Essays and rants on libraries, technology, webdev, etc. by Ruth Collings

Get a Job

Recently there was a conference with the hashtag #aac14 that brought up discussion on Twitter about preparing students for the job market. These kinds of discussions drive me nuts and usually I avoid them, but hey! I'm unemployed so why not write a blog post about it.

As a young unemployed recent grad I get a lot of advice on what I should and shouldn't do to get a job. At a certain point it becomes almost superstitious. "Everybody I know got the interview by hand-writing their cover letter in blood, so you should do that too!". Why do people seem to have such strong ideas about what the rules are for getting a job? Because the fact that a lot of decisions are made irrationally is scary. It's easier to use words like "fit" than to admit to your own racism, sexism, or any other discrimination. Factors that affect whether or not you hire someone: their physical attractiveness[1], their height[2], their weight[3], their perceived gender[4], their skin colour[5], their accent[6], and the last time you ate[7]. (By the way, those citations are largely from the 70s-80s and as such aren't open; these biases are too well-established for many recent studies.) These are just a few factors that I picked off the top of my head. There are loads more.

Part of the reason why we have HR and behavioural interviews is to try and build some reliability into the notoriously unreliable hiring process. That is why a lot of job descriptions tend to have a laundry list of qualifications which are then ranked and judged by the hiring committee. However, the whole point of the biases I discussed above is that they are not conscious. The way you perceive a person's ability to perform a reference interview is biased by a lot of things. If they are attractive, you'll gloss over their faults. If they're fat, you'll see the fact that they forgot a pen as a sign of sloppiness. And so on. With a smaller group doing the hiring it can be even more of a "Who do you like more?" game. If you hire people on a regular basis all you can do is be aware of your biases and try to counteract them. That is at least one step towards dealing with institutionalized prejudice.

So if you're like me and know that all these biases can act against you regardless of what you do it can get pretty frustrating when people argue over wearing makeup to an interview. Unless you know the people interviewing you and know how they perceive makeup there is no safe decision.

So long as we're talking about practical things you can do to improve your chances at getting a job we should also be talking about systemic biases in the hiring system.

The second part of why discussions of what to do or not do drive me nuts is because it is essentially rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. That goes for discussions of what students should learn in their degree and where to do internships. The Titanic in this metaphor is the economy and the deckchairs are jobs. The iceberg is peak capitalism, perhaps.

You want to know the one trick that would get me and everyone I know a job? There being more jobs. If there is only one job for every five applicants there will always be four people without a job. That's just math. We can all fight amongst ourselves to be that one person who gets the job, but it doesn't solve the problem at all. Basic economics tells us there are two sides to this problem: supply and demand. Supply says we need to graduate fewer people to become librarians and/or make it harder to become one. This gets into issues of accreditation. On the demand side libraries need to hire more people which means they need more money. That's easier said than done, and I have massive respect for all the librarians out there whose entire job is fundraising and politics. However, even if your job does not directly involve the HR budget you are still a person living in a capitalist economy that does not value the services libraries wish to provide.

So long as we're talking about what candidates should do to get a job, we should also be talking about what those hiring are doing to create more jobs.

I am a twenty-four year old white single female and speak English as my native language. I have an Honours bachelor degree in the sciences and have an ALA-accredited MLIS. I have volunteered and been involved in the community my entire life. I am confident and can speak in front of crowds and sell myself. My mother is an MBA and my father is a doctor, so I have known from a young age how to act "professional". I have taught myself skills my program didn't teach me and have done all the networking. I have a blog, a tumblr, a linkedin, and 296 followers on twitter. I even moved halfway across the country for my last contract job. So why haven't I had a job offer out of 20+ applications? The answer is that the system is broken. So long as established librarians keep acting like everything is normal on the Titanic those of us who are stuck in steerage are drowning.

[Updated 2015-05-22]








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