Mid-Career Information Professionals: What's Next?

by Ellen Mehling, Job Bank Manager and Career Consultant, METRO

“I’ve worked at [my current workplace] for almost 14 years. In the last 2½ years, staff, space and workloads have been shrinking, and everyone’s morale is low. I feel like I have to look for something else but I am concerned because it’s been so long since the last time I looked for a job.” - K., law librarian

“I reached a point, all of a sudden, where I realized I could no longer continue doing [the work] I had been doing. It was a surprise to me how absolute this feeling was, of a disconnect between my values and my work.” - F., librarian with 10+ years’ experience in public and special libraries

“I’ve been a reference librarian for many years. I enjoy my work and I know I am good at it, but I want a new challenge. I want to stay with my current employer… [but] as an instructional design librarian.” - L., academic librarian

For some information professionals who have years of experience but are not yet nearing retirement, a career re-evaluation may be brought about by external circumstances, such as a layoff. For others, the impetus is internal, prompted by dissatisfaction of some kind, like a perceived lack of appreciation, an absence of opportunities for advancement, or a stagnant salary. A combination of internal and external influences may be occurring, leading to consideration of a switch to a different type of information work. Some may be encouraged by the improving economy to pursue a deferred goal.

We spend a lot of time at work. If you’re unhappy or disengaged at your job, you run the risk of burnout and having your job performance decline in quality. With job security increasingly hard to find, this may lead to a very uncomfortable situation.

A career evaluation is a good exercise even if you end up deciding not to make a change. Whether you find that you are in a mid-career crisis and need to do something right away, decide to stay where you are while implementing a long-term plan for change, or determine after careful and honest examination that you are in the right place, you will have learned something valuable.

Your first step is to take a good look at where you are now. Carefully evaluate your level of satisfaction. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Talking with a trusted mentor or colleague, someone who has known you well for years (and ideally, has worked with you too) can help you to see things more objectively. Ask what attributes he or she considers to be your strengths and weaknesses; you may be surprised that his/her opinion may differ from your own. You may want to seek advice from others too, including recent graduates, who may have a different set of skills and valuable suggestions even though they have less experience.

A more enjoyable part of your self-evaluation is thinking about what you want. Writing down your thoughts about this may help clarify your own preferences. Imagine your perfect job – what would it be like? What are the most important aspects of job satisfaction for you? What are some things about your current situation you’d change if you could, and how would you like them to be different? Think of past jobs you’ve had (library-related or not) and what you liked and disliked about each position. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, or always pictured yourself doing at some point? Are you interested in a somewhat different role (or a promotion) at your current workplace? A similar role at a different type of workplace? A new role at a new workplace? Working as a consultant, freelancer, or independent information professional?

If there is a big difference between what you do now and what you want to do, you’ll need a longer-term, multiple-phase plan. Do research and talk to those who are doing that kind of work. Ask for advice on education, gaining experience, and likely job prospects in the future. Before you take any action, have a realistic idea of where you’re headed, how to get there, and your chances of success. Later steps of your plan include acquiring specific in-demand skills and experience.

Consider how the skills you already have apply to another position. If you are looking to do something different, network with those already doing that kind of work. You can start by identifying people you already know who may be of assistance. Look for professional organizations and become active (becoming active in such organizations can be a goal in itself).

If change is your goal, do your research and seek advice, but don’t get so caught up in the preparation that the decision never gets made. Make a commitment to yourself to start working toward your goal. Taking action can be scary even if you are moving toward something you want; it is often easier to choose familiarity and comfort, or at least the absence of severe discomfort, over change. At some point you’ll have to take a deep breath and take that first step despite any fears and doubts. You can keep yourself motivated by seeking inspiration from success stories.