ON LIBRARIES: Making a Successful Move

It was interesting and helpful to hear all the responses in the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group to last week’s blog. Thank you for all your input, comments and feedback. I’m glad so many of you got something from the post. If you decided based the blog that it was Time to Move On, (or if you’d already come to this decision on your own) now the question is – how do you do get the job you want?

First, dig out your resumé and review it.  It likely needs updating.  Although an Objective might work for those looking for corporate positions, every librarian (and teacher) seems to have almost the same objective: “To create or expand a 21st century library program.”  There are variants of course but it uses up valuable page real estate – the opening of the resumé – to add nothing of value.

Spend some time thinking of what you do very well as a librarian. Then, instead of an Objective do a Profile with three or four bullet points highlighting your outstanding skills, such as Experienced Tech Integrator or Skilled User of Social Media.

Under experiences which you list in chronological order, don’t just describe your job.  Highlight what you did. You might have started a One Book, One School event or created a Makerspace.  In other words, how did you make your program successful?  This reinforces what you featured in your Profile.

Include a section on Related Experiences such as being an advisor to a club or making a presentation at a conference.  Next, of course, is Education. You should also have a section on Professional Associations which shows that you are a professional and here you should include any volunteer positions you hold currently or held in the past. Other sections include Publications which include blogs, Honors you have received. Some people close with References available on request, but since this is a given it also takes up valuable space and doesn’t need to be included.

Using your state association’s listserv and other resources, locate (and keep searching for) job openings.  Once you have spotted one, do research and find out as much as you can about the school and district.  Check their state report card. See what they say on their website. Is their Mission Statement mostly boilerplate or does it give an indication as to what they value? If they have photos of students, what are they doing?

With your research in hand, you are ready to write your cover letter. It’s invariably three paragraphs.  The first paragraph states what position you are applying for and where you learned about it.  Use this space to start your pitch by referring to what you learned in your research. For example, if it’s a high performing school you might say, “I am looking for the opportunity to work with the best and the brightest.”  If it’s in a school that is focused on improving student performance, you “want to be part of the challenge in helping students discover what they can achieve.”

The second paragraph is where many applicants tend to waste the space, restating things that are in the resume, such as the places where they worked.  Instead, show why you are the perfect candidate for the position. You can point to how your abilities as a tech integrator led to increased collaboration with teachers and 21st century learning experiences.  This sets up questions that will be included in your interview.

In the final paragraph, don’t close with the traditional, “I look forward to hearing from you.” Instead, say “I look forward to discussing what and how I can contribute to the school program.”

As soon as you hear they want you to come in for an interview start doing additional research. Find out who will be interviewing you. Will it be just the principal, or will there be a supervisor and perhaps the current librarian?  Google them and see what you can learn. Take a close look at the library’s page on the school website.  If there isn’t one – that tells you something about the current program and a possible way for you to improve outreach. You need to learn as much as you can about what they have accomplished and what they seem to value. Do a dry run to the school preferably at the same time as your interview so you know exactly where to go and what kind of traffic to expect.

You should also consider going online for sample interview questions so you will be ready what they might ask. Inevitably one will be, “Why do you want to leave your current position?” Do not say anything negative about the administration or the teachers.  Instead, answer with something like: “Budget constraints had me teaching two classes resulting in the library being closed. This was unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, and it’s important to me that the library be available to students throughout the day.”

Prepare questions of your own in advance.  Too often when applicants are asked if they have any questions they ask something foolish such as what the salary is or what their schedule would be like. Ask questions that will help you understand the vision and culture of the school and district.

Prepare a portfolio to bring with you showing your best lessons and projects. Bring enough copies for everyone present since you will be leaving it there. In addition to or instead of a printout, consider putting it on a thumb drive.

Listen carefully to what is said and what is not said.  Almost all administrators say the library is the heart of the school. What do they mean by that?  You can and should ask what they like/don’t like about the current program. The response will tell you how well they understand it, as well as where they would like to see it go.  Do ask to see the library and learn as much as you can about the technology it has.

As soon as possible, send thank you letters to all who interviewed you. In general, hand-written is better than e-mail.  It will carry more impact. Again, don’t waste the real estate.  You don’t want to say that you appreciated their time and look forward to hearing from them soon.  Take the opportunity to remind them of who you are.  Refer to something specific the person said that you found informative.

If all goes well you will get a job offer.  Think carefully before you accept it. Mentally review the interview.  What are the negatives about the position?  Do the positives outweigh them?  Know your priorities and if his position supports them. If you don’t evaluate the offer completely, you may jump from the frying pan into the fire.  A mistake here will require that you remain a few years before you can consider a new move.

And although the process is challenging – stay positive. Jobs are opening up.  There are opportunities for those who are willing to leave their comfort zone and go after what they want. Finally, for those of you who are happy where you are, consider bookmarking this post. You never know when things change so it’s best to be prepared.

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ON LIBRARIES: Time To Move On

The question is a bit shocking. Although people in other professions do it all the time, librarians and teachers rarely consider changing jobs unless they aren’t rehired. It is probably related to tenure which makes us never think of the possibility.

There are three reasons to start thinking about finding a new job. The reasons range from the obvious to the surprising –at least for those of us in education.  (And even if you don’t fall into any of the three categories, it’s wise to be prepared.)

The most obvious reason is moving.  Your spouse got a transfer or for some other reason, you are going to be pulling up stakes and moving too far away to continue in your current job. Finding a new position can be challenging particularly if you are changing states. You need to research and network.

The research will tell you how complicated it will be to move your certification to your new location and how to go about it. You can also find out about which are the best school districts and salary scales. Networking involves connecting to the school library association. You can’t get on their listserv if you aren’t a member, so join quickly.  Introduce yourself there and on their Facebook page which they are most likely to have.  Ask about job openings. This is not a time to be shy.

The second reason is you dread going to work most days. Everyone has some bad days, but if you rarely have a good one, it is time to move on.  Maybe your workload keeps increasing.  No matter what you try, your administration only thinks of you when they have another job you can take on. Your teachers are so exhausted and demoralized they can’t possibly collaborate with you. The school culture, which I wrote about last week, also will inform this situation.

This is when you need to accept the truth that you are no longer doing well by your students or your teachers.  Your schedule keeps you from doing the things that were why you became a librarian. Your first step is to start checking your state association’s listserv.  If you see any vendors let them know you are looking.  January is a good time of year as districts will soon be getting ready to hire for the fall.

The final reason I’m going to offer is not obvious.  Most of us can see the proverbial handwriting on the wall but few act on it. These are the times you know things are almost undoubtedly going to go downhill, but you just stay put.  It’s like knowing a train wreck is coming and doing nothing about it.  Sometimes you need to trust yourself and take a big leap no matter how scary it seems.

I lived through this.  I had been in a district for twenty-two years. The last five or so I had a principal who was an egotistical bully and a liar. But I had great teachers and a strong program.  I also had a superintendent of schools who always knew what was happening everywhere in the district.  She was the one who had transferred me to the high school six years before this principal showed up because she liked what I was bringing to the educational community.

Then my superintendent announced she was retiring in two years.  I immediately called her and said I was job hunting.  She urged me to stay, but I could read that handwriting clearly.  The assistant superintendent would get her job and stay for three years to get a larger pension.  He was a nice guy but had nowhere near her strength or vision.

Once he was gone my principal would become the superintendent of schools and my life would be all about managing him and working to keep him from undermining my program. Dealing with him would drain so much of my energy, it would affect all aspects of my job.  And it would affect my home life likely leading me to come home so angry at his latest tactic I would rant and rave to my husband.  I knew he would just tell me to quit.

No sense in waiting for his advice.  I decided to act.  There was going to be a workshop on the automation system we used at one library in a great school district. I let the librarian who was hosting know I was job hunting, and she said she was retiring at the end of the school year. I made the necessary contact with the district’s H.R. department and had an interview scheduled for a few hours before the workshop.   By the end of the week, I had a job offer and a signed contract. When I told my superintendent, she asked me to give the principal a chance and to talk with him.

My meeting with him quickly proved me right.  He had no trouble or issues with my leaving. He told me he had done their Middle States Evaluation and talked about their great budget.  Since it would be a much longer drive to work, he suggested I try audiobooks.

I had a wonderful time in my new district and discovered how much I had learned over the years. When I would return for retirement parties at my old district, I found out I had correctly read the situation there.  Four years later, my former principal was the Superintendent of Schools.  And the teachers kept telling me how smart I was for getting out.

Yes, I lost my tenure.  But I knew that I wouldn’t want to work for any district that didn’t grant me tenure.  What I really gave up was my sick days, but only in the short run.  It was worth it.

Next week I will blog on how to get the job you want.