BCLA ALPS – Getting Hired in Higher Education

Today was the Getting Hired in Higher Education event at SLAIS, organized by Tara Stephens and Danielle Winn, executives of ALPS (Academic Librarians in Public Service) section and myself, the ALPS representative (from the SLAIS BCLA/CLA student chapter), and sponsored by BCLA (British Columbia Library Association).

Getting Hired in Higher Education is an annual event organized for SLAIS students to hear, get advice, and ask questions about looking for, finding, and securing a job as an academic librarian. This year’s event was well attended (we had a full room!) and it seemed very appreciated.

This year, we had a larger panel with five academic librarians:

  • Aleha McCauley (University of British Columbia)
  • Annie Jensen (Langara College)
  • Emma Lawson (Langara College)
  • Danielle Winn (University of British Columbia)
  • Baharak Yousefi (Capilano College)

Panelists introduced themselves talking about their educational background, a little about the positions they currently hold, and primarily about their path towards their current job. I will not summarize everything, but will instead, concentrate on the advice they gave and the Q&A session.

While in School

Classes

More specifically, while at SLAIS, students were advised learn more about:

  • project management,
  • communications, and
  • assessment & program evaluation, especially the impact of a program/service.

and take classes that are skill or project based. Some specific classes that were mentioned:

  • Subject-Based Information Services (LIBR 530)
  • Collections Management (LIBR 580)
  • Instructional Role of the Librarian (LIBR 535) – particularly needed in academic
  • Library Automation and Systems (LIBR 551)
  • Open Access (LIBR 559K – 1-credit)
  • Management of Libraries and Archives: Community-Led Libraries (LIBR 579B – 1-credit)

Experience and Involvement

Panelists emphasized getting as much experience as possible paid or unpaid:

  • Co-op position
  • GAA (Graduate Academic Assistant)/Student Librarian job
  • Professional experience
  • Practicum – particularly to see what you like or don’t like
  • Volunteer

As to general areas, instructional and reference experience are key for academic libraries.

Getting involved while at school and afterwards is also very important, especially to network with others.

  • Participate in one or more professional association
  • Attend events – just like this one!
  • Attend workshops – e.g. CTLT’s Graduate Student Instructional Skills Workshop
  • Attend and/or volunteer at conferences
  • Get published e.g. student journals, blogs, reviews
  • Get involved in publishing e.g. as editor, reviewer
  • Building a professional online presence – employers will search for you

The Job Process

Searching & Applying for Jobs

Other than experience and involvement, employers look for:

  • good communication skills,
  • problem solving – i.e. how you work through problems, how you express yourself around change, and
  • interest in technology, especially web technology and social media.

To search for jobs, it is recommended to get RSS feeds to save time on searching.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Students have probably heard all the usual advice on format, keeping to the job description and such, but some other interesting points came up during today’s discussion:

  • Personality: to include or not? – Mixed advice was given to the librarians on how much to include. One mentioned that she began to get more interviews and job offers after including more of her personality, while another was told to tone down the personality as that will be seen in their web presence
  • Get it proofread by other people
  • Read more job descriptions to get a feel for the vocabulary used and what is expected
  • See what others are doing with cover letters that work, see Open Cover Letters
  • Get a mentor  – someone who you can learn from, ask advice, and who will give you feedback on your resume and cover letter.

Interviews

  • Get as much experience as possible with real interviews
  • Expect 1-2 days for the last stage of interviews
  • You will be expected to a presentation or a mock workshop
  • The panel will generally consist of 5-6 people
  • “Don’t try to guess what they want to hear, tell them what you think.” i.e. be honest
  • Evaluate the panel to see whether you want to work there and with that supervisor

Expectations

The librarians also provided words of advice on being realistic about the job market:

  • Be flexible about geographic location
  • If you can’t be, know that it’s a very competitive market – you will have to start in auxiliary, part-time, and contract positions
  • Start early during your last term of school – many noted that they were spending as much time on job searching and applications as they were on school work
  • Consider non-academic areas e.g. public libraries, vendors – i.e. it’s not true you can’t go from public to academic (or vice versa)

Once Offered a Job

It’s not often talked about since students generally concentrate on getting a job, but once offered a full-time, permanent position job, some things to consider:

  • Salary is negotiable – call the faculty association to ask if salary is representative if necessary
  • Get moving costs covered, if applicable
  • You might get an accommodation trip – trip to look for living space, if applicable
  • Look into start-up grants
  • Ask about professional development funds, though this is pretty standard
  • Know the major points of the collective agreement

In relation, the handbook for new faculty, Negotiating Starting Salaries published by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, was recommended.

Question & Answers

Here’s what came up during the Q&A session:

  • Q: How would you answer “Why are you interested in this division/organization?” A: draw on the posting, research the institution, but be yourself and answer honestly. Aside: You might consider using university colours in the presentation.
  • Q: What was the most difficulty question you have ever been asked? A: Specific research questions, but mostly, they want to know how you would deal with it.
  • Q: What are the best continuing education options, especially when lack time or money? A: Instructional opportunities, webinars (a library webinars blog was mentioned), grants (to go to conferences, etc.). Most positions come with professional development funds. Something you might ask about at the interview or when negotiating salary.
  • Q: Can you do a co-op and GAA at the same time? A: Yes. You can schedule it so that you do both at the same time, or consider leaving your GAA position.
  • Q: Is it possible to leave a contract for a permanent position? A: Yes. Talk to your supervisor, and they will generally be very understanding that you must leave mid-contract if you are accepting a full-time, permanent position.

Summary – The Top 5

In case you found that a lot to digest or just too much to read at once, here are the top 5 pieces of (general) advice:

  1. Get as much work experience as possible.
  2. Get experience or take a course in teaching and instruction.
  3. Get involved as much as possible, and network.
  4. Take project or skill based courses while in school.
  5. Be flexible.

EDIT: Summary version was posted in the Nov 2011 v.3 no.4 issue of the BCLA Browser in the ALPS Yodeler section.

Published by

Cynthia

A librarian learning the ways of technology, accessibility, metadata, and people

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