Your First Job is Step One to Your Career

Career Blog

Published: July 13, 2021 by Jillian Collins

Your first job is a huge milestone! As you complete your MLIS program, you’re gaining specialty tools to thrive in an expanding market. Your first job with your master’s degree is just the foot in the door. Your eventual career may end up being completely different from the door you first walk in, which is part of your growth as a professional, and the way your fellow professionals grow, as well.

How to Think of a Job vs. a Career

Thinking about the difference between a job and a career comes down to context in the moment. For purposes of this post, these are the definitions to keep in mind:

  • Job: The “foot in the door” that launches you in your profession. You’re getting started. Beginning to forge your path.
  • Career: Where you see yourself established in your profession, which may (or may not) be a direct path from how you began. In fact, you’ll probably find that work or experiences in your first job lead you into other areas that fascinate you, even if you can’t envision them as you start out. But that’s the wonderful nature of building a career: You get to your “best work” career by exploring the areas you discover, and often those opportunities will become visible as you learn on the job.

Realizing that your first job in the profession is simply a point of beginning (rather than one that defines your future career) means that when you start out at a job, you probably won’t be staying there for the duration of your professional life. However, just as important is to make sure you make the most of that first job – and any job after – in terms of establishing yourself, supporting success, and connecting within your community of colleagues and the profession to heighten your visibility and positive reputation. The more you grow, the closer you get to your career.

Professional Advancement

A LIS career often comprises a series of jobs, and a way to think about this is to embrace the idea of advancement. You may feel like that first job opportunity is also going to be your last, but LIS work is an evolving and expanding field, and our skills are in demand. Or, perhaps you aspire to move higher on the ladder in a specialized area, and just need to take the necessary steps to achieve it.

You need to assume that those necessary steps may involve moving on to another job, and that’s okay, as long as you’ve made sure that the organization (or position) you’re leaving has been given fair notice and you’ve done everything you could to ensure you’re leaving on good terms.

Let’s say you want to work in a special library as head of the acquisitions department. Staying in one position won’t make that happen, but there are key actions you can take to keep moving forward in your LIS professional life:

  • Participation creates opportunities. Participate actively in your field. You can generate original work for those who are in, or interested in, your type of work – a blog, a podcast, academically published pieces to name some ideas. Take advantage of professional development opportunities, where you grow your knowledge and form bonds with others. Attend – virtually, or, one day, in person – conferences to meet and get to know other professionals. Participation is an ongoing exercise in creating your opportunities. 
  • Support success. When a colleague has a big achievement, celebrate their success! The people who see you actively cheering on others also see how you conduct yourself. Acknowledging and supporting the success of others not only is simply a great way to go through life, it also elevates your reputation in a positive way!
  • Remember that all relationships are important. The people you work with at your first job out of school are (we hope) going to be part of your community of colleagues even after you’ve moved on, so it’s crucial to build both professional bridges and relationships in your first job. The way you treat people, acknowledge ideas and success, and continue to work collaboratively and supportively with all of your colleagues will have significant impact down the road.

Adaptation and Motivation

Two things to know as you join the workforce: life throws curveballs that influence your career journey, and your ability to adapt to those show you possibilities you may never have imagined.

One of these curveballs is perhaps the biggest hit: being let go from your job. No matter what the circumstances, the sting is the same. However, you don’t really need to assume that being laid off or fired will hinder your dreams. In fact, it may be just what you needed to see new opportunities. So, when you leave, leave with the knowledge that you’ve gained value from the experience. Be gracious. Maintain the relationships you had. And know you’re in good company – an awful lot of the adaptation strategies successful people have discovered all stemmed from a similar experience.

In the same way, leaving a job to advance your career is also not something to avoid. Just be sure to keep the same high level of professionalism, and you’re likely to find that since you have been supporting the success of others, they’ll support your steps toward career success. Regardless of your colleagues’ reaction to you moving on, however, you can (and should) always make the effort to keep your professional relationships reciprocal and close. 

Start off with the Future in Mind

When you start out, you should be ready to participate in your workplace and the duties of your position at the highest level possible. By elevating your profile through active participation in the LIS field, supporting the successes of your peers and colleagues, maintaining supportive, collaborative relationships and creating new ones, you can ensure that your first job will be an important and positive part of your next career step. Your impact on the field, the impressions you make on others, and the way you conduct yourself in your workplace setting are all as important to your career advancement as what you know and/or can do with that knowledge.

Quick Jot from Jillian

I think that cheering on success is the theme of job-to-career pipeline. The support you show to others along the way – big or small scale, but always appropriate – is emotionally fulfilling. Pitching in and looking at the bigger picture is motivating.

Focus on the duties of the job as you work toward the career you want. But make sure you are treating others with the same dignity and support you get from that “I made it” feeling.

Career Opportunities

  • Digital Asset Specialist. The Hershey Company. On-site; employer willing to consider remote with weekly travel to site travel to site. Apply on Hershey Careers
  • Auction Cataloguer. Auctions at Showplace. Full-time. New York, NY. Apply via Jobs Near Me

Mark Your Calendar!

iSchool Student Services Lunch and Learn Series: Information Intermediation and Instruction MLIS Pathway Q and A with Advisors hosted by iSchool Faculty

  • Date: Wednesday, July 14, 2021
  • Time: 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)
  • Location: Register here to attend this Zoom event

Colorado Association of Libraries CALCON 2021 Conference hosted by the Colorado Association of Libraries, Westminster, CO

  • Dates: September 9-11, 2021
  • Location: 10600 Westminster Boulevard Westminster, CO 80020
  • Details: learn more about attending this in-person conference, visit the iSchool event calendar, or visit the CALCON 2021 website


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