Friday, 13 January 2012

Alternative Careers: webinar on what and how

Yesterday I 'attended' my first webinar entitled 'Alternative Careers' and given by Bethan Ruddock, the Content Development Manager, Library and Archival Services, Mimas, University of Manchester, (UK).  A rather unlibrariany title you might think and that was the point - this webinar was aimed at familiarising library students with the concept of getting a job outside of a library and one that may not even know that it needs an information professional.

Microphone by mag3737, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

An 'alternative' post can be one that does not have 'librarian' in the title or is not in a library.  It may be in a different sector entirely, such as museums or the corporate sector.  It may not involve books or contact with users.  Sometimes the job advert itself will not mention information professionals or the need for a library degree and it is up to you to convince them that they need one.  With a degree from Library School you have a degree in finding things out and those sorts of skills can be applied to pretty much any job.  Bethan's advice was to seek out the sort of institution you want to work for and sell yourself to them as an information professional, showing them first why they need one and then why they need you in particular.

You don't have to go IN the library for a job...
just stand outside and take pictures

What I found most useful though, was the discussion of applications, identifying your strengths, where you would like to work and the sorts of things to say at interview.  I am having trouble at the moment identifying the sort of library path to go down when I leave SU and Bethan suggested listing everything you are good at and enjoy (library and non-library related) and see if there is a way to work those into a job.  She called this a 'skills audit' - I liked that.   Some more suggestions:
  • Talk in the vocabulary of the institution you are applying to, even if you don't think that the job title sounds good, you should inhabit that job role for the duration of the interview and get yourself on the wavelength of the panel.  
  • In applications, use concrete examples to prove your team leading capabilities etc. rather than waffling on about the concept itself.
  • If asked similar questions in an interview to the application form, use a different example so that you give them the maximum amount of information about yourself.
  • Examples you give in interviews and applications don't have to be work related - the panel want to know about you as a person too so if you have a great example from some other part of your life that demonstrates your point then go for it.
  • Use your application to convince them that they need an information professional.
  • Be explicit, not implicit - make the connections between your skills and their institution for them.
  • Get a feel for the institution before interview - do they have Twitter?  Do they blog?  Again, get on their wavelength.
  • Have a good online presence that showcases your professional capabilities.
  • Talk to vendors at conferences and find out how they got where they are and what it is like working for their companies - get their card and follow up if you think you would like to work there.  Get yourself known in the circles in which you want to be.
  • Use social media - a great source of information flow and knowledge management.

Our very own Syracuse iSchool was mentioned due to Mia's great article on non-library jobs for LIS students.  I did a mini-hurrah in my head.  This webinar, however, was not just about finding jobs that were not in a library but also ones that did not require an MLIS and gave some tips about how to go about finding them.  Apart from being in the right place at the right time and knowing all the right people, you can get a leg up by widening your job searches to include non-library terms such as 'communication', 'research', 'training', 'outreach' etc. - identify your skill areas and search according to them.  You may get a lot of irrelevant hits but there may be some gems hidden in there.  Identify where you would love to work and contact someone there, ask to shadow them or find out their career path - Bethan rightly pointed out that if you are genuinely interested in finding out then you tend to get a genuinely truthful answer.  An overwhelming message in the presentation was: don't be scared!  You can do no harm by applying for a job and you can reap so many benefits if you get it.

hidden jewel by arjunv, on Flickr
Hidden gems

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  arjunv 

So, this has left me with a lot of food for thought.  This was my first webinar and, if I am honest, I spent a fair bit of time wondering if the other attendees could see or hear me slurping my coffee in the comfort of my own home but it was a fantastic way to hear from a professional in the field, whom it will probably be a while before I hear in person and it has spurred me on to get applying!

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