Conference Preparation

Attention Job Seekers: The ALA Conference is Coming! Are You Ready?

by Caitlin Williams, Ph.D.

If you've been trying to figure out the very best ways to position yourself for your next job, consider attending the ALA Conference as one of your best opportunities. While there are certainly several benefits to attending the conference, this article will specifically focus on the advantages of the conference for those who are currently looking for their next position in librarianship or library-related work.

Of course, attending this year's conference will be great for networking, interviewing or hearing the latest trends that are important to know about in preparation for your next interview. But to get the most from attending, you'll want to get very specific with regards to your goals for the actual networking, interviewing and intelligence gathering you'll be doing while you are there. And beyond these essentials, you'll want to expand your view of the career-related benefits that can come from attending the conference.

Here are some tips to help you maximize the value of attending the conference if you are actively looking for a position - or intend to be looking for one in the near future. You'll find here some of the standard suggestions you may have read about in the past (but may have forgotten) along with other suggestions that may spark new ideas you can use in your job search right now. Circle the ones that appeal most to you - and don't be afraid to try something new - you could be surprised and pleased with the results!

  1. Prior to arriving at the conference, consider how clear you are on the type of position you are seeking. If you are clear, take the time to put together a solid resume and bring several copies with you. If you are not yet clear, spend time determining what kinds of information and contacts at the conference will help you clarify your career objective. Make a list of information you need and the types of contacts that may be helpful and bring this list with you. Regardless of your current employment situation, bring along a good supply of business cards that include your current contact information. If you are between jobs, you can still have business cards printed inexpensively. Make sure these cards have your current phone and email address.

  2. Review the preconference and conference activities and meetings as well as the conference presentations, socials and special events. If you can preview these prior to coming to the conference, it will get you even better prepared.

    In making your choices about which events, association meetings and networking opportunities to attend, ask yourself:

    • Will this event give me the opportunity to meet other professionals in the specific sector or specific geographic area in which I'm seeking a job?
    • Will it help me reconnect with former classmates, mentors, professors or colleagues that I would like to see?
    • Will it introduce me to groups that I might want to volunteer with or collaborate with on a project?
    • Will it give me a chance to talk with others who are doing work I may be interested in pursuing?

    In making choices about which presentations to attend, ask yourself:

    • Will this presentation update my knowledge or enhance my understanding of a specific topic or trend within my area of interest or expertise?
    • Is the person (or persons) presenting the session someone who is known for her expertise? Is she someone I would like to correspond with after the presentation?
    • Will this presentation give me new information about a topic I am curious about and might want to learn more about?
    • Will this presentation give me ideas for expanding services to a specific group of people who make use of library resources?
    • Will this presentation motivate me to explore other career options for myself?

  3. If you are traveling to the conference with a friend or colleague, consider how the two of you might split up the presentations so that both of your areas of interest are covered. Discuss how you can follow up with each other to summarize sessions you have each attended. In the case of social/networking events, spend some time at the beginning of the event together, but remember that the goal of these events is to meet new people! Make plans for meeting up with your friend again after the event and share anything interesting you've each learned.

  4. For both social events and presentations, be sure to have your business cards with you. Be selective in giving out your cards. Remember that the goal of meeting new colleagues is not to see how many cards you can give away - the goal is to engage in meaningful conversations and, when appropriate, to give your card to the person you've connected with. If you know you'll want to contact someone afterward, or if someone has mentioned a potential career opportunity, you will want that person to have your card.

  5. Don't forget to ask for cards from others, as well. Just be certain to jot down some brief notes on the back of each business card as you get these cards from others. The notes should include how you met the person, what you discussed, and any potential follow-up the two of you discussed. Nothing is more frustrating than returning to your hotel room with dozens of cards and little recollection of just who it was that had the hot lead on a new job, or which person promised to introduce you to his supervisor at a luncheon the next day.

  6. Attend early morning sessions - even if you're not an early riser. You've made the effort to come to the conference - why miss potential opportunities because of old habits. Often, doing something that is not part of your regular routine can lead to unexpected opportunities.

  7. When you attend a session, choose a seat that lets you clearly see the presenter and gives you the opportunity to have a conversation with those around you. Though some people say they prefer the back row and like to keep to themselves, they stay in their "comfort zone" by doing so; and they also miss out on opportunities to enlarge their network and expand their thinking by discussing the presentation with others afterward.

  8. To get the most out of the presentation, make sure you get any handouts the speaker distributes. Jot down ideas and questions on your notes. If the presenter raises an issue that you are curious about, don't be shy - when the time is right, ask your question. Or, introduce yourself to the presenter afterward and then ask your question. You'll make a contact and your presenter will most likely appreciate your interest.

  9. Take advantage of any career coaching and resume review services at the conference. If you have a resume with you, use the coaching and resume services to ask for feedback to make your resume even better. If you aren't sure of your career objective yet, use the coaching service to help you get more clarity about your career direction or to ask a specific question about the job search process.

  10. If you have your resume with you, review the list of employers who may be interviewing at the conference. If you find a potential match between your career goal and the organization that is interviewing, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to speak with that organization. Be sure you are prepared by having a copy of your resume with you and by reviewing the points you want to make and the questions you want to ask prior to approaching the employer. Let the employer know why you've chosen to interview with them. (Saying you are interviewing all the employers at the event just to practice is not an acceptable reason!) And if you have just come from visiting booths in the Exhibit Hall or gathering handouts from the last six presentations you attended, take the time to get yourself organized before approaching an employer. You want the employer to see you at your best (and most organized). For that same reason, consider how you dress for the conference. Business casual is fine, just make sure you present yourself professionally if you choose to interview for an open position.

  11. Be sure to visit the Exhibit Hall. In addition to getting the free goodies they are offering, vendors offer a wealth of information. If you are considering a career transition to a position that is different from the one you just left or if you are considering a move to a different sector (doing library-related work in a setting outside a library), consider all the information you can gather just by walking down the aisles of the Exhibit Hall and chatting with some of the vendors. You can learn more about publishers, the types of books they are publishing, the new areas they may be expanding to cover, and the new products they may be launching. If you are looking to move to a different type of library setting, you can learn about services and products aimed at the audience you may want to serve in your next position. You may even learn about a new career opportunity you hadn't considered before!

  12. After the conference is over and you're back home, set up a list of action steps to further maximize the value of the conference for you. Review the business cards and other contact information you've collected. Reach out to those you met and let them know what you valued about your interaction with them. Let them know of your interest in staying connected with them - and send along any nugget of information (a book, a website, the name of another colleague) that you think would be useful. Review your notes and handouts from presentation. Determine what you've learned at these sessions that you didn't know before and consider how you can put this new information to work. Review your resume and other marketing materials. See if you can update your materials to reflect new language or technologies that you may have left out in the past. If you've attending association meetings while at the conference, consider how you might like to become active in these associations to both contribute and to network - as well as stay updated in your field.

As you can see, attending a conference can be both exhilarating - and hard work! But with a little planning and reflection, you'll have a great conference experience and continue to reap the benefits afterward. Enjoy!


Caitlin Williams, Ph.D. is a career development professional, coach, keynote speaker and workshop leader who helps organizations and individuals prepare for what's next in the workplace. She is also an assistant professor in the Department of Counselor Education at San Jose State University. Caitlin is a frequent contributor to ALA's career related initiatives. She also conducts one-on-one career counseling sessions at ALA Conferences in the ALA JobLIST Placement Center. Appointments will be taken starting mid-April for Annual Conferences and mid-November for Midwinter Meetings. For more information, contact the ALA JobLIST Placement Manager, Beatrice Calvin.

Last rev. 3/12/12