Monday, October 10, 2011

Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market from ALA Webinars

Despite a few technical difficulties, and ten minutes of sponsor introductions, the presentation was ok. It was pretty obvious she was reading from a script and though her reading had a nice rhythm, it lacked spontaneity, and I felt she did better with questions. In addition, most of this advice was pretty general: treat your job search as a full-time job, network, take a computer course and make a professional impression. This is the basic package. 

Labor Market Assessment

The presenter identified the following "hot" areas for jobs:
  • More technical: As a library student, I would have greeted this comment with, why didn't I go to school for computer science? And this also neglects the very real trend for outsourcing programming to where the programmers are much cheaper (China, India, Eastern Europe). However, you can at least see if this area is for you by checking out some free resources, like Codeacademy, and by looking for coding events in your area, such indie game development or open government events, where you can work with coders on their projects. Don't be a watcher, be actively helpful: your coding skills may be lacking, but you might be able to supply music, write a Kickstarter proposal, voice a zombie, or be a tester.
  • Archivists are hot (!)  which leads us to another area that is not always touched on in library schools, though you might go to a school that offers a specialization in archives, or at least one course. If you want to try this area out, see if you can get a summer job on your campus (larger campuses have at least one specialized museum that may include an archive) or if your state/provincial archive has paid internships in the summer, or can afford to give a recent grad an internship after graduation.
  • Working with children: I have to disagree with this one, since there are many reports of teacher-librarians-- and many of these jobs were only open to certified teachers orginally--and public librarians, who offer many of the services for children outside of school, losing their jobs. However, if this is your area look for cities that have maintained a healthy regional economy, or try to find a job in a private or online school.
Personally, I would have suggested specialized libraries, especially health libraries, where more health professionals are looking for curatorial services or even assistance with evidence-based medicine. In addition, some researchers have funds to hire a librarian as a researcher and information organizer. Students that picked up a few science courses, or even an undergraduate degree in science or one of the health sciences, may want to go back and talk with their former colleagues and alumni to see if there are opportunities available.

Was she kidding?

She also really got my knickers in a twist when she called volunteer work and internships "resume padding" and suggested taking jobs that lasted less than a year off of the resume. And this was in the advice for new grads! Summer jobs do not last a year and most college students get their first, and very valid, experience in an internship. Every potential employer has treated my volunteer work with respect and it probably got me quite a few interviews when I lacked long term library experience. I also know for a fact that my volunteer work got me my first job in a library. However, my volunteer experience was long term and I was able to talk about it as highly transferrable to libraries. You can't spin handing out drinks at a race refreshment station into applicable volunteer work, so I would call that resume padding, but not all volunteer work is short term and non-professional, especially if you were a teacher or grant writer. She appeared to change her mind about this during the Q & A period, so maybe this was just a misstep in the original speech.

And the two page cover letter advice! She was so right to say that this is really unkind to an employer. The purpose of the resume and cover letter is to get an interview, where you will have time to talk about your experience fully. Thinking that if you can say everything you can do will get you an interview is actually a big mistake. Cover letters demonstrate your ability to communicate succinctly and on point, so brevity is a virtue. If you don't get an invitation to at least a screening interview with a one page cover letter, you definitely won't get one with a two page cover letter.

Basically, this was an introductory presentation and I give them credit for a good Q & A period, but it could have been made a bit smoother with some practice on the platform for all of the speakers.