This is an interview with Karly Szczepkowski, Research Analyst at an information technology and services company, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On Research Analyst, Data Analyst & Client Analyst, Data Work :
an Interview with Karly Szczepkowski
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what these 3 types of work are (Research Analyst / Data Analyst / Client Analyst, Data) and how LIS folk can get into this field. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS (or your educational background) and what you do?
Thank you, Naomi, for interviewing me about my career experiences. To those of you reading this, I hope you find my experiences inspiring as you carve out your own career path. As you will see in my interview, my career path is unique to me, my experiences, my background and skills, and my goals.
What worked for me; how I got to where I am, may not work for you. And that’s okay! Your experiences and goals are unique to you, as will be your career path. My goal in sharing my career story with you is not to say “if you do this, then this will happen.” Because it doesn’t work that way. Even if you do exactly what I did, you may not have the same results – and I certainly do not mean to imply you will. Rather, by sharing my career story with you, I’m hoping to inspire you as you write your own career story. Perhaps you’ll take a new approach or think of something in a different way than you have before. If by sharing my experiences with you I’m able to inspire you in your own career journey, then I’ll consider this interview a success.
I’m going to take you briefly though my career before my MLIS, as it’s relevant not only to who I am, but how I landed at the company I work for now and the position I have today. We all have histories before our MLIS, and I personally don’t believe we should discount them. So here’s mine.
I graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in materials science & engineering in 1996. There weren’t very many jobs those days in materials science, and I worked a variety of different positions within the first ten years of my career. Eventually I ended up at an advertising agency, and during new hire orientation we stopped at the agency’s reference center. I had never heard of librarians working outside of a public or academic library. And that was my first exposure to special librarianship. It was like a seed planted in my head, and eventually it grew into me wanting to become a special librarian, and so in 2006 I enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit to pursue my MLIS.
I quit my job at the ad agency to concentrate on my new career, but I still needed money. And I knew from having worked for the past ten years that the college grads hired by the companies I worked at all had some type of relevant work-related experience, either through an internship, a co-op, a part-time position, or in some other way. So I applied for and accepted a series of part-time, paid internships, both to help me pay tuition and to give me that much needed experience (because I had no prior library-related experience).
Some of these positions lasted only a semester, or just the summer, others were a year or longer. But regardless of the tenure, I made a concentrated effort to seek out non-traditional work and special libraries. I indexed art slides for the School of Art & Art History as part of a grant program. I spent a few months assisting the reference librarians at the law library. I archived a historical collection at the Symphony Orchestra. I did more indexing for a private company as a contractor for LexisNexis. And perhaps the most traditional-like experience I had was cataloging at the library of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I loved that job! But let’s move on to after graduation…
I joined the Division of Development & Alumni Affairs at Wayne State University as a prospect research analyst in 2010. I researched individuals, companies and foundations and assessed their ability to make a major gift to the university (if you are interested in this field, you may find this professional organization’s site helpful: https://www.aprahome.org ). I worked this position for about three years, and then out-of-the-blue I received a message via LinkedIn from a recruiter at the company I work for today.
Q2: Now can you tell us how You personally got into doing this type of work? Can you take us through the progression from one position to the next?
I wasn’t explicitly looking to leave prospect research, but I was, and still am, always open to new opportunities. Who knows? Maybe the job would be interesting. So I talked to the recruiter, liked what I heard, interviewed for an analyst position and got the job. The position required experience working with clients, which I had from my days at the ad agency, and experience in analysis, which I had from my job at Wayne State. I don’t think my MLIS had anything to do with why they cold-contacted me, but I do know that without the MLIS I never would have gotten the job at Wayne State, qualifying me for the job I started when I first joined the company. So although my degree was not a requirement, it allowed me to gain the experience I needed to work and be successful here.
My first position was in the Client Services department as a Satisfaction Research Analyst. About a month later the title was changed to Customer Experience Analyst and a year after that it became Client Analyst, Data. But what I did did not change: I worked with clients to help them improve the customer experience for their customers. I managed research projects, provided training and support in accessing data, and analyzed data for assigned clients. I designed survey questionnaires, tested survey instruments, monitored data collection, regularly created presentations, scorecards and other reports, and delivered findings to the marketing leaders within the client company.
After a few years I was promoted to senior analyst and two months later something interesting happened: the person in charge of categorizing all of the survey measurements for benchmarking purposes resigned. Previously I had spoken to my manager about taking on more responsibility or a special project. I didn’t specify which one, but they knew I was interested in benchmarking and they knew I wanted more responsibility, so I began managing like-groupings of all survey measurements.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear like-groupings of survey measurements I immediately think of subject cataloging. And sure enough, there were written definitions for classification, or what my company calls “categorization.” And remember back to my internship experiences? Indexing and cataloging, including almost four years performing traditional book cataloging at the Detroit Institute of Arts. How could I not be the perfect fit for this? But did my company think “we need someone with an MLIS and experience in indexing and cataloging”? Probably not. Like many companies not affiliated with public or academic libraries, management here is not familiar with the training we receive when we pursue the MLIS. Nor do they understand the transfer of skills in cataloging books to categorizing survey measurements. No, my company added this duty to my position because 1) they knew I was interested in benchmarks (because organization of information!) and 2) they knew I was interested in more responsibility. I had to educate them as to why the MLIS made me a great fit for the position. But I didn’t care that they didn’t realize it at first, I was just thrilled to be given the opportunity.
A bit later I moved to a non-client facing role in the newly created data analyst team and my job title changed to Data Analyst. I continued cataloging survey measurements and took over project management for the team that conducts my company’s original research. I also created reporting templates and dashboards to automate or semi-automate the manual monthly work of other analysts.
In late 2018, there were some changes at my company and some of my job duties moved to one role and other duties to a newly created Research Analyst position. Just as before I had to express an interest in this new position. Even though it was work I was already doing, management wasn’t sure if I was interested in pursuing this new role or staying where I was, so I had to speak up.
As a Research Analyst, I manage original research, including sampling, questionnaire design, collection, data integrity and data analysis; I direct all aspects of the company’s benchmarks product; and I manage predictive model templates and serve as the subject matter expert on predictive model in the survey building tool.
Q3: What makes this a great field for LIS workers and likewise, what do you think makes LIS workers strong candidates for hiring managers in this field?
A lot of what I do now, and did earlier in my career at my company, involved skills I learned while pursuing my MLIS: reference, instruction, cataloging – except my company doesn’t use those terms. So I had to learn to talk to them in terms they do use: client management, enablement, categorization. Since many hiring managers are unfamiliar with what we learn, it’s likely they don’t know why we’re strong candidates. We need to tell them, and in the language they use: for me, that was clients instead of patrons, etc. I learned to look to the job posting to understand how the hiring manager communicates and use that language.
And while I love what I do, it is a different experience than working in many traditional libraries. My job is very fast-paced, there’s a heavy emphasis on technology, I need to learn new skills quickly, often with little formal training, and sometimes there is late night and weekend work. I was already used to all that from the ten years work experience I had before enrolling in a MLIS program, but it is something to consider if you are pursuing a non-traditional field. And you should be prepared to talk to how you can thrive in a non-library environment as you may be asked about it during a job interview.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first Research Analyst / Data Analyst / Client Analyst, Data job?
Speaking for myself, it was having had former experience in analysis and working with clients. That’s what got me the Client Analyst, Data job. But once I had that job, I kept learning: when I first started, I had no background in survey methodology and research or product management. Throughout my career, I’ve always pursued supplemental education. Yes, it’s usually on my own dime and time, but it’s important to me. However, because I don’t have unlimited funds and I must still work my day job, I must be selective when choosing where and how I study.
Most recently I selected Coursera. The courses are 100% online and the cost is around $50 per month, depending on the course. But more than that, Coursera offers the programs I’m interested in, including the survey data collection and analytics specialization and Python specialization. So I selected Coursera because it’s affordable, accessible and the content is relevant to my career.
With that said, I have never felt beholden to any one particular-training resource. In the past I’ve used Udacity, Udemy, Salesforce, New Horizons and courses through SLA. I’ve personally found supplementing my education and learning new skills to be very beneficial to my career, and I plan to continue to do so.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
If I had to sum up what has worked for me it is: never stop learning. The MLIS was merely the starting point. To continuously evolve in my career, I had to continuously evolve my skills. The skills that helped me most as a Client Analyst, Data were: Excel, Powerpoint, instruction and access to information, data analysis, and being able to confidently present complex information and data to others. When I moved to the Data Analyst role I added to my skillset with Access, Tableau, Power BI, Microsoft Teams and Salesforce. In my current role as a Research Analyst I’ve expanded my tech skills to include SQL and Python, while also studying survey methodology.
One thing that has really worked for me, and maybe this will help others, too, is to study job postings. The skills I use as a Research Analyst at my company may not be the same skills required at other companies. Don’t go off just what I’m writing here! Research what the postings are looking for. When I see a posting that interests me, I read the skills and certification section. Do I have those skills? If not, can I acquire them in a means that fit my budget, available free time and educational background?
As I said at the beginning, we are all unique. We have different experiences, backgrounds, skills, and goals. What I found worked for me in my career story was gaining relevant experience; the internships, my past work experience, even my past degree; having a solid work history and pursuing any opportunity that came available to enhance my skills and professional reputation. I hope that one or more of these elements may spark an idea for you as you write your career story. And good luck to you, wherever your degree may take you! Thank you.
Karly Szczepkowski is a Research Analyst at an information technology and services company. She manages syndicated research and over 800 benchmark categories. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and Master’s in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit.
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.
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Updated 6/16/2020 : changed the “and” in the title to “&” for consistency across the interview series