It’s hard to believe that I gave this presentation a year ago, and I’m just now getting around to posting it here. Better late than never, I suppose! The topic is certainly as relevant as ever for archivists, librarians, and any flavor of information professional.
“Surviving the Job Market” was originally presented at the MARAC Spring Meeting in Cape May, New Jersey. The session “Hire Power!” focused on, you guessed it, job-hunting! Dan Frusciano moderated, and my fellow panelists were Maureen Callahan and Dan Santamaria. The slides are the same used for the original presentation, and the text is based on the notes of my talk.
First, you earn an MLS. You’re full of new knowledge and skills and ready to get to work!
You somehow impress someone enough that they give you a job.
But seriously, you all know you’re librarians and archivists, right? Next time you want to get rich quick, try mega-millions.
So maybe you’ve heard about this in the news, I don’t know, but I guess there’s been a bit of an economic recession going on. Unfortunately, the recession has had a pretty negative effect on the market for archivists and librarians. Based on my highly anecdotal study of job postings, things are looking up compared to three years ago, but there are still more applicants than there are jobs.
I started applying for professional positions in February 2010. I graduated in May 2010 and finally landed my first interview that August. I didn’t get hired. After that, I didn’t get hired for a great many jobs I thought I was perfect for. I applied to everything from Metadata Specialist to Processing Archivist to Children’s Librarian in cities across the United States and Canada with no luck. And lemme tell it to you straight… it sucked.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to get a job. I’m not here to give you that advice, but hopefully I can give you some advice about how to survive the process. After all, it’s a jungle out there, and other cliches.
I frequently come across the statement that “applying for jobs is a full time job.” Let’s be real. Applying for a job takes a lot of work. But do not let this be the only things you’ve got going in your life. If you do, you’ll burn out, and fast.
In my case, I was lucky enough that I remained employed through all two years of my job search, sometimes full time and sometimes with two part times jobs. That’s awesome because it meant I was never broke. But it also meant I did most of my job hunting on weekends or weeknights after getting home from work. Given the choice between Netflix and job applications, I’d pretty much always choose Netflix for my evening entertainment, so if I didn’t occasionally schedule some time to work on applications I’d never have gotten anything done.
Several of my former classmates who spent some time unemployed also recommended budgeting your time. Decide which jobs to apply for that week, and schedule time to complete the applications. Some weeks you’ll apply for more than others—because some weeks there just won’t be many good postings! Work hard at it, just make sure applying for jobs isn’t consuming all your time.
Just so no one bothers asking me later, I don’t actually know exactly how many job applications I submitted over the years. (Let’s just call it a lot.) I used to keep track, but after the first year, I decided that wasn’t a very healthy behavior, because it made me focus too much on the jobs that I hadn’t been hired for, instead of focusing on the future.
That doesn’t override what I just said about goal setting. If you decide to send in three applications this week, DO IT. That will help you get a job. Dwelling on the fact that you’ve submitted 50 applications so far but haven’t landed a job yet won’t.
The tough reality is that you most likely will be rejected multiple times. Sometimes you’ll get a phone call with great feedback on your interview, sometimes just a form email, and sometimes you’ll never hear from the organization… ever. I remember one particularly bad week I got four rejections over a three day period.
Do your best to brush yourself off and move on. Because there will be more opportunities out there. Remember how I mentioned that looking for a job shouldn’t be the only thing in your life? Hang out with your friends, have a beer, catch up on last week’s episode of Community, bake some muffins, play Mario Kart… whatever it takes to prevent you from just moping around the house and dwelling on how nobody really likes you. (It is tempting! But don’t do it!) One of my friends recommended finding a regular activity that you’d like to do—regardless of your job search status—like volunteering somewhere that isn’t for your resume or taking up kickboxing.
Another helpful way to deal with rejection… You probably know people who are in the same situation, so talk to them. They understand what you’re going through.
It’s very easy to procrastinate once you’ve found a good job posting. The deadline’s still three weeks away, so you can just let it wait. Except then the negative self-talk can start. You don’t really have all of the preferred qualifications. Somebody with way more experience will apply. Nobody’s ever going to hire you. If you go down this path, please stop listening to yourself. You are wrong. You know what’s the sure fire way to not get a job? Not applying.
Early on, there were positions that I talked myself out of, and I later regretted it. After that I got better at both honestly evaluating my skills and prioritizing applications for the most promising looking positions so that I wouldn’t have any time to talk myself out of it.
I’ve already mentioned scheduling time to apply for jobs, but it’s worth saying again. If it’s hard for you to stick to it on your own, try working with others. For instance, about a two ago, when another group of my friends were about to graduate, we had several job application meet-ups. Everyone picked a particular job application to work on, and we made an informal workshop out of it. Applying for jobs is much more fun with friends and take out!
One of the things you’ll find is that everyone you want to know will want to give you job hunting advice. (By the way, you may start hating everyone who know who already has a job. This is normal.) I’ve most often been told to network more. Now networking, not bad advice. But when people advise you to do the things you’re already doing? Yuck. These people do mean well though, so I find it’s best to listen politely, thank them, then disregard their advice as you see fit. Seriously.
Because of the economy, a lot of the unsolicited job advice may come in the form of “helpful” job search blogs or articles. They’ll pop and in your Twitter feed or on your Facebook timeline with headlines like “The Top 7 Resume Mistakes” and tell you obvious and not so useful advice like “oh hey, don’t lie on your resume.” Thanks. What’s worse is that a lot of job hunting advice is really just someone’s personal preference. The classic example here is resume length. Some advisors will insist that your resume should be no longer than one page because hiring managers don’t like to read, I guess, but should include explanations of all your past employment, accomplishments, skills, and the dread gaps in employment. Others will tell you to use as many pages as you need.
What I did in situations like this was a) listen to people that I trust and b) go with my gut. For instance, when it comes to my resume, I know what my most important accomplishments are and how they apply to the position in question. I make things as clear and concise as possible, but don’t leave out information I think is essential. I’ve had mentors and trusted peers review my resume, but I don’t stress about trying to make all the internet’s contradictory resume advice add up.
I’m not suggesting that you should be full of yourself and assume that you’re perfect and nothing you do can possibly be improved. Learn from your mistakes, but balance that out with some confidence in your abilities.
This is related to that related to the unsolicited advice problem. While I was job hunting, people periodically did ask me what I was doing wrong. (Yes, they asked me that! To my face!) And I told them… I don’t know. I spent hours refining my resumes and cover letter, fighting with annoying online job application systems, prepping for interviews, and still came up empty. I’ve done tons of self-evaluation, and overall, I think I tried really hard. And sometimes it just didn’t work out.
Some potential employers may give you feedback after an interview, others won’t. If you feel comfortable asking for feedback, that’s an okay thing to do. Of course, sometimes the feedback is “we really liked you, but another candidate had five more years experience.” There’s not much you can do with the fact that a potential employee thought you were awesome, but just thought someone else was a little more awesome. On the other hand, you could get some really useful suggestions on how to improve for your next interview, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Will there be misteps along the way? Probably. But cut yourself a little slack, okay? Whatever mistakes you’ve made, at least you’ve learned something that will make you an even better candidate for the next job you apply for.
I’ll finish with some general tips. As you may have guessed, I’m not a huge fan of much of the job search advice that’s available out there. However, a friend introduced me to the Ask a Manager blog, and it quickly became a favorite source for practical job hunting advice. The writer has experience as a hiring manager and has some very good tips on things like making your cover letter stand out and general job search etiquette.
Stay involved, even if you’re not working in the profession. This could take many forms: going to conferences or other activities sponsored by professional organizations, connecting to other librarians and archivists on Twitter, writing a blog, etc. What you choose to do matters much less than the fact that you’re making the effort to stay engaged.
Lest some of this talk make you worried that you’ll end up living in a van down by the river, I want to assure that persistence does eventually pay off. Just before the MARAC meeting, after 26 months on the job market, I accepted a new full time position as a high school librarian/media specialist. Whether you’re just about to graduate this spring or you’ve been on the job market for awhile, I hope you’ll make it through the application process and get the great job you’ve worked so hard for!
[Photos in this presentation come from the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections, the Library of Congress, the US National Archives and Records Administration, the London School of Economics Library, the McCord Museum, and Flickr. Click on the slides for a link to the images in their natural habitats.]