What You Say AND How You Say It, Part 1: Consider the Job Ad

“Words are important.”  This is a phrase I’ve uttered many, many times – both in my previous position as Marketing Director and my current position as Library Director. Whether we are using words to demonstrate the promise of our brand or choosing words to describe our strategic direction, words matter.  This will be the first in a series of posts that illustrates that it’s not just about what we say, it’s also about how we say it.

words have power

Let’s consider the job ad.  Here are a few that might sound familiar:

Public Services Manager, Any Town Public Library (ATPL)

A highly responsible professional administrative position, the Public Services Manager will be a part of the ATPL  Leadership Team and coordinates the work of the Public Services Department, including but not limited to: reference, readers’ advisory, programming, circulation, outreach, and services for teens, adult, and seniors. The Manager supervises departmental subordinate supervisors and other employees, determines work schedules, recommends personnel actions…

Library Director,  Any Town Public Library (ATPL)

Under guidance and direction of the Board, the Library Director performs administrative, supervisory and professional work in planning and delivering library services. Implements Board policies and recommendations; manages  the daily operations  of the library; hires, trains,  and supervises staff; oversees library collection; prepares annual budget and associated financial reports, compiles monthly and annual statistics…

Sound familiar?  In a certain sense, there’s nothing wrong with these ads – they most likely served their purpose. ATPL probably hired people into both of these positions.

But do these ads reflect the culture of ATPL?  Do they make ATPL stand out from any other library out there?  Do they address the softer skills needed in these positions?  Do they serve as an initial touch point for the library, signalling the direction they are heading and what types of people they need to get there?  I don’t think so.  I think that these are missed opportunities to do all of the above. They miss out on the essential nature of the job ad:

“Remember that a job ad is still an ad. A lot of people forget that. You should be thinking like a marketer.” 

That quote is from Michael Overell, co-founder of RecruitLoop, a marketplace for independent recruiting, and included in a very good article from Inc, titled 9 Steps to Writing Job Ads Top Candidates Can’t Resist. 

Words aren’t the only important thing.  People are important – those we serve and those we employ to serve them.  Personally, I want to attract and employ people who are engaged, creative, strategic, and customer-focused.  If the words I use in job ads – often the first impression potential employees receive of the organization – are formal, bureaucratic, and impersonal, then chances are I’m not going to attract the folks I’d like to. And attracting and hiring the right people is incredibly important.  After all, personnel costs make up the majority of any library budget.

hiring meme

As Director at Chapel Hill Public Library, I’ve had the opportunity to advertise several key positions and hire great people into them.  Each time, in addition to carefully considering the nature of the position, the skills and experience needed, and rewriting the job description, I also created a job ad that would attract great candidates, signalling who we want, what we want them to do, and where we are heading as a library.  Here are few examples that have worked:


If the acronyms ILS, RFID, and PCRes excite you, then consider applying to be our Library Systems Manager.  Chapel Hill Public Library opened a newly expanded and renovated facility last year which includes state of the art technology for the public and our staff.  We are looking for someone who will effectively manage this technology and help us realize the greatest ROI on it. 

Here’s what you’ll need to be:

–          A tech geek and a people person
–          A strategic thinker and creative problem solver
–          A team leader and a team player
–          A skilled project manager who can guide an initiative from idea to execution
–          A future-focused professional with an understanding of emerging tech trends 

Sound like you?  Learn more about the position and how to apply here…


A/V production.  DIY crafts.  Homework help.  Cooking competitions.  Reading recommendations. Cartooning.  Personal finance.  College prep.  Health Information.   Videogame tournaments.  Book clubs.  LGBTQ issues.  Job prep.  Tech skills.

The youth of Chapel Hill have spoken!  Tweens and teens in our community want more responsive programs and services based on their needs and interests – in the library’s Teen Room, at our Parks and Rec facilities, and all around town.  We are looking for someone who can help us meet this demand and grow the Town’s slate of engaging, entertaining, and educational programs and services for youth.

Here’s what you’ll need to be:

–    Teen advocate, aficionado, and admirer
–    Innovative, out-of-the box thinking, 21st century librarian
–    Strategic collaborator, skilled communicator, and expert project
–    Enthusiastic and energetic lover of our library and our community
–    Cool (so that kids respect you) and professional (so that parents trust

Sound like you? Read more about the position and application process here…

Can you book talk ‘til you’re blue in the face? Do you know how to engage a Regency Romance reader, even though you’re a Sci Fi buff? Do you constantly pin, tweet, and post reading recommendations? Is Nancy Pearl a personal hero of yours? If this sounds like you, consider applying to be our Readers’ Services Coordinator.
Chapel Hill Public Library has a strategic goal of better serving adult readers – in the library, online, and out on the community. This new position will lead this effort and develop innovative services and engaging programs that will get even more adults in our community excited about reading. This position is a part of our newly formed Library Experiences Division and will supervise 6-8 Library Experience Assistants and Specialists.
Here’s what you’ll need to have:
– Subject matter expertise on all things RA, including best practices and emerging trends
– Creative strategies for merchandising and marketing collections, in house and online
– Ability to collaborate with others to provide great services and programs
– Ability to effectively train others to provide great RA service

 You’ll also need to have an MLS, at least three years of RA experience, and we’d prefer some supervisory experience as well. 

Sound like you? Read more about the position and application process here…

In each of these, we link to the more formal job descriptions, which generally must exist within the confines of HR and use the associated language (stooping, bending, lifting, squatting are some of my favorite aspects of a job description).

However, in each of these, we lead with much more engaging language that telegraphs what kind of person we are looking for (enthusiastic, energetic, innovative) and what kind of organization we are (future-focused, strategic, collaborative).  And in each of these, we had great candidates (many of whom commented on the refreshing tone of the job ad) and ultimately, great new hires.

The next time your library has a chance to recruit, whether for a part time library assistant or a deputy director, consider the opportunity that the job ad presents – and don’t forget to think like a marketer.


2 thoughts on “What You Say AND How You Say It, Part 1: Consider the Job Ad”

  1. I have just started a discussion with my library director about what language we use to talk about our library. The timing on this post is perfect! I look forward to more.

    1. So glad you find this useful! The other posts in the series will be about the words we use in our policies and the words we use to talk to patrons (think email notifications, etc.)

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