15 Tips for a Successful Career Transition to Librarianship

Photo via @kharied on Flickr
Many information professionals, including recent grads or soon-to-be grads, come to library work from other careers. When job hunting, they often have concerns that their limited library experience will make it difficult to find work.   This is a valid concern, especially with the tough competition of today’s job market.  While it is important to pay attention to the educational, skill and experience requirements of positions, there are a number of things you can do to make yourself more attractive to potential employers.   
1. Identify your transferable skills (skills acquired in one career that can be applied to another career).  Examples for info pros include: customer service, research, writing/editing, grant-writing, supervising, teaching/training/instruction, and project management skills.
2. Expand your network to include librarians and other information professionals, that is, people who work in the field you are planning on going into.  While you are a student this can include some of your professors and/or your internship supervisor.  Connect and stay in touch with your classmates too, as they, like you, will be working in the profession in the future.
3. Join professional organizations (sometimes membership fees are reduced while you are a student).  There are national, regional and local ones to choose from.  Attend their events, classes, workshops, etc., or even better, offer to serve on a committee or in some other way for these organizations.
4. Examine job postings for librarians to identify skills employers want and that you may choose to acquire.  It is a good idea to start looking at these postings even before you are actively applying for positions.  Job postings are a free, constantly updated resource of info on what employers are seeking, and some postings will have salary information too.
5. If it is possible for you, consider relocating.  This may increase your prospects for finding work dramatically, particularly in the near future, with this struggling economy.  Any other way you can be flexible (commute, daily/weekly schedule, willingness to work from home, etc.) can be an asset also.
6.  Stay informed.  Subscribe to multiple listservs, including ones for new professionals and alumni, related to the work you will be doing.  If you areon a student listserv, continue to subscribe even after you graduate, as they will often include job postings and other information of use to you.
7. If you can, get a part-time job or do or temp/project work in a library or related workplace/environment.   This may be difficult but will give you more valuable, recent, relevant experience for your resume, and you’ll be acquiring new skills and expanding your network.  Remember you’ll be competing for jobs with others who have years of experience, so the more experience you have, the better your chances will be.
8. Volunteer.  This can benefit you in many of the same ways as a part-time or temp job.  Your supervisor as you volunteer may also be willing to serve as one of your references when you are applying for jobs.
9. Modify your resume and cover letter to emphasize skills and experience related to work as an information professional.  You will have to persuade the reader of these documents that you are a strong candidate for the specific position they are trying to fill.
10. Start creating an online presence that identifies you and builds a reputation in the new profession – alter your LinkedIn page, start a blog, comment on forums and listservs, Tweet about the new field, etc.  Make sure all these things are connected to your full name (the same name that is on your resume).  Google your name periodically to see what comes up and do everything you can to make sure the information about you is accurate, positive and professional. 
11. If you can get recommendations (on LinkedIn) from respected professionals in the new field, or that mention specifically your skills and attributes as an info pro, that can be beneficial also.  (This can be more difficult at the start of your career, than after some time has passed.)
12. It is very important to convey enthusiasm and positivity during your job hunt and whenever interacting with other information professionals, whether face to face or online.  This part of your reputation should not be overlooked; being known as someone who is negative or constantly complaining can overshadow your positive attributes and hurt your job prospects and your career in general.
13. Make sure that your efforts are visible– networking, volunteering, etc.  People are more likely to help someone who they can see is trying to help him/herself, as opposed to someone who seeks or is awaiting rescue from the challenges and hard work of job hunting.
14. Consider how you will explain your reason(s) for changing careers, in a cover letter or an interview or networking situation.   It is always better if you can put a positive spin on your reason(s); for example, getting the degree you’ve wanted for a long time (working toward something good) as opposed to being forced into another kind of work following a layoff (running away from something negative).
15. Get a mentor if you can, someone with years of experience who can help you to brainstorm and give advice.  It is even better to have multiple mentors, who can give you different perspectives, and this also will reduce the pressure that may be on a single mentor.  Remember, though, that the “help” the mentor may provide does not include taking over your search for employment and/or getting you a job; those are your responsibilities.
Last but not least, understand that you are a beginner as a librarian/info pro, regardless of how many years you worked or how successful you were in a former career.  You must adapt and acquire the skills and strengths and experience that employers want; it is not enough just to have the degree. 
Ultimately the diversity of backgrounds and previous careers of new information professionals will be an asset to the field.  On an individual basis, though, you will still have to pay your dues and it will take time, effort and patience to build a reputation and prove yourself. 
Ellen Mehling received her MSLIS from Long Island University and works as a librarian, instructor and writer in and around NYC.  Her professional experience includes work in special, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives.  She is Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships for L.I.U.’s Palmer School and since 2009 has been METRO’s Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant.  She teaches classes and workshops on job hunting, information literacy, researching, and other subjects at METRO’s Training Center and other venues within and outside NYC.
Ellen Mehling
Author: Ellen Mehling
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