“What Do I Want Out of My Career?”: Some Musings on Job Hunting

One of our all-time most popular posts on HLS is on how to become an international librarian. As someone who has studied and interned abroad, one of my lifelong goals is to live abroad again. However, until I can manifest that dream, I’m trying to think more deeply about where I work (or, better yet, where I am currently looking to work). When I started my MSI about a year ago, I was full of hope and excited for the future. I was confident in my ability to move for a job or find a job post-graduation. Since March, I’ve slowly come to the realization that that is no longer the reality we’re living in. I’ve been trying to find new ways to think about what I want from a job and what types of positions can I really get that out of. Here are some of the thoughts that have risen up to the top when thinking and brainstorming with friends and mentors to help guide my career goals.

  1. What role do you want your job to have in your life? Do you want a regular 9am-5pm gig? Are you planning to be involved in conferences, write professionally, or otherwise contribute to the profession? If so, there are some extra things to be thinking about. The commute to your job could affect how that 9am-5pm really feels–and if you have to ever work a weekend, that job is probably a no go for you. Being involved professionally requires that your job be supportive of you. If they’re not willing to give time off to go to conferences or let you use your work time to write, that place may not be a good fit.
  2. How important is your impact to you? Is it enough to be working to serve any population? Would it be more meaningful to make changes in your community? In general, national and international issues can be found living in your neighborhood. Are you best serving your cause by working somewhere that you think is interesting or something you have connections to help catalyze change? A common phrase that I’ve heard since being in library school is that if you can move, you’ll be able to find a job. This question prods at the idea that just being in a role helps you make a difference and questions whether you can make more long-lasting change somewhere you are already invested in. For example, many of my colleagues have worked where they have lived much of their life (or at least their adult life). This has given them deep knowledge of the communities they serve that make them an asset to our library and a pillar in our community.
  3. How much choice do you have? Do you have a lot of student loans and need to make more money? Can you *really* afford to move? Can you afford to not move? Are there job opportunities where you currently live? Remember: a job is a job is a job. This goes back to the idea that you can get a librarian job if you’re willing to move. Moving is expensive. Cost of living and taxes vary across the United States. For example, a job you accept in Florida with a salary of $50,000 will have more take home than a job in South Carolina with a $50,000 salary because South Carolina has federal and state income taxes. I’ve grown into a habit of looking at job postings, writing down the salary, and then going straight to Zillow to find a house I could afford (isn’t just fun to dream?). This is great, but it doesn’t give the whole picture of what your financial life would be like in that new place.
  4. Can this job prepare you for the future? In a previous internship, the Director advised me that working internationally means serving diverse populations and, usually, taking on more leadership roles. She also advised that taking up roles with supervisory duties, budget experience, and opportunities to climb up the ladder best prepare you to work in management or internationally. Maybe that management job is remote and you can have even more choice on where you live! If your job is giving you those opportunities, you are certainly preparing yourself for fulfilling, and maybe even, international employment.

All of these thoughts are, of course, punctuated by the fact that there is still a pandemic going on, many of our colleagues have been furloughed or let go, employment in libraries has always been sketchy, and the future of libraries can often seem dim and gloomy. I hope this list is also helpful for those of you who have had to leave the library world. We strive to work to live, not live to work, but we know that at least forty hours of our week for the rest of our lives have to be spent there. Make sure you know what kind of relationship you’re getting into with them.

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