by Kate Kosturski
previously published 1/31/14
Don’t Get Chopped in Your Job Search
My partner and I are big fans of the Food Network show Chopped. If you’re not familiar with the program, it is a cooking competition featuring four chefs who have to prepare three meals (appetizer, entree, and dessert) with mystery ingredients – anything from the mundane (carrots) to the exotic (durian) to the “can you really cook with this?” (cheese curls, lime jello). The judges rate the dishes on three categories – presentation, taste, and creativity. And if a chef’s dish doesn’t meet their expectations, the chef is out of the competition.
As we were watching the latest All Stars competition last night, I realized that the judges’ categories for evaluation translate well to a job search. It’s a quick, simple mnemonic to remember what you should always be doing each day in your professional life.
This states the obvious. How do you present yourself, in person and online? Do you have a place where potential employers can view your work? The easiest way to do this is a portfolio site, and tools like WordPress, Weebly, and Flavors.me make this simple to do. You may have set up a portfolio as part of your library school graduation requirements. Is that profile still accessible, and in a format that is easy for an employer to understand? Building a portfolio is also a wonderful way to stretch your tech skills and learn something new – I used a revamp of my portfolio site to teach myself Drupal. (You can view the results at www.katekosturski.info.)
I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of social media as part of your virtual presentation. Having a professional presence on Linkedin is almost a requirement in 2013, and should complement your portfolio site. Also, think about how you are presenting yourself on Facebook, Twitter and other, more informal social media. You want to be careful that any photos you post or comments you make do not portray you in a negative light, because employers can and do search these sites in their intelligence gathering on candidates.
The analog networking is also important. Make sure when you attend conferences or other gatherings (and if you’re not already, now is a good time to start), you have two tools at the ready: an elevator pitch, and a full complement of business cards. An elevator pitch is a short, simple statement that defines who you are and what you do – the idea being that if you are in an elevator with a key decision maker and they start a conversation, you can tell them all about you in a short period of time. Keep your elevator pitch simple and jargon free. And end that elevator pitch with an up to date business card with your contact information (including the aforementioned portfolio)! Companies like Moo and Vistaprint make printing your own cards easy and affordable, and with the right tools, you can also print cards at home.
I struggled with applying this to the job search initially. When I thought deeper about taste, I realized that not only is it the building block of a good meal, it can be the simplest to achieve, the simplest to mess up – and the one matter the most. What is a simple thing that is easy to overlook in the job search that will matter the most? Proofreading. Make sure links on your portfolio site work. Check and re-check spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. Make sure cover letters are addressed to the proper person and with proper gender pronouns – when my partner was looking for a job, he made sure to Google the names of who he was sending letters to, so he didn’t address a Ms. as a Mr. (which almost happened!)
You can think about creativity in two ways – the jobs you apply for, and how you sell yourself to those jobs. A quick glance of the main INALJ page shows a wide variety of keywords we use to find jobs – all jobs that use librarian skills. Not every library job has to be in the textbook definition of a library.
Be creative in applying for jobs. Think about how non-library experience can tie into job duties as listed in the posting. I was a volunteer for the Museum of Modern Art for seven years, and when I was looking for library jobs, I realized that those seven years finding paintings and telling people where the bathroom is was the perfect reference service training. In reference job cover letters, I made sure to elaborate on those duties and how they tie in to reference service.
Conversely, think carefully about how your library skills fit any position, and make those necessary connections in your resume (make sure to have a section titled “Field Experience” or “Career-Related Experience”) and your cover letter. Don’t waste valuable cover letter space on experience that doesn’t relate to the exact position, no matter on how awesome and award-winning it was. (Save it for the interview!)
With these three ideas in mind, conducting your job search should be seamless. And finally, here’s a tip for your cooking, especially if you find yourself on Chopped one day (they do have an amateur cooks competition): Never use truffle oil. The judges hate it.
republished from 4/25/13