This originally appeared in LibFocus.
When I was just starting out in libraries, I took advantage of resume review workshops, attended career fairs at my library school, asked my professors to talk about the job market, and reached out to working librarians for career advice. A few years later, I’ve reviewed resumes at workshops, spoken at career fairs, devoted class time to job search strategies as a library school instructor, and been approached by young librarians looking for career advice.
Having now been on both sides of the job search education issue, I have realized that what would have been most useful to me when I was just starting out is if librarians were willing to spend time considering what job search strategies worked for them and then shared those strategies.
I’ll start. Here’s how I landed my dream job, broken down into five broad steps.
1. Read lots of job ads.
Job ads don’t just tell you what positions are available, they also tell you what skills, experiences, and traits are needed in order to get the job. As soon as I realized I wanted to be a library director, but long before I was qualified to become one, I began spending time each week reading job ads, and I made of list of the qualifications I saw most often.
2. Build your resume.
Once I had a list of qualifications, I went about earning them. I could earn some items on my own outside of work – technology skills, for example. Other items could be practiced constantly, like being cool under pressure or being an excellent communicator. But the process to earn the biggest items – like facilities, budget, and staff management – was more prescribed: I had to start with tiny projects in order to earn small projects in order to earn medium projects in order to earn large projects. For example, a minor facilities project at one library – having a built-in bookshelf removed and the plaster behind it repaired – led to a larger facilities project at another: planning and overseeing the installation of new electrical and data ports in order to update an older building without a major renovation. This larger project helped convince my supervisors at that same library to let me take point when the roof sprung a leak.
This was a time-consuming and somewhat daunting process – the list of qualifications I had put together was long – but it was also a fun, or at least a satisfying, process. My enjoyment of the work and the time it took to earn these qualifications made me more confident that I wanted to be a library director, and that I would be a good one.
3. Have a specialty.
While gathering the qualifications I identified by looking at job ads, I also established a specialty that would both set me apart as a candidate and help me succeed as a director. I worked to become skilled at library assessment – gathering and interpreting data, both qualitative and quantitative, to identify where a library is doing well and where it has room to improve. I paired my assessment skills with my experience teaching to become someone who can not only gather and interpret data, but also explain it in a compelling way to a non-expert audience.
I enjoy assessment and I enjoy teaching, so it made sense for me to concentrate on these areas. To identify a specialty that might work for you, I recommend staying on top of our field: Read LibFocus, LibraryJournal, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, and INALJ. Follow librarians on Twitter. Join ALA Think Tank on Facebook. Subscribe to /r/libraries on Reddit. Identify libraries and librarians doing exciting things and keep an eye on them for inspiration. Go to conferences. Find something in libraries that you’re interested in and become an expert.
Don’t wait until you’ve gathered all your qualifications and have become the perfect candidate before applying for your dream job. We’re never finished building our resumes (how boring would that be?) and no candidate is perfect. So when you find a job you’re interested in, apply for it. You might get it. But even if you don’t get it, the application process is enormously helpful. Like anything else, applying takes practice. Tailoring you resume and cover letter to specific jobs, knowing what to wear, becoming confident in your skills, listening and speaking well during your interview – all of these are skills that you need in order to become a library director, just like facilities, budget, and staff management.
5. Ask for advice.
The most useful thing I did when I was about to apply for my first directorship was ask a director at another library to look over my resume and cover letter and give me feedback. I had met this director only once before – we traded cards at a conference – and I was a little nervous to ask her for help; we were essentially strangers. But librarians are a generous and helpful group, used to answering questions and giving advice. And the advice I received from my now-colleague was invaluable. When you are applying for your dream job, ask a librarian for help. And, when you are in a position to help someone else, do so.
If you’d like me to take a look at your resume or cover letter, connect with me on Twitter.