Second Time Around: Staying Positive during My Job Search, or I’m a Recovering Debbie Downer

by Claire Schmieder, Head Editor, INALJ New Jersey

Second Time Around: Staying Positive during My Job Search, or I’m a Recovering Debbie Downer

Claire.SchmiederLast month, a lively thread began on the INALJ LinkedIn group’s discussion board. It started when our intrepid leader Naomi House shared an article and some insights about job seekers who are public Debbie Downers (or complainers). Member comments, for the most part, were thoughtful – even though the topic can be a sensitive one. Many members agreed that being privately disheartened, frustrated, or even angry is very different from expressing those feelings publicly, especially at networking events. I would like to go another step further – a consistent negative attitude toward a difficult job search (even if it’s only private) isn’t a good idea. I know this because I, kind audience, was a private Debbie Downer not so long ago. My story follows…

In 2007, I completed an MA in public history from Rutgers. I had excelled in the program and, on top of that, I had networked, I had two amazing (paid) internships, I went to conferences, I used Career Services at Rutgers, I had two professors who were helping me get interviews and part-time freelancing work, and I had a wonderful support system. I had enthusiasm. I had smarts. I was READY. And then reality set in. We all know that the recession hit the non-profit sector hard.  The economy was something I had absolutely no control over, and that I had neither anticipated nor prepared for. I applied to jobs. And applied. And applied. I got one interview, was verbally offered a position starting “as soon as we have our budget meeting next month,” and, then, after that budget meeting, was ultimately told that the position had been eliminated due to a lack of funding for it. I applied to more jobs. And more jobs. And still more. I registered with a few temp agencies for good measure. Not a peep. Not an interview. Nothing. I had my resume critiqued by professionals, just to make sure there wasn’t something terribly wrong with it that I had somehow completely missed. Nope, they said, this looks really good. People I trusted told me they “couldn’t understand why it wasn’t happening for me.”

Panic began to set in. My husband and I had assumed I’d find a full-time job within a year of graduating. I needed a paycheck. Out of desperation, I applied for, and got, a job with the United States Postal Service as a Rural Carrier Associate (aka, part-time mail carrier). Even though I was paid well, had a decent boss, and worked with nice people, that job was a huge blow to my ego (which was probably slightly over-inflated). That’s when the complaining began. But only to my family and friends. I found I was really, really good at complaining. “What is going to happen with my life?” “If I don’t start working soon, this MA will become less and less meaningful.” “I did everything right, why can’t I find a job?” “This isn’t fair.”

THIS. ISN’T. FAIR. Yes, folks, it’s true. I actually let one of the most annoying phrases in the English language out of my mouth. Life isn’t always fair, I knew that. But it didn’t stop me from complaining about it. Even though I never gave voice to these feelings publicly, all that negativity seeped into every aspect of my life. I stopped applying for jobs for a while because, I thought, “What’s the point?” I started picking fights with my husband. I stopped pursuing my hobbies in my free time. I became (ominous music here) a serious Debbie Downer.

I reached a breaking point in late 2009. I didn’t like the person I had become and I knew I had to do something about it. After consulting with a few professors from my MA program, I decided to apply to the MLIS program at Rutgers. Still stuck in a negative cycle, I assumed I wouldn’t get in. The arrival of my acceptance letter in the spring was the first step toward ending my negative cycle. Being at school, being surrounded by professors and fellow students, and feeling like I was working toward something meaningful again provided the ladder I needed to climb out of the hole I had dug myself.

This time around, I’m determined to avoid falling into the same patterns because it’s really, really easy to become a Debbie Downer, but it’s really, really hard to stop being one. Here’s what I’ve been doing to combat the occasional urges to complain:

●     I’ve stopped agonizing over every single job application after I’ve sent it out. To be sure, I keep track of applications on a spreadsheet, and if I haven’t heard anything within a few weeks of applying, I call and ask politely if the position has been filled. If it has, then I delete it from the sheet and move on. I don’t wait by the phone. I don’t check my email every five seconds. I don’t start imagining myself working somewhere before I get offered the job.


●     I celebrate the small victories. I interviewed with Pro Libra in early March! Yay! Did it lead to a job? Not yet, but who cares? I got to speak with someone very kind and supportive who told me that I’m doing everything I should be to find work. Hearing that felt AMAZING – I win! I got a new follower on my professional Twitter account – I win! A few people liked my comment on a discussion thread – I win! All those little wins add up to more confidence and a better overall attitude.


●     I keep busy. Very busy. And I stay on a schedule. I volunteer for INALJ, I volunteer at an archive, and I volunteer an hour a week at my kids’ school. I’m also a (paid!) Instructional Assistant for an ITI class at Rutgers. I schedule days to apply for jobs – when I find an opening, I add it to my Monday/Wednesday list. This way, finding a job becomes more, well, like a job. I also make sure I schedule time to take care of myself – I read, I go for walks, I play Tomb Raider. Whatever takes my mind of the job search. This leads me to my last strategy:


●     I try not to think about my job search 24/7. I have a life that doesn’t revolve around work. I have a husband, kids, pets, friends, hobbies. I have travel plans, upcoming celebrations, and concerts to go to. If I can’t find pleasure in the smaller things, then I know I won’t be happy with the bigger things.

I know that the library job market is extremely competitive and I’m nervous about it. Not being nervous would be naive. I know I’ll have downbeat moments, days, maybe even a week or two. But, this time around, I’m refusing to let a bad attitude affect my job search.

If you’re worried that you may be suffering from a similar malady, here are a few resources that could prove helpful and/or interesting:

The Atlantic There’s More to Life Than Being Happy

USA Today – Be Positive and Get a Job Faster

Glass Door – Never Hear Back? 6 Ways to Combat Bad Job Search Experiences

Hiring Librarians blog

LibGig’s Q & A: Recession

LIScareer – Job Hunting Bibliography


republished from 3/21/13

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular LIS jobs resource (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ has had over 20 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


  8 comments for “Second Time Around: Staying Positive during My Job Search, or I’m a Recovering Debbie Downer

  1. Dana Elliott
    June 2, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    I completely understand the frustration involved in looking for a job. I was fortunate that I have got a job before graduation with my MLIS that is somewhat related to librarianship. I am looking for something more closely aligned with what I want to do, either public or academic librarianship, and I’ve interviewed a couple times. But I’ve definitely fallen into that slump of wondering what the point was. Today I got an email from one place that I applied to and I was THRILLED that they acknowledged my application and gave me some sort of timeline. Let’s hear it for appreciating the small stuff, right? 🙂

  2. Harold R.
    June 1, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    One thing to consider – apply for temp and even part-time positions too if it’s at all workable. A temp position provides income and work experience at the same time, all while allowing you to learn a new aspect of the field and decide if the institution is a good fit for you. Sometimes you can also be hired much more quickly.

  3. Jill
    February 3, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Thank you for this article. I am going through a difficult job search, too and you articulated it perfectly. Good luck in Library School. The profession needs people like you! And remember that a career is a marathon, not a sprint. Decide what aspect of being in libraries turns you on and always keep that little light inside burning, no matter the external circumstances.

  4. Daniel
    February 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Thank you for writing this piece. I could relate to almost all of it. I received my MLIS at the end of 2012 and have been actively searching for a librarian position for over a year now. I’ve applied to over 50 positions, in all different areas of library science. So far I’ve only interviewed twice. Despite having many years of previous library experience and strong technical skills, I find myself competing with others who are just as talented. It has been quite a frustrating journey. But reading your story does encourage me to keep trying and to keep busy with life.

  5. February 1, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for your insights. I think your perspective is encouraging and I agree that returning to school does help. For some people this isn’t possible as tuition is expensive. There are programs, i.e. via the Career One Stop programs on the county level where if a person is unemployed he or she can be granted a tuition waiver if the program and courses to be taken are leading toward something (a degree or certificate). I think these tuition waivers can only be put toward state schools and within the same state a person lives in. Of course not working at all is a drawback income wise. There is a lot of consider…

  6. Tom
    February 1, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Great honesty! I feel like I just read my own story. Thank you!

  7. September 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Thank you for this article. I needed a boost and some good advice, especially considering that I’ve had a lot of my friends change jobs lately. I have started to fill my schedule with things again, like volunteering twice a month at a University Archive. I will also be starting an MLIS program in January at San Jose State University. I like the idea of the spread sheet for jobs that I’ve applied for and having set days that I apply for jobs. Like you, I realized that I need to enjoy the little things while searching for and applying for jobs. Thank you again for this article and I can’t wait to read more.

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