Playing to the back row: Too Much, Not Enough and In Between in the Job Hunt

by Alexis Rohlfing, former Head Editor, INALJ New Hampshire
previously published 7/29/13

Playing to the back row: too much, not enough and in between in the job hunt.

alexisrohlfingOnce you’ve been on the job market for long enough, it becomes difficult to not jump at every opportunity that looks like it may fit. The definitive plans I had formed in grad school were long forgotten; the immediate focus was getting into a position that was at least tangentially related to libraries or information management. I hit the point where I realized that I was over playing my hand: in trying to get into something that resembled a library position, I was applying to anything that was within driving distance regardless of the type of position. Each of my cover letters started to take on a “pick me!” vibe that, in retrospect, was not the best move. In my attempt to prove that I was a good candidate for a particular job, I was “overacting”— ever watch a movie from the 30s, from just after movies made the jump to sound? You can tell who was a silent film star or on the stage: their movements are broad and over the top, trying to tell the story without words– but there are words too. The whole portrayal becomes over the top to the point of being alienating.

Meanwhile, back at the job I currently hold, I shuffled from day to day, doing my job pretty well but not liking any of the standard career paths, as they really had nothing to do with my background. I was surrounded by coworkers who suffered the same “over acting” style of job application. We are in a call center, and its everyone’s dream to leave the call center. The problem is, most people don’t have a specific career goal other than “get off the phones.” Not the strongest elevator pitch. Everything came to a head when I realized that, without having started as an information professional, I was slowly reaching a point where I could be one at my current employer. Throughout the many, many applications that never received an answer and the many frustrating days where I felt my career was stalling before it had begun, I realized a few things:

  • Putting in “too much”— those cover letters are the biggest example, but on a few occasions I didn’t read my audience right, and came across as both overeager and too young. Be sure that you know the environment you are applying to be a part of– if you’re applying to a slower town library, don’t walk in and start talking about the latest and greatest trends that may not have a place, all at the speed of a quad venti mocha. You also have to hold yourself back. I felt like every job I applied to was “the one”– that mythical position that held my future and happiness in hand. Needless to say, I was crushed when I got a rejection letter, or no letter at all. Julie Watson (INALJ PA) wrote a great article a little while back about managing your emotions, which is so critical.

  • Not putting in enough— this was the issue I ran into at my current job. In pulling back so that I wasn’t “playing to the back row,” I was understating the argument I was trying to make for why an information professional could help smooth over some of the recurring issues we run into. This was not the audience for the subtle acting that you can get away with in a movie or on tv– this called for big and grand storytelling to paint the whole picture, flashy backdrops and all. The background that made my application efforts over the top made my elevator pitch ineffective because I calculated for it. Its another case of knowing your audience. You also need to put in the effort to be systematic with your job hunt. Tiffany Newton (INALJ MO) gave a great example of her system to keep track of her job hunt. Putting in that extra bit of effort to create your own database will save you headaches down the road where you can’t remember if you heard back or sent a thank you note. That will keep you from appearing pushy by contacting hiring managers at the wrong time, and it will take away some of the stress that goes with the job hunt.

  • The in between— all those days in between where they’re having been any wins or losses, you just keep going. Keeping that even keel and knowing that you will get there are as important as making sure that you are measured in your search.

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