Wednesday 30 May 2012

Recap of 10 tips for Getting That Job - The Do’s & Don’t's When Applying for a New Position


What an invigorating and engaging evening! The recent ALIA Sydney event on Monday 28th May 2012 was a great opportunity to hear industry professionals give their top ten tips for getting a job. All four speakers had tips I’d never considered – and others that served as a timely reminder. As I looked around the room many people were furiously taking notes, so I don’t think I was the only one to come away with new ideas.

So ... who presented?
·         Tertiary: Adrianne Harris, UNSW
·         Government: Vanessa Blackmore, Law Courts
·         Recruitment agencies:
      Nell Hirst, Zenith
      Catherine Hill, OneUmbrella

What did you get out of the night? Or, if you weren’t there – what are your favourite tips for getting that dream job? Please add them to the comments section below.

Here are my top ten tips gleaned from this event, from the perspective of someone with six years in the profession. I’ve also included a top ten list for new graduates.

My top ten from the night:

1.  Practice. Out loud.
As someone who froze up in their first few interviews - practice (in front of people) has been invaluable for me.
  • Find a colleague/ friend to do a mock interview with you.
  • No one is born knowing the secrets to job interviews – it is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. So practice! Preferably with someone else or at least out loud on your own.

2. Research ‘them’.
I once went for an interview for the largest college (similar to an Australian TAFE) in London. The library had just been awarded a prestigious national award for literacy and numeracy support. Mentioning this in the job interview showed I had knowledge of the sector and also the organisation. Oh, and yes I got the job!
  • Adrianne told a horror story of going for her dream first job at a union and not knowing who the head honcho was when he stopped to chat to her outside the interview room. Things like this can cost you the job.
  • You are an LIS professional! Put those skills to work. RESEARCH: the environment, the politics, the policies, the key people. Don’t skip this important component! It could cost you the job.
  • Don’t forget news sources. Have they been in the news lately? If you have access to resources like Factiva, put them to use. Otherwise search the web. 

3.  Contact the Contact Officer. It’s what they’re there for.
I have to admit this is not something I’ve done before. After tonight, my opinion has changed – it will be the first thing I do when I’m interested in a job.
  • Ring the contact officer. Have a chat – do they want wide experience? Someone who can hit the ground running? The enthusiasm of a new graduate? Is there time to train a new person?
  • This also applies to agencies – Catherine only gets one call out of every twenty applicants, which is a missed opportunity as she is a source of extra information.

4. Tailor each and every resume and application.
  • Selectively take from a ‘master resume’. Consider the position description against your ‘master’ and pick and choose.
  • An aside: there was quite a bit of discussion about gaps in your resume and how important it is to account for these. The general consensus - it is important to account for every gap, use terms like ‘career break’, ‘carer responsibilities’, ‘childcare’, ‘travel’ etc. Never assume gaps are evident –if you took 2 months to move countries, account for it on your resume.
  •  However, Adrianne pointed out that Universities are used to casual contracts and have more flexibility with gaps in a resume than the corporate or government sector.

5. Use CAR
  • Circumstances. Actions. Results.
  • Use this formula to answer selection criteria and to answer interview questions.

6. Get yourself an action verb sheet.
  • Use an action verb sheet to write your application. 
  • Use words like ‘Review’ ‘Initiate’ ‘Outline’ and ‘Develop’. 

7. Don’t disqualify yourself unnecessarily.
I’ve relied on auto-correct and spell check in the past and been caught out – words guessed incorrectly by auto-correct are not a good look on an application.
  • TAKE NOTE: if the selection criteria call for ‘an eye for detail’ (and let’s face it, with Librarianship it should ...) and there is one spelling or grammar mistake in your application – you have been disqualified.
  • Read your application backwards to check spelling – this stops your brain skipping over the words.
  • Nell made the point that Library world in Sydney is very small, so do not bag out a previous employer. Don’t tell lies. Library world in Sydney is actually tiny! You will be found out!

8. Prepare some questions for them.
  • There is nothing worse than coming to the end of the interview and being asked ‘is there anything you would like to ask us?’ followed by a silence while you scramble around in your head for an intelligent sounding question.
  • An easy way around this – prepare some questions in advance. Can’t think of any? A quick internet search on “questions to ask at the end of a job interview” can help. Preparation is the key.

9. Go for a visit.
I’ve impressed potential employers by mentioning observations about their library in the interview and relating it to other similar libraries I’ve worked in. How did I do this? By visiting the week before.
  • This is especially possible if it’s a public or university library. Go for a walk around the library a few days before the interview. See how busy it is. Get a feel for the place. Would you like to work there?

10. Have an elevator pitch about yourself.
"I’m a Library professional with six years experience across the academic and corporate sectors. My key skills include ..."
  • Have a summary of skills ready to go – an elevator pitch about yourself. Your marketing statement. Try for 6 bullet points to summarise yourself. Make sure you relate it to the organisation & position.
  • This is especially useful for the ‘tell us what you would bring to the job’ type of question. Or even the dreaded ‘why do you believe you are the best candidate for the position’ question.


Ten tips for new-grads

1. How much should you write for the selection criteria? If you are early in your career – keep it succinct and to the point. Focus on outcomes. Use study and volunteer positions as examples. Use a mix of sentences and bullet points to break it up for the reader.

2. Allow eight hours to write your first selection criteria attempt from scratch. Then cut it right back. Then cut it back again.

3. Set up alerts! You are information professionals – use this to your advantage as a job seeker.

4. Remember the panel is human – they want you to do well. They have all been interviewees as well.  The interview is not a test; the panel is not trying to catch you out. They will be asking you about things you should know about, based on the selection criteria.

5. Don’t answer with yes or no – even if closed question – it is a chance to push it on. Expand it, use examples.

6. Nell’s tip for talkers in an interview: “repeat question back, give answer, sum up, shut up.”

7. Vanessa explained: for NSW Government jobs there may be a competitive cull. What is that? Each applicant is ranked on how they score out of five. If you score 1 on any area (unsatisfactory) you are culled. Make sure you address each selection criteria.

8. If unsuccessful, see if feedback is available from the convener (it always is for government jobs). Take advantage of this– they will point out your strengths and your areas for development.

9. How is a candidate chosen? Comparative assessment – how you compare to other candidates at that time. Remember it is only at that time.

10. How do you get experience if you can’t get the job in the first place to get that experience? Consider agencies – they can help with short term contracts which have helped many librarians get a start in the industry. Catherine pointed out that agencies often know about opportunities that aren’t advertised. They also know the employers so can explain to you what they are looking for.

There was so much more during the night – what was your top tip?

A huge thank you to Crystal Choi, Bruce Munro and Holger Aman for organising the evening and Adrianne Harris, Vanessa Blackmore, Nell Hirst and Catherine Hill for their valuable insights. Special thanks to Bruce for being a great MC.

Sarah Fearnley


  1. What a great summary of the night! It certainly helps to corroborate with the notes I took. I was really impressed with the quality of the presentations.
    On reflection, one of the key messages I took home was to be mindful of the organisational context and the importance of taking time to consider if applying for the job in question is really the best step for you and your career. Simple research tasks like a quick reconnaissance excursion and speaking with the contact officer can easily give you a feel for the place and the ability to consider your own needs and career goals. All too often we imagine a job interview to be a dreadful trial-by-fire or necessary evil that must be endured at any cost, clinging to our worst fears and performance anxiety.
    I now think a much better approach is to understand the job interview as a useful exchange of information in order to solve a problem. It sounds obvious but speaking directly to the contact officer before you apply is the most direct method to gain information about the position context. A wonderful night of “duhs” for information professionals.

  2. I asked Adrianne her ideas on what should be included in a resume. Here is what she said:

    "I don’t recommend any particular style as it’s important to find your own voice. However, I would recommend at least the following standard elements in a Resume:

    Name and contact details
    Work Experience/Professional Experience – listing 3 achievements for each position along with main responsibilities and accountabilities
    Training and Further Education
    Awards/Committee Participation
    Other relevant experience

    A good guide for all of us!
    Sarah Fearnley

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