Thursday, April 12, 2007

Good Looks and Charm

I'm not really going to write about good looks. After all, I'm talking about libraries here. I just thought that was a catchy title.

It's becoming more obvious that some library school students are reading the AL, and I think some of the posts have had a lot of advice to offer them, often much more in the comments by others than in anything I have to say. (As a related aside, this is one of my favorite quotes about my blog: "The Annoyed Librarian sounds a bit crazy at first, but if you approach her (delightfully eloquent) blog with a grain of salt I think it can provide some enormously valuable perspective.")

Someone posted a comment on the last jobs post that I wanted to bring up that I think is often ignored by job seekers. Here's part of the comment:

"I think a big key to landing any job, but especially if you are young and freshly MLS-ed, is to have basic social skills.

Too many librarians do not (why is that??).

I have been on many, many search committees, in 4 different colleges & universities. There are so few candidates who have basic, BASIC, BASIC social skills, like:

1. Look people in the eyes when talking or listening.
2. Dress in reasonably clean, reasonably neat clothing.
3. Do not blow your nose with your fingers.
4. Smile occasionally, and look like you are at least moderately interested in the proceedings.
5. Do not chew gum, and especially do not smack if you are trying to chew gum discreetly.
6. Use a napkin when you eat.
7. Do not steal anything on your way out.
8. Etc."

I agree completely with this comment. I've noted before that I think charm is important, but that assumes basic interpersonal skills. I was told once that I got a particular job because the other very strong candidate spent the day mumbling and staring at the ground and generally acting like an antisocial freak, who in addition gave a public talk where he spoke in a monotone and was in general very boring. On paper, we were almost identical. In person, we were very different.

I think some people who've been nothing but students think they should be judged on their accomplishments. After all, their professors didn't comment on their personalities, and many introverted, asocial geeks write wonderful essays or complete fantastic research projects. But from the perspective of the employer it's very different. It's a matter of collegiality, and to some extent, etiquette.

People looking for the first professional job have a lot to worry about, and they're often just worried about themselves. They understandably view the process from their perspective. But the potential employer doesn't care personally about them. The potential employer, and especially the colleagues, want someone who is good, but also someone they can work with. It really does come down to collegiality and charm. As a job candidate, you might think you're so great you'll just bowl everyone over with your smarts and skill sets. A lot of the professionals will be thinking, do I really want to spend the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years listening to this person in staff meetings or chatting with them in the break room?

And I think that collegiality and charm, or rather the lack thereof, are perfectly good reasons not to hire people, no matter how good they might otherwise be. If they're great at particular tasks, but irritate everyone they come in contact with, then they won't be good employees. If everyone hates working with them, then they're not good at their job, because part of their job is to get along with people at work.

This doesn't, by the way, mean that you have to agree with everyone, or kiss up to anyone, or go along with any party line. I've had plenty of professional disputes with many colleagues, some of which I've won and some lost, but I've never given colleagues any reason to think that I was spiteful or malicious or just plain rude. That's where collegiality and etiquette come together. Civility and courtesy are necessary virtues in any workplace.


deargreenplace said...

I'm willing to bet that the stereotyped idea of libraries and librarians have a lot to do with attracting the type of people your correspondent describes. We've interviewed a few of those too.

Naturally social misfits may be drawn to a profession where they think they can hide in a musty office muttering to themselves all day and grunting at anyone who passes by.

By the time you actually get to work in a library (and this is where the old experience thing comes in again), you'll be well aware that you need to be friendly, approachable and able to communicate effectively with your public, with your managers, with suppliers, as well as delivering workshops and inductions, and generally being an all-round superstar PR machine.

Customer service experience (wherever this has been obtained)and social skills are essential parts of being a librarian, IMHO. I don't think it's unreasonable to rule someone out if you don't feel that they'll be able to speak to students or get the job done.

janitorx said...

I don't think it's unreasonable to rule someone out if you don't feel that they'll be able to speak to students or get the job done.

I do tend to think that if you made it to the 2nd interview, you are probably qualified in the minds of the search committee. Now, they need to determine that all-elusive "fit". At the ol' CC, we did hire someone with very little experience over someone with 3 years professional experience precisely because we did not get the sense he would be willing to get out there and promote what we do at the CC. He also kept droning on about strategic planning without any context.

nothingtolookat said...

I worked in a library where the director rarely gave eye contact. He would look at my chest whenever we talked. I could never understand why he would do this since I'm relatively flat chested & dress conservatively. There's nothing to look at. When I realized he did this with everyone I felt relieved, but I still thought he was weird.

Anonymous said...

Cilility and collegiality are just code words for racism. Just because someone is covered in tattoos, has a "gangsta" affect and rarely completes what could even be generously called a grammatical sentence *you* want to keep them down and not accomodate for their troubled upbringing and lack of educational resources.

Racist, racist, racist.

It's attitudes like this that keep all the poor white trash trailer park people from West Virginia with dad in jail and mom on crystal meth out of librarianship!


Brent said...

3. Do not blow your nose with your fingers.

Seriously, I always thought if you did this in front of someone, it meant you have a special bond with that person. Apparently I have things to work on.

Anonymous said...

regarding student readers, and readers in general there is a certain person who has *three* lib-erary blogs (none of which is about drinking!) and this libarian received the sum total of zero, yes zero comments on all her recent posts. Zero. Not even a "solidarity, commrade" kind of thing!

AL said...

Now, now, let's not get nasty!

AL said...

"white trash trailer park people from West Virginia."

You're just mean. Everyone knows the appropriate politically correct term for these people is "hillbillies."

Anonymous said...

Until I started interviewing, I never realized the things that people need to be told.

Don't tell me you want the job because you're trying to get married.

Don't list someone as a reference who will then fill out the reference sheet with obscenities.

I think there is a danger in hiring people "just like me", but having an awareness of it helps a lot.

Apart from that, I want to make sure I'm hiring someone who is interesting, able to get along with other people and willing to do the job. There isn't a place to hide from people in libraries.

deargreenplace said...

Having tattoos didn't stop me becoming a librarian...

deargreenplace said...

...but maybe my slow reaction to parody should have...

Anonymous said...

deargreenplace: Perhaps I should preface certain remarks with: "Warning, paradoy, may not be suitable for all ilks." Or am I now offending the ilks, or perhaps those disenilkchised?

AL: I'm serious. About the hillbillies *and* about your relative influence versus those who are "influential."


Anonymous said...


--Taupey, subject to corporal punishment.

AL said...

I guess it's true that my readership has been growing, partially because of the attacks on me, which is ironic, and based on the hits and subscriptions and stuff like that several hundred people a day do at least glimpse at the AL. I'm not sure I'd count as "influential," though. I think for a lot of the readers I'm like one of those sideshow freaks--"let's see what that crazy person is annoyed about this week!" kind of thing. But I think a difference between my blog and that other person's multiple blogs is that I address a number of different issues, depending on how I'm feeling that week. Another difference is that I try to write at least one post a week that I think is actually worth reading, and I think many weeks I succeed. And then of course there's the possibility that at least occasionally I'll be amusing.

Anonymous said...

I think you are hilarious, smart, and, yes sometimes your seated atop a tallish steed, but I'm hooked nonetheless.

Also, I can't wait till you reveal yourself...but then, I'm signing anonymously, so I have no room to talk,errr, write...

Anonymous said...

taking Taup's lead:
*not* your.

commence grammar beating...

Anonymous said...

There are college graduates out there without many social skills.

If they don't become librarians, what on earth will they do?

I certainly don't want them out on the streets causing trouble or in the welfare lines.

Brent said...

No, I read this blog because it's enjoyable. I find this blog antithetical to most librarian blogs or published materials. AL's opinions/perspective are a o.k.

Anonymous said...

This guy has it all...Good looks, supervisory experience, tolerance, diversity, and a good method of customer service....

Stephen Denney said...

I would not judge a blog's quality solely on the basis of how many comments it receives. One of the better blog sites is Heretical Librarian, which focuses on repression in the Islamic world. Very few comments but it is more informative then, say, the Blatant Berry Blog, which at last glance had 112 comments on one recent posting. (I am partly guilty for the high number over there.)

contrarian said...

AL said:

I'm not sure I'd count as "influential," though.

I check your blog everyday. It helps me think through many issues and certainly provides a critical view of the *party* line so prevelant in ALA. And there's the added benefit that you often make me laugh out loud. have definately influenced me.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'd count as "influential," though.

Eventually, AL, let's hope you will be. The grumpy old librarians have to retire/die at some point, right? Hopefully our leadership won't be replaced by equally zombified committee-hounds enamored with their own importance. This becomes progressively more likely when we realize that there are others out there like ourselves.

AL said...

Well, thanks for all the nice feedback. As long as people keep reading, I'll keep writing. Unless ALA decides to offer me huge amounts of money to stop criticizing them and become their shill. Then all bets are off.