Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Why MLS Candidates Don't Get Calls for Clerical Positions in Libraries

There was a thread on Law-Lib recently where an MLS who was laid off and looking for work bemoaned the fact that she was not getting calls for any of the clerical positions in libraries where she had applied. The discussion turned on why this should be. There was one rather bitter response that, they would not call the MLS back for a copy cataloger position because "they are afraid of how much you know."

I feel terrible for those folks out there who are looking for work in a bad economy. And I understand how easy it must be to feel bitter about sending out applications and hearing nothing. But I want to present the point of view of the interviewing library. Maybe it will make some sense of what's happening on the other side of the table. I don't know if it will make anybody feel any better about a tough situation.

We recently got the go-ahead to post a clerical position that had been affected by a months-long hiring freeze at our university. We got more than 140 applications before we closed the position. Among the applications were JDs, MLSs, and PhDs. It is enough to break your heart -- this is an entry level clerical position. We can tell just from the number and types of applications what a terrible market it is out there for job seekers.

From our point of view, we want to hire somebody who is going to want to stay in the position for long enough to justify the considerable amount of training we will invest. Not just one or two years, but longer. Our university offers tuition remission, so this is one drawing card and something we think about when we hire -- if you might be looking to do an undergraduate or a graduate degree, or put kids through college, you might be a long-term employee here. It also makes a clerical position a lot more attractive, more valuable, to the employee.

From our point of view, we really want somebody who is going to be happy, not just to have a job for a while because it's so hard to get one right now, but happy to have THIS job because it's the kind of job that suits them. That means somebody who is not overqualified to the point where he or she is going to feel demeaned by the job -- oh, maybe not right away, when they are grateful to have any job, but in a few months. That kind of feeling can absolutely poison the workplace and the team in it. We look for somebody who is going to be a good fit as part of a team -- and thinking of yourself as the swan in a flock of ducks in not going to work that way. We may be jumping to conclusions about how those degrees are going to affect your attitude -- you had better write a hell of a cover letter if you want to change our minds because it's a tough sell!

From our point of view, we absolutely do NOT want to hire somebody who may have credentials that "outrank" the immediate supervisor of this entry level clerk. The supervisor is a very bright person who has one master's, is nearly finished with a second, and speaks three languages. But her "certifications" are not in library science or law. If your "certifications" are MLS or JD, how fair is that to this supervisor to hire you into the position she has to supervise? If you were she, would it be fair to say you were "afraid" of the MLS's knowledge? Or would it be more appropriate to say the library wanted to avoid creating a toxic workplace and undercutting a supervisor? (* in the case of the clerical position we just posted, it is NOT a cataloging job)

We have 140 applications and among those, are not only unemployed MLS and JD people, we have a number of unemployed people who have experience that exactly or nearly exactly matches the requirements of this job. We have applicants who previously worked in other libraries in similar positions or in bookstores in similar positions. These are people who for 10 or 20 years have been happy doing this kind of work -- it is their profession, though it is not usually graced with that recognition. This is what they do for a living, and they are content, and very good at what they do. They need a job as badly as you do, with your MLS or JD.

Now, tell me why you should be called back.

1 comment:

Marie S. Newman said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Betsy. When candidates are overqualified, they have to overcome my assumption that they will leave when something better comes along. Candidates who have been doing library or library-related work are much more likely to repay the investment we make in training them.