Professional associations were something that I had heard of only in passing before I decided on my career change into the library and information sector. However, when I began my LIS degree, it seemed everyone would talk about joining professional associations while they were students and how important they were to their learning and networking and I always wondered what they meant. I could understand how being a member of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) or the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) would be beneficial when I finished my degree and was a fully accredited information professional, but what could it offer for me as a student? The answer was surprisingly, almost everything.
As a requirement for my LIS degree, I need to complete 30 hours of professional development (PD) across the length of my degree. This can be accrued by attending conferences, webinars or tours of information organizations, or by completing short courses related to my degree. At first, this seemed like a fairly large amount of hours to complete, in addition to the 140 study hours per course per semester that was suggested in order to successfully complete the degree. But as I looked into short courses and attended a couple of webinars hosted by ALIA and the ASA, I began to realize the benefits that professional associations offered. Not only would the programs and webinars offered by these professional associations add to my required PD, they also helped to supplement and add to what I had been learning throughout my degree. It was a win-win situation.
Recently, the Students and New Grads ALIA group hosted a Decoding Selection Criteria webinar with a panel of recruitment leaders from information organizations across Australia. They sought to answer the questions all of us have faced when applying for positions – what do I need to do to stand out from the sometimes overwhelming number of applicants? The first point they agreed upon was: do you understand the role and what skills the organization is asking for in their position description? If you don’t or you need clarification, reach out to the recruiter. Don’t be afraid or hesitant to send an email with your questions, or to ask for clarification on certain points of the selection criteria. This shows that you are considering how you would be the perfect fit for the position, and puts your name in the front of the recruiters mind. The panel also reminded everyone attending to think about their transferable skills and to use a positive voice when answering selection criteria. If you don’t completely match the criteria, try starting by saying “I have (this related skill)” and not draw attention to what skills or experience you don’t yet have. You want a recruiter to be only thinking of what you can bring to a role, not what you are lacking.
While there was a lot more advice the panel offered including researching the organization to which you are applying to make sure their vision and values align with your own, and to keep a spreadsheet with criteria examples from previous applications that you can refer to and add to as you gain more experience, the last piece of advice the panel offered was this: grow your network. Join professional organizations like ALIA, join special interest groups that will connect you with others in your profession, and look at what connections you can make through LinkedIn. The bigger your network, the more opportunity for recruiters to already know you and what skills you possess.
As a student, professional associations have the ability to offer you more than you realize. They are a resource for further learning, a link to industry related advice, and a connection to our library and information organization peers. If you aren’t a student member of a professional association yet, the best advice I can offer is to just become one. The benefits outweigh any cost, and the connections you make are invaluable to beginning and continuing your career in the industry. Just do it, you won’t regret it.