and gave me plenty of water throughout my interview. But sometimes, I have felt like librarians don’t recognize the fact that the applicants are human beings. We job applicants are told to be courteous, to dress well, and to send thank-you cards. What are the expectations of the hiring committees? A few months ago, I wrote a post with tips for interviewers on how to treat applicants. And I will repeat the most important piece of advice I offered last time: YOU ARE BEING INTERVIEWED TOO! Just because you got 200 resumes for the job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about conducting a good interview with your finalists. Because you’re NOT going to get the best candidate if you don’t make them feel welcome, valued, and interested in working at your library.
I know it’s an employer’s market and libraries can get upwards of 100 resumes for an entry-level position. Just please remember that behind each resume is a librarian who has taken the time to read your advertisement, has probably done some research on your library, and has fashioned a cover letter based on the job description. They deserve to be treated well. They deserve to hear that you got their application and they deserve to hear as soon as possible if they are out of contention. Think of how you would feel in their position and if what you’re asking of them is realistic.
I’m sure that college on the east coast will have no trouble hiring someone. But they may have missed out on meeting a candidate (not necessarily me) who was a perfect fit for the job because of their policies.
Update There are some libraries, on the other hand, that treat candidates with great consideration. The place I will be interviewing with next week was the only library that has emailed me to confirm that they received my email application (even though in every email I request that they reply and confirm that they received my app) and was kind enough to shell out significantly more money for me to fly direct to their area (for which I am tremendously surprised and extremely grateful). For every bad experience that seems surreal, there is a good one that makes me feel like a human being again.