by Rachel Wightman, Assistant Editor, INALJ Washington
What I Learned About My Job Search by Helping Others Find Jobs
Last fall I relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota after living and working in Kampala, Uganda for a year and a half. I was a librarian at a small college and, as a solo librarian, spent my time doing a little bit of everything: cataloging, reference, networking, instruction. I gained lots of great library experience and a whole blog full of good stories (alibrarystory.blogspot.com). And, of course, I made wonderful friends.
But now I find myself back in the US and figuring out the next steps of my professional career. And, like many un- and under-employed librarians, I spend a bit of my time each week volunteering. We’ve all heard the job search tip: ‘Volunteer to get experience’. And, I see the value in doing that. But instead of only volunteering with libraries or library-related organizations, I’ve chosen to spend time each week at a local non-profit that helps recently arrived African immigrants and refugees get settled here in America. I work with them on various aspects of job searching in the US. (And, don’t worry, the irony of me–someone who is under-employed–helping other people find jobs, is not lost on me. :))
At any rate, I find that my librarian skills are constantly being used and tested. I meet with clients and talk with them about their job needs (perfect reference interview practice!) and I teach them to use various online job searching databases, such as indeed.com (instruction practice!). In the process of helping other people find jobs, I’ve discovered several things about my own job search and attitudes:
1. There ARE jobs out there.
I know, I know. The economy is struggling and there are few professional librarian positions available for new grads. I get it, trust me. I’ve been on the job market twice since receiving my MLIS in 2009. I know how discouraging it can be to keep looking…and looking…and looking. But as I’ve helped immigrants and refugees — those new to our country — I’ve realized there are jobs available. The jobs might not all be the librarian jobs we’re looking for but there’s nothing like helping people look for any job, to realize that maybe things aren’t as dire as we read about. Every week I help people look for and find jobs as: factory workers, nursing assistants, custodians, parking attendants, etc. I know these jobs are not what most of us are looking for but I sometimes feel like I spend so much time reading about ‘how to find a job’ or ‘the economy is still bad’ that I start to get caught in all the negative rhetoric about jobs. I’m learning to think more positively.
Generally the people I help are very, very grateful for any job they get. I’ve learned to be thankful for the part-time, librarian job I do have. I still hope to find full-time librarian employment but I’m learning to be thankful for the employment I do have right now, in my field.
3. Keep looking
We’ve all heard the importance of continuing to look for a job until you have one: don’t stop looking just because you get an interview. But one of the caseworkers at this non-profit takes it one step further: ‘Keep looking and applying until you find a job…and know that you like it’. I know we can’t all afford to be picky but I think there’s something about giving yourself permission to turn down a job you’re not sure about or to only commit to a job for a certain season. I’m not advocating hopping around jobs and flaking out; I believe we should give any job a fair shot. But I think we also need to give ourselves grace to keep looking and keep striving for the best job situation for our particular goals and situation. I’m learning not to settle for just any job but to keep striving to find the best fit for me.
4. Feed your soul.
Finally, looking for a job can be tiring and often discouraging. Find activities that give you energy. I volunteer at a non-library organization because it gives me a chance to connect with people from Africa. It connects me, in a small way, to my life in Uganda and I look forward to my time volunteering. I suppose some would argue that I’m wasting my time because it’s not a library. But I’ve discovered that sometimes you just have to take care of yourself. I’m learning that although my volunteer work is not in a library, it is library-related. And more importantly, it is energizing at a time when I am tempted to feel discouraged. I’m purposely putting things in my life that give me energy, even if they’re not all library or career related.