A kind reader sent me this short op/ed piece from Inside Higher Education advocating student instruction in “soft skills”: things like how to dress and groom for an interview, the importance of showing up on time, and the role of small talk and the handshake. The argument concerned undergraduates, but all I thought about were some of the hapless library school students and new librarians I’ve seen over the years who never got the soft skills lesson.
Some examples in interviews:
A man shows up to an interview for a job at an academic library wearing something other than a suit. The worst one I’ve seen didn’t even have a jacket and tie, just a wrinkled dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to different lengths and what looked like suit pants. He was personable and friendly and gave good answers to questions, but if that was how he dressed for an interview, I feared he would show up to work in flip flops and bermuda shorts. Or rather, I feared that would happen if another library ever hired him.
A woman shows up for an interview. She’s wearing a dress, of sorts. It looks kind of like a large bag that had been left on the floor for a few days prior to the interview. She also had way too much makeup on, very unevenly applied, creating something of a Joker effect. Nobody wants to be greeted by that at the reference desk, and probably nobody ever will be.
Another woman, wearing a dark, tasteful dress, lovely shoes, well groomed. She sat through the day’s interview not saying a thing to anybody. Not just no small talk with other librarians throughout the day. Even her answers to questions were so minimal and quietly spoken that after a while we didn’t even bother trying to figure out what she was saying. She was the Calvin Coolidge of the library world. A woman famously went up to “Silent Cal” and told him she’d bet someone she could get him to say more than two words. His response? “You lose.” And when you’re that silent in an interview, Coolidge’s response applies to you.
And then sometimes these people get jobs. What do they do then?
There’s the cataloger I once knew who wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone, even in direct conversation. He would also only look down when walking around and pretend nobody else was around. It was more disturbing than it sounds at first.
A reference librarian who needed to be reminded that jeans and tee shirts aren’t really acceptable clothing when meeting with the public, especially legible tee shirts. Keep your love for Metallica to yourself, buddy.
And then there was crazy sweater lady, the crazier the better. She also had a LOT of cats, but fortunately they never accompanied her to work except as the topic of an incessant monologue. No, lady, your cats aren’t actually like human children, and no amount of wishing will make it so. I mean, honestly, when was the last time you saw a human child pick up a dead bird in its mouth and drop it outside the back door? And human children are terrible at mousing.
I could go on, but it would be too painful. I’ll leave it to you. What unprofessional behavior and lack of soft skills have you seen?