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.

Library Work Experience

If you’re currently in library school, you’ve probably already discovered one of the profession’s dirty little secrets.  That promise that there would be plenty of jobs available soon?  That there are all of these aging librarians out there who are going to retire at any minute and leave plenty of jobs open for recent graduates?  Yeah, it’s all a myth.  The truth is there are far more librarians looking for work than there are jobs available.

At any given moment, there are roughly 200 positions listed on ALA’s JobLIST website.  There are 62 accredited library schools in the country, each graduating anywhere from 15-60 students per year.  You do the math.  Of course, half of the positions listed aren’t entry-level anyway, so that leaves even fewer positions for folks looking for a first job.  Certainly, JobLIST isn’t the only place you should be looking for listings, but you get the idea.

I don’t want to get too heavily into the debate of whether or not LIS programs are simply admitting too many students for now.  From their point of view, they have to admit students–students who pay tuition–in order to satisfy the demands of their parent institution.  Fewer paying students lessens the program’s worth in the eyes of bottom-line-focused administrators.  The problem is, fewer students would also mean a better job market for those that do make it through.  So don’t be too hard on your LIS program – they’re caught between a rock and hard place.

Instead, I’m going to focus on what you can do to improve your chances of landing a job by sharing some of the things that made me successful.

I’m going to start with the single most important item – library work experience.  By the time you graduate, you MUST have some library work experience on your resume.  The degree alone isn’t going to cut it – not with so many job seekers out there.  At minimum, you’ll have completed a practicum/field project/internship, etc. as part of your library degree, but you shouldn’t stop there.  Look for as many opportunities as possible to get involved in library work.

This may mean taking a low-paying/minimum-wage part-time position as a shelver or circulation worker to get your foot in the door.  If you already have a full-time job you can’t sacrifice while you are going to school, think about volunteering.  Plenty of libraries, both public and academic, rely on a steady stream of volunteers, particularly in these lean times, to keep things running smoothly.  If you’re wondering, I did both circ/shelving and volunteer work.  The point is, you need to set foot in a library and do some work there before you graduate.

Most of the applicants on the market will have at least some work experience in a library before they graduate.  If you don’t, you’ll be way behind from the start.

Keep in mind, particularly if you’re on a large university campus, that you likely won’t get a library job simply by firing resumes at the online student work website.  There are  too many students applying, and you’ll just get lost in the shuffle.  I tried this route during my first semester in library school and got nowhere.  During second semester, I walked up to the desk, asked who hired circulation workers, and asked to be introduced to that person.  Forty-five minutes later, after presenting my resume and having a brief interview, I had a job.  If you are persistent without being pushy, good things generally happen.

Welcome

I’ve been wanting to have a blog for a long time, but I wasn’t sure what I would talk about.  Now that I’m gainfully employed and not worried about keeping up with homework, it seemed like a good time to try it out.

I’ll be talking about books and various topics in librarianship for the most part, though I’ll likely diverge from those topics from time to time.  Since I am one of the “lucky ones” who got an LIS-related job only four months after graduating, my first series of posts is going to focus on the job market.  I’ll try and provide some helpful advice to those of you still in library school or those that have recently graduated and are looking for work.

I hope you’ll enjoy it.