The Art of Self-Promotion
Published: March 31, 2021 by Leslie Parry
Networking and self-promotion can be challenging enough in a regular environment, but how do you excel at either during a pandemic? How can you make yourself indispensable during a time of unrelenting change? At a recent event hosted by the Special Libraries Association student chapter, School of Information alumna Tess McCarthy (MLIS ’12) explained how students can use this unprecedented time to their advantage. As a digital asset management systems librarian and self-described career transitionist, McCarthy shared her own professional trajectory, including the many ways she had to get creative in the COVID era. Here are her methods for positioning yourself well for professional advancement, even during quarantine.
Before transitioning into a new job or career, McCarthy encourages students to “do a lot of soul searching.” Whether you’re seeking out new connections or preparing for an interview, “You really have to know yourself, and you really have to be comfortable with setting boundaries and communicating,” she says. The more you can focus on what you want, the better able you’ll be to develop the necessary competencies in that area. McCarthy adds that it also helps to be sensitive to interpersonal dynamics and have a clear understanding of your own values. “You really want to find people you meld with. Otherwise you work with people who rub you the wrong way,” she says, and if there’s sustained tension in the workplace, it’s harder to get what you want out of the experience. Whether you’re navigating academia, internships or the job market, it helps to have a clear sense of what motivates you. “It’s very important to stay grounded, check in with yourself, and really think about what makes you happy and what keeps you motivated,” she says.
Map Your Skills
While you’re still figuring out your career path, McCarthy recommends doing “a fearless inventory of your skills.” She suggests keeping track of your soft skills, hard skills and technical skills on a spreadsheet. That way when you’re looking at job opportunities, you’ll be able to map your skills to requirements with greater focus and efficiency. In the event you need to bridge a gap, enhance your portfolio or simply make ends meet until you land a full-time job, she suggests contracting work on Fiverr. Doing remote, tailored, small-scale jobs is “a good way of brokering your skills and building your résumé,” she says. “It’s smart. It’s small. It’s measurable, it’s actionable, it’s relevant. You get to pick the work that you like to do for people.” Freelance gigs also allow you to highlight transferable skills, gather references and keep your résumé current.
Know What You Need to Improve
McCarthy suggests making small, scalable changes that you can measure over time. “When I was looking for work during the pandemic, I made teeny, tiny little goals,” she says. Because she wasn’t very confident about her presenting skills, she started setting up practice calls with her friends over Zoom. She also consulted career strategists, joined the Girlboss network and found someone to coach her. “Make relevant goals for yourself,” she advises, however small. One of the assignments she gave herself was to reduce the number of times she said “um” during a Zoom call – a small change that can make a significant difference, especially in the teleconference era. It helps to have someone to team up with, and iSchool students already have a solid network at the ready. “Start your own library gang,” she says. “Do a meetup and all hold yourself accountable and do mock-interviews with each other.”
Pay Attention to Details
Your résumé, your LinkedIn profile, even your Zoom background all communicate subtle but pivotal details about yourself. If you’re not going to meet with people in person, you need to ensure your virtual presence is relevant and robust. Your Zoom aesthetic is “the new three-piece suit,” McCarthy says, so curate your lighting, take care of your appearance, and organize your space accordingly. Again, small details can make a big impression. She also says it’s important to regularly “bump up” your LinkedIn profile. “You want to entice recruiters or the hiring manager when you go out for a role,” she says, and your LinkedIn profile is something they will likely check. “You have to be exceptional at keywording your résumé and keywording your LinkedIn profile according to the job you want.” (As emerging informational professionals, thankfully, keywords are something we understand.) So don’t let that page lie dormant; make sure it’s telling a story that’s relevant and interesting to potential employers. If you’re wondering what information to leave in and take out, McCarthy suggests keeping your major achievements to a one-page résumé and treating your LinkedIn profile as a CV.
There is no template for these times, so don’t be hard on yourself. During the pandemic “we’re all just trying to make things work,” she says. “We’re all just trying to do our best.” For mutual support as well as opportunity, take advantage of professional associations. (For her interests in data science and knowledge management, McCarthy recommends Bay Area Asset Managers and the Association for Intelligent Information Management.) Even if you find yourself piecing together freelance work, there are numerous ways to make interstitial projects meaningful and consequential. As McCarthy explains, you can use smaller gigs and volunteerships to build trust, gain a good reputation, and collect references. It’s a time to develop positive relationships. so don’t think of self-promotion as selfish. It’s really a bridge to collaboration. “If it’s a skill you have,” she stresses, then “it’s something you can share on a résumé or talk about in an interview.” So focus on articulating your strengths and highlighting your accomplishments. “Believe in yourself. Be very confident,” she says. We won’t be in a pandemic forever, but the creative choices and professional connections you make in the interim could be life-changing.