Beating the Holiday Job Search Blues

The holiday season can be rough on a job search.   First, there often aren’t as many postings to go through.  Thinking back to my first post, David from JobLIST commented that, at least historically, listings drop off in November before picking up again as winter goes on.  We could speculate endlessly about why, but there are a few obvious reasons.  Lots of people take vacation time during November and December, so it’s harder to find time to convene a search committee meeting.  With semesters ending, academic, school, and even public librarians are dealing with an influx of patrons (often with increasingly panicked requests as students scramble to meet deadlines), leaving less time to focus on administrative tasks like hiring.   On my campus, at least, the end of the semester means an increased number of concerts and social events, which also fill up the schedule.  And for places where the fiscal year coincides with the calendar year, it’s often simply easier and more budget-friendly to wait until the New Year starts.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to work on your job search.  In fact, December can be a great time to refocus and retool if you’ve been on the market a while.   It’s also a great time to get started if you’re going to be graduating in May.  If you’ve been looking since last May (or longer) perhaps this is the time to pull back a bit and overhaul your resume – if it hasn’t made the cut so far, it’s probably time to try something different.  If you’re still in school and haven’t started pulling your resume together, do it over break.  Once the spring semester starts, you’re going to be busy with coursework again, and you’ll need to start applying for jobs.  Preparing a master resume that you can tweak as job ads come out and jotting down some potential cover letter ideas will save you a lot of time and angst in the future.  I’ve said that before.  It’s true.

Other things you can do to beat the holiday job search blues:

  • Set up a profile on LinkedIn.
  • See if a local library needs volunteers.  It’s a busy time of year, with semesters ending and lots of holiday-themed community events, and many places would probably love an extra set of hands.
  • Start a blog or Twitter account and participate in discussions with librarians and library students.  Demonstrate that you’re interested in the major questions and issues facing our profession.
  • Network, network, network.  Do your family members know you’re looking for a job?  You might be surprised to find that they know somebody or something about a lead.  Same goes for friends and colleagues at other parties you attend.  You can use a social gathering as a networking opportunity without being overbearing.

Don’t ignore the opportunities that are out there, particularly if you spot a dream job.  According to this handy article (thanks to JobLIST for tweeting it this morning), many job seekers take the holiday season off, so it can be fortuitous for those who hang in there simply because there’s likely to be less competition.

If you’ve got other great holiday tips, or questions, add them to the comments!

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The Ethics of Innovation Webinar

While most of my posts so far have focused on job hunting, it’s not my intention to focus on it exclusively.  So today, I want to talk a little bit about the webinar I attended yesterday, “The Ethics of Innovation,” which was co-sponsored by OCLC and Library Journal (LJ).  But before I do, since I know many of you found this blog looking for job-hunting information, it’s worth that there are a good number of free webinars in the library world, and to attend most of them, all you need to do is register ahead of time.  They’re a great way for new librarians and library students to hear about some of the current developments and trends, and also to network with existing librarians.

So, moving on to the actual webinar….Moderator Wayne Bivens-Tatum (Princeton), and panelists Gary Price (ResourceShelf.com) and Liza Barry-Kessler (Privacy Council, LLC) led a great talk about the crossroads that libraries find themselves at, and the constant ethical questions that are raised by ongoing innovation, particularly with regard to technology.  There was also a good discussion on Twitter – you can search for the hashtag #ethicsIQ.

Some of the take-away points and questions that were raised:

Today, libraries play many roles.  We aren’t simply distributors of information.  We can be publishers, technology consultants, content gateways, service providers, social hubs, and gatekeepers.

  • By gatekeepers, we don’t mean in the traditional sense, where we protect the books and other physical objects.  Rather, we mean that we want to share information with users when and where the user wants it.
  • By technical consultants, we don’t mean that we turn into the help desk.  However, we are able to assist users with basic tasks such as setting up email accounts, navigating a typical webpage, and printing documents.
  • Users expect innovation and will go elsewhere to find it if they don’t feel that libraries are keeping up.

With regard to library services, increasing the ease of use unfortunately tends to also increase the ease of misuse.  For everything wonderful technology can provide, there are also potential negatives – the largest being having private information such as user data fall into the wrong hands.  This leads to the question of what are we required to teach our patrons about ethical use of resources?  How do we walk the line between being a content provider and being the copyright police (which most agreed was a bad idea)?

  • Given that most electronic and digital materials aren’t stored in our physical library spaces, what are our ethical responsibilities regarding the use of these materials?
  • How can we partner with our vendors rather than playing cops for them or ignoring ethical violations all together?
  • Computers in libraries have raised a number of “pass-through” ethical issues.  Library computers are often used to access non-library sites, where users engage in behavior such as spamming, cyber-bullying, and illegal mass downloading.  Does the library have any responsibilities in these areas?

To what extent are libraries responsible for what patrons do with the information that they access from our resources?

  • This one raised a lot of discussion on Twitter.  Some people felt that librarians’ primary responsibility was to find the patron the info, and that we can’t be held responsible for what the patrons do with it.  Others advocated a more pro-active approach…while we certainly can’t, and in my opinion, shouldn’t, be held responsible if a patron does something illegal with information obtained in a library, we can and should be part of their education regarding copyright and privacy practices (and I said education, not policing, lest I find myself mis-interpreted).
  • The traditional view of libraries and privacy focuses on protecting user privacy and user data with regard to internal library resources.  A more educational view of libraries and privacy focuses on educating users about privacy issues that affect them inside and outside of the library.

It’s really important for libraries and librarians to know and understand their vendor contracts and licenses.  You and the vendor should have a clear sense of your library’s goals before you agree to any contracts.  You should also understand what the vendor’s goals are.  As Gary Price pointed out, vendors aggregate and collect TONS of user data, which is highly valuable to a number of people for a variety of reasons.  Understand what they are doing with your patron data before you sign anything.

Libraries should have an ethics policy/strategy, and it should be evaluated and updated regularly as new technologies emerge.  Too often, we only look at these policies once every ten years, or after a problem has surfaced.  We could probably save ourselves a number of headaches with more consistent updates.

Ethical issues and legal issues are not the same.  We can all point to laws that are or have been unethical, and we often engage in behavior that is technically illegal but we don’t find it to be unethical.  The presenters offered the example of sharing a PDF of a journal article with a friend who works at another library or college that doesn’t subscribe to a particular journal or database.  Many of us would do this without hesitating – we’d look at it as helping a friend out.  But, in the eyes of the law, it is piracy, of the same ilk as DVD piracy…something most of us would probably refuse to engage in.

If anyone else attended the webinar and wants to share their impressions, I’d love to hear them.

Navigating the Social Media Minefield While Job Hunting

Social media are, in my opinion, among the more confusing things that a job candidate must deal with.  On one hand, every job blog, article, and advice column insists that you must have a social media presence.  And why not?  You can network with industry professionals on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, post your resume on LinkedIn, Tweet and re-tweet compelling news articles that demonstrate that you’re in touch with the latest research in your field, and more.  You can stay in touch with friends and colleagues, who are often the best source of job-related leads and “ins” at companies that are hiring.  This Mashable article highlights a number of great ways you can use social media in your job search – even using sites like YouTube, which most of us don’t think of as a job search resource.

In today’s over-crowded job market, it’s important to be prepared to explore “off the beaten path” alternatives to a job site.  Traditional job search sites alone won’t get you very far.  According to an HR professional I know, “companies are moving away from traditional job sites because the signal to noise ratio has declined.”  Simply put, there are too many people throwing resumes at walls, including walls they aren’t qualified to climb.  Networked candidates with referrals are more likely to posses the needed skills and help the employer avoid having to wade through hundreds of resumes that aren’t pertinent to the opening in the first place.

But social media can play a more nefarious role in your job search as well.  We’ve all done things we aren’t proud of, but now, our friends can provide us – and our perspective employer – with a constant reminder of some of these not so fine moments by posting pictures and snarky comments on social media sites.  Numerous news stories have surfaced recently regarding current employees losing jobs or candidates for openings being passed over because of something posted on social media sites.

Conflicting evidence abounds as to how much importance HR professionals place on what they find online when they research prospective employees.  Some companies generally don’t Google prospective employee’s names or check social media sites unless a candidate raises other potential red flags.  Others say that they do check on every potential employee, regardless of position — and check very carefully.  Based on what I’ve heard from these various folks, and considering their various fields, my admittedly unscientific conclusion is that the more likely you are to be working with the public, particularly children, the more likely it is that your web presence will be scrutinized.  So, with libraries, it’s probably safe to assume that most employers will at least Google your name to see what comes up.

So….what does show up?  Well, people are often surprised to learn that even if their Facebook profile is set to private and is unsearchable, it can and will turn up on Google via other, public pages that you’ve interacted with.  For example, if you’ve ever posted on the wall of a public event, public figure, or the like, that page may show up in a Google search, and your profile can be traced from there.  Same thing with friends who have public profiles – are you tagged in their pictures?  Have you posted on their wall?  Of course, the seemingly constant changes to Facebook’s privacy policies makes it difficult to stay on top of the situation as well.  What was hidden from view yesterday may be the first thing to show up in your Google results today.  I would advise Googling your name fairly frequently while you are actively searching for a job to see if anything unexpected has turned up.  It’s good to know what potential employers are seeing in case you have to address something during an interview.

If you’ve looked at your Google results and decided your social media presence needs improving, the first thing I would do on any of these sites is make sure your profile picture is professional.  This is not the time for a picture that was taken at a bachelorette party or during a pub crawl.  Even relatively innocuous pictures may cause a prospective employer to pause.  Wedding pictures or a picture of your kid(s) give the employer clues about your family status … which in turn may cause them to wonder whether they’ll have to provide a spousal position or assistance with a spouse’s job search (commonly done in the academic world, though not without griping about the amount of resources it takes), or if you’re going to want to negotiate for childcare as part of your salary and benefits package.  Can this sort of information influence them as they search for candidates?  Well, legally, family status isn’t supposed to play a role, but practically?  When you need to stand out in a pool of 100 candidates or more, I’d be cautious about giving a potential employer any reason, however insignificant it seems, to be wary of you.  In any case, find a picture of yourself (and just yourself) in professional clothing, or have a friend snap a new photo for you and upload it. Secondly, consider deleting or untagging status updates, wall posts, photos, or anything else that could be considered crass or vulgar…and use your grandmother as the barometer of what’s acceptable, not your friends.  Would you want Grandma to see that?  If not, you probably don’t want a potential employer to see it either.

Focus on content that is relevant to the type of position you want.  Sharing articles and links is an easy way to keep up with the current literature in the field and show others that you know this literature, plus your very participation shows that you understand basic technology concepts such as how to set up and configure an account, attach and share files,  use a link shortening service, etc.

If you’re not on LinkedIn, which is a Facebook-like site for job seekers, employers, and job-related networking, I would certainly advise doing so.  Once you’re on LinkedIn, you can join the ALA group, where a number of folks have posted interesting job-search-related questions, and of course you can add questions of your own.  There are also a number of state-level library groups on LinkedIn.  You can also research companies, libraries, and universities you are interested in working for by finding their LinkedIn profile.  Furthermore, the HR professional mentioned above told me that, last year, 40% of hires at their company were networked / referred hires, often coming from connections on sites like LinkedIn.  One of these positions was a legal archivist/librarian position.

Managing your online presence can get tricky, however, if you share your name with a bunch of other folks.  I’m lucky in that regard… I have a unique name, and when I Google it, everything that turns up on the first page of Google results relates to me.  I’m curious, though, about you John Smiths out there.  Most of the job-searching advice I read last year advised that if your Google results were undesirable, that you work to improve them, but their advice on how you actually go about doing that was usually nonexistent or vague.  So, those of you out there who have Googled your name only to find that you share it 300 other people, a porn star, a registered sex offender, or a blogger who makes offensive statements, what have you done?  Is there anything that you can do?  How do you approach the subject with potential employers?

There’s also the question of whether or not its ethical to ask potential employees to police themselves online or present personal profiles in a certain way for work-related reasons.   In the web 2.0 world, it appears to be getting increasingly difficult to separate our personal lives from our professional reputations and responsibilities.  It’s certainly possible to make legitimate arguments that a) employees have the right to have [legal] fun during non-work time and not have it effect their standing at work and b) that in certain cases, if a potential employer is that disturbed by an online profile, then perhaps we’d rather not work for them in the first place.  At this point, I would only advise that you do what feels most comfortable or right to you.

Finally, if you’ve never used social networking sites before, remember that it’s easy to step into them slowly.  You don’t have to become a Twitter genius overnight.  In fact, it’s possible to observe what other people are doing on Twitter without evening joining Twitter, just by Googling them or going directly to their Twitter page.  On LinkedIn and Facebook, all you need is a login and password.  You don’t have to put anything other than your name on your page before you can start interacting with others.  Take a look around to see how others are successfully (and not so successfully) using a resource before jumping in yourself, and it is easy to get a a number of great ideas.

A Year Before You Graduate…

I think the best piece job-search related advice I received during library school was to make sure I didn’t wait until the last minute to start compiling a resume and look at job ads.  In fact, Louise Robbins, Professor at UW-Madison, said at a workshop that you should start reading job ads and tweaking your resume as much as a year in advance of completing your library degree.

I found this to be important for several reasons.  First, by examining job ads a year before you go on the market, you can tell if the courses you’ve completed thus far are in line with what employers are looking for, and what you might still need to add to your grad school experience.  For example, I really didn’t want to take a cataloging class, but after seeing a number of ads for reference and/or instruction librarians that were blended positions requiring, at the least, some knowledge of cataloging principles, or in many more cases, reference and instruction jobs that also included cataloging duties, I realized that it wasn’t a class I could or should skip.   Job ads will also give you a sense of what level of technology skills various types of employers and libraries are looking for.

With a year left in school, you don’t need to be exhaustive and read every last job ad that comes out, but checking the Chronicle of Higher Education weekly for a month or surfing ALA JobLIST a few days a week is time well spent.  You can surf JobLIST for free, and you can probably find the Chronicle in your school’s library databases.  You can also probably find a hard copy in any number of offices around your campus.

The other thing you should start doing well in advance of graduating is compiling your resume and/or C.V. (Academic Librarian and Archivist-types: you’ll need both.  I’ll talk about the differences in a later post).   When I started library school, I had come straight from another graduate program, and I hadn’t updated my resume since I was looking for undergrad student work (think MS Word 98 layouts).  My C.V. was in slightly better shape, but it still needed some work.

Workshops and feedback are among the best ways to start tweaking your resume.  During my first semester at SLIS, I attended a resume workshop which was hosted by SLIS director Louise Robbins, Wisconsin Writing Center Director Brad Hughes, and a recent graduate of the program (whose name has unfortunately escaped me).   Louise handed out a great packet – recent graduates who had successfully gotten jobs – and she included the job listing, the cover letter, and the resume of the applicant, and she had one each for academic, public, school, and special libraries.  During her portion of the workshop, she talked through several of the points in each letter and resume, and what she did and didn’t like in each one.  If I remember correctly, the academic example belonged to Andy Burkhardt, and I liked the layout of Andy’s resume so much that I used it to inspire my own redesign.

If your library school is offering resume or C.V. workshops, by all means, attend them.  Workshops offered by your school’s career center are also valuable, if less discipline-specific.  Once you have a working resume or C.V., have it critiqued by a professional in the field who regularly reads resumes and actually hires people.  If your LIS program offers this opportunity as a workshop or consultation-based service, take advantage and sign up for an appointment.  If you aren’t able to have a face-to-face consultation with someone, consider the ALA New Members Round Table Resume Review Service. (You do need to be an NMRT member to use the service, dues are quite reasonable for students).

Getting a grip on job ads and the mountain of expectations they often contain, and starting to organize your resume in a way that highlights your ability to meet those expectations is not an overnight process, and getting a head start well in advance of graduation will save you from many a stressful headache as graduation draws near and the search goes into high gear.

Be Focused but Well-Rounded in Course Selection

Darcy brought up a great point in the comments yesterday about taking different kinds of classes, so I thought I would address that next.  While you’re still in library school, you want to have a plan, but also be well-rounded.  It sounds complicated, but it’s not, really.

Try to avoid selecting classes simply by taking what’s most convenient for your schedule.  Focus instead on building your resume.  I knew I wanted to be an academic librarian, so I tried to focus on classes that would be useful in that area. However, I took a broad view of what might be useful to an academic librarian.  For example, I took a class in readers advisory/adult reading interests, which was more geared towards public librarians, because I knew many academic libraries are adding leisure reading collections, and also because I knew it would be necessary to have basic skills in this area if I ended up with a public library position.

So, if you want to be a children’s librarian, focus on children and children’s literature classes, but take necessary preparations so that you can work in either a K-12 school or a public library.  If you’re interested in academic libraries, consider classes in things like adult leisure reading and government documents, which often comprise parts of the larger collection.  The point Darcy made in yesterday’s comments is also key – take a research methods or research-based course.  Even in a non-tenure track academic position, you may still be expected to publish occasionally, and even if you aren’t, understanding the way faculty and graduate students attack research questions will enable you to assist more thoroughly.  You might wish also to pursue publications anyway for a variety of reasons: career advancement, networking,  and sharing knowledge are just a few.  Learning professional-level research methodology in graduate school will go a long way in helping you achieve this goal.

Take at least one technology course.  Technology use is growing every day in libraries, and libraries are looking for employees who understand and can use emerging technologies.  Look for classes on XML, database management, or web design.

You’ll also need to be proficient with Microsoft Office applications and e-mail to a level where you can assist patrons with tasks such as writing a paper or resume, submitting a job application, and other such tasks.  Even in an academic setting where most of the students come from upper-middle class backgrounds and have used computers their whole lives, I spend a fair amount of each reference shift trouble-shooting computer problems and tutoring people on aspects of programs that they haven’t used before (such as how to add sound to a PowerPoint slide).  While you won’t get graduate credit for learning such skills, your school may offer discounted or free computer training for students, so take advantage of these programs while you’re in school!

Finally, I would recommend taking at least one class in each of the following areas: reference, instruction, and cataloging.  Very few librarians are in a situation where they work in only one of these areas and never encounter the others.  Even if you never do any cataloging in your position, having a basic understanding of what the cataloger does will help you with your own tasks immensely.