Keeping Yourself Sane While Job Hunting

As anyone who has spent time job hunting can tell you, the process has a nasty way of threatening to take over your life.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in searching for new leads, obsessively trying to make contact on LinkedIn and at networking events, feverishly churning out cover letters and resumes, and checking your phone and e-mail every ten minutes to see if you’ve gotten the all-important call back.

Important, of course, but it can also make your life miserable.  More importantly, the more you slip into panic mode, the more likely it is your work will suffer.  If you’re cranking out five cover letters and resumes a day, but they’re all mediocre, you’re not likely to make any progress in your search.

With that in mind, here are some tricks that helped me maintain my health and sanity while job hunting:

Organization

This is key.  First, whenever I found a job I was interested in applying to, I printed out the posting right away.  If there was absolutely no way to get to a printer, I would email myself with the heading “job posting” and print any such emails as soon as I got home.

Once the posting was printed out, I printed the due date at the top with a bright pink marker.  I then filed the post in a folder, organized in order by due date.  For jobs with no date listed, I assigned an arbitrary date of one week after I saw the posting.  Due dates were also entered into my day planner.

When it came time to work on an application, I took the top item out of the folder.  After perusing the institution’s website, I would staple any notes I had made to the position description.

Once an application was complete, the position description and notes went into a new folder (“completed applications), organized in alphabetical order by institution, easily accessible in case an interviewer came calling.

If I received an interview, phone or in person, I retrieved the posting and notes from the completed applications folder, along with a copy of the resume and cover letter from my computer, and put all of these things in their own folder, so they were all together and accessible when interview time came.

In addition to organizing your job search, make sure you’ve got the rest of your activities organized, as well.  This is especially important if you’re finishing up school.  Make sure your assignments are also entered in your planner.  If you don’t have a planner, start one for free using an online application like Google Calendar.  Schedule time to complete your reading, papers, presentations, group meetings, and anything else you need to fit into your life along with your job search.

Downtime

However hard it may be, you have to spend some time not focusing on school or your job search.  Both tend to demand attention and suck up a lot of your time, but not having some downtime to relax can be very detrimental.  There are any number of things you can do to spend some time away from work, school work, and your job search.  Read a good book.  Exercise.  Meditate.  Try a new restaurant with friends.  If you have a hobby such as knitting, scrapbooking, painting, etc., schedule some time for it.  Spend at least a few hours a week focusing on yourself and things you LIKE to do, rather than things you HAVE to do.

Someone to Talk To

Actually, I’d recommend two someones.  One should be a friend or colleague who has good grammar and writing skills and is willing to read and comment on cover letters and resumes.  Even when you write a new letter and resume for every application (which you should be doing), they all start to sound the same after a while, and when this happens, it becomes easier for the brain to miss corrections that need to be made, or to gloss over things as we proofread.  A fresh set of eyes is quite useful.  Pay the person with food or beer or an IOU, but find somebody who can give you honest feedback.

The second person should have nothing to do with your job search whatsoever.  This is the person who will listen to anything and be supportive – the person you go to when you need to bitch, or need a reassuring thought.  This might be a trusted friend, parent, or supportive partner.  It might be a professional counselor or therapist.  The point is that this is somebody who will listen when the going gets tough (which it almost certainly will).

Once you’ve figured out a basic method of organization for your search, you’re ready to begin searching in earnest.  Next week (or soon thereafter), we’ll cover my favorite sites to find job postings.

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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.