Embracing Happenstance

On Monday, I had the privilege of participating in a panel for the Professional Development: Library and Information Studies Career Forum hosted jointly by the University of Alberta Career Centre and School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS).

In my presentation, I decided to steer away from simply talking about my day-to-day routines at work, and focused on what I felt students might be more concerned about - looking for employment in the field after graduating. At first, I was a bit hesitant to participate in the panel, because I knew that the other panelists would have years more of experience than me. I was reassured by the organizers that I would still have something of value to offer by speaking on my experience as a recent MLIS graduate, and I am so glad I did this.

And now, I'm going to lay out my talk here for the rest of the world to see. I hope that it will bring you some inspiration, a little "it'll all be okay" nudge, and maybe even some courage. 

I essentially covered the following 3 things to consider when job searching/hunting:

  1. Build a strong and diverse network.
  2. Develop a solid professional presence.
  3. Be brave.

To convey the applicability of those 3 things to finding gainful employment, I told the story of how I ended up with my first permanent position in the field as the Law Librarian for Emery Jamieson LLP, which I will gladly re-tell!

Back in August 2014, I completed my MLIS program and moved back to my hometown of Edmonton, AB. I was a bit wary of moving back with the economy being the way it was/is, but I was homesick, and decided that I could compensate for my decision by trying everything to find work. I sought after volunteer opportunities, even if it meant traveling a bit outside of Edmonton. I took on small contracts in the meantime so that I had some form of income. I reached out to librarians and asked them to tell me about their jobs and to give me tours of their libraries.

Then in December, my former boss from when I was a library assistant at the courthouse library told me about the Edmonton Law Libraries Association (ELLA) Christmas Mixer, where I could meet other law librarians and legal info pros. I actually have a lot of social anxiety, so I really pushed myself to go, but I am so glad that I did. At the mixer, I met a wonderful law librarian, and we chatted pretty casually, and continued so even afterwards, while traveling home. After we parted ways, I didn't expect anything to come from it, but I had already learned a lot by hearing from her.

About 2 months later, that same law librarian sent me an email saying that she knew about a firm that was seeking someone to provide consultation for library management. After expressing my strong interest, she provided me with the HR contact information for the firm, which I called up right away. After what seemed like less than a minute on the phone with HR, I scheduled an informational interview for the very next morning. When I visited the firm the next day, HR and I discussed what the needs of the firm were, and what I could possibly offer them. I felt that it had been a pretty constructive meeting, and learned a lot about corporate environments even from that conversation, so I walked away trying not to think too much of it. 1 month later, HR sent me an email requesting a meeting with the COO of the firm to discuss a job offer. It's been about 9 months now, and I'm still the solo librarian for Emery Jamieson LLP. I'm still constantly learning, but I have a much better grasp on things for certain.

I'd like to re-visit those 3 "things to consider", because these are things I did to actively better my chances in a not-so-willing job market. I'm going to elaborate on them in the same way I did for these students.

Build a strong and diverse network.

  • Think what you will about how much I preach about networking, but it is definitely something worthwhile. You might know everyone who you know, but you don't necessarily know who you know knows. I may only be in my first year in the LIS field, but I know wonderful individuals in the realms of public libraries, academic libraries, prospect research, competitive intelligence, knowledge management, and more! I even know a librarian in New York City, and another in Qatar! As it was iterated by another panelist, the library world is surprisingly small.
  • It's helpful even just to have a pep squad at hand for when you need some encouragement, support, or advice. And remember - networking does not have to be with those in your field.
  • And if you don't know where to start, start with me! 

Develop a solid professional presence.

  • Know your own resume inside and out. If there's something listed on your resume that you can't recollect or elaborate on, leave it out. Why take the chance of being asked about that one thing in an interview? Your resume should be a snapshot of you as a professional. And leave some things to mention in your cover letter and/or interview!
  • Keep a portfolio of your best work from classes, volunteer projects, and employment experiences that you can showcase. How much more convincing would it be in an interview if instead of leaving the panel to take your word for it, you gave them something tangible to take and consider? Think about policies you've written up, LibGuides you've done, instructional designs - whatever you think portrays your best professional self. 
  • Be present. Create business cards and/or a LinkedIn profile. Put yourself out there so that more people know your name. Even if you're still working towards your MLIS, just say that you're an MLIS candidate if it makes you more comfortable. A colleague of mine once told me, it's always nice when someone gives you their business card and you're able to give them something too. It helps them remember you better too!

Be BRAVE.

  • A quote by Ms. Frizzle best captivates this: "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy". 
  • Know that it's okay to fail or be rejected sometimes. Unfortunately, it's going to happen to you at some point, so be as prepared as you can be, and take everything on as a learning experience. So what if you didn't get this one! You can get the next one. You now have something to work on and improve to make sure you get something even better.

Just like I told the SLIS students, consider these 3 things, and I'm sure you'll be okay.