24 Nov 2020

The Fresh Librarian: Concrete Steps for Standing out in a Competitive Field

Guest Post by David RinehartDavid grew up in Florida and moved to Ireland with his partner and daughter in 2018. He received an M.A. in Latin American Studies in 2018. He is currently a Library Assistant at Maynooth University Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department and is undertaking a Master’s degree in Information and Library Studies from Robert Gordon University.

Introduction:

The library job market in Ireland for an immigrant is difficult and daunting to say the least. The first thing I quickly realized when I arrived here in August of 2018 was that my professional training for job seeking in the US was not designed for Ireland. To catch up, I sought help from others. With fantastic guides along the way, I learned how to completely revamp my CV, the way I think about and write cover letters, and the way I thought about the job application process. All of this pushed me out of my comfort zone and propelled me forward. It’s comparable to when you take on a new language and learn grammar in a way you never learned in your native tongue. I learned the job search culture and processes in Ireland which are very different to my home country, the US. 

I grew up in Florida to an American dad and a Venezuelan immigrant mom.  I studied for an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida, where I also worked as a graduate assistant in the University’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection Library. It was from this work experience that I found my passion and career path towards librarianship. I moved to Ireland in 2018 when my wife accepted a post as lecturer at Maynooth University. Since arriving to Ireland I have worked as a Library Assistant at the Dundalk Institute of Technology and now at Maynooth University in the Special Collections and Archives department. I am currently undergoing a Masters of Information and Library Studies from Robert Gordon University online. 


Courtesy of Author 

The Application

Initially, when I applied for library posts, I wasn’t getting called to interview. So, I asked for help. My partner’s department head at Maynooth University agreed to meet with me to look over my CV and cover letter. She was very experienced having been on copious interview panels. She gave me some pointers on how to tidy up my CV, but the most important advice she gave me was how to write the cover letter. Back home, I had been trained to write a cover letter that reads like an essay or a pitch for a product – the product being me. It’s verbose and quite embarrassingly arrogant. She explained to me that the panel selects their candidates based on criteria that are matched to the job description. She recommended that I literally copy and paste the job requirements, both essential and desirable, into a word document and bullet point my relevant experience for each requirement. She explained that this made it far easier on the panel to award points towards being chosen as a candidate. It felt wrong and strange, but I did it, and I started receiving invite after invite to interview. 



Courtesy of Author 

The Interview

One of the things I do to prepare for an interview is to get as much background information as possible. I consider anything and everything I can find online about the job and the library. In the case of an academic library, this includes the institution’s Strategic Guide, the library’s Strategic Guide; I scour the LibGuides to understand their collections; I note recent events and exhibitions; I research several of the librarians, etc. The next step I take is to write up a list of questions. Then, I request a tour or visit to the library and spend some time walking around the stacks and getting a feel for the library, asking questions from my list when relevant or appropriate. I spend days, weeks even, imagining myself working there, and before you know it, I’ve created a narrative in which I have worked there for years, get along with my colleagues, and have a life built around this new post. This gives me great courage and confidence going into the interview, which is incredibly important and comes off quite well I’ve been told. But as a fair warning, it also creates a massive hurt when you don’t receive good news. The rejection hits me like a ton of bricks and I grieve the life that I had imagined for myself. 

So, I had figured out how to get my foot in the door, and how to feel confident and prepared for an interview, what more did I need to do to actually get the job?


Networking

After reading dozens of articles online and thinking through my candidacy, I recognized I was missing an important piece for increased chance of success. I was missing a network. Back home in Florida, I had built a network through community, through education, through professional opportunities and jobs. The most dramatic shift for me was that I no longer had a network. 

After a rejection, once I got the crying and grief out of my system, I emailed each person on the interview panel to see if they would meet with me for feedback and professional advice to improve my chances on future applications. Believe it or not, in nearly every single instance, they graciously emailed me back to invite me out for a cup of coffee or tea. I met so many library professionals this way. They would buy me a cup of coffee and tell me about their careers while giving me a few pointers on how to improve as a candidate. They also often introduced me to other library professionals. I was networking! I was getting to know people in the field, and we were making connections. Soon, I was interviewing with people who were no longer strangers, they were people I had sat down for a cup of coffee with. 



Courtesy of Author 


Some further advice I would give to jobseekers is to attend as many library-related events as you can. Talk to people. For me, this is one of the most exhausting parts of the job search. It’s all about going out of your comfort zone and showing your interest in the field. I am not saying that you should go to events just to network so that you can “get the job,” you need to be going to events that interest you. Your interest is key to being more active, involved, and enjoying your career. Don’t stop there, follow librarians and institutions on Twitter, read blog posts and journal articles, stay active and alert to what is happening in the field, even if you are not yet working in a library.


Conclusion

After a year and a half looking for that first job, the permanent library assistant position that would kick-off my career, I found not one, but two at the same time! I accepted the permanent library assistant post in Maynooth University Library’s Special Collections and Archives department. In the meantime, in addition to my studies at RGU, I’m trying to build up a portfolio of skills and experience that will be useful in this job and afterwards when I qualify and look for a job as a librarian.

The process is long and arduous, and at many times frustrating, but it is the reality of the job market. If you are patient, let yourself feel your emotions, and take these steps, I am certain that you are going to find your job! 

I warmly welcome anyone to reach out to me with any questions or for more advice at david.rinehart@mu.ie.


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