10 Ways to Build Career Opportunities as a Student
Published: February 7, 2021 by Leslie Parry
Last semester the San José State University Special Libraries Association student chapter presented “Building Career Opportunities in Graduate School,” a program featuring Kim Dority, career advisor at the School of Information. Dority, who is also the founder and president of Dority & Associates, an information strategy and content development company, gave a generous and insightful presentation about the ways in which iSchool students can start preparing for their future professions now. From keeping a journal to engaging professionals to practicing small talk, she says even small actions can make a big difference. It takes some planning, initiative and resourcefulness, but maximizing your time in graduate school will pay off in the end. Below are Dority’s top 10 tips for building career opportunities as an iSchool student.
1. Set your personal career agenda
Consider this: by the time you graduate, what skills do you want to have learned? What people would you like to have met? Dority urges students to set achievable goals during their time in the program and then take action to ensure those goals are met.
2. Multipurpose your assignments
Your assignments don’t only have to be files you submit to your professor. They can have a life beyond the (virtual) classroom walls. You can use them to make professional connections, build a portfolio and create visibility in the field. Dority encourages students to lay the groundwork for professional relationships while still in school. For instance, you can interview someone you admire for a paper, or adapt class assignments for articles and presentations. “Think about your assignments for every single course,” Dority says. “Figure out if there are ways to multipurpose your assignments that help move you towards more visibility, more connections.”
3. Create your own learning assignments
Use your time in the iSchool to hone hard and soft skills. Dority says it’s especially important to understand what kind of learner you are. “One of your challenges is to experiment and see what helps you learn most quickly, most effectively, and with the highest rate of retention,” she states. She also suggests getting comfortable with non-academic writing, which will likely be part of your future career, and engaging in small talk with your peers. Even if this seems like a trivial task, she says, it will “lead you to more possibilities than you can possibly imagine” because it lays the foundation for future relationships.
4. Explore how many different ways your LIS skills can be used
“There are literally hundreds of ways!” Dority says. She reminds students about opportunities outside of the customary career paths, including jobs at government agencies, corporate businesses, non-profit organizations and start-ups. Among her recommended resources are the website INALJ.com, where students can find postings for non-traditional LIS jobs, the Alternative LIS Careers section on the iSchool’s Career Development site, and the iSchool’s annual report MLIS Skills at Work: A Snapshot of Job Titles.
5. Explore what type of work you might enjoy
In school, says Dority, “Your job is to start thinking about what kinds of preferences you might have, the type of work you might enjoy,” and then take every opportunity to connect with people who can tell you more about those possible career paths. It’s also important to consider other aspects, including the work environment you’d prefer, as well as how your ideal workday would be structured. Knowing how you perform best can help you make informed decisions about your future career.
6. Start a career journal to record your journey and progress
Dority recommends keeping a career journal so that you can stay organized, hold yourself accountable, and chart your progress through school. It can be a record of ideas, reflections, contacts, to-do items and questions. Not only does this practice keep all your relevant information in one place, it allows you to see how your thoughts and interests evolve as you pursue your degree.
7. Make the most of the school’s resources
SJSU has incredible resources that students should take advantage of while they have access to them, Dority says. In particular she recommends consulting the librarians at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library. “They can help you find books, journals and periodicals related to the field you’re interested in. They can also show you how to research companies.” In addition she urges students to use the SJSU Career Center and get in touch with Carrie McKnight, the liaison for graduate students there. “At some point, check in with Carrie and just say, ‘Would you look at my resume? Or would you tell me what the resources are at the Career Center for doing mock interviews?’” Lastly, Dority recommends getting involved in student groups, which help move you from professional-in-training to professional-in-the-field.
8. Practice doing scary stuff
Use your time in the iSchool to practice doing the things that make you nervous, especially things you’ll likely encounter in the workplace, such as collaborating, decision-making, and giving presentations. The more you do them, Dority promises, the less frightening they will be. Plus, she says, it’s better to work through those pains now, with the support system of school, rather than later in a new job.
9. Practice being a high-performance, high-value contributor
“A positive attitude will help get you where you want to be,” Dority states. Bringing good energy to your job and your team is always an asset. While it’s easy to be overwhelmed in school, Dority says it’s important to be able to identify your strengths. When a professor or a peer tells you that you’re good at something, write it down in your career journal. “Learn how to talk about that,” Dority explains. “It’s important to be able to articulate why you should be hired for a job.” She also recommends that students practice being flexible: “Flexibility, adaptability and resilience are going to be our core competencies.”
10. Take a leadership role in your career and your future
“Don’t wait for somebody to step up and ask you to do something,” says Dority. “Instead see an opportunity, step up, and volunteer. Take responsibility for your choices, and take responsibility for your outcomes. That’s not just learning from failure, but it’s also recognizing your successes and letting yourself own them.”
Dority’s entire presentation can be found on the SJSU SLA YouTube channel and SJSU ScholarWorks. She has also written two books on careers in the LIS field: Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals and LIS Career Sourcebook: Managing and Maximizing Every Step of Your Career.