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.

Dear library student

If you are anything like the LIS students in my cohort, and those in the preceding or succeeding cohorts, you are wonderful in every way, shape, or form. Congratulations on taking the step towards obtaining your MLIS, congratulations on combating the stereotypes of our field, and congratulations on becoming the greatest type of professional that ever was. 

Here are some feelings I had during my last term of the program, and my responses to those feelings from where I am now:

I'm going to be finished the program soon, but I don't know how to not be a student!

You are on the verge of facing adulthood and the real world. Congratulations on achieving this stage in your life. Now, go and apply for jobs. The job search is a daunting thing, but you need to do it to reach the next level. It can be discouraging at times, and you can feel like you're not good enough, but believe me, you are. The thing about job hunting is that you need to keep your options open and your head held high. Also, remember that the worst that could happen is they say no. Don't talk yourself out of applying for a job, because you aren't even on the selection committee! Let them decide for themselves whether or not you're a good fit. Don't shy away from contract jobs. They will provide you with some skill building and experience, that you can carry with you later on into your career! Don't bank solely on permanent employment unless you have several years of LIS work experience from prior to getting the degree. Don't shy away from applying for permanent positions either. 

I don't know what to fix on my resumes and cover letters, but I'm afraid that my friends will judge me for having a poorly-constructed application package...

Put your application package through the wringer. It's nice if you have some close friends from the LIS program, or if you have a mentor or a few in the field who could help you look things over. Don't worry so much about being judged, because your application is being created for the purpose of being judged. The nice thing about approaching people you know to help revise your writing, is that you can discuss things casually with them, and they probably get you more than an employer who doesn't know you (yet) does. 

I didn't do a co-op...maybe I should have done a co-op...

Part of the reason why I chose to go to Western to do my MLIS was because of the co-op program. I was set on doing a co-op, preferably self-arranged, but I ended up not, and completed my degree within a calendar year instead. I had semi-success with self-arranging a co-op in my last term, but both opportunities were with the Government of Alberta, and they weren't able to get back to me until the day I moved back to London for a final term. To make up for not doing a co-op, I spent my second and third term by joining multiple student groups, volunteering here and there, and finding a part-time job in a library, while attending classes. Co-op is great from what I've heard, but it's not the be-all-end-all of getting a job in the field. Worry not!

I feel like I've lost my LIS network because I'm not in London anymore. What am I supposed to do now?

If you worked or volunteered before going to London for your MLIS, you do have a network. Reconnect with your previous employers, supervisors, colleagues, coworkers, and friends, and work to maintain those relationships. Remember all of those student groups you were affiliated with? Most of them are student branches of larger organizations. If you haven't already, join the organization as a member, sign up for their list-servs, subscribe to their blogs, follow them on Twitter, and attend their events/sessions/workshops. In a lot of cases, you can still qualify to be a "student member" if it's within a year of your graduation from the program. Networking is not, I repeat, not overrated. (In fact, I got all of my jobs through networking to some degree, but that story should be a separate blog post.)

I am so tired. The program was incredibly draining, and I really can't keep pumping out 5-10 applications a day.

Take a breather every now and then, or even take off a week. Library school was crazy and you made it through, but your body and brain are probably not caught up to speed just yet. Yes, you need to get some job applications done, but don't wear yourself out. You want to make sure that each application you send out is an accurate representation of you as a professional, and not sub-par. Do things that you enjoy doing and haven't gotten to do in a while because of school. When you start working, you might not have as much time to do those things. For me, it was going on food adventures, looking at vintage shops, catching up on TV shows, playing the piano, and blogging. Do those things every now and then, so that you don't resent the job search. You can do it! I believe in you!

I hope that my conversation with my past self can offer you some encouragement, reassurance, and inspiration. And honestly, feel free to contact me. I check my email all-too-regularly, and love connecting with fellow MLIS'ers. 

Stay strong and good luck!