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

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Glad I didn't listen

Was doing some research and came across a blog post titled "Librarians, Expertise, and the Social Transcript" by Lane Wilkinson which got me thinking about my role as a librarian.  I remember being told "Why are you studying librarianship when libraries will disappear in a few years time", "You won't have a job everything will be on computer and what will you do then". I'm glad that I didn't listen because while my job has changed somewhat - no longer do I type out the cards for a card catalogue, or stamp books with the due by date - I am just as busy and have a variety of tasks that all involve books, computers, catalogues and information.

These days not only do I loan books out, help someone find that information that they are searching for or find out what other author writes like Agatha Christie but I'm also helping the senior member of the public learn about "this thing called Facebook that my grandson/granddaughter keeps talking about" or helping someone download their first ebook so they can tell their son, daughter, grandchild that they can use an ereader.

We are the gatekeepers of information.  One thing that I keep telling people is that not everything is on the Internet and not everyone can get access to everthing on the internet.  So it was interesting to me to find a post titled "16 Reasons Librarians are still extremely important" which has as reason number 1 - Not everything is available on the internet. 

Reason I became a librarian is that I wanted to help people find what they were interested in - whether information about a topic, how to use a piece of technology or the next fiction book to read.  What the reason for the search wasn't important, it was the finding the information/item that was important because it meant someone got what they wanted. 

I now have more variety in my job than I have had previously.  On any given day I can go from issuing books/DVDs/CDs to teaching someone to use the catalogue/computer, to research an interesting topic, to reading a story to children and at times even fixing computers.  You become very adapt at changing hats at short notice.  So I do say I'm glad I didn't listen because I've definitely met interesting people, worked with some great people and learnt some very valuable skills along the way.  All because I love working in libraries.

Vesna Cosic AALIA
ALIA Sydney, Treasurer

Thursday 24 May 2012

Email chaos

Do you sometimes get the feeling that your work life is getting overrun with emails and email management? I remember when I was doing my library visits at uni, some librarians talked about what they do as librarians, and I remember that checking, replying to and managing emails was a significant part of this particular librarian’s day. Answering email reference and library queries from patrons is something that I love doing, but sometimes the non-query emails really start piling up, and a lot of it is stuff that you may not necessarily need.
I didn’t realise quite how much email I get, until I got back from a 4 week trip overseas. There was SO much mail! And that was even after I’d created filters for all of the email distribution lists that I’m subscribed to, so I didn’t have to inflict them all on my colleague, who had kindly agreed to check my emails, while I was away.
Luckily, a lot of the mail was stuff that I could just delete, after a quick glance over it (but the amount of time it takes to do that really adds up!)
The final straw was when I logged on to go back through some old emails that I’d left before I went away, only to find that the folder I’d created and moved all of my ‘before leave’ emails into had completely DISAPPEARED. Aargh!!!! Luckily, a wonderful person from IT managed to locate them download them, and then import them back into my Outlook (phew! Crisis averted!). They had somehow managed to move themselves into an invisible folder that you needed a third party program to locate- who knew? And I still don’t know how they managed to make themselves invisible…  Because I had a lot of emails that I hadn’t gotten around to filing before I went away, it took ages to re-import them back in but it did take him a couple of hours, playing around on my computer to work it out.
So the lessons I’ve taken away from this somewhat frustrating experience?
1.       Minimise the amount of emails that you get by playing around with your junk filter settings.
2.       Try to deal with every email, as soon as possible by filing it into an appropriate folder if you want to keep it, or deleting it as soon as you’ve read it.
3.       Re-evaluate all of the email distribution lists that you’re on- do you really need to be on that many? Take some time to unsubscribe to all of those lists that you don’t need.
4.       Dedicate time before you go away to tidy up your inbox, otherwise it will be more work when you get back!
5.       Only keep the emails in your inbox that have an active status, or that you’re waiting on someone to reply back to you.  As soon as they reply back, or you deal with the issue, delete or file the original email.
Keeping on top of my email is a constant battle, and with these good intentions and with these great tips from fellow committee member, Vikki, which you can read here, I hope to be able to get my email back under control! Now to get back to those emails in my inbox…
If you have any other useful tips for managing email, please feel free to share!
-          Crystal

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Planning sessions

I'm sitting at a desk that is absolutely overflowing with folders, reports, bits of paper with notes scribbled on it and two half finished and cold cups of tea. I am in work mode!
My management team have just completed our annual team building/ workplanning session and I'm super excited about what I've committed to this year.
Our theme for the 2012/13 year is COLLECTIONS and I'm going to be creating a weeding plan, a redesign of the floorplan of the lending area and guidelines for the presentation and shelving of library material. As excited as I am about these projects, I am definitely feeling nervous and a little overwhelmed.

The real reason I started this post however, was I wanted to talk about how useful our yearly planning sessions are in determining our common goals and delegating tasks as a group as well as bouncing ideas off each other.

We have a consultant, Carol Lewis, from The Human Equation run a two day session with our group of six managers. We began the whole process last year by having an intense introduction to the Myers Brigg personality types, which helped us to understand not only the tendencies of the others in the group as far as communication methods and processing ideas, but also about how we can be perceived by others. I'm an INTP, (I know you were dying to find out). I found the personality types so useful. One of the things I learned is as an introverted thinker, it is perfectly reasonable for me to say 'I'm going to have to think about that' when having discussions with my colleagues, and they learned that if given the time and space to process the information, I am going to come up with a solution of better quality than if I'm put on the spot. My boss also learned that despite sometimes appearing off with the pixies and staring in to space during meetings, my brain is actually hard at work, thinking of ideas and solutions while everyone else is talking (I had no idea I looked like that, lucky she told me).

After learning about all the group members different tendencies and types, we are able to better understand who should run different elements of our projects. We learned who to go to when thinking about the big picture, and who would pull us back down to earth with the finer details of the project, such as 'how are we going to pay for it?' etc. In our session this year we were also encouraged to argue and have passionate discussions about what is important to us, to be honest with each other and to trust constructive comments from team mates. It was exhausting!

The outcome of the session is that we are cementing our commitment to working as an effective team who trusts and understands each other and has a clear and common goal that we all agree with and are contributing to.

This is the first workplace I've experienced with such a commitment to planning and I can see the positive impact it has on my personal style of work and how it is bringing us all together as a team.

Do you have formal or informal planning sessions at your work? How do they help you throughout the year? Do you have regular follow up to keep you on track?

I look forward to hearing more planning stories from you!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

The open access debate

DATABASE at Postmasters, March 2009 by Michael Mandiberg / CC BY-SA

All taxpayer-funded academic research to be made freely available online for anyone to read

Makes sense, doesn’t it. However this news headline only applies to the UK. And it’s not available just yet…

Last week some very interesting news was announced – the British government is partnering with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to create a platform for all taxpayer-funded scholarly output to be published on for free. Regardless of whether the research is also published in a subscription journal. 

As someone who works daily with people searching for information, open access developments are something I follow with a great deal of interest. Have you been following the discussion around open access publishing

Recently there has been a lot of criticism about the cost and accessibility of scholarly journals. Concerned rumblings have been gaining momentum around the blogosphere and in the media.

As one academic recently wrote: 
Academic publishing is in the midst of an upheaval. The internet has transformed the ability to disseminate knowledge, a capacity once exclusive to publishers. Despite this, the exorbitant profit margins of academic publishers – who often do not pay their authors, editors and reviewers – continue to grow unchecked while library budgets shrink as a percentage of university spending.

This is a problem.

The journal pricing debacle 

There are two main areas of concern that are coming up over and over again in this debate.  Firstly, institutions such as universities are being required to pay ever increasing (and some say unfairly exorbitant) prices for online access to journals. High profile journals are often sold in packages by major publishers – leading to libraries purchasing many titles that they would otherwise not have bought in order to get access to required journals. And it’s not just small libraries who are finding journal purchase to be prohibitively expensive. One of the world’s wealthiest universities is also having trouble. Last month, Harvard University’s Faculty Advisory Council posted a memorandum on the Harvard website stating: 
We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.
They go on to suggest that academics publish papers in open access journals (known as ‘gold’ open access), and ensure their papers are submitted to the Harvard open-access repository (known as ‘green’ open access). 

Harvard are not the only ones who are concerned. Early this year a group of academics started a boycott of Elsevier (who publish more than 2,000 research journals) on the Cost of Knowledge website. So far over 11,000 researchers have signed up. They cite exorbitantly high subscription prices, the practice of ‘bundling’ popular journals with unpopular ones, and Elsevier’s support of efforts such as SOPA, PIPA, and the now defunct Research Works Act (efforts that aim to restrict free exchange of information) as reasons for the boycott.  

Publicly-funded research results should be in the public domain

The second area of concern (and one that resonates strongly with me) is that research that has been funded by taxpayers money - whether here in Australia or in countries anywhere around the world - should be freely available in the public domain. There is nothing more frustrating than reading an article in a newspaper that refers to some research or new idea you are interested in, only to be confronted with a paywall when trying to read the original work.

A recent informal survey of Australian journalists regarding whether they actually read the research they’re reporting on had some interesting results. “A few journalists who bravely admitted their ‘always’ was probably more of an ‘almost always’ highlighted a lack of availability of the paper as the major limiting factor.” 

While those of us who have affiliations with institutions such as universities generally have access to a wide range of electronic journal subscriptions, I don’t believe that access to research should be restricted only to those individuals who are located within the borders of these institutions. To assume that research and new ideas are purely the domain of academia and other similar institutions who can afford (or not, according to Harvard) access goes against all of my ‘Librarianship is about helping people access information’ ideals. And it also seems very outdated in this internet age. As Time magazine points out in a recent article on the subject of journal cost:
This is troubling for a number of reasons. First, in an age where the public can browse nearly 4 million articles for free on Wikipedia, a curious person looking to read up on the latest scientific research can expect to spend nearly $30 to $40 for a single paper from publishers such as Elsevier and Springer.

So what can be done about this? Clearly, open access journals are one solution. However, publishing in open access journals may not always be possible. This is where open access repositories come in.

The article mentioned above goes on to discuss – an open access repository started in 1991 by Paul Ginsparg at Los Alamos National Laboratory to host papers in the field of high-energy particle physics. It’s now based out of Cornell University and receives nearly 75,000 new submissions every year – all freely available for anyone to read.

And there’s another benefit that Time also reports on:
In a paper written late last year, Ginsparg pointed out the benefits of this model, saying it “had an immediate impact on physicists in less developed countries, who reported feeling finally in the loop, both for timely receipt of research ideas and for equitable reading of their own contributions”.
Happily, when I went to track down Ginsparg’s original paper to read more of what he though on the subject, it was easy to find via Google Scholar and the open access repository. For anyone who’s interested, the title is It was twenty years ago today...  I’ll leave you to do the rest. 

A national open access repository?

So, back to the exciting development announced last week. Imagine - a national (or even - one day - an international?) open access repository where publicly funded research and articles resulting from that research were required to be placed. Possible? The UK government certainly thinks so. Take this optimistic quote published in the Guardian last week from the UK Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts:
Giving people the right to roam freely over publicly funded research will usher in a new era of academic discovery and collaboration, and will put the UK at the very forefront of open research.
Will we see something similar in Australia? Already the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) require publications from research they fund be placed in the public domain within 12 months. But a national open access repository? I’ll leave you to read up on that. Let me know what you think. 

Here’s a start. And an interesting read for anyone who wants to know some of the other side of this discussion.

A final note: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Usually.

Of course there is a cost involved in publishing, and this has to be met somewhere along the line. Open access journals use a range of models to ensure that costs are met, and profits are made. These range from publishing fees borne by the author (or their institution or funder) to subsidies from academic institutions, government departments, or similar bodies. This does lead to the interesting argument about who should fund author publishing fees for open access journals: the academic’s department, or the library who would otherwise be paying journal subscription rates? But that’s a debate for another day...

With thanks to Cheryl Hamill for the regular links sent to the list aliaHEALTH on this topic.

- Sarah Fearnley

Sarah is an Events Officer for the ALIA Sydney Committee. She works at the University of Western Sydney Library. Her substantive position is as a Digital Librarian; however she is currently on secondment as a Liaison Librarian.  All opinions expressed are her own.


Open Access – some useful links 

DOAJ-- Directory of Open Access Journals

OpenDOAR– Directory of Open Access Repositories

Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) is launched - 13 April 2012

Further Reading

By Guy Rundle | Crikey, 3 May 2012

Speech by David Willetts, UK Minister for Universities and Science to the Publishers Association annual general meeting, London | 2 May, 2012

By Michael Eisen | 24

By Alok Jha | Guardian, 9 April 2012

By George Monbiot | Guardian, 29 August 2011

By Danny Kingsley | The Conversation, 3 August 2011

For those who are really interested in this topic, here is a recently published, freely available ebook:
Edited by Melanie Dulong de Rosnay & Juan Carlos De Martin | March 2012

Friday 4 May 2012

New ALIA Sydney May Event.

ALIA Sydney Presents: 10 tips for getting that job - The do’s and don’ts when applying for a new position

Getting a new job can be a time consuming process that requires skill, strategy and preparation. It means painstakingly putting together an application and jumping through all sorts of hoops to be selected as the number one candidate in the recruitment process.

Come and hear recruitment professionals that have been actively involved in this process share their top 10 tips of what you should and shouldn’t do to make you stand out from the crowd in the Library and Information profession. These will be based on resume writing, addressing the selection criteria and the interview.

These professionals will also share some heart-warming success stories, spine chilling horror stories and of course, their own experiences.

You will also be given the opportunity to have specific questions addressed and to share experiences through group discussion.

Speakers will be from the sectors of:
·         Tertiary: Adrianne Harris, UNSW
·         Government: Vanessa Blackmore, Law Courts
·         Recruitment agencies
-        Nell Hirst, Zenith
-        Catherine Hill, OneUmbrella

Date: Monday 28th May
Time: 6.00pm (for a 6:30pm start) – 8.30pm
Venue: UTS Library
Cost: $7 members, $10 Non Members (Pay at the door. It would be wonderful if you could bring the correct change on the night.)

Places are strictly limited so please RSVP your attendance by emailing

It will be wonderful to see you all there, especially if you were inspired by our last event on career progression! This is the down to earth counterpart to all those dreams you have been having!

Bruce and I are very excited about this event and we are sure it will not only be useful to information professionals at all stages of their careers, but will also be a lot of fun.

Always a pleasure.