Recruitment 2.0

It’s March. Soon the doors of universities and colleges will be flung open, and a stream of students will emerge. Somewhat pasty, a little dazed from the efforts of final exams and papers, they have only one thing on their minds – JOBS. The University of Toronto’s i-School has already had its job fair. Governments are starting the hunt for summer students, and new grads are looking for that first job. It’s a heady time for students and employers alike. I thought it would be appropriate to offer some reflections and tips for job hunters and employers.

Are you in it for the long or short term?

Job seekers: Think about what you’re looking for. Are you joining the organization looking for stability? Learning opportunities? Promotions? There are no wrong answers to this question, but you should give it thought before you walk into an interview. It’s very likely that you’ll be asked.

Employers: It’s easy to assume we’re always looking for someone we can train and keep forever, but this isn’t always true. The impending retirement of a significant portion of the labour force means that succession planning is (or should be) top of mind. Are we looking for someone we can develop and build into a management role, or someone that we can count in that position for years to come? Is it realistic to think that every applicant is looking to put down roots? It is important to ask the applicants how they see the position fitting into their career strategy. You may not be their ultimate destination, but perhaps you can offer a quality learning experience, while benefiting from their energy and ideas.

Get yourself known

Students have many opportunities to get their names before employers – practica, co-op placements, involvement in student government can all be excellent ways for the profession to find you. Librarianship is more about your ability to make connections than it is about your ability to study. I’m not saying that grades don’t matter, but given the choice between hiring a student with straight A’s and little presence, and a student with a professional presence and A-‘s or B+’s, I’ll take the student with the lower grades. They have already learned the essential lesson – librarianship is not about books. It’s about connection.

In a recent competition, we went looking for a research librarian. In the poster, we highlighted Web 2.0 awareness as one of the qualities we sought. After reading the applications, I Googled the top 20 candidates. My goal was to see how many of them I could find, and what platforms they were using. I also read what I could reach in the public sphere (I didn’t friend anyone). We screened some candidates into the interviews because of the quality of their blog posts. I was impressed by the quality of the thinking, their ideas and the professional tone of the blogs. Others didn’t fare so well. If you must vent, consider doing so by phone, in your diary or in some other private way. You never know who’s watching.

LinkedIn is a must for job-seekers. It helps you create that professional presence, and build networks. For the reasons above, I’m not certain that I would recommend linking your LinkedIn content to your Twitter account.

I’m in a quandary about Facebook. I originally set up my account for purely social reasons, and prefer to keep it that way. But there are so many professional resources arriving in Facebook that it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the divide! I also tried to set up two accounts – one for professional connections and one for personal. That didn’t work. My best suggestion is to make use of the privacy settings in Facebook. You can customize the settings to some extent. Perhaps it would be smart to block your coworkers from access to your photo albums, for example.

Make your case

Employers put a lot of time and thought into recruitment. It’s expensive. It demands resources. You should honour that by putting a reasonable effort into your application. This means writing a cover letter which directly addresses the qualities and experience that I put into ad, and tying your experience to what I’m seeking. Customizing the resume is even more impressive. It shows that you read the ad, have thought about it, and can see how your skills match. In our recent competition, the first thirty applications I received came in the first day – they were all boilerplate, and from only marginally qualified applicants. Not a single one screened in for an interview. The final thirty applications came in two weeks later, in the final days of the competition. They were impressive documents, and reflected real effort by the candidates. Most of the people we interviewed came from this group.

Make the case for yourself, especially if you don’t have precisely the skill set or experience that I’m looking for. Don’t expect me to do the work for you – tell me how your four summers as a barista has given you customer service skills which translate to your new career in libraries (and it does, by the way).

Know your audience

Are you applying to a private company or a government organization? There is a significant difference in how these two groups interview. Government tends to rely on a more formal approach. The HR department often does the first screen of the applications. Make certain to address each of the elements of the ad in your application – experience, training, skills.

If you get to the interview stage, you will likely face a panel of two or more interviewers. They will take you through a preset list of questions, which will be given to all of the candidates in the competition. These questions will be taken from the advertisement. Spend some time studying the mandate and structure of the organization – annual reports are a great source of information, as are planning documents.

Academic institutions are likely to resemble government in the structure of the interview. They may also require a presentation from you, depending on the nature of the job.

Interviews with private companies are not likely to be as formal. Don’t let that make you complacent! Do your homework – read what you can about the company. Try to think about ways in which this job fits into the goals of the organization as a whole, and be prepared to use this information as you explain why you would be a great choice.

LISTEN – what information can you get from the interviewers about the workplace? Is it still a good fit? Think about your career goals, and whether the job still matches your aspirations.

Employers: how do you make that final selection? What weight do you give the factual questions versus the “soft” skills? How successful have you been in determining fit, and how do you do it?

I have a colleague in a firm who prefers to hire new grads and train them in her own methods. What’s your approach? What tips do you have for applicants, and how is the job market looking from your perspective?


  1. Sage advice. Unless you have any objections, I’m going to draw this to my students’ attention.

  2. Susannah Tredwell

    Soft skills are key. I think it’s much easier to teach someone about the law than it is to teach them how to multi-task, handle stress, or be interested in current events. For the most recent position that we filled at my firm, although we were looking for someone with some law library experience, we ended up hiring someone straight out of library school because she had the soft skills we were looking for. She didn’t have the legal experience, but she’s proved to be a fast learner and a great hire.

    My biggest tip for applicants is: first impressions count. (I know it sounds trite, but why wouldn’t you want to make the best first impression that you could?) Generally, your first chance to make an impression is through your cover letter and your resume. You wouldn’t believe the number of resumes I’ve received that contain spelling mistakes, are addressed to the wrong person or are for the wrong job. In one case we received a resume where the career objective read “Obtain a position in a public library.” (We’re a law firm.) The more applications there are for a position, the easier it becomes to just toss the applications from people who couldn’t spell the organization’s name correctly. A job seeker should read both the resume and the cover letter out loud before sending them. They’re much more likely to catch mistakes that way.

    With regards to the interview, my main piece of advice is to ask questions. Not the kinds of questions that can be answered simply by looking at the organization’s website, but questions that give the candidate an insight into whether the job is a good fit for him/her.I’d also recommend that a candidate be prepared to answer the question of why he or she is the best choice for the company.

  3. Great advice, Susannah. I know that it doesn’t feel like it for the candidate (especially new grads), but it is equally important for the candidate to think fit from their perspective. Are you getting a good vibe from the interviewers? You can learn a lot from the way you are treated when you arrive, and how the interviewers treat each other. Have some thoughtful questions prepared, and don’t be afraid to ask them.

  4. A few more comments to add to this post.

    – If you have a “cute” e-mail address, don’t use it to submit your application. You may reveal more than you want to by sending your application from

    – I’d love to hear from other employers on the question of minimum qualifications. Some say that it’s up to the employer to decide that you aren’t qualified, but I have to say that as an employer, if I specify that I want candidates with a particular background or amount of experience, I get a little tetchy when I receive applications from candidates who don’t even come close. If your experience does not clearly match what is requested in the ad, take the time to tell me why your experience is noteworthy. I touched on this in the original post, and I still feel really strongly about it.

  5. Just for fun, I reread this column, and it’s interesting to see how things have changed in just a year. Most notably, I find Facebook has become an important way for me to maintain my professional network – I now use it to share information from feeds that I receive on Facebook itself.

    Best of luck to the graduating class of 2011. How does the market look?