How to Prepare for the Job Hunt

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on May 25, 2015.

As a fresh graduate, I’m embarking on the search for a professional position. I already hold a full-time job in the field, so I can afford to be somewhat selective about what jobs I apply for, but it’s still my intention to find a position that I can see myself holding for years to come. Hopefully I will have good news when I write my farewell post at the end of the summer!

Whether you are entering library school in the fall or will be approaching graduation within the next year, seeking a professional position has probably crossed your mind. After all, that’s ultimately why we get a master’s in library science, right? It has certainly been on my mind consistently for the last 2.5 years, and I have some advice on how you can prepare now for a successful job search when the time comes.

Know what you want. You may not know exactly what you want to do going into your program. That’s OK. I originally thought I would be going into archives, but I realized throughout my coursework that I preferred art and visual resources librarianship and digital humanities. If you are in a two-year program, I recommend taking coursework that interests you during your first year, so you can determine your passions, and then taking coursework in your second year that will help you build the skills you need to do that job successfully. However, don’t panic if you change your mind throughout your program, because librarianship is interdisciplinary by nature, and taking coursework in other areas can help you in ways you may not yet realize.

Look at job descriptions. I have been printing and saving job descriptions of positions related to arts, visual resources, and humanities librarianship for the past couple of years. It’s been interesting to review them and see what these types of positions are like at specific universities, but it’s especially useful when determining what experience and specific skills you need to qualify for jobs that interest you. It’s better to know this early on when you have the time to develop these skills through coursework and internships.

Get experience. Assistantships, internships, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, whatever you can or need to do, do it. It’s a tough market, and you will not be competitive for jobs if you don’t have experience in your field. If possible, aim for project-oriented tasks, or ask your supervisor if you can work on something in addition to your job description. The questions I’ve been asked during interviews for professional positions have been primarily project-oriented. This will give you the examples you need to rock the STAR method.

Be active. Now is the time to join professional organizations, attend conferences, and otherwise be professionally active. Do not wait until you are a professional to do this. Librarianship is a small world, and you’d be surprised at how many connections you can make at conferences. For example, I attended my first Visual Resources Association annual conference earlier this year, and met a fellow early career librarian who was doing similar projects at her university. We decided to collaborate on an article and it just got published this month. So, I have at least one professional article published, which looks great to prospective employers.

Think outside the box. Coursework and internships are fantastic, but they are not the only way to learn and get valuable experience. Independent research and study is also important, as is taking the time to catch up on professional literature or current issues. However, it’s also important to pursue individual interests and passions. One of the steady volunteer gigs I’ve had for the past four years is being a docent at the Georgia Museum of Art. I give tours to all types of age groups, from fifth graders to seniors, and help foster an appreciation for art in my community. This recently impressed a prospective employer, who mentioned that, if I get the job, the position might include leading instructional workshops for museum docents at the library. Employers want individuals who are well-rounded and interesting, and extracurricular activities make fantastic examples for showing initiative and leadership.

If you are job hunting, or recently got a professional position, I’d be interested to hear what tips you have for students who are still in library school. For my fellow job hunters, I wish you the best of luck!

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