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.

Hire me, please?

Last month, just before the end of my second term in the program, I attended a webinar on interviewing skills, and felt that with myself and some peers graduating soon, it may be helpful to dish out some survival tips that I picked up.

The webinar entitled, "Interviewing Tips to Get a Job" was hosted by Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), an organization invested in "advancing leadership and management practices in LIS for current professionals and trainees". It was my first live webinar to participate in, and it was a neat concept - a gathering of information professionals, current and prospective, to learn together virtually! It was mediated by Fred Reuland, Program Officer for Continuing Education of the American Library Association, and presented by Sharon Holderman, the Coordinator of Public Services at Tennessee Technological University. Every so often throughout the webinar, for audience interaction, Sharon would ask a question and a poll would appear on the screen enabling you to select an answer. Such questions included, "Will you be interviewing in the next 6 months?" and "How nervous are you when interviewing?" (to which the options were "petrified", "a little nervous", and "cool cucumber").

This is what I learned:

An interview is a conversation. Each participant, the interviewer(s) and interviewee included, is able to both ask questions and provide answers to questions asked, like a chance to get to know each other better. As an MLIS candidate who entered the program fresh out of undergrad studies, I've grown so accustomed to a mentality of only answering the interviewer's questions, except for one that I ask at the end when prompted with the words, "Do you have any questions for us?" That made this point particularly difficult for me to wrap my head around, but it makes sense. Yes, you want a job, but you also want to be sure that you are working in an environment that you want to be in. 

Desirable personality traits include enthusiasm for the job, willingness to learn, and strengths in the areas of innovation and inquisition. This all seems very straightforward, yes, but sometimes, it's the simpler things that we forget about. For me, it's the strengths thing. On the one hand, I tend to sell myself short on a lot of things, because I can't help but feel that there's someone else out there better than me. On the other hand, I know that I have some valuable skills and experience that not all of my peers do, but I tend to brush those under the rug, so to speak. Highlighting strengths is definitely something I need to work on.

There are 3 types of interviews - phone, video, and in-person.

  1. Phone - A disadvantage is that neither side can see body language or facial expressions, so words are the most important thing. Smile, because it comes through as a positive, friendly voice.
  2. Video - Dress as you would for an interview from head to toe. If you treat the situation more seriously, your demeanor will come across as taking the position more seriously. Make sure that you have a reliable internet connection.
  3. In-person - Start-to-finish, you are in the interview. Always be aware of your behaviour from when you arrive and greet the receptionist, to when you are in the interview, to when you exit. Always err on the side of formal, conservative, and well-groomed. Dress as comfortably as possible, with as few distractions as possible - for yourself and the interviewer.

There are 3 main parts to an interview - before, during, and after.

Interviewers want to know if you can do the job, if you can fit in the company, if you can give and take orders, and if you are an asset or a liability. In order to convince them that your answers are "yes", "yes", "yes", and "asset", you need to be properly prepared.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW...

  • Do some research on interviewing skills. (Sharon suggested a book entitled, How to Interview Like a Pro: 43 Rules for Getting Your Next Job by Mary Greenwood.)
  • Get to know about trends in libraries, especially those related to your job. What big movements are happening?
  • Learn more about the position. Consult people you know in the field, perhaps in a similar position. How does the job fit into the company? Who would you be working with/for?
  • Read up on the company. Examine the structure of the company, especially of the library or branch that the successful candidate would be working in. Scan through news clippings and the company website to find out what's going on with them and what role they play in the community. Take note of things you like about the company and causes for concern.
    • E.g. Sharon spoke about how while preparing for the interview for her current position, there was no catalogue at the library she interviewed for. She brought this up during the interview, and the interviewer explained that the library hoped that the successful candidate would be able to create the catalogue for it.
  • Review the resume and cover letter that you sent with your application. Your cover letter should be specific to the position that you applied for, and your resume should be tailored to have related experience listed in reverse order of significance.
  • Find where the interview is going to be, and do a trial run. You definitely don't want to be late because you got lost trying to find the place. Bring printed directions!
  • When attending the interview, arrive at least 30 minutes early.

DURING THE INTERVIEW...

  • Be nice and polite to everyone. This includes anyone you encounter on your way to the office/library, the receptionist that you greet upon your entrance and exit, and of course, your interviewers.
  • Use professional language, maintain good posture, and make eye contact with each person on the panel.
  • Answer the questions that the interviewer asks. This is a "well, duh" statement, but be sure to take your time, address how you would fit the job, and what skills you can offer. Each time that you are asked a question in an interview, you are given a chance to dazzle the interviewer(s) with the unique experience and skills that you carry, but also your personality.
  • Read the subtext. Be prepared for a variety of types of questions.
    • "Can you do the job?" - Provide specific examples of projects and/or experience that prove your potential. Show that you can do what they want you to do. 
    • "Describe a situation when you were faced with stress at work." - Describe a stressful situation, but one that you overcame. What steps did you take to overcome the situation? What were the results?
    • "Tell me about a goal that you set and how you reached it." - Addressing a goal in a non-library setting is OK.
    • "Tell me about yourself." - Don't come up with a script. Remember that this is a conversation. Mention some things about you that are related to the potential job.
    • "Why should I hire you?" - What is your greatest strength? Go the extra mile beyond the job description.
    • "What are your philosophies regarding libraries?" - What is your opinion on a library's operations? Does it match with this particular library/company's plans and goals?
    • "What are your career goals?" - Talk about a career goal that shows your ambition. You don't need to provide a time frame. E.g. Say something like, "I look forward to managing a library at some time in the future because I enjoy being involved in strategic planning and policy design" instead of "In a year, I want to manage a library".
    • "What is your greatest weakness?" - Whenever you mention a weakness, provide an explanation of how you compensate for that weakness. E.g. Say something like, "Sometimes I over-commit to projects because I enjoy being involved. I have a master calendar to list all start and end dates so that I can better manage my time" instead of "I'm bad at managing my time".
  • Be honest and don't lie. Don't make up experience or skills, because it will come back to bite/haunt you or both.
  • Be aware of illegal questions. An interviewer should not ask you questions implicating age, race, religion, gender, or anything you can be asked to be discriminated for.
  • Have questions for the interviewer. Ask about things like their logistics, something about the organization (their philosophies, vision, 5 year plan), expectations of the position, or what their management style is. Do not bring up the salary until they do, unless something like relocation is required.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW...

  • Follow up as promised. Provide references if asked for. Send an email or lettermail to thank all people present. Indicate that you are still very interested in the position you interviewed for.
  • Be patient. There are others being interviewed just like you were, so it will take time for the interviewers to come to a decision. Even if you aren't the successful candidate, you won't be contacted until after the employers have cleared all the paperwork with the successful candidate.


Hopefully, some of this information has been helpful to you as it was to me. If you have any questions about this webinar, consult the LLAMA website or send an email to the presenter, Sharon Holderman!

So go forth, rock your interview, and hire me, please?