Don’t get mad; get a job

Much of this is territory I’ve covered already, but it can never be repeated too many times. Words of wisdom from Tiffini Travis:

Advice to current graduate students:

  • Do a practical internship where you actually perform the duties of a librarian. Lack of reference experience is usually the number one reason for not making the first round of cuts in the job application process. At academic libraries, taking an information literacy course or having teaching experience is definitely a must.
  • Take as many discipline-specific reference courses as possible. Taking the business reference course at my program was the reason I was hired for two part-time positions when I first graduated.
  • Take the time to learn theory and stay abreast of new trends in the profession. Not being able to answer interview questions in a deep and meaningful way can kill your chances of being hired.
  • Get a mentor who is already in the profession. This can help with navigating the hiring process and finding out what common issues occur in the daily functioning of a library.

Check out the full post: Where the &*!@*%;*%$#* are all the Library Jobs? Advice on what to do while you are waiting to join the workforce

As much as I agree with this advice, I’d like to point out that students who are graduating soon and haven’t managed to do all of these things shouldn’t panic. Personally, I never took a business information class and I was still hired at a business library. I spoke to a student recently who said that librarians had told her she should be presenting at conferences and working multiple library-related part-time jobs if she wants to have any chance at getting hired after graduation. These are all great things to do, but don’t drive yourself nuts trying to accomplish them all! Volunteering at a conference might be more realistic than presenting, and you’ll still learn a lot and have something to put on your CV. Being a student should be fun, at least some of the time.

Career Planning at Any Stage Workshop with Ulla de Stricker

As I mentioned in my last post, Ulla de Stricker was in Montreal on Friday for Web 2.You. At the suggestion of Cabot Yu from CLA-CASLIS, the CLA McGill Student Chapter (led by Adam Baron) and the CLA Montreal Chapter (led by yours truly) were lucky enough to be able to host Ulla for a career planning workshop on Saturday. Although the audience was composed mainly of students, I certainly learned a lot, and I believe the other professionals did as well.

In case you don’t know, Ulla de Stricker is the President of de Stricker Associates, but before becoming a consultant in 1992, she worked in a variety of information-related roles. The breadth of her experience was apparent throughout the workshop, and she emphasized the value of having twenty years of experience as opposed to having one year of experience twenty times over.

She said that if we only took away one piece of advice from the session, it should be to become active in professional associations. This is one of the things I keep saying to students, so I guess this means I’m on the right track in my advice-giving! She told the very sad story of a woman who lost her job after many years and struggled to find a new one because she hadn’t been active with any associations.

The meat of the content included how to create a resume/CV that’s attractive in terms of content and layout (don’t focus on job descriptions, tell your potential employer what you accomplished and took away from previous positions), how to appear and behave at job interviews (bring a nice pair of shoes in a bag if the weather is bad), and how to market yourself and make your work visible (identify your most important clients and do everything you can to learn about their needs and market your services to them).

The slides are available online, so I won’t rehash the entire presentation. I just want to urge everyone, students and professionals alike, to take every opportunity to learn from respected experts like Ulla de Stricker. Until her next presentation, I suggest you look through her slides and consider checking out the book she just wrote with Jill Hurst-Wahl as soon as it’s available.

More lists of advice for students

If there’s one thing library bloggers love writing, it’s lists of advice. Here are a couple of recent ones that students might find useful:

And let me assure you, I’m not posting this just so I can end up on someone’s list of lists of lists of advice. ;)

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Advice to a library school student from One Big Library

Whenever I come across really good advice for library school students, I like to post it on here, so today I want to share something I came across (thanks, Amy!) from One Big Library: Advice to a library school student.

The best advice anybody ever gave me when I was finishing library school and looking for a job was “look at all your options and choose the most challenging one. If it scares you, like you think maybe you won’t be up to the challenge, you’re on the right track and should go for it.” If you don’t feel challenged now, you’re right to be looking elsewhere (especially if you’re young or don’t otherwise have lots of obligations to other people and can freely look around).

When I was in school I found there was a lot of handwringing amongst my classmates about whether they would be up to the challenge of professional positions. When I started at the Howard Ross Library of Management, I was a bit concerned (read: terrified) by my lack of knowledge about anything business-related. But I saw the position as a challenge, and guess what – I’ve learned a whole lot, both in terms of business information and in terms of librarian skills that will be applicable to any job I may have in the future. So what do I think about scary challenges? I say bring them on!

As always, click through for the rest of the article – you’ll be glad you did.

Conference season is upon us

I recently attended the SLA conference in New Orleans, and it was an incredible experience. I want to remind everyone, students and professionals alike, that going to conferences is an invaluable opportunity for networking and learning more about the community. If you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on SLA 2010, check out my post on the Re:Generations blog (Re:Gen has other great conference posts as well).

Of course, you may not be able to travel as far as New Orleans (unless you already live near there), so keep your eyes peeled for local conferences. For those of us in Quebec, the ABQLA puts on an excellent conference each year in Montreal. Whether you take advantage of discounted student registration rates or work as a volunteer (which usually means avoiding registration fees altogether), you should absolutely make a point of fitting at least one upcoming conference into your schedule.

You’ll find the biblioblogosphere is already filled with conference tips, so I’ll refrain from adding more of my own, but I will suggest that you check out Stephen Abram’s tips. And as always, if you have questions for me, just ask.

Library school student power

Today I’d like to delve a little deeper into a topic I’ve briefly mentioned before on more than one occasion. I’m not sure whether students actually know about this; perhaps they’re completely in the dark, or perhaps they’ve been told but they can’t believe such an outrageous idea. At any rate, as far as I can tell, most students certainly don’t act as if they know about it. At its core, what it boils down to is this: library school students have power.

I can’t tell you whether this applies to students in other professional programs, or other Master’s programs, but I can certainly tell you that it doesn’t apply to most undergrad programs. Library school students are in a unique position to influence their peers and the profession as a whole, but they don’t seem to realize it. Here’s how I would describe this power:

  1. Professionals in the LIS community are not simply willing to listen to students; most of them are very much interested in hearing the student perspective.
  2. Library school professors are usually willing to change their classes based on student feedback.
  3. Students have a wide range of opportunities to set themselves apart from their classmates.

Before we get started, I’d just like to urge everyone to use this power for good, not for evil. Frankly, if your main goal in life is to hold power over other people, librarianship is the wrong field for you anyway. All of my suggestions should be fulfilling and add to your professional development in and of themselves; please don’t do any of these things just to feel powerful. Having said that, everybody wants to change the world, and it’s okay to make your voice heard.

Regarding point #1: librarians are notoriously nice people, so I can’t really blame a student who has a brief conversation with a professional and comes away saying, “well, of course he was nice to me. He’s nice to everyone. That’s his job.” But take it from me, professionals really are interested to hear what they’re teaching in school these days and we really are interested to hear fresh ideas. So how can a student get in touch with a librarian? I can think of a number of ways, some of which may be out of some people’s comfort zones, but there should be at least one that works for everyone.

  • Join a mentoring program, like McGill’s Professional Partnering Program. I know I keep mentioning this, but it’s really a no brainer: if there’s one available to you, sign up. And if not, start one on your own. This is a super low stress way to meet someone, since you know the professionals have volunteered because they’re interested. For bonus exposure, ask your classmates about their mentors and consider organizing a group event.
  • Attend events put on by professional associations. Later I’m going to urge students to become involved with their student chapters, but a great way to meet professionals is to go to events that aren’t designed specifically for students. For example, I’m involved with the Canadian Library Association Montreal Chapter, and we often organize informal social events. Students are encouraged to come to these events, and no one is treated differently than anyone else: professionals learn from students and vice versa. For bonus influence, start asking around to find out whether the chapter will be looking for new exec members after you graduate.
  • Start a blog. This is another piece of advice I’ve given before, but consider this: every time another blogger mentions your blog or quotes something you’ve written, you are influencing the biblioblogosphere. While I was a student, I got in touch with a number of librarians through my blog and formed some lasting professional relationships. And for every blogger who mentions your blog, there will probably be a bunch of professionals who read it, enjoy it, and don’t leave a comment. For bonus power, leave comments on other LIS blogs.
  • Find a professional you admire and contact them. This is where it gets a bit scary, and I’m afraid I can’t promise every librarian will want to be your best friend. You might be surprised, though, at the number of professionals who would be more than happy to spend some time telling you about what they do, or even showing you around their place of work. If there’s a particular library you’re interested in working at, get in touch with one of the librarians there. A good way is to look up the library’s website and find the email address of a librarian who has a job that looks interesting; just write to them explaining that you’re a student and asking whether you could meet with them to ask a few questions. For bonus points, make sure you have a few specific questions in mind when you actually do meet them, since some librarians may not have a good idea of what to tell you unless you ask.

Point #2 is fairly straightforward: if you don’t like the way a course is being taught, or if you have suggestions for how it could be improved, just tell your prof. Your best bet is to schedule a time to meet your prof in person, since this shows that you’re serious. Naturally, make sure your suggestions are constructive; don’t criticize anything unless you also suggest how it could be improved (this will serve you well in your professional life as well). At the very least, put in some serious thought when you fill out your course evaluations – profs read these comments and adjust their teaching based on them.

Point #3 mainly applies to having power over your own career path. As I briefly mentioned recently, many students choose to sit back and let library school happen to them, arguing that they can’t do much more because they’re “just a student.” Simply attending classes and showing up to an extracurricular event here and there means that you will receive your MLIS and impress potential employers to exactly the same degree as everyone else from your class. Fortunately, setting yourself apart is relatively easy, and not even terribly time consuming.

  • Get involved with a student group. And don’t just attend their events; if you actually participate on the group’s exec, you can put this on your CV or cover letter. In my experience, it doesn’t even matter that much which group you work with. SIS has a wide range of student groups, but they all do fairly similar work, so don’t worry if there’s no position for you at your first choice of group.
  • Organize an event. For example, in my second year of library school, I was co-organizer of Web 2.You. It can be intimidating to contact a well known speaker, but you will find that they are very friendly to students, and in many cases speakers who usually charge a fee will reduce it or waive it altogether for a student-run event. This is really a fun way to gain some experience, get some exposure, and help your fellow students (not to mention helping the local professionals who attend the event).

I hope this helps motivate students to take control of their careers. To the professionals reading this: do you have any tips for helping students exercise their power? Leave your advice in the comments!

Advice for recent grads

This is just a quick post to point you to some info that I think is valuable for anyone graduating from a library program (or anyone applying for a library job, for that matter). I don’t have any hiring committee experience to share with you, so I’ll pass you on to someone who does. Meredith Farkas from Information Wants To Be Free shares her Tips for library job applicants in a tight market (click through for all of her tips):

DO’s

  • This first one can’t be stresesed enough — tailor your cover letter to the job you’re applying for. Most importantly, address the specific requirements in the job ad. You may be particularly proud of how you designed your library’s intranet, but if the job you’re applying for has nothing to do with any of the skills you exhibited during that project, it’s not worth detailing in the cover letter. In all of the committees I was on, we’d go through each cover letter and resume with a list of required and preferred qualifications and would see which ones the applicant addressed. If they didn’t show evidence of one of the required qualifications, they’d be out of the running. Period.
  • Tailor your resume to some extent to the job you’re applying for. Highlight things that you’ve done or skills that you have that are on the list of required’s and preferred’s for that job.

DON’Ts

  • Send a generic cover letter. Passing off a generic cover letter makes you look like you don’t want the job that much. And usually, it’s pretty darn obvious that a cover letter is the same one you’ve used to apply for 10 other jobs.
  • Just list everything you’ve done in your cover letter. Specifically address what the search committee cares about — the required and preferred qualifications.
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