How To Make the Most of Your First LIS Job

Career Blog

Published: July 5, 2016 by Kate M. Spaulding

Thinking about where your LIS career may take you? Keep in mind that your first LIS job isn’t so much about what the job is, as it is what you do with it. First step: Create a job agenda.

Today I am happy to present a guest post from Kim Dority with smart (and welcome!) ideas and guidance for how to best approach your first job in the library and information science (LIS) field. I love that just reading this knocked my anxiety level down a notch or two. I hope it helps you, too! -Kate


Thinking about where your LIS career may take you? To riff on Dr. Seuss, oh, the places you’ll go! Of course, when you’re just starting out, that very amazing universe of LIS opportunities can be a bit daunting – where should you start?

The good news is that wherever you start, your first job is just your first job. In other words, that first job is simply the first step in what will undoubtedly be a rich and varied path of professional projects, opportunities you can’t even imagine at this point, and a great learning experience.

What it won’t be is the determining factor in what your LIS career will be for the next several decades.

How to Approach Your First LIS Job

According to English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, experience isn’t what happens to you, “it’s what you do with what happens to you.” Careers are sort of like that, too. Your first LIS job isn’t so much about what the job is, as it is what you do with it.

Yep, naturally you want to do an amazing job for your employer, but you also want to start doing an amazing job for your career – and this is the perfect starting point.  Here are some steps to take that will serve you well every time you start a new job:

Create a job agenda. Every job offers unique opportunities to build up your professional assets – i.e., what you know (domain skills), who you know (your community of colleagues or network), and who knows what about you (your professional reputation or brand, and how visible it is).

Once you know what your job will be, start thinking about ways you can use parts of it to build a new skill or expand an existing one. How will you do that? Does your new job offer opportunities for professional development or working with a mentor? If so, always take advantage of these important career-building benefits.

What relationships might you be able to build with others both inside and outside of the profession via your first job (note: over the course of your career, LIS vendors can be some of the most valuable contacts you can have)? Can you connect with others who are doing the type of work you’re doing or aspire to do? Also, keep in mind that every job you have provides opportunities to build lasting relationships with your colleagues – even if you don’t love them, you can always develop your ability to find the best in your co-workers or at least keep them from making you crazy.

What opportunities might you have for increasing your professional reputation and its visibility? Can you give a presentation at a state conference? Can you write about an LIS topic in which you’re interested and/or exploring? Can you start a blog in your area of interest and do informational interviews with experts in that area?  Your goal is simply to start getting used to the process of getting visible for the work and ideas that’ll take you in the direction of your desired career.

Once you’ve thought through what you’d like to accomplish with your first job, put together your first-year agenda: what you want to accomplish (besides dazzling your employer), how you’ll do that, and when. Use this agenda as your guideline to keep your career on track, especially if your first job isn’t exactly where you’d hoped to start out.

Develop your people skills. Grad school is a great way to learn domain skills (that is, LIS expertise), but to really develop your people skills, it helps to have a real-life environment within which to practice. Welcome to your first job! Regardless of your job’s actual responsibilities, you can also learn how to:

  • manage your boss, and learn how to work with him or her in whatever way that makes the relationship as positive and productive as possible;
  • be a terrific, reliable, and positive team member and collaborator;
  • ask for and offer help in a supportive manner; and
  • confidently share your own ideas in a group setting, getting comfortable with a range of responses (positive and negative).

Start discovering more about you. What strengths are you discovering within yourself that you hadn’t previously been aware of? Similarly, what activities are you surprised to find that you really enjoy?
What responsibilities or opportunities do you find yourself turning away from, and what can you learn from that? Observing your colleagues’ activities, what aspects of their work appeal to you, what aspects not so much? Do you find that you do or don’t enjoy the public interaction or team collaboration aspects of your job? How might that influence future job choices?

Pay attention to your reactions to your job activities and your work environment without judging those reactions as right or wrong, but rather as opportunities to learn how to continue to craft the career that will be best for you. Consider your job experiences to be data points guiding you along the path to your best work.

Remember – You’re Just at the Starting Line
Getting ready to graduate? Panicked about finding just the right first LIS job? No worries – pretty much any starting job will work out just fine, depending on what you do after you start. Remember, your first job is just your first job, so give yourself some breathing room and know you’re heading in the right direction, from wherever you start.

Kim Dority is president of content development firm Dority & Associates, author of Rethinking Information Work, 2d ed, and an LIS career expert.