by Alexis Rohlfing, Head Editor, INALJ New Hampshire
previously published 2/26/13
Make mine a double tall non fat latte, with a librarian job on the side
Whether you’re looking for your first library job or switching careers later in life, snagging that first (paying) library job is the brass ring that you hope for but which can seem out of reach. I’ve struggled myself: since getting my MLS over 3 years ago, I have not been able to break into the library world. I volunteer, I apply, but the farther away from school I got, the fewer callbacks I seemed to receive. As I was talking it over with my husband for the thousandth time, he stopped me and said the simplest thing.
Unconsciously, in every letter or resume, I was focused on the negative. I was defensive about my lack of library experience without ever addressing the positive, very relevant experience my own career path had given me. I saw the standard college barista job, and three years answering phones in a call center for a financial services company. And when you put it like that, it’s easy to see why I wasn’t the most attractive candidate.
After changing my approach, I’ve found the job hunt a little less discouraging, and I can see the skills that I have acquired. With that, a few tips:
- Focus on the skills, not the job title— my biggest hang up. Where I saw “barista,” what I actually had was three years of customer service experience in a face to face environment, cash handling and management, a dash of publicity and event planning when I was tasked with certain promotions, and a job which required a certain amount of technical skill simultaneously balanced with a demand for excellent customer service, all while meeting internal policy as well as state regulations. That has a lot more in common with a library position. Plus if you ever do a coffee house promotion, you’ll be able to have things running smoothly.
- Don’t apologize, emphasize— Given that you are acquiring basic skill sets that will serve you in good stead, make the tie between those skills in your current job and how they can benefit your potential employer. If you’re working on the phone handling customer issues for the cable company, then you’re dealing with the public and probably have a good handle on how to deal with an irate customer– by extension, you can keep your cool with the library patron who isn’t happy that the latest James Patterson is waitlisted, or who can’t make the library computer do what they need it to do. If you’re in an office job, chances are you have experience with collaboration and group projects– a very useful skill when you need to coordinate several librarians or departments to run a program or make the day-to-day go well.
- You have to make the connections— and it starts with your cover letter. After all, if you haven’t seen the connections before, why should the hiring manager see them out of the gate? Write a cover letter that clearly outlines the tie between your library schooling, any practical experience, and your work experience outside the industry. The hiring manager shouldn’t have to think about what you bring to the position, they should read your letter and think “I haven’t seen that side of things before, but this person could be an asset, even without library experience/being out of the industry”
Happy job hunting!