Non-library Experience and Library Job Applications

Job searching is nerve-wracking, and one of the most daunting parts is putting together a resume or CV. It’s easy to get stuck on the treadmill of questions like “do I have experiences relevant to this job description?” or “does this experience have anything to do with this job description?” Questions like these can be a huge hang-up, and one that I’ve been dealing with lately. Today, I wanted to share some of the advice that career advisers and librarians who survived the job hunt shared with me.

Over the past few months, I have been networking and conducting informational interviews with various professionals working in various areas of librarianship. This networking has been incredibly enlightening in ways that surprised me. One of the through-lines I’ve found between all my informational interviews has been that there really isn’t a linear transition from library school to library job. This is for several reasons—largely, lots of library jobs require skills that aren’t necessarily taught in library school.

I liked the way one of the librarians I interviewed put it: “Library experience makes the job search easier, but many other experiences made up for my lack of library experience when I went on the job search.” Every librarian I met said something similar. Let’s look at a few of the suggestions to either get and of course, leverage, diverse experiences for your library job applications.

Go to Everything!

One of the keys to succeeding in library school, and in turn, the job search, is to get involved. This is one of those things that we all know on some level, but when it comes down to it, we often feel too busy, or overdone to go to one more event. That’s totally understandable, but if your program is anything like mine, organizers try their best to make events easy to attend.

For example, my program at the University of Denver holds all LIS classes in the evenings with a 40-minute gap between slots. These “between classes” periods are often when we plan things like speaking engagements and workshops. Hopefully your program has something similar so that you can make it to these events without feeling like you are going out of your way.

Another barrier to making it to these events and workshops is that the payoff for attending is almost never apparent or immediate. I’ve definitely noticed this in my own decision making process when choosing whether to attend an event or not. It’s not always clear how going to a guest speaking event about research data management or a workshop on introductory Python will benefit me. However, if my answer to the question “will this event benefit me?” isn’t a clear and informed “no,” then it’s definitely worth attending in order to help expand my horizons. Even if the only takeaway from the event is that it was, in fact, not worth my time, it was worth taking the time in order to narrow down the extracurricular activities that are going to help benefit my resume.

The key to going to events that might not seem relevant to your career path, is that you’re almost always going to hear librarians and other information professionals discuss how they’ve packaged their seemingly disparate experiences. It would be hard to find an instruction librarian who has only had experience doing library instruction, for example. However, the various experiences they’ve gained in all their other jobs, internships, and so on, inform the way they approach their current position.

That doesn’t even touch on a crucial aspect of getting involved on campus. Are you in a leadership role in a club? That’s a resume item? Did you organize a great event on campus? That’s a resume item! These are compelling additions to your resume that you can easily miss out on if you skip the club and organization meetings.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are those skills that you acquire through the course of experience and exposure, not necessarily in a formal learning environment. These skills include things like customer service, interpersonal communication, public speaking, time management and the ability to handle criticism effectively.

These skills can come from almost anywhere, not just library jobs, but they are incredibly important in librarianship. You can gain experience with these skills just about anywhere, like retail work, volunteering, teaching, and more. The key to making those experiences work for your library job applications is to figure out how to properly parley them. Let’s think about how those disparate experience can fit in a library job application.

Thinking Outside of the Library Bubble

Many of the skills that will benefit you in your job search can come from a myriad of sources. Do you have retail experience? Mention how that experience speaks to your skills in customer service and interpersonal communication. If you have teaching experience, as many of us in library school do, mention it in your resume/CV how this experience has enriched your public speaking and time management skills.

It’s important to remember that when applying to your first professional job after library school that employers aren’t expecting you to have extensive library experience. Rather, they are evaluating applications based upon how the applicant’s various experiences might make them a good fit at the institution.

Editor’s note: this post was originally published on October 16, 2018.

By Vince Garin

Photo courtesy of Young Writers

9 replies

  1. Also think about what you may have that sets you apart from other candidates. When I was looking for first jobs after library school, what set me apart – in the mid-1990s – was extensive programming/IT experience. I added a page to my resume that detailed all the programming languages I’d worked with. It got me every job for about the next 10 years. I helped a colleague who wasn’t getting anywhere, but had tons of IT experience. He wasn’t highlighting it, saying he wanted a library job, not an IT job. He was highlighting his MLIS, saying “I’m proud of it.” I pointed out that every single other candidate had the degree too.- be proud all you want on your own, but having the absolute base qualification does nothing to set you apart. We redid his resume, and highlighted his tech skills – he got a great job within a month, and yes, it was a library job, not an IT job. IT skills help in any area, and what he had, at his level, was rare. It needn’t be tech skills, but everyone has something that sets them apart. Figure that out, and stress it.

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