Reflecting on my first Library Conference experience – #OLASC14 (Tips for: networking, resumes, and cover letters)

by Lauren Bourdages, Head Editor, INALJ Ontario

Reflecting on my first Library Conference experience – #OLASC14
Tips for: networking, resumes, and cover letters

laurenbourdagesMy original conference plans that I talked about in my last post turned out to be overly ambitious on my part. After writing that post I ended up going in a completely different direction. I made arrangements to meet up with my Mentor (from the OLA Mentorship Program) to talk about resumes and strategies; she suggested that I attend the pre-conference networking event. An email came out from the Mentoring Committee inviting conference attendees to sign up for mock interviews, so I did. Then I had to take into account the actual set up time for my poster. Also in the interim between the writing of my last post (though titled 15 days to OLA it was actually written 45 days before), a job posting for an Emergent Technologies Library Programmer came up that I got really excited about. As I was doing research for my application I found out that there was going to be a pop-up makerspace in the exhibitor hall at OLA so I made plans to check it out.

I attended the pre-conference Networking event, and I got to hear valuable advice from some really great panelists:

  • Amanda French; who shared a story about overcoming a bad first impression and remembering that your LIS career starts the very first day you enter your Masters or Diploma program.
  • Tanis Fink; spoke a bit about job interviews, including discussing whether you should present yourself as a generalist or define your own niche (she advocates for defining your niche and owning it); she also listed some of the up and coming hot niches which includes: project management, data analytics, user experience, and social media. She also discussed networking, and emphasized getting involved with professional associations, joining the divisions that interest you, and finding out who the movers and shakers are so you can follow them.
  • Lita Barrie; reemphasized Tanis’s point about getting involved in PAs, saying get involved early and often. She then spoke about creating opportunities for yourself in a new workplace reminding the audience to be persistent and patient and receptive and open to feedback.
  • Mindy Thuna; built upon what Tanis and Lita had mentioned about library associations. She spoke at length about getting involved with committees, reminding the audience to MAKE SURE YOU HAVE TIME, don’t over commit yourself, deliver what you say you’re going to deliver, and find the right fit. Make sure you’re not always getting involved in the exact same thing either, think about what the association needs and that you can offer to them to fill those needs, just like you do with an employer
  • Jennifer Robinson; discussed the issue of workplace conflict. She pointed out that conflict is unavoidable in libraries because they are always changing and that if you don’t have conflict you have the status quo, and the status quo leads to stagnation. She then discussed how the biggest disaster is conflict avoidance and how to avoid conflict avoidance (turns out the first step is simple, you just need to recognize that you’re avoiding the conflict).
  • John Dupuis; shared some stories about his experiences in vendor relations and advice on dealing with vendors.

I also met some really great and interesting librarians and library technicians during the networking portion of the evening, including the librarian from the librarian from the Ontario Police College Library, which is a library I didn’t even know existed until that point, and the Library Consultant at the Waterloo Region District School Board, Anita Brooks Kirkland, who is also the incoming President of the OLA.

With all of those new plans that I mentioned above my initial desire to go to some sessions didn’t work out for me. I only planned on being at the conference for one day, just dipping my toe into the whole experience, and in hindsight, it probably would have been better to go for both Thursday and Friday so that I could have spaced out some of my activities and actually gone to some session and also met up with some INALJers, but I will just have to remember that for the next conference that I attend!

I arrived bright and early on the Thursday morning laden down with stuff, my poster carrying tube for the poster session I was presenting, my laptop for the demo to accompany said poster, and my conference bag. Thankfully I had registered the night before so I got to skip the chaos that was opening day registration! I headed down to the poster session area and got the poster out of the tube, I was really eager to see the finished product, because it was 6 feet by 3 feet I hadn’t yet unrolled it after picking it up from the printers. So my partner and I met up and got the poster set up, and then I realised that my phone was dead, and that my charger was across the city. I have to say this, the OLA conference volunteers are amazing. They found me a phone charger and helped me avert disaster, I got a charge so I would be able to call my ride at the end of the day! After dropping my phone off to get charged I had a bit of time to kill until my 10:30 mock interview slot, so I hung out near the Career Centre and read a bit of one of my library borrowed e-books to help me relax.

My mock interview was conducted by Joy Muller from the Seneca College Libraries and Robin Sakowski of the University of Guelph’s Library. The whole thing was a great experience and if you get a chance to have a mock interview jump on the opportunity. It’s the perfect way to get completely unbiased feedback on both your interviewing strengths and weaknesses and your resume. For instance, something I learned about myself from Joy and Robin’s feedback was that I am actually really good at presenting myself as approachable and relaxed in an interview. This was completely revelatory for me because I always feel like a giant bundle of angst and nerves in an interview and I’ve always worried that that’s how I come across to potential employers, but this exercise proved that what I am feeling on the inside is not what I am projecting outwardly, and that is very good to know. So some types on how to appear relaxed even when you’re not: smile, lean forward in your chair, don’t slouch, and have good eye contact with your interviewer(s).

I also learned some good strategies for dealing with my biggest interview weakness. I have, and have always had, a tendency to answer too quickly and ramble on knowing that I will probably eventually make my point in some convoluted manner that may or may not be clear to my interviewer. Needless to say Joy and Robin pointed that out and I wasn’t the least bit surprised by it. What I was surprised by were the tips they gave me for working to overcome that, they seem so logical and easy that I’m really not sure how I didn’t think of them before:

  • Bring a copy of the job posting with you to the interview; highlight the most important aspects of the position and write down some bullet points about things to discuss relating to those areas.
  • Stop. Take a few breaths. Think through the ENTIRE question, and look for the subtle, underlying aspects of the question, for example, a question about disruptive students is really trying to find out what your negotiating skills are like. Answer SLOWLY and thoughtfully.
  • Take the time to really delve into finding out what a position is all about if you can, this will allow you to showcase your passion and shows that you’re proactive when it comes to learning. This was a mock interview, and I also had my poster presentation on my mind, but I still should have done my research instead of trying to bluff my way through talking about something I wasn’t completely clear on

From my interview I had to go straight back to my poster session to finish getting it set up, my partner Stacey Nordlund was there waiting for me, she’d set up the chocolates we had decided to put out, because food bribery is the best way to get peoples’ attention! So while she finished with that I got my laptop set up so that we could show our audience the Operator side of askON’s text reference service. Even though we were only required to stay in front of our poster from 12:00-1:00 Stacey and I agreed that we’d stay through the 1:00-2:00 slot too just to visit with more people because we’d been drawing a good crowd. I had to duck out early though, because I was set to meet with my mentor, Laurie Morrison to discuss my cover letter and resume.

Laurie introduced me to the original OLA Mentoring Guru, and very nice person, Jim Brett from the University of Guelph’s Library. After that introduction she and I sat down and put our heads together regarding my application materials. We used two samples, the package I had put together for my mock interview, and a recently submitted package that I had sent Laurie in advance. When I sat down with Laurie to get to work I started by letting her know that not only had the package I sent her netted me an interview, but that I had also been offered the job (days after I sent her the package), but that I had ultimately turned the position down for a couple of reasons. It’s important to note that the package she was reviewing was one that I had made chronological instead of my standard style. She had some really great insights for me, and even more importantly to me, she didn’t just tell me to change things, she explicitly told me why I should change things and the impact that changing them would have. You’ve all seen what has been my go-to style up until now, the hybrid chronological/functional resume that I talked about in November. Well Laurie told me exactly why that probably hasn’t been working out so well for me, it’s just a big laundry list of stuff that requires too much effort on the part of interviewers; I should make the connections for them, not make them work for it. Since that was also a point that Joy and Robin made in my mock interview, and given my recent success with the use of a chronological resume, the message finally got through my thick skill and so I am going to be switching back to a fully chronological format, which means a complete redesign, look out for my next blog post because that’s what it will be about!

Then came the cover letter, I had things she liked and things that were just a no. Laurie used a good, library centric metaphor to describe what the cover letter should be, a pathfinder to push the attention of the reader(s) to certain parts of your resume. Remember, the cover letter is about two things: what you have that the employer needs, and what makes you special, unique and interesting. Some really obvious don’ts that I was in fact guilty of doing in both my sample cover letters: DON’T point of detractors, interviewers will find them without your help; and DON’T regurgitate stuff that is already in your resume, you’re wasting valuable real estate! Lastly, DON’T use the standard: “I am enthusiastically applying for the position of X found on Y. I hold a MLIS/Diploma from X College/University and I graduated at the top of my class” or any variation thereof as your opening. Apparently that is a dead giveaway of a recent grad, and no one actually cares where your degree/diploma is from or what your GPA is. I know all of those things, but I still fell into the trap of including all of them in my cover letter.

The last thing we discussed was how to frame an answer to a behavioural question, another trick to help me with my fast talking and babbling problem. Frame your answers thusly:

  • Situation – give context, where were you, what was your job etc.
  • Behaviour – give concrete examples of how you demonstrated the specific behaviour (i.e. negotiating skills)
  • Impact – elaborate on the impact that your action had

With those 3 big things done there was only one thing left that I really wanted to do in the new plan I had made; I wanted to hit up the pop-up makerspace and check out what they had going on. I’d gone up to the expo hall several times already but it either wasn’t open yet or had huge lines so I kept leaving. When I went back at 3pm it was easy to get into and so I just milled about. I went over to the makerspace and I explored. It was very exciting. I had wanted to try my hand at the 3D printers, but they were all either occupied or out of commission so I had to settle for just watching a 3D unicorn being printed and for admiring the stuff people had printed earlier, including a teacup! I watched some pre-programmed arduinos do their thing, took a gander at the more traditional crafting area in the back and then made my way back up to the front to talk to the people from Learning Labs to find out more about their organisation. I mentioned that I had recently applied for a position as an Emergent Technologies Programmer (fingers crossed that I’ll hear back about an interview) and talked to them about how if I got the position one of the things I would like to introduce is coding lessons, (I live in Waterloo, we’re the tech-start up capital of Canada, so it really does make perfect sense), so I asked them about their members and exactly what they do. And then I signed up for their mailing list.

Overall at the end of the day I was happy with the way my day and a half at OLASC14 had gone. I wish I had had more time, I wish I’d been able to go to some sessions, but I feel like everything I did was worthwhile and I don’t feel like I wasted any time. Now I know that next time in order to do everything I want I have to be willing/able to go for more than one day, and that’s what this was all about, learning about conferences and getting some conference experience. We all have to start somewhere, and this was how I started. I’m looking forward to the next conference that I can attend.