Recently, I attended an information panel about LIS careers, where I heard one of the most helpful pieces of advice yet: technical skills will open the door and soft skills will close the deal. Being at the tail end of my MLIS, I’ve been spending a lot of time job hunting. Between resume edits, updating my LinkedIn profile, and drafting many cover letters, I find myself struggling to articulate my soft skills in a one-page document that will stand out among other applicants, especially in jobs outside of libraries. I know I have these skills, but when so many open positions are focusing on the hard, technical skills, it can be challenging to work in the soft skills.
This had me wondering: what soft skills can I bring to the table? And how can I start closing the deal with a potential employer with these soft skills? Some fellow HLS writers have already discussed specific soft skills; recently, Macy provided some great advice for public speaking. But, similar to Mary’s article from January 2021, now is this time to consider the skills that I improved on in the last year and a half in grad school, many of which directly relate to soft skills.
Coming from a humanities and social science background, I have always been interested in research in some capacity. Between the research process, looking for primary and secondary sources, learning to use different databases, and summarizing my findings, I feel fairly confident in my abilities to find information on a specific topic. Knowing how to search for information is incredibly beneficial for organizations, especially if you have a research niche. For example, some of the legal information jobs I applied for require knowledge of certain legal topics. Knowing that I have completed major research projects on copyright and accessibility law allow me to explain my research strategies and show that I can become familiar with just about any topic.
Fun fact about me: for the first half of my undergrad degrees, I was actually a secondary education major and was fully set on becoming a high school history teacher. Although I eventually changed paths and entered the LIS field, teaching in some fashion was always in the back of my mind. If you are able to teach a class while in library school, that is definitely an experience to highlight on your resume! But, teaching is not limited to an academic setting. If you’ve presented a project, you’ve taught to an audience. If you’ve trained someone to use a new system or helped on-board a colleague, you have some teaching experience. While I don’t necessarily see myself teaching in a traditional classroom, I firmly believe that education happens outside the four walls of a classroom; this is a believe I strive to bring to my future LIS career.
I’ll admit, I have never worked in a job with the title “Project Manager” and I had very little idea what these positions actually did. But, after tackling several projects across my classes and other jobs, I feel more confident with project management experience. For example, while interning at the Law Library of Congress this past year, I created my own workflows to complete research projects and metadata collation by deadlines set by my supervisor. To make sure that I was completing the work I needed to do, I kept track of my hours and tasks in a spreadsheet every semester. Whenever I hit roadblocks to produce results, I was able to look back and re-evaluate my projects and adjust my course of action as necessary. Finally, I took the lead with my supervisor to standardize my fellow interns’ spreadsheets and assisted with completing projects when needed. While this may seem like minor roles when it comes to project management, I believe that such experiences show organization and ability juggle multiple priorities.
Communicating is critical every profession, but especially in LIS. When thinking about communication in libraries, the first example that comes to mind is commutating with patrons in a reference-like setting. But, if you’re like me and have more library work experience away from the public, showing your communication skills requires some more creativity. If you are working any job, remember that you are probably communicating with co-workers and supervisors to provide project updates, troubleshoot and solve problems, or simply just to check-in. The same goes for any outreach efforts you took part in, such as social media management, blog posts, or drafting a memo. To add, if you find yourself working with a specific population, you may have some great stories to tell about your communication experiences in a cover letter or interview.
Library school graduates are going to enter a tough job market over the next few years. Now that I’m exploring some of the non-traditional careers that Lauren recently wrote about, I believe that soft skills can make job applications stand out.
To wrap up this post, remember, many of us currently in library school have been attending classes, completing graduate level assignments, writing theses or capstone projects, partaking in internships, and possibly working one or more jobs – all during a pandemic. So, if a job posting mentions “ability to multi-task” or “handle multiple priorities,” don’t be afraid to show off your skills to be a student.
Sarah is completing her final semester of her MLIS at the University of Maryland. When not in class, you can find her binge reading books, job hunting, and devouring coffee.