So, the blog has been neglected for a couple of months. Why? I very suddenly found myself in the midst of a job search. Three months ago my spouse’s company had a pretty significant round of lay-offs, and he was suddenly without a job. I felt discombobulated and sad at first. We had moved abroad for his job 5 years ago and here we were, feeling as though we were left with nothing.
But that wasn’t exactly true. We have substantial savings and a good settlement. I realized after a couple of days that this could be my opportunity to go back to full time work in a profession that I love. For the past year I had been missing working in libraries. Consulting had been a great project while we were over here (and my lack of language skills prevented me from working in a research library) but I missed the day to day challenges of managing a library. Suddenly I had the flexibility I needed to find a great job. So I went on the job market. Here are a few things I learned.
Conducting a Job Search Under Duress is Awful
The very first application packet I put together was moments after hearing that my spouse lost his job. I felt desperate and scared. My hands were shaking as I typed what might be the world’s worst cover letter. It was a horrible feeling, thinking I was desperate for a job and producing work that didn’t represent me as a result. Thanks to savings and a decent severance package, I’m not desperate. But if I were I think it would be essential to completely put that out of my mind. It’s really hard to do your best work with that kind of stress hanging over your head.
Practice Makes a Perfect Job Search
The first phone interview I had was equally awful. It was awful not because I felt pressure, but because I was out of practice. I hadn’t interviewed since 2008 and I had forgotten what was expected. I forgot that the phone interview is a short, initial pre-screening with a a goal of simply showing a potential employer that you can listen and accurately answer questions. Instead I tried to cram long, detailed answers into the wrong format. Lesson learned. Once I made the goal of each phone interview to show that I could listen well and succinctly answer the questions that were asked they were a lot more successful.
My Job Search Had a Lot of Support
A LOT of support. From my spouse dutifully taking on full time child care while I travelled back to the US for 21 out of 40 days to my parents taking in my cats (and perhaps my child) for the entire summer to friends passing on job listings, inviting me to stay with them and loaning me forgotten phone chargers, the outpouring of support has been very moving. I am particularly grateful to have friends who are also on the job market that I can commiserate with.
A Job Search Is A Great Learning Experience
As I mentioned above, I learned a lot about putting the stress of the process aside. I learned a lot about the goals and purposes of each stage of the interview. I learned a lot about organizations. I learned a lot through the topics I had to present on. One of the places I applied is a fairly non-traditional higher ed institution. I figured out pretty early on that I wasn’t that interested in the job, but I was really intrigued by the organization. I stayed with the process through two phone screenings just to learn about the organization. As someone who has been out of libraries for five years it was helpful to keep an open mind through the process to help me ramp up to library work.
I Don’t Want To Be a Library Director
Close to half of the jobs I applied for were library director positions. I thought I wanted that, but it turns out I don’t. As a library director I’d be reporting to a provost. At this stage in my career I still have a lot to learn from a librarian.
My Job Search Was a lot easier in the US than in Europe
I admit my European job searching was pretty half baked. I applied for only two jobs in the past year. Part of the issue was that the jobs I could find that didn’t require a second language were not great fits for my experience, but I think there is something else, too. Perhaps I didn’t know how to make my CV appealing to the European market. Maybe the competition is stiffer because library jobs are more scarce. In the US for the most part my resume brought phone interviews and my phone interviews led to campus visits. No one seemed overly concerned that I had been out of libraries for five years and no one dismissed me because I was a candidate in another country. In Europe, no one expressed any interest.
Job Search Connections ARE Important
The popular press talks a lot about the importance of having an “in” where you apply. I really thought that libraries were immune to this. I have received three offers so farand and wasn’t a “known” candidate at any of those organizations. Turns out, someone I had collaborated with more than 10 years ago was collaborating with the hiring officer at my favorite potential job. When I thought about networking previous to this search I always thought about it as the standard, “applying somewhere where you know someone.” The truth is librarianship, like many industries, is a small world. Word gets around and your reputation can proceed you, so make sure it’s a good one.
Have you been on the job market lately? What did you learn? I’d love to hear your experiences.