March 18, 2010

Somewhere in Texas by the yellow sand

I am happy to announce I have recently accepted a job offer in Texas with a community college and will be moving from Tucson next month. I informed friends of this more privately on Facebook and otherwise wanted to wait until I received the official letter of offer, but I'm so excited, I just had to share. I will be doing instruction, reference, and collection development.

Officially, it took me 9 months to find a position I feel is a good match for my background and interests, as well as being in a location that would be able to mesh with my lifestyle. I also needed to keep in mind that my partner would need opportunities to find work, and since he's involved in art, we would need a bigger city.

I really enjoyed the position I've had while searching, and am so happy I had such an excellent supervisor who was also a mentor to me. Unfortunately, the position is unable to be full time and permanent, and there is not really any room to progress.

From being able to work while I searched, I was able to be picky, and I certainly do not take that luxury for granted. My success rate with interviews was pretty good, and now that I do officially have a position, I hope to pass on some advice to new librarians looking for work:

-While in school-

Take full advantage of *everything* your program has to offer. I went into my program with no official library experience, so I was anxious about doing as much as absolutely possible before graduating to give me the background and skill set I would need. Join and participate in numerous student groups and/or get involved in community service projects through other library professional organizations. Go to conferences if you can, take online webinars, go to lectures and resume-writing workshops, etc. Taking an internship or practicum in my program was optional, but I think it should be mandatory -- getting that work experience, mentoring, and potential recommendations is incredibly helpful. The more experience you have, the more opportunities you will have. The following scene from The Secret of My Success is unfortunate but true:
Unnamed employer: I'm sorry, Mr. Foster. We need someone with experience.
Brantley Foster: But how can I get any experience until I get a job that GIVES me experience?
Unnamed employer: If we gave you a job just to give you experience, you'd take that experience and get a better job. Then that experience would benefit someone else.
Brantley Foster: Yeah, but I was trained in college to handle a job like this, so in a sense I already have experience.
Unnamed employer: What you've got is college experience, not the practical, hard-nosed business experience we're looking for. If you'd joined our training program out of high-school, you'd be qualified for this job now.
Brantley Foster: Then why did I go to college?
Unnamed employer: [laughs] Had fun, didn't you?

-During and after school-

Having a professional website and other, electronic means to showcase your "personal brand" is so helpful. Employers have so many candidates to look through now with the economy being the way it is, that the more you can present about yourself and the easier you make it for them to decide if they're interested or not, the better your chances are. I put up a professional portfolio, created this blog, and started a Twitter account. This way, you are able to keep current in the field, and also make it clear how you are interested in contributing to the discourse. Instead of just saying "I'm a great communicator," the hiring committee can also actually see your communication skills in practice. Keeping up with blogs and Twitter feeds makes it much easier to have intelligent answers for tougher interview questions.

It's also useful to install a stat counter or analytics code on your sites if possible. You can see if your information is effective, and also determine what specific pages or files interest a potential employer to know what to focus on more during the interview. I remember for one interview, through my site statistics, I noticed an employer had viewed all of the tutorials I created, so I knew that was of importance to them and was able to discuss that further.

I also kept a spreadsheet of my applications, listing the employer, the position, location, deadline, date I applied, how I applied, and then any notes. When I would get an interview, I would color code that row orange for phone interview, yellow for in-person interview, and then green for job offer or acceptance into employment pool; red was then for rejections after interviews. I found this so helpful to keep track as well as knowing when to follow up.

-While applying-

A favorite instructor of mine from my program told me that you should apply to as many jobs as possible that you think you might be interested in because hiring committees sometimes talk in libraryland; if you're in a lot of candidate pools at various institutions, other institutions might find you even more appealing.

If you aren't able to have a library-related job while searching, then volunteer! Even if it's only a couple hours a week, it shows that you are committed to gaining experience. You could also sign up to be a mentee or do something with your alumni association.

And of course, be aware of what you're putting out there about yourself. I cringe a little when I see soon-to-be librarians cursing and speaking negatively of classmates in their public profiles, because you know most potential employers will look you up. Of course everyone has conflicts and can get stressed, but publicly displaying your grievances about your colleagues doesn't always go over so well, unless you're the Annoyed Librarian and get paid to make people feel better about themselves by tearing others down (was that hypocritical heh).

At the same time, don't hide who you are, because you don't want an employer to think you are one way, and then you might feel like you can't be yourself once you get the job.

Despite being stressful and unsure if there was a (happy) end in sight, I feel like I have really learned a lot about how employment in libraryland works. Hopefully this advice is found useful. If anyone else has tips, please do share in the comments.