By Travis Bonnett
While all of the sessions and workshops at ALA National 2009 were useful and educational for librarians, library staff, and lovers of libraries and books, there were some sessions that were especially useful for aspiring librarians and those who are making a career change either by choice or force. One of those useful workshops was “Job Hunting in a Tough Economy,” held on the 11th of July at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The panel consisted of three library professionals: Deb Schultz, the founder of the Library Associates Company, Sarah Johnson, an academic librarian at Eastern Illinois University and the founder of Lisjobs.com, and Pat Hawthorne, the Director of Human Resources for the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) libraries.
The first of the three panelists was Deb Schultz, the founder of the Library Associates Company. Schultz began her segment of the session with her professional background and telling the story of how she founded the LAC. She began her career working as a law librarian in a firm in the Los Angeles area, but was laid off in the 1980s when the aerospace industry in Southern California began to move to other parts of the United States. Most of the firm’s business was from that industry; therefore it lost most of its clients.
Schultz turned this crisis into opportunity and success and founded her own business, the LAC. LAC, according to Shultz, has two different components: first, a recruiting firm for libraries and second, an employer of librarians and library staff who work at different libraries on a contract/consulting basis. Schultz mentioned some general tips for job seekers. Her first tip was that “finding a job is a job,” in the sense that you must be willing to spend several hours a day looking for work. Her second tip was to follow up on every job you apply for by either calling the organization in question and making sure that they your materials were received or following up an interview with a thank you note or email. She also advised all the job seekers in the room to network, network, and network some more to let everyone you know and meet that you are looking for work. In addition to traditional networking, she also suggesting using social networking websites as LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to look for work in the digital world and connect with others in the profession. She also suggested using these websites as a job board in the sense that you can become a “fan” of on Facebook or “follow” on Twitter different job boards like ALA Joblist, and have job opportunities sent to your newsfeed. Another useful website mentioned was beyondthejob.org. Her final piece of advice was that one needs to be open to “less traditional” job fields, such as information technology, be willing to do consulting work or work part time, or more simply “be willing to settle” for a time. This was reinforced later by Pat Hawthorne, who stated that when you define your job search, you should always being willing to settle. However, Schultz made a point of saying that the job market for librarians is not horrible in every part of the country, naming the area in and around Washington, D.C, in particular as a place where a job seeker should look for work.
The second panelist of the afternoon was Sarah Johnson, the founder of LISjobs.com. She founded the website in the mid 1990s while she was a library student at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and has maintained it during her time as an academic librarian at Eastern Illinois University. The theme of her advice was that you need “sharpen up your resume.” Her theory about resumes is that about 20% of resumes are excellent, another 60% are average, and the final 20% are either horrible or just generic. She had several different suggestions for job seekers to improve their resume. First, she suggested that everyone should utilize the NMRT resume review roundtable. She also said that one should look at how the resume is presented and how much white space is used in the resume, and to showcase successes, being sure to indicate who benefited from those successes—stats and figures you should have from previous jobs and maintain while at your current job. In addition to this, she mentioned that you should not be afraid to "level up" and apply for jobs that you don’t think you are qualified for, such as a head of a department or perhaps even a dean or director position. Also, according to Johnson, you should take an inventory of all your skills and knowledge base and be specific—for example, be specific about what databases you know how to use. Finally, Johnson said to use clear and specific language, while avoiding saying the same things over and over again at all costs.
The third and final panelist of the afternoon was Pat Hawthorne, the director of Human Resources for the UCLA Libraries and the former Human Resources Director for the University of Miami. She began her segment by telling the attendees that they should ask several questions. These include: Can you move somewhere else, be it another city, state, or across the country? What kind or different kinds of jobs do you want? Is there any additional educational or training you need? Other than that, Hawthorne mentioned that you should look at both the place you will be working and the area that you will be living in.
All three panelists had advice regarding what job seekers should not do. Schultz said one of the worst things you can do is pigeon hole yourself. Also, Schultz said that it is unwise for a job seeker to send the same resume out to every prospective employer; in other words, you need to customize the resume for each job because, like Johnson said, “no job is generic.” Hawthorne’s advice focused on the interview and the general application process, stating that applicants should always follow instructions and never make any deviations from what you are told to do, such as including anything not asked for, which was also mentioned by Schultz. However, it was mentioned by Hawthorne that you can have someone that you see as a reference recommend you for the job before being asked for references.
Advice was also given for what to do while you are waiting a job. Johnson mentioned that you should try to expand your skills and knowledge base while looking for work. One idea was that one could seek out committees and publications to beef up on skills and contacts. Taking work force development or extension courses in management, information technology or other fields to add to your skill base was another possibility mentioned by the panel. In addition, you should look at different awards and scholarships because there may be less competition for these prizes than you think. Above all else, every panel member mentioned that you should remain motivated and upbeat both on the outside and inside and not give up!