What I learned during my job search, part 2

This is the second part in a series. See Part 1, on Impostor Syndrome, Dunning-Kruger, and Compassion.

Burger, fries, and a drink.

My airport celebration meal after OSU interview.

The job search process can be so secretive. Rarely do people make it widely know that they are on the job market. And once people get jobs, we’re rarely privy to any details about their job search. Thankfully some librarians have blogged about their searches and shared tips for both job candidates and hiring institutions: see for example Kristen Jaques, Jacob BergMeredith Farkas, Kyle Shockey.

I’m sharing what I can about my recent job search for an AUL/AD-level job because I think there’s a lot we can learn from each others’ experiences, including just how much work, time, and anxiety it takes. Here’s what my job search looked like.1

What kind of job?

I have been working in middle management at New York University for years. For me, middle management has been great because it’s an interesting and engaging mix of operations (the gratifying work), people and resource management (the interesting work), and leadership (the challenging work). But I also have ambitions to move up in library leadership, with the possibility of one day being a library director/dean. So the next logical step was a position at or equivalent to an AUL/AD.

How long did it take?

I was actively on the job market for two full years, from fall 2014 through fall 2016. The first year I was only looking for local jobs, or jobs to which I could commute from New York City. (I had geographical constraints because of family commitments.) The second year I was on the national job market (my family circumstances had changed).

Including one job exploration in 2013, all in all I seriously considered 19 jobs over the course of my search.

  • I applied for 17 of these 19 positions
  • I seriously explored but ultimately decided not to apply for 2 of the 19
  • I applied but wasn’t invited to a first-round interview for 5 positions
  • I withdrew from 7 searches (several before even reaching the first-round interview, to which I may not have been invited anyway)
  • I had on-campus interviews for 5 positions (I feel very fortunate for these amazing opportunities)
  • I received two job offers, one of which I turned down, and one of which I accepted.

What were my criteria in selecting a position?

Early in my search I wrote a list of qualities and values I hoped for in a job and stuck it on the inside of my front door. It included:

  • an institution and organization with a compelling mission, the ability to articulate it, and the drive to accomplish it
  • work that would engage me intellectually and emotionally
  • focus on scholarship
  • work at a strategic level, moving away from the operations of middle management
  • career path, giving me experiences to prepare me to become a library director
  • learn things I don’t already know
  • location (personal preferences, proximity to my family, etc.)
  • trust

The last bullet is really important to me. As I interviewed I tried to suss out how much trust there was among staff, between staff and library leadership, and between the library and the rest of the institution. Trust in an organization reveals itself to outsiders in many ways, including via expressions of genuine enthusiasm and support for shared initiatives and an understanding of and willingness to talk openly about both strengths AND weaknesses. I wasn’t looking for a perfect organization (good thing, because there isn’t one). But I want to work in one where staff trust each other enough to innovate and accept failure as a possibility, and to acknowledge when things aren’t going right and try to fix them. And where people are willing to learn together, which means accepting that we don’t all already know everything. There has to be a safe space to learn new things.

I’ll end this post here by saying that the job search process is time consuming (all those cover letters!), and exhausting, and can be by turns exhilarating and dispiriting. Some interviews don’t go as planned, and some you don’t get even though you thought you were a great candidate. Sometimes you interview only to learn that the job is a bad fit for your skills and interests. But for me it was also an opportunity to learn more about other libraries, to meet lots of new people doing lots of interesting things, to observe and think about our hiring and interviewing practices, and to learn to appreciate my own strengths while also acknowledging and accepting areas for growth and learning.

  1. AUL is short for associate university librarian, AD is short for associate dean or associate director. These are all positions that report to the head of the library/libraries. []