Saturday, September 26, 2020

A New Beginning! Plus Job-Hunting Tips for New MLS Grads


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I am very happy to say that beginning October 19th I will be employed once again, and as a full-time professional librarian! So hopefully I will have more meaningful content for the blog, and more time and energy to put into it, once I get settled.

It wasn't easy, and required a lot of compromise, sacrifice, and unconventional life choices, but it is a HUGE relief. The library system I will be working for has a very good reputation, is well-funded and strongly supported by the community, invests in their staff, and seems to genuinely prioritize community outreach, rather than just paying lip service to it as so many libraries do. It may not be exactly what I was hoping for, but it seems to have the most important factors. It will also give me a chance to explore a completely different part of the country, where there are lots of mountains, cool geography, and best of all, dinosaur trackways and fossils!

This has been such a difficult, disappointing, and tumultuous year thanks to the pandemic. I finished my MLIS, only to have the graduation ceremony I was so looking forward to cancelled. The library I worked at shut-down in March, and then in July I and 100 other staff members were blindsided when we were suddenly fired by the library in a knee-jerk reaction to the realization this pandemic wasn't going to be over any time soon, coupled with a desire to purge and downsize in order to funnel money into a building and renovation fund.

It was a devastating loss for a number of reasons. I had worked in that system for seven years, starting at the bottom and working my way up, trying to build a career. I loved my job, my coworkers, and my patrons, and I had planned on staying in it for another year in order to wait out the pandemic, have a bit of a break after library school, and focus on getting some badly needed home improvement projects done. If after a year no full-time professional opportunities had opened up in this area, only then was I going start looking out of state, focusing on specific areas we wanted to move to. But loosing my job changed all that, and turned my life upside down.

Being unemployed is horrible, depressing, and demoralizing. Even when you *know* it was through no fault of your own and that many other people were also affected, it still makes you doubt yourself and feel worthless that your employer could just throw you away without a second thought. Then being thrown into an absolutely abysmal job market just compounds that feeling with every rejection you get. Job-hunting is absolutely exhausting, especially when you are unemployed and the job market sucks; you can't afford to be selective and have to apply to as many places as possible. It's a buckshot approach; fire out as many applications over a wide area as possible and hope something hits.

I know in reality I had an easier time than many, and was very lucky to find a job in just two months, but it required some difficult choices. I will be moving by myself, leaving my husband, son, and pets behind since my son is in his senior year of high school, my husband has a year or two before he can take early retirement, and our house needs a lot of work before it's ready to put on the market. It's a drastic choice, but we felt it was necessary for me to get my professional career started as soon as possible in order to provide financial stability in the long term. You know the old saying, "it's easier to get a job if you have a job", and I was afraid if I didn't get a job soon I might never get one, plus I enjoy working, and I felt I was already getting too stale and too out of touch.

My advice to other new grads job-hunting in this incredibly difficult time is:

  1. If you don't already have library experience, do whatever it takes to get some! You will not be able to compete for professional level jobs without it in this market. If you already have a paraprofessional library job and can afford to wait things out another year, the market will probably improve somewhat.

  2. Make sure you have a well-written cover letter and resume that is well-organized and quick to digest. Tweak them both for each job you apply to. If you are submitting a lot of applications for jobs you are genuinely well-qualified for but not getting interviews, your resume and cover letter probably are not doing a good enough job of highlighting all you have to offer, and you may benefit from getting some input and advice from others in the field. Do not fall for the "one page resume" myth; you cannot fit enough information on one page to stand out from the crowd!

  3. Cast a wider net. The more flexible you can be in regards to relocating and the types of positions you would consider, the more jobs you can apply for and thus, the better your odds.

  4. You can't afford to be too picky. People are often quick to tell you to hold out for the "right" job, but in the current job market, the right job is the job you can get, and you have to compromise and be willing to settle for good enough. Remember, nothing has to be permanent. Now, that doesn't mean I would advise ignoring red flags, but be willing to settle for something that might not quite fit your vision of the ideal position, library, or location, but still seems like a decent library and place to work.

    For example, I really wanted to work at a library that was independent and not part of a system, but had a large building and large, diverse collection; was well-funded and well-supported by a diverse community, where I would get to do some of the collection development myself, have some say in decision-making, and be able post to social media myself; and was located in a nice town near a large city, and within an hour of the Gulf coast. But my new job actually meets few of those criteria, and that's okay because it meets the most important ones of being well-funded and having strong community support, valuing and investing in its staff and having a reputation of being a good place to work. I didn't get the beach, but I got mountains instead.

  5. Look for positions that may be less desirable for one reason or another. Remember, a lot of experienced librarians just got dumped back into the job market thanks to pandemic-related layoffs, and they are going to get the more desirable positions. The job I accepted is in a town that many people would find undesirable due to a higher crime rate, economic depression, and terrible schools. But for once, my age was an advantage as my kids are grown, so the quality of schools is not a factor in my case. Also, the library has a great reputation among staff and community alike, and I decided I'd rather work for a good library in a less than desirable town, than work for a toxic one in a great location.

  6. Stick with positions that you are genuinely qualified for and genuinely interested in. I know this is contrary to the conventional wisdom that says you don't get any of the jobs you don't apply for, or to apply for things even if you don't meet the qualifications. In this job market, it's a waste of your time to apply for jobs you aren't well-qualified for. Not that you have to meet 100% of everything in the description, but you should meet most of them, and meet all the required ones. It takes such a huge time investment for every application you put in, so don't waste time on ones you really aren't qualified for, because there are plenty of other candidates out there that are. These are not normal times and normal job-hunting advice does not apply.

  7. The first question in every interview I had was "why do you want this position". You have to be prepared to convince them that you really want THIS position, you really want to work at that library, and you really want to live in that location, and that if you get the job you are going to stay a while. Talk about what parts of the job description spoke to you, what you like about the library and the area. Show you have done your research, and convince them you have some ties to the area. This is a difficult hurdle as most hiring managers are biased in favor of hiring someone internal or local, and they are often very resistant to hiring someone from out of state because they think they need someone immediately and don't want to wait, and they assume local people are more likely to stay. This is another reason you may have a better chance in locations perceived as being less desirable.

  8. Work on your interview skills! Practice, apply for a couple of jobs you aren't interested in at first just to try to get some interview practice. I get very anxious during interviews and I know because of that I don't interview as well as I'd like. It usually takes about 3 before I finally start to get more comfortable with them. But don't forget you are interviewing them, too. Though you may have to be more flexible and compromise on some things, you don't want to take a job where you know you will be unhappy.

  9. Network! I did find a lot of openings just thru setting alerts on Google and Indeed, but for the position I ended up getting I had connected with someone who had just gotten a similar position in the same system who was able to tell me more about what the job really was (the job title of "branch librarian" caused some confusion), what the system was like, and advice on what they were looking for. Then I was convinced to accept the offer after being able to talk to other people who worked, or had worked, in that system. Getting some inside info can really help you to get a feel for what they are really looking for, and what working there would really be like.

  10. Be sure to ask any potential employer about their response to the pandemic. Did they react in a timely manner with appropriate measures to protect the safety of staff and community? Did they have furloughs or layoffs? Some furloughs and lay-offs may be understandable, but if a library had mass layoffs with no recalls, I'd think twice about going to work there as they have shown they value money over people. If they are open or reopening soon, have appropriate measures been taken to protect staff? Are they rushing to start in-person programming too soon? Working with the public in a pandemic is a risk many of us may have to take in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, but you want to minimize it as much as possible.

  11. Keep in mind that many job postings have a pre-determined outcome, and if you are an out-of-state candidate you are at a disadvantage. It's so hard, but try not to take it personally when you keep getting passed over for someone local. I got interviews with about half the places I applied to, but kept getting passed over for someone that was more experienced and/or already lived in the area. Also, though many places only check references for their first choice, that is not always true, so try not to get your hopes up just because you hear that someone is checking your references. I learned that the hard way.

  12. Job-hunting can be incredibly demoralizing and bad for one's mental health, so don't be afraid to get help if you need it, or to take a break from it if you have to. It is very rough out there! Find some kind of support system, whether it's a therapist, counselor, friends, family, or support group. I'll just warn you that people who have jobs and have not been job hunting recently just do not understand how bad it is out there, and the emotional toll it takes. Though they try to be supportive and encouraging, they really aren't able to fully empathize and sometimes say things that may make you feel frustrated and isolated. I found support in a Facebook group for library staff who had lost their jobs due to pandemic layoffs, where I could talk with people who really understood how bad it is and what I was going through. 
I truly wish all those job-hunting the best of luck, and understand how difficult and scary it can be, especially if you're older like me and don't feel like you have time to just wait things out. These are very difficult and frightening times full of difficult choices, but I am here to serve as an example that even in this job market, it is possible to get a job as a new grad, though it is not easy. I know not everyone is able to relocate or make the same choices I did, but I hope something here may still be helpful to you.

Good luck, don't forget to practice self-care, and let's all try to support each other and provide networking opportunities!

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations! So glad for you, and I so agree with your tips--I left the country for my first post-MLIS job, and I have never regretted it. It meant getting a decent job within a few months of graduation, instead of holding out for many months or even years for the perfect job--which I now almost have, thanks to that first one!

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    1. Thank you! I know if I had not been willing and able to relocate, I likely never would have gotten a full-time professional position. That first professional position can be so hard to get! I'm glad it worked out well for you; hopefully it will for me, too!

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