20 Apr 2022

My Top Tips for CVs, Cover Letters and Interviews

Guest post by Marie O’ Neill, Head of Enhancement, CCT College Dublin

I was delighted to be invited by the Career Development Group (CDG) of the Library Association of Ireland recently to speak on all things pertaining to job seeking, CV preparation and interviews. It was an honour to speak alongside peers that I admire greatly such as Emma Doran of Kildare County Council Library, Martin O’ Connor of UCC Library, Johanna Duffy of AIT Library and Linda Fennessy of the National Library of Ireland. The work of the Career Development Group of Ireland is a vital support to those wishing to develop their careers further. Membership of the Library Association of Ireland connects library students, graduates and staff to a vibrant, dynamic and supportive national community of practice. Students of a recognized LIS course can join the Library Association of Ireland for free (course details and year must be provided). Further information about joining the Library Association of Ireland is available at: https://www.libraryassociation.ie/membership/

A little bit about me. I am a graduate of the library schools of University College Dublin and the University of Northumbria. I have been a librarian for 30 years, working in libraries such as King’s Inns, Technological University Dublin, University College Dublin, the HSE, the Welsh Office, the Oireachtas and Dublin Business School where I was Head Librarian for 12 years. I was the originator and co-founder of the MSc in Information and Library Management at Dublin Business School. More recently I have migrated into an academic enhancement role at CCT College Dublin. I remain as active as ever in the library sector. I am a Council member of the Library Association of Ireland and a Committee member of the Library Association of Ireland’s Library Publishing Group. I am a judge for the third year in a row on the Library Association of Ireland’s National Library Champion Awards and a mentor in the Library Association of Ireland and CILIP Ireland’s Virtual Mentoring Scheme

My talk for the CDG event focused on my top tips in relation to job seeking, CVs and interviews. I was allocated 15 minutes. Below is a brief summary of my main points which includes my top tip in relation to adapting the STAR approach to answering competency-based questions for additional success in interviews.

Avoid tunnel vision. Don’t forget the information management component of your qualification. If you can’t get a library job immediately after graduation, apply for roles in data protection, GDPR or freedom of information. An increasing number of library graduates are also working as taxonomists for companies such as Amazon. Reach out to professionals working in these roles for advice. These roles can help you to transition into a library role. Alternatively, many graduates pursue successful roles in the broader information management area in the long term. See this job vacancy for a taxonomist role at Amazon as an example at: https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/Amazon Description.pdf

Find a Mentor: Ask a librarian working in a role that you would like to work in, to be a mentor. Seek advice from this mentor virtually or in person in relation to your career development. Ask your mentor to peer review your CV or to conduct a mock interview. The library community is a generous profession. Consider joining a formal mentoring programme such as that offered by the Library Association of Ireland and CILIP Ireland. Conducted on a virtual basis, the LAI/CILIP programme is extremely beneficial for mentors and mentees alike. 

For further information, see: https://www.cilip.org.uk/members/group_content_view.asp?group=201287&id=970445

Some extra considerations in relation to CVs. If you are interested in becoming an information literacy librarian or a systems librarian as examples, ask an experienced librarian in this area or a mentor to peer review your CV.  Include a Technical Proficiencies Section in your CV in which you list as many technical proficiencies as you can, as all areas of modern librarianship have a strong technicality. Proficiencies could be platforms and standards such as an LMS, MARC, Dublin Core etc.

What’s missing from cover letters! Cover letters shouldn’t exceed one page. Additionally, they shouldn’t be just about you. Close your letter with reasons as to why you want to work in the recruiting library with specifics. Perhaps the library is a centre of excellence in health librarianship. Perhaps you admire a specific objective in the recruiting library’s strategic plan. Always mention in your cover letter that you are a member of the Library Association of Ireland. This indicates to recruiters from the outset, a commitment to your profession.

Go the extra mile in relation to job preparation. Read the strategic plan of the recruiting library and of the organization in which it operates. Do a PDF search of the library on Google. Reports can appear that have not yet been published on the library website. Check out the library website and the website of the recruiting organization. Look at the library’s social media platforms to get a sense of the institutional culture on the ground. Repeat this search for the organization in which the recruiting library is located. Check out the recruiting library’s institutional repository to see what library staff are publishing. Do a Google news search on the Library. Libraries regularly feature in the news media in relation to events, new developments etc. Talk to a former employee of the library. Reach out to librarians working in the role in the wider sector (not in the recruiting library) to get additional information. Knowledge is power!

STAR is not Enough!  The STAR approach to answering competency-based questions in interviews requires that you evidence competencies by discussing the Situation, Task, Actions and Results. I encourage people that I mentor to add an additional two S’ to the process; one S representing the strategic plan of the library and the other, the strategic plan of the institution in which the library is located. For example, if you are applying for a job at Maynooth University Library as an example, talk through your competency using the STAR approach and close out by adding how this competency aligns to both the strategic plan of Maynooth University Library and the overall strategic plan for Maynooth University. This process indicates how your competencies align to the strategic priorities of the library and institution and presents you as someone who can contribute to the goals of both the library and the institution. 

More on the STAR technique at: https://www.careerhigher.co/career-advice/answering-competency-based-interview-questions-124224/


Image: Slide from Marie O’ Neill’s presentation for CDG event

Do a mock interview. Get a colleague, family member or better still a mentor to ask you questions. Make sure that you do this several times. You can also ask a librarian in an equivalent role who is not working in the recruiting library. Muse.com has information on 53 questions typically asked at interviews with answers. Whilst not library specific, they are helpful in providing some ideas in relation to how you might answer questions. See: https://www.themuse.com/advice/interview-questions-and-answers

Stand out with value added professional development: Ireland is a small island. Applicants can be similar. Stand out by engaging in additional value-added professional development. It doesn’t have to be library related, for example a certificate in digital marketing. Consider undertaking a National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning open course/digital badge. The National Forum offers badges in academic writing, research and universal design as examples, topics that are highly relevant to the library profession. Consider taking a free MOOC in a library related topic or general topic such as leadership.

The benefits of professional development frameworks. Familiarize yourself with a professional development framework. The Library Association of Ireland offers a digital badge in partnership with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching called the L2L Joint Digital badge which promotes engagement with the National Forum’s Professional Development Framework for all Those Who Teach in Higher Education. Librarians have a strong teaching component to their work informally and formally whether they are working on the readers services desk, are a systems librarian or work in an information literacy role.

Add competitive edge by including a link to an e-portfolio in your CV: Create and maintain an e-portfolio that showcases your professional development. An e-portfolio that I really like belongs to Robert Alfis of ETBI. He maps his entries to the National Forum’s National Professional Development Framework by adding tags aligned to the Framework’s domains and typologies. See: https://robertalfis.wordpress.com If you have a Gmail account, consider creating an e-portfolio using Google Sites which is a user-friendly e-portfolio platform.

Watch your body language. Remember to smile and to appear affable. Organizations want to recruit people who are pleasant to work with. If you are a shy person or have autism, you can evidence how you support your colleagues through competency based examples. When all things are equal between the two final candidates, a candidate who has evidenced a strong team working approach can edge ahead of the other candidate.

Don’t ask a question at the end of an interview for the sake of it: I have never asked a question in 30 years, and it has not prevented me from being successful in an interview. Having done a successful interview, a candidate can occasionally ask a question that exposes a lack of knowledge. Equally a candidate can ask a question that an interview panel is unable to commit to, for example, “can you fund my PhD?” It is perfectly okay to say that you have no questions and that the information provided in advance of the interview was very comprehensive. A tired interview panel is often relieved and happy to hear that they have met your information needs successfully. It also means that you close out your interview by thanking the recruiting library.

Dealing with pre-interview nerves Go early to your interview. Find a coffee shop nearby and do something nice. Have a slice of cake and watch something funny on your phone (Father Ted, Monty Python etc.) This small technique is very effective at reprogramming your brain into a calmer, more relaxed space. Many people who have undertaken this advice, have reported back how effective it was in relaxing them. 

Communities of Practice, A critical way to develop your career is to engage with your community of practice. Join a Library Association of Ireland committee, attend conferences in your areas of interest and follow librarians in your areas of interest on social media platforms. 

Best of luck with your career development and interview opportunities. Remember that librarians are very generous. Reach out to librarians in roles that you aspire to work in for advice and support. To see my slides from the CDG event, go to: 



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