By Margo Sussman
If you have been laid off, are currently unemployed, or are just looking for a new job, a stop at the Job Placement Center was surely on your To-Do List if you attended this year’s ALA Conference in D.C. There was indeed a variety of services, resources and people there to help you, including a Resume Critiquing Service; Career Counseling Sessions with Dr. Caitlin Williams, a professional career counselor; Workshops and Information Sessions; computers to look up employment opportunities and printers to whip out those last-minute copies of your resume; employers looking for candidates; not to mention a small on-site Job/Career Library. What I found especially smart were the tags you could attach to your conference badge saying, “Librarian for Hire.” It was a great icebreaker and wonderful networking tool.
There was clearly a large demand for the services provided. The first workshop on Saturday morning, The Ins and Outs of Job Hunting for Academic Library Positions - An Insider's Perspective, was packed; almost overflowing, in fact, as people just kept coming, bringing chairs from the tables outside with them or choosing to stand. Additionally, and as was the case last year, all of the resume review sessions and career counseling sessions were filled by Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, the second workshop on Saturday, Why Can't I Get Any Interviews?, was cancelled. It really was a shame, as that would have been particularly relevant and helpful to attendees. And unfortunately, more than half of the career related sessions required conference registration, which, for some out-of-work librarians, was too expensive to afford.
On Sunday morning there was an Open House with libraries looking to hire. It was an excellent opportunity to meet potential employers, learn more about their library, use your “elevator speech,” and hand out your resume and/or business card. Most libraries in attendance were academic libraries, but there were two or three public libraries there as well. It was a stark contrast to what was offered at the Job Placement Center in 2007 when there were a significant number of employers at booths, available throughout the day and with all sorts of job openings to discuss. Now, in 2010, there were only 7 employers with booths. The rest of the employers attended the Open House as guests instead of setting up shop at a booth; this was the less expensive option as there was no fee to attend the Open House and it cost $625 to reserve a booth. In addition, several employers had only one position for which they were hiring. It is clearly a sign of the times. Budgets are tighter for everyone, and it is difficult to see so many out of work librarians with fewer opportunities available.
Helpful tips I gleaned from my time at the Job Placement Center:
The fewer, the better; and the better, the better – This concept was highlighted at the first workshop on Saturday morning. What the presenter, Mr. Brian Keith meant was the fewer applications you send out and the more targeted your approach to applying, the better your chances of success. By taking the time to write a more detailed cover letter that clearly matches your skills and background with the requirements of each position, you put yourself in your best light.
Have a Plan – This tip came from my career counseling session with Dr. Caitlin Williams. Decide specifically what kind of work you are looking for, where you want to be geographically and what is the minimum salary you will accept. These are important questions that will help you narrow the range of your search.
Be Persistent – These days it is much more competitive than it used to be. There are fewer positions being offered with more people applying. It can be easy to get discouraged. Even if you do not get immediate responses, do not give up. You never know the behind-the-scenes reasons of why you were not selected, but you can be assured that if you do not apply, you definitely will not be selected.
Follow up – Follow up with potential employers after a meeting or introduction at the Open House. What I like to do after I get a business card from someone is, as soon as I have the chance, write down on the back how and where we met, what we talked about and anything else I can remember about the person and our conversation. That way when you go to follow up later, you do not have to struggle to remember what was discussed or even who that person was, especially since you meet so many people at large conferences like this one.
Network/Ask for Help – Librarianship is a service profession; librarians love to help people find what they are looking for. Nearly everyone I spoke to at the conference sympathized and offered tips, advice and suggestions when I mentioned I was looking for a job. Although it may not directly produce a letter of hire at a library, it could open your eyes to useful resources and new avenues for your search.
Volunteer/Stay active in the profession – There are so many ways to be involved. Join a committee through NMRT or any other ALA division or roundtable. Volunteer at your local library. Write an article for Footnotes. If you have a particular skill or area of expertise, offer to present a library program; you will be gaining experience and building useful skills, networking, and giving back to the community. Later, if a position opens up at the library where you volunteered, or if someone you networked with hears of an available library position, he or she will likely think of you.
To close, let me share with you a personal story of something that happened to me at the conference. I signed up to volunteer at the Membership Pavilion on Sunday, June 27th, for a few hours. I truly enjoyed helping the conference attendees find the information they needed, but what surprised me was that an employer, whom I had met at the Open House that morning, had also signed up to work during my shift. We worked side by side that day, and she learned a bit more about me and how I worked. The first meeting I had with her at the Open House seemed to go well, but was lukewarm at best. However, I believe the shared volunteering experience significantly improved her perception of me, since she got to see firsthand how I could work effectively under pressure and provide good customer service to other conference attendees. It just goes to show you never know who you will meet or how your paths will intersect at the conference or in the library world in general.