I love the blog Hiring Librarians.
In their survey segments with Real Life Librarian Applicants, you can always tell who has been on a long job searching slog–the bitterness (protected by survey anonymity, thank goodness) hisses up out of the text like acid steam. While that feature and others on the blog offer great tips for interviewing and understanding culture, I think that hearing the frustration in the voices of my fellow job seekers also helps to underscore three big factors we all choose to deny while job-searching, if we want to keep our wits:
1) Nothing matters but who you know.
2) Nothing matters but culture and fit and whether you match these mysterious ineffable things. Cheating with 2a) Nothing matters but who was in the position previously, and how they worked out.
3) It’s a crapshoot.
Ineffable doesn’t begin to cover it! But let’s take a look at these. #1, sometimes the only person you have to know is your spouse. I can guarantee from personal experience on both sides of this sword, who you’re partnered with will get you a job. When I say both sides, I mean this: I’ve been hired because of my partner, and I’ve lost out on jobs to people who are partners to others in an organization. But as we know, #1 doesn’t stop there. Both inside and outside of the library or other org you apply to, who you know can decide whether or not your application is recognized, considered, or even seen. And because networking can be tough and decision-makers wax and wane or come and go, well–see #3.
#2 and its attendant: I’m going to hit the most basic note of this, because culture and fit can depend on a lot of things, and there are lots of ways to prepare by researching a library or org, or by talking to people who work there. But say you decide it looks good to you and you get an interview. During the talk, at a most basic level, you might think you project a calm, neutral demeanor, one that says CHOOSE ME, BECAUSE I CAN BE INTEGRATED INTO YOUR WORKPLACE WITHOUT A HITCH. And hey, maybe you do. But it doesn’t matter what you project, if you’re calm or nervous or obsequious or you go a little bananas and have a cussing contest with your interviewer–the fact remains that unless you’ve already worked in this place with this set of people around this time period, you have no damn clue what their current culture is like and how you’ll fit into it. You have no. Damn. Clue. Once I got a job at an organization I’d researched assiduously, networking with employees and so on. When I showed up on my first day, I learned that the whole place had undergone a reorganization and that my position would now be slotted with a new supervisor who hadn’t had any say in hiring me, and who was not pleased to meet me. Yikes. I’ve since wondered what I could’ve done to predict dysfunction — short of infiltrating the org as a landscaper prior to interviewing — but I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you just can’t know what a culture is like or how it will change before you get there. Hey, maybe see #3 again, but let’s also touch on #2a.
Something else you can’t control: the unwritten expectations that come along with a position based on who left it. It could’ve been a super high achiever whom everyone expects 200% from, and from your resume and interview they don’t think you can handle it. Or they could’ve been a manipulative drama queen who graduated from X University and you also graduated from X University, ooh, that might leave a bad mental taste. The library director might have butted heads with this position and wanted to move it into a more technical area, something the previous person balked at, but now that they’re gone… or maybe the director and this previous position were great friends, and the director is looking for someone similar out of nostalgia.
Okay, I recognize these are a little ridiculous, and I don’t want to seriously imply that anyone would hire solely based on those reasons without any self-awareness or professionalism. Although I did work on a hiring committee with a woman who attempted to get us to interview a candidate with zero experience out of a pile of those who had years’ worth, solely because the candidate mentioned the importance of having children and being a mother in her cover letter. (Note: this was not a position for childcare-related work.) Because she could identify, “as a mother myself.” Sheesh.
Though that’s an extreme example, my bottom line feeling is that these are all little drops in a bucket of wanting to hire the right person, and I believe more often than not gut feelings help out with the decision. And we do know from our own personal experiences, that gut feelings can change from day to day, depending on our mood and the weather and medications and environment and hell, even diet. Aren’t we all slaves to the Rarebit Fiend?* Which brings me back to #3. All roads lead back to #3, because you guys, it is a crapshoot.
And now I feel a ton better about my impending job search. Better go back and read more Hiring Librarians–some people on there have actually gotten jobs, what what. I’m a little sorry to add to general desperation or bitterness of job-searching, but some days I need a little reality sprinkled on my Optimism-Os. For one thing, it helps me feel like I’m not a failure or unhireable, but just unlucky. For the moment.
*note: link to an older 1900s comic, which if I remember correctly, has racism, violence, and sexism in some strips.