My Job Search

Cartoon image of a library with a large red flag over it.

As I wrote in my last post, I recently moved across the country, started in a new position, and am having a great time in Pennsylvania. I got the job I wanted, I live in a cool place, and I anticipate I will be here for a long, long while.

That said, I did want to write about my job search process. I’ve seen Eamon Tewell do something like this on Twitter, once when he got hired and at least once when he was doing the hiring, and I think it’s important to be transparent about how searches go. I also want to share my story so that other mid-career folks in management roles can see what it might look like to change institutions.

With that, here’s my story:

In the summer of 2019, for lots of reasons, I realized I needed to get out of my library and, ideally, out of Colorado. There were both professional and personal motivations that I won’t go into in this post, but I was prepared to do a national search. At the same time, I wanted to be very careful about where I ended up (frying pans, fires, etc.), so I intensively researched each potential institution, reached out to my professional network, and wasn’t afraid to drop out of a search if I encountered any red flags. I had never been this selective in a search before, and although I did not anticipate it would take three years, I don’t regret any of my decisions. Like I wrote above, I’m very happy with how things ended up.

First, some statistics.

Between the summer of 2019 and the summer of 2022 I applied for 18 positions in 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. During the height of the quarantine, when travel wasn’t advisable, I only applied for jobs in places I had visited before.

From those 18 applications, I had first-round interviews with 13 libraries. I was invited for second-round interviews at nine of those, but dropped out of two because of issues that arose during the first round. I ended up being a finalist seven times, with three of those interviews happening in-person, and the other four happening in Zoom. (The in-person interviews happened either before Covid or after Omicron.)

I dropped out of two more searches after the second round, which narrowed it down to five positions for which I kept myself in consideration. Of those five, I received four rejections and one job offer.

Beyond the numbers, though, I want to share some reflections on what I experienced in these interviews. In the event anyone from any of those libraries sees this, I want to again thank you for your consideration. I spoke with a few people who were incredulous that I wanted to work at their institution, and I assume they thought I was trying to get a counter-offer to present to my administration. That was never the case, and I was genuinely interested in every job when I applied for it.

Here are my main takeaways from this process, in no particular order:

  • There are people doing great work at libraries all over the United States. I learned about interesting programs, impressive facilities, and genuinely innovative services. I interviewed in all four time zones, in the north and the south, in rural and urban areas, and met people who clearly care about the work and know how to do it well. A lot of this search process was inspiring.
  • Much of the time, people are doing great work under really lousy circumstances. So many libraries are under-funded and under-staffed and ignored by their campus administrators. So many libraries have unqualified managers and/or administrators. So many places are dysfunctional. A lot of this search process was demoralizing.
  • It really does matter who is in charge. Because I was interviewing for positions in middle- or upper-management, I usually got 30 minutes or an hour with the dean, or they otherwise served on the search committee. Some were impressive, some were aloof, some were overwhelmed, and some were toxic. I am so thankful for the professional network I’ve built over the past decade, to whom I was able to reach out as I participated in these interviews. I’m also thankful for the good deans out there, proving that it is possible. With an exception or two, the places with a solid dean had much higher morale than the places that didn’t.
  • Spending a full day, or two full days, in Zoom meetings is brutal. Not just because staring at a screen for that long is exhausting, but it also robs the interview of all of the interstitial moments that can better let you know who people are and how it might feel to work somewhere. I know that in many ways remote interviews are an improvement, especially as they allow for more accessibility. At the same time, there are genuinely meaningful parts of the interview that have not yet been duplicated in an online environment. It seems like Zoom interviews are going to stick around, but I hope we get better at them.
  • The practice of interviewing people you have no intention of hiring is cruel. I encountered this at multiple institutions at varying stages of the search process, where it became apparent that they would be hiring an internal candidate and my presence represented an institutional requirement, rather than an opportunity to vet me as a potential colleague. Sometimes I was able to withdraw before committing to the next round, sometimes I found out on interview day. Every single time it stung.
  • Generally speaking, people who live in the Eastern time zone do not do conversions when offering time slots for interviews.
  • Generally speaking, the rest of the country does.
  • Somehow, offering multiple options for interview days is not a uniform practice. I had multiple libraries invite me to a second round and say “your interview is on this day.” In one case I asked for a different day and was told that wasn’t possible.
  • Most search committees still do not send questions ahead of time. This is such a shame. First, UDL is a thing. But even if you’re not familiar with UDL, I would hope committees would think about how meeting in a glitchy Zoom room with audio that cuts out is reason enough to share things in writing.
  • There are search committee members who discuss candidates with their colleagues who are not on the search committee. I thought this was universally understood as being inappropriate? But I can tell you that’s not the case, and it’s a pretty rotten feeling to know that people are ignoring confidentiality and engaging in gossip. This also happened at multiple institutions.
  • A few places are GREAT at interviewing people. Looking at you, library that said “You can’t visit our city to interview so we made a LibGuide telling candidates about what it’s like to live here.” Looking at you, library that included breaks between each Zoom meeting! Looking at you, library that shared all questions for every meeting ahead of time and during the meeting in the Zoom chat box!

Again, I’m sharing all of this because I think transparency in the search process is a good thing, and I want academic library interviews to improve across-the-board. I also want to let mid-career, middle-management people know what they might encounter, should they decide they want to make a change. Supporting MLIS students who are on their first job search is relatively straight-forward, but how do we support people who can’t say “I’m ready to leave” out loud without risking their appointment and/or alienating their colleagues and direct reports? I don’t fully know the answer to that question, but I thought something like this might help. 

I also want to acknowledge the privilege I had of being able to do a national search. I know lots of people can’t just up and move. I don’t have kids, I don’t own a home, and I have been at a point in my life where I could cut and run without too many considerations. (The phrase “holding pattern” is something I thought about a lot during this process.) I’ll write more about the research of Kaetrena Davis Kendrick in my next post, but for now I’ll say that page 20 of this study on leaving low-morale experiences resonated a lot with me.

As I’m wrapping this up, I want to put in a plug for Oregon State University’s Search Advocate program, under the direction of Anne Gillies. I recently finished the month-long course and learned so much about how to make a search more inclusive and effective. If you’ve got some sway at your college or university, you should look into enrolling in this program (it’s for anyone in higher ed, not just library people). It’s a big time commitment but I found it highly valuable.

Programming note: This is the second of a three-post series. The first post is about relocating for my new job, and the third one is about leaving my last position.