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.