When School Ends and Real Life Begins

The upcoming fall semester represents my final semester as an LIS student at Syracuse. This is also the time to begin looking for a job – long before I “have to” but certainly after the bulk of my MSLIS is complete. Frankly I have been at this job applying buisness for about four months and I would like to share some tips, pointers, and thoughts on the job hunt for a librarian.

First, let me tell you that one of the things that attracted me to librarianship as a second career was this statement, found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website for librarians:

Job growth is expected to be as fast as the average and job opportunities are expected to be favorable, as a large number of librarians are likely to retire in the coming decade.

In my experience thus far, this assessment does not ring true. Jobs are scarce on the ground and fiercely competed-for, especially if you live in an area saturated with other LIS graduates as I am (the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s both have ALA-accredited MLS programs). So what can you do, fellow Orangemen, to make yourself stand out in this tough job market? Well, allow my librarian self to take you through a list of five general things you can do to give yourself a “leg up” in the job hunt and stand out from the crowd.

The crowd

  • First, choosing Syracuse as the place to earn your MSLIS was the right choice. As I feel sure you know, Syracuse has the third-ranked LIS program in the United States, according to US News & World Report. Also, I noticed a while back that Syracuse graduates (according to Library Journal), “had average salaries slightly below the national average in 2007, but in 2008 Syracuse grads edged past University of Michigan grads by $400, placing them at the top of the salary ladder.” I have consistently been met with high praise for the institution, and doors have opened for me that might not have been opened if I was not a student at Syracuse. As a matter of fact, getting my internship at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame was partially due to my studies at Syracuse. So, it might cost more up front, but your hard work (and dollars) at Syracuse will help you stand out.
  • Volunteering and/or extra library experience is incredibly important. I cannot stress this enough! Sure, your internship is valuable, but getting broad work experience is key in qualifying for and getting that first job out of school. In my case, I volunteer at the library of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and my experiences there have helped me to have a very broad range of solid, applicable experience. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself in volunteering, and work toward having end products from your experiences for your portfolio – I’ll talk about the portfolio more next. Every starting librarian position I have seen thus far expresses a preference for candidates with extra experience outside the internship. Volunteering or working part time in a library is a great way to distinguish yourself.
  • Of course, none of this is of any major benefit unless potential employers can see what it is that you have done as a professional. For me, I feel that an interactive CV is a great way to both share your education and experience, as well as provide employers with “real” examples of your work. This can include papers, presentations, and (if your workplace allows it) examples of work you have done previously. This gives employers a chance to see you and evaluate the quality of your work for themselves. I have a VisualCV, but I prefer the website I set up using WordPress – which allows for better displaying of my portfolio as well as a link to my blog – which brings me to my next point – blogging!
  • Everyone in IST 601 was required to have a blog. Unfortunately, I have noticed that many people have let their blog lapse, or have deleted it entirely. My advice to you, fellow job seeker, is not to do this. Your dynamic CV, as well as your blog is a great “one-two” combination for a strong digital presence. Your blog can be both personal and professional – but if you link your blog to your CV, make sure that you are professional on your blog (even in personal posts). Furthermore, your blog can be used to share news or activities that might not be CV-worthy, as well as showing the quality of your writing, familiarity with Web 2.0 technologies, and demonstrating that you reflect upon and get the most out of your experiences. It’s also a great way to virtually network!
  • I know we librarians hear this all the time – but networking is incredibly important for the job-seeker. Go attend local and national professional conferences, make contacts at places you would really love to work at, and get to know librarians in your area. These professional contacts will not only have some good “ins” in surprising places, they will also provide you with invaluable professional advice and wisdom. And networking does not have to be in person! As a matter of fact, I first met one of my friends (that happens to also be a Syracuse graduate and librarian), Erin Dorney, virtually. Ms. Dorney, along with my other librarian friends, have been invaluable in my learning experience as well as in my job search thus far.

So, those are my five tips for making yourself stand out in the job market. In general, I would add that you should bookmark the employment sites of the places you would really like to work in – because many job postings at this point are not widely publicized. Of course, ALA’s JobList is helpful, but you want to check employment sites as well. And what if you get called for an interview? Well, check out these links as well:

LiveJournal Advice for Interviews
LISWiki Advice
In the Library With the Lead Pipe What Not to Do
Tips for library job applicants in a tight market

Finally, I want to say that I am no expert, and I would love to hear what each of you have found in your own job searches. What is useful to you? Anything you’d like to add to the list above? Are you anxious about the job search? I look forward to your comments!