Preparing to Land Your Ideal Library Job: Advice from Career Experts

iStudent Blog

Taking the plunge to earn a master’s degree or a post-master’s Certificate is confirmation of your dedication to a career as an information professional. As with any career dream, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize: a satisfying job! And for that, it’s never too early to prepare. That’s why I recommend watching the recording of American Libraries Live Episode 2, Landing Your Ideal Library Job, which aired on January 10, 2013 on the American Libraries Live Blog. The one-hour webinar featured advice from our School’s Career Center Liaison, Jill Klees.

Host David Connolly, who co-manages the ALA JobList website, led a fabulous discussion with panelists Jill Klees and Bohyun Kim – digital access librarian at Florida International University Medical Library in Miami, who blogs at LibraryHat. You can watch Landing Your Ideal Library Job or scan the following summary of advice from the two panelists and facilitator David Connolly, which highlights my personal take-aways from this professional meeting of minds.

DC: Let’s start with some basic job search advice for new LIS graduates:

BK: The first thing is to create a list of qualifications you can offer, including your professional strengths and weaknesses. Then compare your list with the job postings that sounds interesting. Look for overlaps, and that will lead to an effective job search.

JK: You can’t start all over the place – have a strategic plan so you can be organized. Have a Plan A, B, and C. Plan A is your ideal job. Plan B is a backup job if Plan A doesn’t happen quickly enough. Plan C is your backup to your backup and could be something like a temp job, for example.

DC: Networking is about developing relationships with people so those already working in the profession know you and your interests. What can you tell us about networking?

JK: The Number 1 job search strategy is networking. About 75 to 80% of jobs that people get are through networking. Only 15% are actually posted. That’s why networking is so critically important. Think about making both formal and informal connections – formal connections are those made at a conference or workshop; informal connections are those you make in coffee shops or while waiting in lines at the grocery store. If someone gives you a contact or a referral, always follow through. Take steps to take action and follow through.

BK: Networking can sound daunting, but don’t be discouraged. If you’re not in the position to go to a conference, you can still do networking on your own terms. If you’re already working at a library, you’re in a great position to network. Get to know your coworkers, get advice, and contact them for informational interviews. Ask the head of reference, for example, what it’s like to be a reference librarian in a large academic library. Those opportunities are available to everyone.

DC: Don’t forget about online networking through Twitter or blogs. People who comment regularly on blogs get to know each other that way too. And if you can’t go to national conferences, consider local conferences instead.

DC: Applying for jobs: Some people apply to lots of jobs and hope that quantity will yield results, but that’s less effective than customizing your resume. It’s important to focus on jobs that you’re really interested in and consider yourself a strong candidate for. Really focus on quality not quantity. Comments?

BK: I’ve served on search committees that anticipate a huge volume of applications, but what I’ve learned is that the number of applicants competing for a job really depends on the job itself and when it is posted. December postings get fewer applicants, for instance. From a hiring perspective, I’ve found that it’s very hard to find a large number of qualified applicants. Applying to 100 jobs in one week is a disservice to you because you’re not applying well. Be selective and only go for something that you really have a chance for.

JK: Doing a job search is a job itself and takes time. Applying to a bunch of positions is not effective and not the way to find an ideal job. Do your homework to find jobs that you really want and that you’re qualified for. Tailor your resume and cover letter to the job. Employers can see if you’ve done your homework and if you’re really into it or not. It’s competitive out there, but there are jobs available in traditional and non-traditional settings. You have to show you have 75-80% of the qualifications they’re looking for.

DC: Interview Skills: You always hear about the importance of practice. Most questions are predictable; employers want to know if you’re qualified, if you’re interested, and if you’re a fit for their culture. But you may get a curveball that will allow employers to get a sense of who you are as a person. Practice and research are critical for those curveball questions.

JK: Practice is the best tip for anybody. The three questions I tell people to nail are: Tell me about yourself (which is usually the first question and if you trip up, it’ll set a bad tone); Why do you want the job? (If the real reason is that you’re desperate, you won’t get the job, so you need to come up with a compelling reason why the job is a good fit for you); and Why should they hire you? (Prepare to tell them how you can help them, why you’re qualified, and what skills you bring.)

Also, employers will look at what the candidate asks. Don’t ask about benefits. Ask something like, “What’s the most challenging aspect of the job?” Or, “What’s your vision for next 3-5 years?” Ask something that shows you’re enthusiastic and thoughtful.

Don’t make assumptions that they know all about you. Repeat what was in the resume and cover letter. Sell yourself by summarizing everything you can about your skills: “I want to make sure you know this about me: xyz”.

BK: You can get tired from interviewing. But I want to emphasize that they are looking at you for the first time. If they ask you the same question six times, answer it like you’ve never heard it before. Be ready to present your best self to ten people in one day. Present your passion and your capacity as though it’s the first time you’ve been asked about it. Be confident. If you’re tired or intimidated, you lose focus. So, remember you were selected.

DC: Putting Skills in the Context of Accomplishments: You see advice about quantifying your achievements. Can you speak about that?

BK: Personalize the experience you want to present. The interview allows you to present your resume in person. So, you can tell your story instead of writing it. This personal perspective gives a sense of who you area.

JK: Write accomplishment statements on your resume: Demonstrate how you have a skill, how you use it, and how you develop it. Start with an action word, such as: managed, built, or coordinated. Think about the action you took, and use the terminology within the job announcement.

DC: Any advice for keeping a good attitude? Employers can sniff out a bad one.

JK: Keep yourself healthy and positive. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Often job searchers surround themselves with the doom and gloom crowd, so make a point to be around positive people to keep yourself pumped up. If you’re applying for the right kind of jobs, you’re doing your due diligence, so hold onto that and think positive. Keep in mind that non-traditional information jobs may not have the word library in their descriptions, but corporations are in need of people with MLIS skill sets to research and organize large amounts of data. Consider searching by your top three or four skills, and you may find jobs you’d never know to consider. Indeed.com is a great job search website to play around with. Try searching for “metadata” or “information technology” and see what you get.

BK: Network with other positive job searchers, and ask what others are finding. Then, don’t forget to pay attention to what’s going on in the library world so you have something to discuss during your interviews. Keep the job search in perspective with the rest of your life and be persistent. Talk to recent hires and learn from their process.

For more career advice, check out our School’s free Career Development resources. And if you go on to listen to the recording, post your comments here!