By Erin Clupp, Research Librarian in Norton Rose Fulbright’s Vancouver office.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully completed library school and are a freshly minted information professional. What is an exciting time in your life can also be overshadowed by what comes next: the dreaded job hunt, heightened by the fact that we are still struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this being a challenging and unprecedented time to enter the workforce, there are still many exciting opportunities that await you. Here are some tips and words of advice that I hope are helpful and comforting as you navigate through this next phase of your career:
1) Manage your expectations but be kind to yourself
First and foremost, job hunting can really suck. It’s important to acknowledge this and understand there will be periods of frustration, self-doubt, and worry (especially when we have bills to pay). This is normal! Rejection can be painful, and sending applications into that black hole where resumes seem to go can be demoralizing but don’t give up!
When job hunting, be mindful of the following:
As a new grad, you are probably eager and excited to land that first job and start working! Have some patience, the process may take longer than you would like it to be (before and during the interview process).
It is also great to have goals, but realize you may not get your “dream job” right outside the gate. That is fine! Along the way, you may find you don’t have one dream job after all, and that you enjoy doing many types of work.
Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Some people may seem to have better “luck” or have more apparent success early on. We don’t always know their stories, what their past experiences are or who they may know. Just remember, we are all operating on different timelines and your opportunity will come. It doesn’t make you a failure or unworthy if it takes you a bit longer or if you end up in an area completely different than you originally thought.
While job hunting can become a full time job, don’t forget to take breaks and don’t let it become all-consuming. Focus some energy on your hobbies, personal relationships, and most importantly rest!
2) Beyond the library – be flexible and think outside the box
The information profession is evolving, and while there are still plenty of “traditional” LIS jobs in academic and public library settings, there are increasingly more jobs in special libraries and in larger “information teams” in government, private corporations, and non-profits. When searching for job postings, don’t just focus on the job title, be sure to also read the descriptions and position requirements. Look for buzz words like “information analyst”, “knowledge management”, “content creation”, “competitive intelligence”, “prospect research”, “information architecture”, or “data curation”, all of which use the skills of an LIS professional and are increasingly in demand as businesses recognize the need for improved information governance and user experience.
I know people with LIS backgrounds who work in academic institutions, museums, archives, law firms, government, telecommunications companies, non-profit organizations, healthcare, and international organizations doing a variety of work including research, privacy, information security, instruction, technical writing, and management. Basically any organization that deals with information and people (read: all of them) may have a position that you can apply for. Now is the time to experiment and try new opportunities. Don’t worry about pigeonholing yourself, because you can always leverage your transferable skills and move within industries and organizations.
3) Take a leap – consider a move!
While not possible (or desirable) for some, consider moving to a new city (or country!), especially if you are in a very competitive market and do not have a lot of library experience. When I struggled to find a job after graduating, I ended up taking an amazing opportunity overseas in Qatar. Not only did this give me adventure and a life changing experience, it allowed me to gain some solid work experience quicker than if I stayed in Canada the whole time. When I returned, I found I was more marketable and my application to interview ratio was noticeably higher.
While moving overseas is scary, you can also stay within Canada and still have some great experiences (many of my peers accepted jobs in northern and smaller communities). Remember, if you move away, it doesn’t have to be forever!
4) Networking Building relationships
Our profession is quite small. Chances are, if you look someone up on LinkedIn, you probably have connections in common. Use this to your advantage!
Best way to network? Stay in touch with your peers from library school. Reach out to LIS professionals on LinkedIn who are in jobs you are interested in. See how they got their current gig and if they have any advice or know of specific training available that is helpful for that role. Join a professional association where you will likely meet an array of other new professionals as well as more seasoned pros (often in management roles). You can also look into mentorship programs and alumni associations.
Treat every encounter as a potential lead. Be genuine, but always be polite and courteous as you never know who will end up on the other side of the interview table. Knowing someone may not guarantee you get a position, but it may help secure that all-important interview.
5) Be prepared – do your research!
When sending out applications, think quality over quantity. Avoid firing off generic applications to every post you see. Be discerning, take your time and use those honed research skills to learn more about different roles or industries you are interested in and tailor your application accordingly.
Understand that there are varied requirements and expectations for different industries. For example, academic libraries often require more detailed C.V.’s and have prolonged interview and hiring processes; government applications often require lengthy online questionnaires and testing phases; private companies often prefer shorter resumes and cover letters.
Make your application stand out by showing you’ve done your homework. When applying for a job, research the organization and find out what their mandate is, their history, what their biggest successes are, and who their key players are. When preparing for an interview, find out the names of the interviewers and do some research on their backgrounds. This will show interest and will create conversation points in your interview (remember you are interviewing them too).
Lastly, be patient with yourself and the process. It’s a marathon, not a race and you have your whole career to look forward to. Treat each opportunity as a new stepping stone and learning opportunity and over time you will build a rewarding professional experience for yourself.
While job hunting can sometimes feel gruelling, it doesn’t have to be soul sucking! Make a plan for yourself, stay organized, have a good support system, and prioritize wellness in the process.
Most importantly, if you’re feeling burnt out, take a rest and don’t forget to reward yourself!
Erin Clupp is the Research Librarian in Norton Rose Fulbright’s Vancouver office. A self-proclaimed “accidental law librarian”, she previously worked in various archives and records management roles, including the BC Securities Commission, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the College of the North Atlantic’s campus in Doha, Qatar, and as an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s iSchool.
Erin completed her MLIS from the University of Western Ontario in 2014 and has a BA in History and Classical Studies from the University of Ottawa. In addition to being a member of CALL, she is currently Co-Chair of the Program Committee with the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries (VALL). Outside of work, she enjoys dabbling in voice acting and bookbinding, various fitness activities, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.