February 21, 2011

Interviewing Advice

Posted in Interviewing at 10:18 pm by melissaautumn

There’s a page full of useful information and good advice on interviewing at Mr. Library Dude. The page includes potential interview questions, questions you can ask the search committee, links to job search resources and tips for interviewing.


October 14, 2010

Portfolios – General Advice

Posted in Interviewing, Professional Success at 8:32 pm by melissaautumn

Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts on portfolios. You can search for “portfolios” in the handy search bar to your right to find the first three.

I thought I’d wrap up this series with some last pieces of advice that did not necessarily fit elsewhere.

  • Write for Non-Librarians: Hiring committees often include people who are not librarians. Avoid professional jargon and school-specific abbreviations they may not understand.
  • Be Succinct: Although a portfolio provides you additional space to elaborate on your skills, remember that potential employers have many resumes and portfolios to review – select your evidence carefully and write succinctly. Your portfolio should be easy to skim, not overwhelming.
  • Ask for Feedback: Have a mentor or friend review your portfolio; ask for honest advice about what works well and what you can do to make it even better.
  • Edit Carefully: Just like your resume, your portfolio needs to be error-free. Proof and proof again.
  • Maintain your Portfolio: Once you have a portfolio, you will need to maintain it by updating the content when appropriate and periodically checking links to be sure they are still working.
  • Start Simple: You don’t have to have an elaborate portfolio or a fancy site with all the latest plug-ins. Start simple – if you have the time and interest, you can grow it into something bigger. Or, you can just keep it simple.
  • Start Now: The time for job hunting may seem far away, but it really isn’t. And I know you are busy, but you won’t be any less busy then. If even a simple portfolio seems overwhelming, break the process into small steps. Start by getting your resume online, then add a simple introduction to yourself, then add a few pieces of evidence. Commit to spending a little time each week – once you get going and build momentum, it’ll be easier to keep going.

Good luck with your portfolios! You know I love to hear from former students, so send me a link to your portfolio when you’ve finished it.

And now, I think I’ll go get started on my own online portfolio!

October 8, 2010

Portfolios: Selecting the Form

Posted in Interviewing, Professional Success at 1:26 pm by melissaautumn

Note: This post is the third in a series on portfolios. The first post was on why you might want to create a portfolio and the second post was on selecting content. The last post will be general advice and tips.

Traditionally a portfolio was a collection of print documents that an applicant would present as part of the interview process. One advantage of a print portfolio is that you can refer to specific documents during the interview process without needing a computer – thus the evidence in your portfolio becomes a natural part of the interview process. If you decide to create a print portfolio, be sure your documents are printed on good quality paper and the entire package is presented neatly. A three-ring binder with a cover page, divided and labeled sections, and documents hole-punched or in clear plastic sleeves works well.

Of course, these days online portfolios are much more common. Not only can potential employers and search committees access your portfolio at any time, the online format provides evidence of your technology skills. Once your portfolio is online, you can add the URL to your resume, cover letters and/or business card.

There are a variety of ways you can get your portfolio online:

  • Personal Website: If you have the web authoring skills (or access to web authoring software), creating a personal website is an ideal option. Not only can you completely customize the look and content of the site, it will provide evidence of your authoring skills.
  • Google Sites: You can use Google Sites or a similar service to create a simple, attractive website. The advantages are that you do not need sophisticated web authoring skills and you can demonstrate your ability to adapt freely available products to support library services.
  • Blogs: Some blog sites, such as WordPress, will allow you to create additional, non-blog pages where you can post information about yourself. This option might work well if you already blog professionally (or plan to start) and want to link your blog, resume and portfolio.

Regardless of the method you use to create your online portfolio, remember that your page should be neat, attractive and well maintained.

  • Add Hyperlinks: The advantage of an online portfolio is that you can link out not only to your own documents, but to other websites. Consider adding a few selective links to former places of employment, online publications, etc.
  • Build an Image: The style of your portfolio, particularly the font, colors and images, should be professional. Avoid anything too garish, juvenile or trendy.
  • Experiment Elsewhere: Not only should your portfolio look professional, it should be stable – you don’t want features to be “here one day, gone the next” or poorly executed. If you want to experiment with add-ons, test out new technology, or simply think about a redesign, set up a second site or a hidden page and do it there.

September 21, 2010

Portfolios – Selecting the Content

Posted in Interviewing, Professional Success at 11:14 am by melissaautumn

Note: This post is the second in a series on portfolios. The first post was on why you might want to create a portfolio and future posts will focus on how to create one.

All the elements of your portfolio should work together to present a consistent vision of your professional skills and goals. Although your resume or vitae can list all of your work experience and skills, your portfolio should be more selective, focusing on only a few areas of strength or professional interest. For example, a student striving for a public service position might emphasize her skills in reference, instruction and marketing, while a student striving for a position in technical services might emphasize his skills in cataloging, electronic resource management and database construction.

Once you’ve identified areas to emphasize, you will need to select artifacts that provide evidence of your experience or skills in each area. These artifacts can be class assignments, pieces of professional work, something created for a volunteer position or personal interest, or professional publications.


  • For each area, select only a few artifacts. The goal is to demonstrate your best work, not overwhelm your reader. Quality is more important than quantity.
  • It can be helpful to add a short introduction to each piece in order to give it context and connect it to the rest of the portfolio (e.g., “I created this LibGuide for my reference course in spring 2010.” or “This LibGuide, created for a reference course, demonstrates my ability to use the LibGuide software and to write for an undergraduate audience, as well as my familiarity with resources in the field of molecular biology.”)
  • Look for documents that highlight multiple skills. In the example above, the student demonstrates not only her ability to create a research guide, a common responsibility of reference librarians, but also her familiarity with a popular commercial product.
  • Proofread and edit your artifacts carefully. If you are using a course assignment, use the instructor’s feedback to revise it once again before adding it to your portfolio.


  • Elizabeth Matkowski’s portfolio includes the work she’s done for various courses. Rather than linking to every assignment, she highlights the course projects that are similar to the work she expects to do professionally (white papers, handouts, a collection policy).
  • Janice Wien’s portfolio is very selective in the examples she presents. Notice her introductions to each artifact- they are very succinct, but provide important context for each item.

September 14, 2010

Creating Portfolios

Posted in Interviewing, Professional Success at 9:21 am by melissaautumn

I’ve had a lot of questions about creating portfolios, especially online portfolios, so this will be the first in a series on the topic. Today’s post focuses on why you might want to create a portfolio. Future posts will address selecting content for your portfolio and options for creating an online portfolio.

A portfolio is a collection of documents that provides evidence of your professional skills and experience. Typically a portfolio includes your resume or curriculum vitae and samples of your work. It may open with a short, narrative statement where you describe your experience, skills and professional goals. If you are seeking a career in higher education, you may want to include a statement of your philosophy of librarianship or teaching philosophy in place of or in addition to the narrative statement.

Because portfolios allow you to provide additional information related to the experience and qualifications listed in your resume/vitae, they are most useful in the job seeking process (academic librarians may need to create a portfolio for promotion and tenure, but those portfolios will follow an institution specific framework and are best created after starting a position). Whereas your resume might include a brief mention that you’ve created a LibGuide or an archival finding tool, your portfolio can provide a link to these documents, allowing potential employers to both confirm what you say and see the quality of your work. In addition, an online portfolio can demonstrate the ability to use technology to accomplish a professional purpose, as well as strong written communication skills, both qualities that are highly desirable on the job market.

In my experience, portfolios can be particularly helpful for presenting oneself to non-librarians involved in the search process. As an experienced librarian, I can read between the lines of a resume to understand what a candidate learned during an internship or through specific coursework. However, many candidates are interviewed by non-librarians such as school principals or deans, teachers or faculty, and human resources representatives. These individuals may have no idea what an archival finding tool or collection development statement is and appreciate seeing examples of a candidate’s work.

Portfolios are also useful if you are trying to create a professional identity for yourself, since they can be viewed by colleagues outside your immediate institution. In these cases, portfolios are often an expanded version of your resume with the focus being on your professional accomplishments, publications, etc.

Creating an online portfolio is also an opportunity to develop your technology skills. Some students will develop one as a way to practice authoring web pages or experiment with a particular online tool such as Google Sites.

Keep in mind, creating an attractive, quality portfolio will take time; and once created, you will need to keep it up to date. A slap-dash portfolio may give the impression that all your work is slap-dash, which is not what you want when you are job hunting!

Here are two examples to give you an idea what an online portfolio looks like. I have some additional examples for future posts as well – a big thanks to all my former students who shared their portfolios will me!

Still interested in creating a portfolio? In my next post, I’ll discuss selecting content for your portfolio. In the meantime, if you have questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll use them to guide future posts in this series.

August 30, 2010

Writing a Teaching Philosophy

Posted in Instruction, Interviewing, Professional Success at 6:32 pm by melissaautumn

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article by James M. Lang on how to write a memorable teaching philosophy.

Those of you going into academic librarianship may especially want to take note of this article, since the application and/or tenure processes can require a statement of your teaching philosophy or your philosophy of librarianship (and this article could easily be adapted for help with the latter).

December 2, 2009

Selecting References

Posted in Interviewing at 9:51 pm by melissaautumn

Recently I’ve had students emailing me for job searching advice, so I thought I’d post a bit about selecting references (for more on asking for references, see this post).

Whoever you select should be able to speak to your skills, knowledge and aptitude for professional librarianship. Although advertisements often request three references, job seekers often will have a pool of five or six people willing to serve as references and then use the three most appropriate names for a given application (or they will provide more than three names).

Potential References include:

  • Professional Librarians – If you have library experience, whether paid or through an internship, practicum or other volunteer gig, it would be best to use your supervisor as a reference. If your supervisor is unable to provide a reference or you are concerned that he or she did not see enough of your work to write a good letter, you can ask a colleague. In fact, if you have any library experience, you may be able to find more than one reference from that experience (ideally people who can speak to different aspects of your work).
  • LIS Faculty – As a new graduate without library experience, it would be appropriate (and expected) to use faculty from your MLS program as references.
  • Non-LIS Faculty – If you have another graduate degree and it is both recent and relevant to the position, you could list that individual. For example, if you have a master’s in history, are applying for a tenure track position in a library, and plan to continue researching the history of libraries as part of your scholarly contributions to librarianship, it would be appropriate to list an advisor who oversaw your research in history.
  • Other Employers – If you have work experience in another setting, you should consider listing a supervisor from that position. Supervisors, regardless of the nature of the work, should be able to speak to your interpersonal skills, initiative and creativity, etc., which will be of interest to a future employer. However, consider this carefully. If you worked for years in the publishing industry and are now earning an MLS and moving into librarianship, you would definitely want to list a former supervisor or colleague. If, on the other hand, you’ve been a full-time student and your last job was two years ago, working the checkout counter in a drugstore, listing a supervisor from that job may be less relevant (you’d probably be better served by listing another LIS faculty member who can speak to your grasp of professional issues).

When you provide a list of references, give the full name, title and contact information (mailing address, email, phone) for each person, as well as an indication of your relationship (phrases like, “Practicum Supervisor” or “Professor for 3 LIS courses, including Instruction in Libraries”).

May 12, 2009

Buying a Suit

Posted in Interviewing at 2:43 pm by melissaautumn

In a recent post I recommended (okay, insisted on) wearing a suit to an interview. Lest you grumble that I don’t understand you are poor graduate students who can’t afford to buy a suit, here’s a follow-up post with advice on buying a good suit at a reasonable price. 

You have three basic choices in where to buy a suit:

  • Department Store: Department stores usually have a wider variety of suits from which to pick and if you watch for sales, you can get a good deal. If you are sartorially challenged or this is your first suit, ask a salesperson for help (department store salespeople are like librarians at a reference desk – they want to help you be successful and they know more about the library, er, store, than you do). In some stores, you can even call ahead for an appointment with a consultant.
  • Specialty Store: Men can shop at stores that specialize in men’s suits, while women can shop in mall stores that specialize in business attire. These stores have the advantage of helpful salespeople and well organized stock, but selection may be limited to store brands. Watch for a sale or you’ll pay too much.
  • Discount Store (i.e., Ross, TJMaxx): For women, these stores can have great deals on designer suits, although you’ll need to feel confident enough to shop on your own, as the salespeople won’t be as knowledgeable (sorry, guys, I’m not as sure about men’s suits). Like everything in these stores, the stock can vary widely from week to week and store to store, so it is best to drop in to a few different stores periodically to see what is available.

Be prepared to have your suit tailored, either on-site or by taking it to a professional (ask around to find someone good).You’ll almost always need the pants hemmed, which in a pinch you can get done at most any dry cleaners. However, a professional tailor can make other alterations to improve the fit of your suit, taking it from merely nice to really great. I drive thirty minutes to an old downtown area where this wonderful Korean seamstress owns a little shop crowded with dress patterns, religious literature and clothes waiting to be altered. I don’t even tell her what I want, since I’ve learned she knows better than I what needs to be done – I just put the suit on and she tells me how she is going to alter it.


  • A suit should be comfortable. If it pinches or feels confining, it is too small or a bad fit for your body type. I find that fit varies by designer, so you may want to try on suits from different designers until you find one that works for your body type.
  • Buy a dark suit in a mid-weight fabric so that you can use it in any season. Dark suits are always appropriate and can be made seasonably appropriate with a different shirt, but a suit that is clearly designed for winter (heavy fabrics) or summer (very light fabrics or color) may not transition well to another season.
  • Avoid anything too trendy. A good suit should last years and you can update the look by changing the shirt, tie and/or accessories you wear with it.
  • Men’s ties should add a pop of color and interest to your suit without going over the top. Salespeople can usually consult on shirt and tie combinations that match your suit.
  • Women especially can save money by layering a nice suit with an inexpensive shirt from Target or a discount store. 
  • If you plan to be an academic librarian, remember that interviews often start with dinner the night before. You’ll want to have two nice outfits on hand, although men can probably get by with one suit and two shirts and ties.
  • As you buy, think about shoes. A dark suit will match standard black, blue or brown shoes, which you may already own. If you need two outfits, you can save money by selecting two suits that match the same shoes.
  • Start shopping now – if you leave suit shopping for the week before an interview, your chances of finding a good sale are slim (plus, you won’t have time for tailoring). Watch for sales in department stores or stop by a discount store on a regular basis until you find a suit you like at a price you can afford.

May 5, 2009

Dressing for Interviews (or, Yes, You Should Wear a Suit)

Posted in Interviewing at 9:21 am by melissaautumn

One of the questions students always ask is what to wear for interviews. The basic answer – a suit.

Although you may not plan to wear a suit to work everyday should you get the job, suits are the traditional and expected attire for interviews. By wearing a suit, you show you understand there is different attire for different occasions (and by extension, that should you get the job, you will dress appropriately for special occasions, such as meeting local officials).

Men should wear a dark suit. White shirts are traditional. A tie is essential, of course, although you certainly can add some subtle flair here.

Women should also wear a suit, although they do have more leeway than men – suits can be almost any color and you can liven up a dark suit by wearing a shirt with color or a pattern. If you wear a skirt, hose are absolutely required. If you don’t like to wear hose, wear a pantsuit.

Women should take care to project a business-like image. Shirts should be modest – nothing too low cut or tight. Jewelry should be tasteful. Shoes should be business-like – nothing backless, open-toed or too spikey.

Additional Tips:

  • Wear something comfortable and conducive to moving and walking. Wear shoes you’ve worn before – you don’t want blisters halfway through the day.
  • Carry a briefcase or portfolio to neatly hold papers you accumulate during the interview.
  • Polish your shoes and iron your shirt. A little shoe polish can also renew a leather belt.
  • Remember that you may want to remove your jacket if you get warm (it can be hard to regulate temperature in large buildings, including every library I have worked in) and select a shirt accordingly.

April 22, 2009

Asking for References

Posted in Interviewing at 11:43 am by melissaautumn

Students often ask me to serve as a reference when they begin job hunting. In fact, I received an email today asking me that very thing. The email was so nicely written, it inspired this post — a list of tips on asking instructors to serve as a reference.

  • This should be obvious, but…you need to ask. Never assume someone is willing to serve as a reference. Not only is it rude, it is unprofessional. Neither is the type of person your potential employeer is trying to hire.
  • Tell the instructor why you are asking him or her to serve as a reference, particularly if you hope that individual will speak to a specific aspect of your qualifications (e.g., if you took an instruction class with me and are now applying for instruction positions, that is helpful to know). You shouldn’t be making random choices in selecting those few important references, so write a sentence or two that explains your choice.
  • Provide a copy of your resume or CV to each of your references. The best reference letters are full of detail and having a copy of your resume or CV reminds instructors of details they may have forgotten, such as what your undergraduate degree was in or the years you spent in the Peace Corps.  
  • Remind the professor what class you took and when you took it. Although I do remember all my students’ names, the semesters and courses start to blur. It is often helpful to review your assignments and forum posts, so that your work is fresh in my mind as I write a letter. Knowing what semester I had you in class saves me time trolling through gradebooks and course websites to find you.
  • If you’ve changed your name or if you used one name in school and one name professionally, clarify that (especially if your email reflects a different name than the one you are currently using). A statement as simple as, “You knew me as Sally Smith when I was in your class, but I use Sally Doe now” is fine.
  • Email your references when you find a job (and whether or not they were asked to serve as a reference, be gracious and thank them for their support). After all, if I knew you well enough to be willing to serve as a reference, I darn sure want to hear about your success on the job market!

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