What Went Right: A Case Study of a Successful Hiring (Part 1)

by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO

When the right person is hired, there is a story...

Well, actually, two stories: the employer’s story of the search for the best applicant, and the new employee’s story of his or her job search.

These stories begin apart and can cover weeks or even months with multiple steps and behind-the-scenes activities before converging in the new hire’s first day, when a new story begins.

This month we’re interviewing Krissa Corbett Cavouras, a recent hire at the Brooklyn Public Library, about her experience applying for the position of Engagement Manager in Marketing & Communications.

Ellen Mehling: Where did you go to school? What degrees and/or certificates do you hold?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras: I attended Sarah Lawrence for my undergraduate degree and earned my masters from Pratt School of Information and Library Science (SILS) in 2011.

EM: Were you employed elsewhere when you applied for this job? For how long had you been job hunting?

KCC: I was working for a small e-commerce company, as a knowledge manager on their marketing team, for two years prior to starting at Brooklyn Public Library. I had probably been actively looking for about three months when I had my first interview here.

EM: How did you learn about the position? Did you have any connections via your network to that workplace?

KCC: I heard about the position on a couple of fronts -- first, because I’ve had Brooklyn Public Library’s job page bookmarked for years, ever since I graduated from library school! Second, my manager Robin and I have several mutual friends from our early days as bloggers, so I saw the job shared around that mutual circle on Facebook. (I do think that’s how I knew it was in serious recruitment, because sometimes you don’t know from a website job posting if it’s a really open position.) I also have several library school colleagues who now work in the system, although I don’t think I saw this specific posting on my library school listserv.

EM: What job hunting methods were you using? What job boards/websites? LinkedIn? Do you have a portfolio or professional website or blog?

KCC: I was actually doing a lot of LinkedIn organic searches, and choosing companies to follow even if they didn’t have openings that specifically worked for me. I find that LinkedIn has really good relational structure for companies -- if you find one firm, agency or institution that seems interesting, chances are it’s linked to other similar companies you hadn’t heard of yet.

I also started my own non-blog-related domain, krissa.co, because I wanted someplace to highlight my web writing and my personality that wasn’t connected to a social network -- something I could print on business cards or my resume that was wholly owned by me.

EM: On average, how many jobs per week were you applying for?

KCC: Once I realized my current position had limited room for growth, I committed to applying to one new position a week if I could find something interesting. The thing is, I’m a big believer in tailoring my entire resume and cover letter, and doing a lot of research about a company and its internal structure before applying, so this was still a two to five hour weekly commitment!

EM: What made you decide to apply for this position? What were the most important things you were looking for in a job?

KCC: I was really looking for two big ticket items: first and foremost, a place with goals and values that align with my own, and somewhat secondary, a place with potential longevity and growth in my role. I really wrung a lot of fascinating, important stuff out of my foray into the for-profit universe -- it’s incredibly agile, there’s a lot learn about consumer behavior -- but ultimately my heart is aligned with public service and I knew I needed to take these skills I’d been learning in the corporate world and translate them back to that.

I was also looking for a role where I could start out fresh with big ideas and good execution, try things and then evaluate them, and eventually grow in the role and in the organization. I wanted to find someplace where I could do that over the course of a few years, even four or five. I’ve worked at tiny love-and-duct-tape non-profits, and I knew for longevity I’d need to be someplace bigger.

EM: How much time passed from when you sent the application materials to when you were contacted for the interview? During that time, did you contact the employer?

KCC: I think I applied for the job two or three days after I saw the listing -- it wasn’t hard to dedicate every spare minute to the right resume and cover letter when the position felt like such a good fit for me, and so aligned with what I’d been looking for! So I probably waited a couple of weeks to get a phone call, offering me an interview, since I’m guessing they had a lot of candidates to review. I don’t think I contacted them after submitting.

EM: Once you were contacted for the interview, how much time did you have to prepare? How did you prepare for the interview?

KCC: I think I had about a week, and I spent it relentlessly researching everything Brooklyn Public Library publishes on their own site and on their social channels. I also spent a lot of time on LinkedIn, trying to understand the structure of my potential future team, and generally refreshing myself on the mission, capacity, and potential of big public library systems.

EM: What was your first impression of the workplace, when you arrived for the interview? What were your impressions of those you met? Did those first impressions turn out to be accurate?

KCC: In both my first and second round interviews, I was blown away by the people I was talking to -- they were all really passionate, really dedicated public service professionals, both those with librarianship backgrounds and those in HR and marketing. There was a really palpable positive energy, coupled with a focus on the core missions of the library. Honestly, this has continued to be my impression of all the librarians and managers I meet throughout BPL. It’s refreshing, and it validates my sense that there’s a real purpose to my work -- to support those missions and to be as knowledgeable and confident as the people who interviewed me.

EM: From your point of view, were there any surprises about the interview, or the hiring process? Regarding the interviews: when they were over, did you have a sense that they had gone well? Was there a question or request you found particularly challenging? Did you send a thank you note or email?

KCC: I don’t think there were any surprises, except that I surprised myself with how nervous I was in the second interview! It was a panel consisting of three people I continue to admire tremendously, and they were so sharp and specific in their questions -- I really had to be on the ball, answering honestly and thoughtfully without any fluff or padding, which made me lean on all the legwork I’d done! (I can’t stress this enough, there’s no such thing as too much research going into a job interview you care about).

I did sense that it had gone well, only because I felt like I’d made clear how passionate and committed I was to the role and the institution, and I felt my interviewers respond to that. I remember stumbling a little over some requests for sample strategies, which seemed forgivable!

I absolutely sent thank you emails to everyone that I met during both interviews -- I wasn’t shy about asking for their contact details, and I made sure each email was unique, not copied and pasted.

EM: Did the hiring process go more quickly than you expected, or did it take longer, or was it “just right” from your point of view?

KCC: It was a little lengthy compared to the corporate world, but I was expecting that from a non-profit.

EM: Between the interviews and the time you received the job offer, did the employer keep you informed of how the hiring process was proceeding?

KCC: I got feedback during both meetings about the expectations -- not that I wasn’t still anxiously awaiting the phone’s ring, though!

EM: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently, or would do differently next time?

KCC: Not in this case!

EM: In one sentence: to what do you attribute this successful job search?

KCC: This was such a good fit for my skills and my experience, that I think the success lies in having accurately and enthusiastically conveyed that in my cover letter and my interviews.

EM: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any advice for job hunters?

KCC: First, write every cover letter from absolute scratch -- you can take down key phrases that you port from one to the other, but that tone and pitch needs to be unique to each application. Same goes for the resume, which should aim to match your experience to the stated requirements as specifically as possible.

Second, be enthusiastic and polished in the interview, and if this is your dream role, don’t hesitate to tell the hiring managers. People want someone in their team who really wants to be there. If that’s you, don’t be afraid to let it show.

Many thanks to Krissa and to the Brooklyn Public Library for agreeing to the interview. Stay tuned next month for an interview with Robin Lester Kenton, Krissa’s supervisor, to get the point of view from the other side of the job-interview table.

Previous case study interviews (Durst Organization):

Part 1: Applicant Caridad Bojorquez
Part 2: Hiring Manager Ryan Anthony Donaldson