The joys of job-hunting
When I started the MLIS in UCD in 2012, I knew I wanted to be a librarian. What type of librarian I wasn’t really certain, but I wanted to be a librarian. By the time the exams finished in May, it seemed like quite a lot of people in my year had already begun applying for jobs, making plans about internships and getting themselves into volunteer positions with a view to getting relevant experience. I, on the other hand, was single-mindedly focusing on my capstone thesis. Job? That could wait. I had research to do and to be honest, I was really enjoying it. I liked the long hours in the library and I was fortunate to have some great partners in my capstone group that I liked spending time with. Of course, the SILS noticeboards had displayed a number of volunteer, unpaid positions and I had given them serious consideration. However, I decided against summer work on the basis that it would limit my ability to give 100% to my capstone. Then when mid-August came and the thesis was done, I was comfortably able to put the consumer health research aside in favour of job research. I was absolutely adamant that I was not going to rush into a job just for the sake of getting a job. It had to be the right one for me.
Starting the job-hunt
I started my job-hunting searches with www.libraryjobs.ie, the SILS noticeboards and the SILS Jobs and Internships page. Websites like www.irishjobs.ie and http://jobs.theguardian.com/ as well as http://www.jobs.nhs.uk/ (because I was interested in working in medical libraries) also proved fruitful. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were there jobs advertised, there were quite a number of jobs which took my interest. In fact, there were so many jobs available that it became not just a question of what I would I apply for, but where. After all, one of the reasons I was finding so many options was because the majority of jobs were outside Ireland. There were jobs in the UK, jobs in the EU, jobs in China and Kazakhstan and Dubai. And in a lot of those cases, the job specification did not require previous experience.
Refining my search
Feeling more relaxed now that I knew I had plenty of options, I sat down to work out what I actually wanted, and what I was willing to do in order to get what I wanted. I had already ruled out the concept of an Asian or Middle Eastern job, as I was keen to be (relatively) close to my family. I started with a plan to focus only on Irish jobs. However, after about a week I decided that wasn’t going to be a runner. Although there were plenty of internships on offer, they were primarily unpaid, or simply offered a token €50 weekly to work anywhere between 30 and 39 hours a week. Considering that in a large proportion of the adverts they were looking for a third level library qualification I found (and still find) this incredible. In any event, the requirement to live on social welfare for 9 months while completing an internship meant that the option of taking a job outside Dublin also became problematic. Moving costs money.
I decided that I would give myself until Christmas to find a job in Ireland and that after that I’d start working on a UK/European move. I set up alerts with the NHS and Guardian jobs listings so that they would email me directly whenever a job matching my description came in. I also started looking on www.europa.eu to find out about working in EU countries. My language skills are reasonably good, having studied French and German in school and I am currently learning Spanish, so I was confident that if the job called for a foreign language I could brush up as necessary.
My job-hunting had one further complication added to the mix. I was taking holidays in September, the trip of a lifetime that had been 10 years in the making, and that meant that I would be out of the job-hunting loop for almost 4 precious weeks. Initially I had thought I could just continue applying for jobs online while I was away, but I discovered that a panel position required actual physical posting of a completed application, while quite a number of other jobs had the interviews dates for times while I was away. Still I wasn’t going to let that dampen my spirits. I went on an absolutely fabulous holiday and came back feeling like I could take on the world.
Editing my CV
Although I had been fortunate enough to be quite quickly shortlisted for a job (which unfortunately had its interviews while I was away), I knew that my CV needed work. I contacted several people I knew who managed people, or did interviewing as part of their jobs and asked for their help. Getting feedback is really valuable, but it can be hard. I was very fortunate that the people I asked were all willing to tell tough truths, looking at my CV as an employer would and pointing out any gaps, errors or room for improvement. Of course, I did get conflicting points of view, but there are some great tips to be gleaned from other people’s experience and expertise.
An older reviewer told me to keep my font size no smaller than 11 point, as squinting to read small print will irritate a potential interviewer. Private sector managers advised me to use metrics when specifying previous work. So, for example, instead of saying “I managed a team”, specify “I managed a team of 5 people for X project which we completed within the specified 3 month timeframe and within budget”. This not only demonstrates to an employer the type of work you can do but it shows an ability to meet deadlines and achieve defined targets without actually having to say those words, which is very important when you are trying to keep your CV brief. Several Librarian reviewers said it was important to detail the modules I had taken as part of my MLIS, to give an employer an idea of the scope of my skills. Digital libraries? Check. Creating & Publishing Digital Media? Check. Cataloguing & Metadata? Check. And so on. Another valuable point was to change my terminology to suit my audience. Terms used internally in a company or institution make perfect sense to anyone who works there, but don’t necessarily translate well to an external environment.
A CV doesn’t have to detail every minute detail of your life
Keeping it short was the one thing that all my CV reviewers were agreed on. 2 pages was the maximum advised and, for one reviewer, even that was too much. Home address? Not required. Phone and email were all I should include. A potential employer only needs to know how to get hold of me and (apparently) no-one uses post anymore. Work history was to be laid out in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent first. Education and qualifications went on page 2 with only my MLIS (as my most recent qualification) being detailed in full with all the subject listings. All other degrees were to just give the institution, the degree and the final result. My professional qualifications, as they didn’t relate to librarianship, were apparently not necessary unless applying for a library position within a financial services institution. Former part-time jobs were deemed to distract from my main work history or too minor and I was advised to edit them out. My descriptions of competencies and skills were hacked apart and reduced into minor bullet points. By the time all my reviewers had finished going through it, my CV looked only minutely like its original self.
Stretch yourself, but don’t over-extend yourself
Now, I should point out that I wasn’t just sitting around while all this was happening. While my CV reviewers were so generously giving of their time, I was still checking out job-hunting sites, as well as researching companies and institutions I’d be willing to work for. However, having been warned by quite a number of my CV reviewers that I shouldn’t wallpaper Ireland with my CVs, I was being very careful about the positions I applied for. Ireland is a very small place and the library world even more so. In my previous private sector life, applying internally for multiple positions rather than a select few could actually go against you. The thinking was that, by virtue of applying for so many positions, you were clearly demonstrating that you weren’t really that keen about any of them. While I don’t necessarily agree that this is true, I did receive similar advice from quite a number of my CV reviewers, as well as other people I talked to, particularly when dealing with recruitment companies. In any event, the need to tailor CVs to specific jobs meant that it was much better to take my time and get one right, rather than sending out 10 half-done CVs.
Librarian is not the only word
My job-hunting search was also teaching me about the different job descriptors I should be using in order to pull up job vacancies that might apply to me. While a lot of the jobs I reviewed used the words “Librarian”, “Assistant Librarian” or “Library Assistant”, others used descriptors such as “Knowledge Manager”, “Information Manager”, “Archivist”, “Records Manager”, “Information Analyst” etc. The detail in the job specifications also proved that in a lot of cases the library profession is completely misunderstood. Some jobs, which clearly required the kind of skills we had learned on our MLIS this year, were deemed IT. Others, which used the words “librarian” were clearly looking for IT developers. It isn’t enough to read the title. Make sure you read the job specification in full! In addition to checking out job-hunting websites and recruitment sites, I also spent a lot of time looking directly at the websites of legal, pharmaceutical and other firms to see what words they used – “Information Specialist”, “Records controller”, “Digital archivist” and so on.
As luck would have it, while I was searching I came across an advertisement for a 12 month temporary contract in a medical library. A paid library job in Ireland in the very field on which I had done my capstone! Jackpot! I sat down and spent a full day reviewing the specification and reworking my CV until I was sure I was able to cover all the points that they were looking for. Job done I thought. But no. When I went to upload my CV to the site, it wouldn’t go through. I tried again. And again. I really wanted the job, so I picked up the phone and rang the contact number given and advised them of the problem I was having. “No problem,” I was told, “just send your CV direct to my email and I’ll take care of it for you.” So I did. A few minutes later I got a call back from a rather concerned recruiter checking to make sure that I understood that the job was actually in Limerick. I had put my address on the covering letter so they knew I was from Dublin. Once I confirmed that I was still interested, I was told that someone would be in touch. Assuming it would be a few days at least, I was completely stunned the next morning when I got a phonecall at around 9.15am. Unfortunately it was to say that there’d been a mix-up on the advertisement and the job was only for 2 months, not 12. While that certainly put a different colour on things, I knew it wasn’t going to stop me applying. I told the recruiter that not only was I still interested but that I could be in Limerick the following Tuesday morning for an interview.
I got the job, which is a short-term contract. And soon after I was asked if I would stay for an extra month, which I was delighted to do. In the meantime, a longer-term contract for the role was advertised, which of course I have applied for. What will happen there is yet to be seen. In the meantime, I intend to do, and learn, as much as I can in the time I have. I am documenting processes, reviewing book stock, doing literature searches, training health staff and students about how to do literature searches, developing marketing plans and generally trying to see how I can raise the profile and performance of the library. I leave work every day totally exhausted but with a big smile on my face. As jobs go, that’s a pretty great way to be.