August 13, 2008

Guest Blogger Steve Jeffery: How Job Hunting is Different for the Non-Traditional Librarian

Steven Jeffery is an embedded subject specialist librarian at a state agency who is finishing his MLIS at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. His interests include information architecture/organization as well as web development.
As I was looking at signing up for my last three classes in the fall I decided to take a bold step and start looking for a full time job prior to graduating. I did this for two important reasons. The first was cost. As I calculated it I would be far better off financially to find a full time job and spread out my last few classes than to continue in grad school full time through the rest of the 2008 calendar year. The second reason was that I could. I was enrolled in a program that offered both on-site and on-line coursework, making the transition completely seamless. From there I had to decide what I was going to do. I am something of a self-taught IT generalist and I wanted to work in an environment where those skills would be utilized. Along with this I recognized that most library environments were not dynamic enough to hold my interest. Beyond this I was really not at all certain what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work.

My first step in my job hunt was to get advice from my professors and to work on my resume (which you can find if your Google-fu is strong). The immediate problem that I encountered in getting advice is that most professors in my program had been in academia for at least five years and few had any experience with non-traditional librarianship. This is not to say that they were not able to provide advice (and a couple of them were fantastic) but I had to disregard much of it as being not applicable in the corporate world. One example of this would be volunteer service. Public librarians in particular will emphasize the importance of having experience in a library setting. In the public environment this may be true, but in special libraries (and the corporate environment in particular) its value is much degraded. While doing this I was also trying to improve my resume. I recognized that most jobs I would be applying for would be at larger corporations and so I attempted to tailor my resume to this. The largest issue I ran into was that few people could fully understand my background. People in IT would ask where my programming skills and project management background were emphasized, because to many of them that is the extent of IT. Librarians would ask about my volunteer service and cataloging work. Those in business would read through it and not understand more than every few words (and miss the concepts entirely). I never did find a good solution to this, but I think the final result was acceptable. After this I began my job search.

Living in a major city at the time I used a number of different job boards. My list of these and comments are below:
  • Indeed – Probably the best as well as the easiest to use.

  • Monster – Overall it was pretty good but failed in many cases because the more entry-level/early career jobs tend not to be posted here (probably due to the cost of posting)

  • Milwaukee Jobs – Terrible sorting of results but was overwhelmingly the best for local jobs

  • CareerBuilder – I believe the only thing I ever got out of here was spam

  • Dice – Helpful but most of the jobs are heavily programming oriented

Once I had my list of sites I then conducted regular searches based on a keyword list (developed from my resume). I tried to do the searches twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Sundays. I would conduct the search for the keyword and open all of the jobs that were a possibility in a new tab. When I was done with the site I would quickly browse through every listing and print* all of those that were a strong possibility. Finally, I would thoroughly go through each and apply to those that I was interested in. This also helped when interviewing so that I could know exactly what had been communicated. In addition to this I kept a spreadsheet containing the company, job title, posting date, submission date, submission format, etc.

There are daily stories in the news about the state of the economy and the difficulty in finding jobs but from what I saw this is not true for this industry. Those businesses that recognize a need for these skills are unlikely to not hire for them because of an economic downturn. Once someone begins and demonstrates their success, their position is much more secure both because of the niche factor (nobody is available to cover for the position) and hopefully the outcry from other employees that depend on the position. The position which I eventually took was not in the corporate world but in a government library. This was for a number of reasons but the most important was the challenge. The position was as a subject specialist at a library where none had ever been in any kind of similar role. And while the pay is low by most standards the opportunities and the challenges make it worth it.

* I would keep printed copies of all job postings and correspondence as postings tend to disappear after a few days to weeks.

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