Writing my farewell post for HLS is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, it means I have completed my MLIS program. On the other hand, it means that my time as an active Hacker has come to an end. Writing for HLS was the highlight of my experiences as a graduate student; in addition to providing a venue for publication, HLS gave me a network of friends, mentors, and colleagues. When the next call for writers goes out, I strongly encourage all of you who have an interest to apply! My last post will cover a topic that speaks to every new graduate: the Post-Graduation Job Search. HLS has hosted a lot of great posts for job seekers, including job search summaries by Hackers, tips for making the most of self-employment, how to organize your search, and what you can do to prepare for your first formal presentation. Beyond HLS, some of my favorite employment resources are the Ask A Manager advice blog, the Hiring Librarians’ Interview Questions Repository, the I Need a Library Job site, and That elusive archives job blog.
Job searching can be incredibly intimidating, even after you’ve read dozens of entries about job searching, cover letter writing, and preparing for interviews. Whether you’re looking for a bit of momentum or just a place to start, you might need more than generic resume advice: you need a battle plan. Here are the strategies guiding my own job search.
STEP 1: ASSESS THE FIELD
Before you begin a job search, make a rigorous assessment of the “battlefield.” Evaluating the conditions of battle before you take action is so important that Sun Tzu made it the first chapter of his treatise “The Art of War.”
Know the Market
Listen to naysayers with a grain of salt. Prospects may seem grim, but people are finding jobs in traditional libraries, archives, and museums as well as publishing companies, data firms, and vendors. Before you start applying in earnest, watch job postings and talk with friends or colleagues who have recently been on the market. You may find unexpected opportunities. Remember that you may be “competing” for positions, but the people you are competing with are your colleagues.
Perform a self-assessment of your skills and accomplishments. What have you learned in school? What have you done? During an actual interview, you need to be able to correctly identify the skill in its context and to explain how you have actually used it. In addition to your hard skills, know (and know how to articulate) your soft skills. This is a time to be rigorously honest with yourself, or to seek out the feedback of an honest mentor/colleague/friend.
Bonus tip: Long before I began searching for jobs, I browsed job listings to see what kind of skills employers want. This helped me to make a list of skills to pursue, including experience with metadata standards, database management, and copyright knowledge. This skills inventory was really useful for narrowing down what classes I wanted to take.
STEP 2: ANTICIPATE OBSTACLES
All of us will face unique disadvantages on the job market. Some of these obstacles (such as lacking relevant experience or skills) can be overcome by taking on internships or part-time jobs, attending workshops and webinars, or choosing specific courses in your degree program. Other disadvantages are less tangible. Here are some obstacles affecting my own job search.
Job searching as a couple
In academia, the difficulties of job searching as a couple are so well known that it has a name: the Two Body Problem. My partner works in a different industry, which has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, we won’t be competing for the same positions or trying to find complementary jobs at the same institution. On the down side, our career goals may pull us in different directions. If you find yourself in this same dilemma, two great guides include the Higher-Education Recruitment Consortium’s (HERC) guide for dual-career couples and Gradhacker’s 2011 post on navigating the couple job search.
Transitioning from paraprofessional to professional
On the surface, working as a library paraprofessional seems like a big advantage; you’ll enter the job market with experience working in libraries, rather than starting from scratch. However, paraprofessional experience can also present unique challenges, particularly if you are transitioning within an organization. Most information organizations rely on paraprofessionals to support professional programs and services. Unfortunately, some hiring committees give less weight to the experience of paraprofessionals. If you find yourself in this dilemma, you should practice articulating the skills you gained in your position. Additionally, you might consider talking with your current employer about your transition. They may be willing to assign you targeted projects that will strengthen your experience.
Applying as a long-distance candidate
This is more typical for LIS fields than other job sectors, but it can still present a major barrier. Alison Green (“Ask A Manager”) has written several posts with advice for non-local candidates and how to find a job long-distance
STEP 3: SET YOUR OBJECTIVES
What kind of job do you want and why do you want it? Knowing the answers will help you navigate the job market and project confidence in your interviews. I recommend using a multi-tiered approach to define your expectations. You may find that this approach inspires you to apply for jobs you might not consider at first glance.
When I look at a job posting, I consider three levels of goals. The first level deals with mandatory characteristics, or elements a job must have for you to apply. This might include full-time status, a minimum salary level, or a range of locations. Level two deals with ideal characteristics; these elements should be present, but their absence is not a deal-breaker. Level two characteristics might include permanent (rather than term) status, job responsibilities in a particular specialty, and support for professional development. Level three includes dream job characteristics like working for a specific institution, using a unique skillset, or interacting with a particular population. Your goals may change over time, so be prepared to reevaluate them as needed.
STEP 4: PREPARE YOUR COUNCIL
Before you begin applying for jobs, take time to prepare a council of advisors. This group should include, at minimum, the people who will serve as your references. Ask them in advance how they prefer to be listed and when you should contact them. You might also include people to practice interviews with, people to review your application materials, and people who will cheer you on throughout the process. If you’re really brave, you might take advantage of the Hiring Librarians’ Resume/CV review.
WHILE YOU WAIT
Searching for jobs involves a lot of waiting, especially if you find yourself applying to jobs in government, non-profits, or academia. There are many, many things you can do while you wait. You can develop new skills by taking advantage of free webinars or learning to code. This is also a great time to get involved in your professional organization, volunteer to supplement your hands-on experience, and build relationships with your peers. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Wherever you are in your job search, remember that you are more than your job.
What advice do you have for new job seekers? Share your stories with us in the comments!