Emily Wheeler (@heliotropia) June 21, 2013
Tag Archives: application
I’ve contributed some thoughts on interviews for graduate traineeships to a blog post that’s all about being a graduate trainee, which you can read here on the Manchester New Library Professionals Network blog. You should read all their other stuff, too, by the way, it’s really good. And if you’re on Twitter, so are they! That’s here.
After writing about my five top tips for interviews and interview prep for the Manchester NLPN, which will be on their blog very soon, I thought I’d write about my own interview experiences for Library Graduate Trainee positions. I found the application process initially pretty disheartening – the first few applications I sent off didn’t even get a reply, which isn’t great when you’ve set your heart on a career in librarianship. But after taking on board some good advice and tweaking my CV and applications, I managed to get two interviews within a week of each other, one for MMU, and the other for a library based in Oxford. Here’s how they went.
Interview One: I arrived at MMU with about an hour to kill, which was annoying – obviously being early is far better than being late, but when it’s so early that I’ve got time to get more nervous, it doesn’t feel great. I hung around in a café until it was a more acceptable time, and then headed in. There were two interview panels running at the same time, so I was sat outside the interview rooms with a couple of other applicants, and we all did that thing where you try not to stare at the competition too much. When eventually it was time to go in, I chatted a little bit about my journey and the weather with the woman who had come to collect me, who turned out to be one of the three interviewers. She instantly put me at ease and I was only feeling a little bit shaky when I sat down.
After the introductions, we got straight in to the interview. The first few questions were pretty standard – what do you do now, why do you want to work here, that sort of thing. They asked for more detail about some of the things on my application form, which I was prepared for. But then the questions veered off into unknown territory: “what is the best and worst thing about your university library?” I hadn’t anticipated this question at all, but luckily had recently spoken to one of the librarians at my uni and was able to talk about what I thought about the improvements that were planned there. They also asked me to explain how I would help someone who came to me with a query about searching on the library catalogue.
After these questions, it was my turn to ask some. I asked about who is responsible for the library’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and a couple of other questions that I can’t for the life of me remember!
The whole interview probably took about 20 minutes or half an hour, but it felt really quick. I had felt quite relaxed and was aware that I had been speaking animatedly but not too quickly or nervously (or at least I hoped that was how it came across!). I was happy that it had felt more like a chat, and that I hadn’t run out of things to say. All in all, considering this was my first ever job interview (!), I thought it went rather well.
This led to quite high hopes about Interview Two, and maybe a tiny bit of complacency too. I was feeling like the Interview Queen after MMU, and so when the Oxford one did not quite go as well as expected, I was caught off guard.
Interview Two: On arriving at the library I was given a tour by the current GT, which I felt was a really nice touch, as I had the opportunity to hear about the job first-hand as well as seeing the library. I then went in for the interview. The room they’d chosen for this was quite a large, oak-panelled room, with the three interviewers sitting round a longish table in the middle and me at the end of the table, at a distance from them. This produced an entirely different atmosphere to the MMU interview, which was held in a small, cosy office, with us all sat around a small desk. Instead, I was in quite an imposing room, and felt more on edge.
The interview proceeded as normal, with the usual questions about why I wanted to work there and so on, but as I was not feeling as comfortable as before, I felt that I was having to force my enthusiasm a little bit, and was not getting much of a reaction from the interviewers, which was quite disconcerting. Then I was completely blindsided by a question that I should have been prepared for. They asked whether I had had any previous committee experience – something which would be important for this post, as part of it was to act as a secretary for the library committee. I went completely blank and ended up saying something not very convincing about how I was on the school council during secondary school (which is true, although we didn’t really have to do very much). I was taken completely by surprise by this question, even though I really shouldn’t have been, and I think it put me off my stride. I felt sort of defeated during the remainder of the interview and I just don’t think my heart was in it any more. I think at this stage in the interview I knew it was unlikely they’d offer me the job, but I also think I didn’t really mind too much. I don’t think I would have fitted in as well with the staff at that library and it wasn’t really my kind of place – it was a lovely building, but a larger team in a modern university library is more my thing,I think.
The story, of course, has a happy ending, because as you know I am now one of the Graduate Trainees at MMU. After leaving the second interview and walking through Oxford in the pouring rain, I got back to the house where I was staying and no sooner had I walked through the door than my phone rang – and it was one of my interviewers from MMU, calling to offer me the job. I was so relieved I cried! She said to me that I had been really personable and enthusiastic during the interview, which I was really pleased to hear. I accepted the job offer right then, and a week later I got the letter I had been expecting from Oxford letting me know I didn’t get the job there.
I find it quite interesting that I could tell straight away whether I’d done well at each of the interviews, and my colleagues have all got similar stories of interviews where they just knew either that they definitely had the job, or they’d definitely hate the job. Some places just don’t suit some people. I’m really glad that I was able to come across well in my MMU interview, and my first impressions of the people and the place turned out to be correct – I love working here!
So I’m at the end of week 19 already. I’m more than a third of the way in to my traineeship now, which is crazy. This week the university started advertising for next year’s graduate trainees, which made me think about how different life is now from a year ago. I was so stressed out last year, after having finally chosen a career path, and then finding it actually really difficult to get a job that would get me into librarianship. I sent out tons of applications, and it was quite demoralising to get rejection letter after rejection letter (or worse, silence). And look at me now! I’m here in Manchester and I’m loving it. I won’t say I’m loving every minute, because I definitely did not love discovering that part of the ceiling had fallen in on Monday morning, and I won’t pretend I’ve loved every single second of this withdrawals odyssey, but on the whole I am absolutely ecstatic to be in this job. If you are reading this and considering applying for my job, DO IT. It’s been a great learning experience.
Anyway, what did I do this week? Take a wild guess. Yep, more withdrawals. This project is taking a long time but it’s the sort of job where it’s easy to measure progress, so it doesn’t feel like it’s interminable (well, only a little bit). I’ve almost finished checking the books in the small book room (small room, not small books), which means I’m just about up to 302 in the Dewey sequence. In terms of physical location that feels pretty good, but in reality I know I’ve got about 300 pages of the spreadsheet to go, so I’m not kidding myself that I’m going to be finished any time soon. We’re getting a placement student in February so I will be able to palm some of the workload off onto him/her. I’ve said before that I don’t mind doing this stuff, and it’s true, and that’s partly because I get to explore the shelves. I’m finding all sorts of weird stuff up there, including an English-Chinese dictionary of psychology (we don’t have the Chinese-English part) and the Handbook of Butter and Cheese Making, which is really out of place in a nursing and psychology library! We’re considering compiling a list of our favourites. I’d be interested to hear from any other library people who’ve discovered interesting titles on their shelves. Anyone?
I haven’t been doing withdrawals completely non-stop this week. It was back to term-time hours this week so I got to spend part of Monday on the enquiry desk, which is one of my favourite parts of the week. Helping people is an easy way to feel good about yourself, so 10.45-12.45 on a Monday is basically a two-hour feel-good fest for me. I did have some odd enquiries this week, which made it an interesting session. One girl kept topping up her print allowance without ever being able to actually use the money, which was a strange one.
The other thing I’ve mentioned which happened on Monday was my discovery of the leaky roof upstairs. As I’ve said before, the building is lovely but very old and absolutely falling apart. The poor thing needs some good care and attention, although sadly I think it’s going to be abandoned after the university vacates it next year. So on Monday morning I went up into the small book room to get some withdrawal work done, and realised I could hear a dripping noise. And there was debris on the floor, and wait, was that a large damp patch on the carpet? *eyes creep upward* Oh… Half a ceiling tile was missing. Annoyingly there’s not much that can be done about this, it seems, and so we just have to hope it doesn’t rain too much! The books are fine, thankfully.
Monday was pretty hectic all round – it was the first day of term, and loads of assignments were due in. There were absolute hordes of students coming through the library and just hanging around near printers and stuff. There wasn’t as much chaos as some hand-in days, although apparently the printers did go offline for a bit in the evening, which must have been nerve-wracking.
The rest of the week has been fairly normal; I’ve had some stints on the issue desk and lots of time for withdrawals, and that’s pretty much it. On Friday we went to a training session on Endnote Web, and while it was good for me to learn how it works so I can help students on the enquiry desk, I’m still not convinced I will ever use it for myself. Plus, it didn’t work as seamlessly as promised with the library catalogue, so I’m not sold on its usefulness.
Next week I’m going to shake things up a bit and record a couple of podcasts, which will break up the week a little. It’s been a while since I’ve had more than one thing on my to-do list!
Everyone’s talking about the potential for a snow-day in the next couple of weeks. I’d like to see a little bit of snow, but not so much that it gets inconvenient. Snow for weekends only, I think. We shall see what happens – I’m not sure a heavy snowfall would be good for the structural integrity of the poor old building!
There are probably lots of people who’ve done blog posts about applying to library school, but you can never have too much advice (probably?) so I thought I’d chip in with my own thoughts on the whole thing.
First things first: choose your library school. There are tons of options: part-time, full-time, distance learning, that diploma thing, etc. Do you want to go to London and pay £8,000? Do you want to get a job and take a bit longer doing the course? Have a look at the prospectuses as well to see whether the actual course would suit you. I’ve chosen Sheffield not only because it’s in the North and that’s where I want to be, but also because it’s strongly focused on information retrieval, management and literacy, which are things I’m interested in. Other courses have different strengths that might appeal more to you.
Once you’ve decided where you want to go (and how many you’re applying for – I went for the all-your-eggs-in-one-library-school approach, but other people prefer to apply to a few and see what happens), it’s time to do the application. I only have experience of doing this for Sheffield, but I’m sure the process is similar for most places. So. The first bit of the application is easy – who are you? What qualifications do you already have? That sort of thing. Form-filling. The bit that’s obviously tougher is the personal statement. I hate stuff like this, because I feel like there’s only so many ways you can say “I’m really good, please accept me” before you start hitting the really weird words in the thesaurus. However, I usually find that once I’ve started it, it’s actually not as bad as I was expecting.
The first thing I did when I was thinking about my application was decide what they would want from me. You want to show that you’d be suitable for the job, which in this case is “Masters Student”. What is the job specification for a MA student? You’ve got to have good research skills, be good at independent study but also group work, be an effective communicator and be motivated, for starters. Make a big list of this stuff.
A good tip my housemate came up with once (and which was reiterated by Bethan Ruddock in her presentation to us) is to write down absolutely everything you can do in a big list. You can speak French? Put it down. You can ride a unicycle? Put it down. You once helped put up a marquee? Put it on the list. Then start thinking about how that stuff fits the sorts of qualities you need for the job/course/whatever. Speaking a different language = versatility, good communication skills, ability to think on your feet (when you’re translating), ability to pick up new things quickly, the list goes on. Riding a unicycle = determination and persistence, overcoming challenges, etc. Putting up a marquee = teamwork, communication skills. Seriously. You could probably shoehorn anything in and it’d work. Update your list every time you do something new, so it’s constantly up to date and you’ve got something to instantly refer to when you’re applying for stuff. It’s like a really in-depth CV.
The main bit of writing the application is then matching the stuff from list 1 (what they want) to the stuff from list 2 (what you’ve got). Don’t forget that anything and everything counts as experience. I struggled with writing job applications until I realised I could write about pretty much anything and make it relevant. I always talk about climbing mountains in my applications because it shows determination and motivation.
Obviously you also need to talk about your future plans – MA Librarianship or similar courses are there for career progression. You need to show that you’ve got an idea, even if you’ve not really thought about it a huge amount. As long as you sound convincing – “I intend to do X” rather than “I am considering X” or “I’d like to do X”, it doesn’t matter if your plans change later on. This is also a good place to talk about issues faced by the profession. Maybe throw in something about the economy or new technology or something similar, to show you’re interested in current events and you’re engaged in what’s going on.
Don’t forget to mention why you want to study at this particular place, on this particular course. Don’t let your application sound like you’ve sent it out to ten places without changing any of the words!
The only other tips I have are: have a beginning, middle and end – sum up your statement with something that’s going to make you sound good, like “I feel that this is the right course for me because X”; spellcheck! and read it through to make sure the spellcheck hasn’t missed anything; use a thesaurus so that you’re not saying the same three words over and over; make sure it still sounds like you. Using elevated language does nobody any favours.
I’ve just said “spellcheck” and remembered something I discovered after sending off my application – my CV still had my old address on it. Seriously, people, read your writing carefully.
I hope this is of some use to someone out there! Below you’ll find links to websites I used when writing my applications (and some more that I found on Google earlier). I really like the Newcastle University link (although I may be slightly biased), but they’re all useful. Your own university or workplace might also provide careers guidance that is also helpful here, so do look at their website too.
Here’s a useful page on the Sheffield Librarianship MA http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/courses/sscience/is/librarianship-ma . If you want to sound like you really know what you’re talking about, look at the list of modules, choose one and Google it (try “shef.ac.uk Educational Informatics module”, for example) and you should be able to find the website that describes the actual structure of the module. I’m sure this works for other universities as well.
On Wednesday I went to the University of Sheffield’s Postgraduate Open Day to see the place I’d applied to and get a feel for the course. Of course, as with all open days I’ve ever been to, the weather was atrocious, but I think this can be a good thing – after all, if you like the place when it’s grey and miserable, you’ll definitely like it when it’s sunny and warm. I’d never been to Sheffield before but I liked what little I saw of it.
My first stop was to the main exhibition, where they had stands from all sorts of University services. I picked up a ton of leaflets and three pens, so it was quite a success. There was also supposed to be a welcome talk, but I couldn’t find that. No matter though, as I was straight off to the Information Commons for a tour. The IC is Sheffield’s main library, and it’s very shiny and exciting. It’s quite similar to the All Saints library here at MMU, what with its 24-hour opening and self-service issue, returns and reservations. However, there are some parts of it that are quite exciting and different, including the “flexispace” where all the furniture is on wheels so you can design your own group study space, and the private study rooms with whiteboard walls. I can see why they were top of the table for university libraries in 2011.
Afterwards, I wandered down towards my next appointment, stopping off at a University café for some beef goulash which was very tasty and affordable. Another point to Sheffield! I then attended a talk which was not really what was advertised (or maybe I just got the wrong end of the stick) – it was sort of a “why should you do postgraduate taught study” session aimed at people who hadn’t made up their minds yet, rather than a session for people who knew what they were doing and wanted some more specific information. The speaker, an Economics lecturer, was engaging though, so it was still a fairly interesting half-hour, even if I didn’t learn anything new (perhaps this just means I’ve done good research already though!).
I then looked around another of Sheffield’s libraries, the St George’s Library, which the librarians at the main exhibition had said was the subject library for library and information students. I don’t think it is any more, but it was still interesting to get a look at a different library. This one was a lot smaller, and felt more like Elizabeth Gaskell Library. It was nice, although not nearly as shiny and exciting as the Information Commons!
After this, it was time to go to the Information School for a meeting with a senior lecturer. I was instantly impressed with the iSchool because they’d laid on Party Rings for us – that’s the best biscuit I’ve ever been given by a university. These are the things that matter. There were two other people there who were looking at the MA Librarianship, although I didn’t chat much with them as we were met by Sheila Webber, the senior lecturer, quite quickly. She took us to her office and gave us an overview of the course and the different modules, and the sorts of opportunities we would get. There’s something called Essential Computing Skills which sounds like it’ll be great on my CV, as well as some really interesting modules to choose from in the second semester. There was also a handy part of her presentation which set out what they were looking for from potential students – most useful what with the interview I was going to the next day!
After visiting the iSchool and being thoroughly impressed with it and the course, I left, to go and prepare myself for the interview the next day. I applied to the course at Sheffield a couple of weeks ago and got an invite to an interview with them about three days later – not bad going at all. I had a bit of a look on Google to see if anyone had written about their Sheffield interview experience, and lo and behold, a few people had, because if there is any group of people that likes to write about things and post it on the internet, it’s librarians. Librarians have got self-reflection down to a T, and it’s really useful for times like this. Everyone seemed to say that the interview was quite relaxed and informal, so I wasn’t too nervous going in, although I had to stop myself from getting too complacent – I still had to prove my worth!
The interview was with Sheila Webber, who I’d met (and questioned rather a lot) the day before, so I was instantly at ease. We talked about why I wanted to come to Sheffield, and why I wanted to study on the course. These were questions I was prepared for, so that was ok. Then we got on to the future of librarianship and I’d handily been following some stuff on Twitter the night before about how Croydon Council has put the library service out to tender, so I could speak a bit about my thoughts on the financial situation, and the public (and political) opinions on what libraries are for and how they should be run. It was all very easy and comfortable, and I asked some questions about some of the modules and dissertations, and then Sheila said “well, we’ll definitely be offering you a place” and I was so happy I sort of got stuck and said thank you about 50 times. And then after I left and went to get the tram back to the train station, this happened:
So that was good.
Anyway, I’m going to Sheffield! As long as I can get some money together to pay for it, of course. I’m going to send off the AHRC funding application this week and keep all my fingers crossed that they’ll like me enough to give me lots of money. Back up plans at the ready!