Last week, I submitted my final portfolio and had it approved by my advisor. So that’s it – I’m officially graduating in May. Naturally, this is super exciting, but I’m also kind of surprised. Sitting right next to my much-anticipated relief is a big helping of worry and, dare I say it, mixed feelings.
Yes, I’m thrilled to have my degree, and I’m over the moon that my portfolio is done (and done well, if I do say so myself). But mostly, I feel anxious and cut adrift. If I’m honest with myself, it’s because there are no more projects and papers standing between reality and me. It’s time to get a job. In a discouraging economy. Of course, I saw this coming, but I kept my view hazy, even as I researched different career paths. So, now that reality has finally arrived, how does a freshly minted graduate go about finding her first LIS job?
The specter of the Job Hunt, (which I’ve capitalized to indicate the degree to which it’s loomed in my subconscious), has been haunting me since I started my MLIS, but in the whirl of coursework, my non-LIS job, becoming a mom and the messy catch-all of life, I allowed myself to settle for being haunted. What I should have done instead, and what I humbly suggest to all of you, is to lay some groundwork early on. Go beyond exploring different fields and narrowing in on a specialization. Network. Read job listings. Think of it as clearing the path for your professional yellow brick road.
If, like me, you focused less on human resources and more on your internships and coursework during your degree, don’t despair. I’m laying my groundwork now – a week after turning in my portfolio – and it’s definitely not the end of the world. Still, I suspect I could have saved myself a ton of low-grade stress and a pile of mixed feelings had I started doing this sooner, while I was still in the middle of my program. So, in that spirit, here are a few suggestions for making this last project – the search for gainful employment – a sanely successful undertaking.
I actually did start doing career research early on and throughout my degree, mostly in the form of course selection and internships (I did two internships in two different fields). For what it’s worth, I can’t overstate how useful internships are. If possible, do at least one. If you haven’t been strategically selecting courses and narrowing your field of interest, it’s never too late to start. Ask friends and colleagues about their experiences. There’s a lot you can glean through curiosity alone. Poke around job listings and see who’s hiring for which positions. What are the requirements? Does something sound interesting? Do a little independent research.
Even if you plan on being a generalist, try taking a few technology courses if your program offers them, or take a course in records management. Classes like this do two things – they make you look tech savvy, which never hurts the resume, and they broaden your experiences to areas outside of traditional LIS contexts, allowing you to do the same with your job search later.
Finally, whether you’re a specialist or a generalist, create a plan of attack. Line up your job posting resources. Read up on effective job hunting methods. There are a lot of resources in this area. A few that I’ve found to be invaluable are Hiring Librarians, a great blog that collaborated with HLS on a career center series; and LIScareer.com, a website full of practical career development advice for librarians. Don’t stop there though – use those beautifully honed research skills to dig up the information you need to launch a seriously targeted, killer job hunt in your chosen area.
There are several different schools of thought on the building of an effective resume, but the one thing that they all emphasize is this: target your resume. Let me say it again. Target your resume. Seriously. Unless you’re posting your resume on a public forum like LinkedIn, write a different resume for each position you apply for.
This doesn’t need to be as horribly intimidating as it sounds. Here’s a way to simplify the process.
- Find yourself a good basic template for a LIS resume and decide which components best display your achievements. The one from LIScareers.com, in the link above, is a good one.
- While in school, keep a running list of your projects, achievements and experiences
- Look at your list. Select your strongest projects in your top 2 -3 areas of interest. For example, my areas of professional interest are children’s librarianship, young adult librarianship and collection development. I’ve selected no more than two projects for each area.
- Plug these projects into the Related Experiences section of your resume, according to the position you’re applying for. It’s a great way to show off relevant accomplishments, even if you’ve never held a LIS position before.
- The rest of your resume – Education, Work History, etc. – should mostly carry over from application to application, but always double check that everything is as relevant as possible before submitting.
There’s a lot more to be said on the subject of resumes. Check out your career center or the resources in the links scattered throughout this post for places to start. If all else fails, take a look at the NMRT Resume Review Service, which is LIS specific, or CollegeGrad.com, which isn’t but is still quite good.
Your resume is a targeted marketing tool designed to make you look like a strong, qualified candidate for a specific job. An online portfolio works in partnership with your resume, rounding out your experiences and collecting them in an easy to scan online format. A lot of prospective employers won’t look at a portfolio until later in the hiring process, if at all, but for those that do, if can be the difference between a job offer and a “no thank you,” so while it’s not required, it’s a good thing to have.
If you’ve already done an academic portfolio, you’re three-quarters of the way there. If you haven’t, it’s a great exercise because it forces you to review and evaluate everything you’ve done in your studies. For more information on LIS portfolios take a look at this post on LISjobs.com’s newsletter, Info Career Trends, which it’s on hiatus, but good all the same. A lot of other LIS career resources, both print and online, address portfolios and how to build them, so definitely check them out and seriously consider building one. And don’t forget to check out the career center at your school – one at San Jose State University has has proven to be invaluable so far. It also supports the SLIS program’s alumni, which I’m super grateful for.
So, that’s what I’ve learned, so far, as I lay my own groundwork. That, and network, network, network, and though I’m definitely not the first person to say that, it bears repeating. If any of you have any experiences or suggestions on the subject of job hunts, resumes, portfolios, networking or pretty much anything else, please post a comment – I for one would love to hear what you have to say!