Notes From My Job Search

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. 







Criticism Reframed

Hearing criticism in a way that can help you to learn and grow can be tough. Criticism can cause us to tense up and get defensive if not delivered properly, which means we can’t learn from it. In my coach training program I learned how to connect with someone and give what might be tough feedback in a way that will be useful to them. But not everyone knows how to deliver feedback in this way. Properly delivered criticism can be very valuable to self awareness and personal growth, but our colleagues aren’t perfect and they may not always deliver criticism in a useful way. Here are some strategies for handling (and learning from) improperly delivered criticism.

Criticism & Feedback

Photo by Daniel Lobo. Used under Creative Commons License

Hearing Criticism: Don Your Armor

One helpful rubric for learning from criticism which may not be delivered in the easiest way to hear is to disengage from the comments. What I mean by this is to almost pretend the speaker is talking about someone else so you can listen for the content that might be helpful. One way to think of this is to think about putting on your armor, or your thick skin. Brace yourself.  I used to cringe every time I read my course evaluations. Now I still have to steady myself to read them but I do value what they say. They help me to be a better instructor. By consciously protecting my emotions–either by putting them aside or imagining they are inside my “armor” I am much better able to learn and grown from the comments I receive.

Hearing Criticism: Focus on the Content

I recently read an article from Inc about how emotionally intelligent people handle criticism. It suggests focusing on the content. Instead of focusing on a delivery that might be rude, abrupt or otherwise offensive, think about how you can use the information to learn, grow and  improve. Is there some element of truth there?

Hearing Criticism: Reframe the Feedback

Properly delivered feedback is very useful for self-improvement. When feedback isn’t delivered in a way that’s easy to digest, another strategy  is to reframe it so that it is closer to the desired method of delivering criticism in a useful way.

  1. Feedback should be given in a safe, private area.  If someone is beginning to share feedback with you and you are not comfortable with the location, invite them to move to another area. Say, “I’m happy to discuss this with you but I would be more comfortable if we found a more private area. Let’s see if the conference room is available.”
  2. To be most “digestible,” there should be a ratio of 2/3 positive feedback to 1/3 negative feedback. If you are just hearing negative feedback it will be up to you to mentally insert some positive feedback. You know what you do well. Be sure to remind yourself.
  3. Criticism can sometimes feel like a personal attack, even if it is not intended this way. Actively remind yourself that it’s not personal. See if you can gently remind the criticizer to focus on the issue rather than the person.  If they say, “You are X,” reply by saying, “I appreciate you coming to me with this. So that I can better understand and improve the situation, could you tell me what it is you are observing that makes you think I am X?” This has the added benefit of providing you with more detail on the potential growth area.

Hearing Criticism: What if You Still Take It Too Personally

Criticism or negative feedback isn’t meant to be personal. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person or fun to spend time with or a a good parent. But sometimes it can really rock your world…personally. So how do you handle this? Affirmations can help. If you tell yourself before you receive feedback, “this is feedback on my job performance,” or “this is one person’s opinion on how I conducted x project,” it can be a lot easier to hear the helpful parts. If you tell yourself daily that you are a good person trying your best then you will come to believe it, and negative feedback won’t be so difficult to handle.

Hearing Criticism: When does it stop being feedback?

In this post I’m not talking about criticism that is intentionally over-harsh, nitpick or continual.  Feedback is designed to help you learn and improve.  Nagging or bullying isn’t feedback. If you think you might be in a situation where someone is being over-critical,  your organization’s human resources department, staff assistance program or ombudsperson can be helpful.

Have you been successful in learning from criticism? How have you separated useful criticism from poor delivery? I’d love to hear your experiences. 


Library Leadership

Library leadership is something I approach passionately.  Why is library leadership important?  It is the path to truly excellent library service. Without strong leadership libraries can’t succeed.  In order for libraries to succeed, they need effective leaders and in order for leaders to be effective they need to be prepared.

Library Leadership: Not Just at the Top

What are leaders?  Leaders are influencers. Leaders innovate and develop.  Leaders keep the long range perspective in mind.  They exhibit new ideas and challenge the status quo. Leaders focus on and develop people. Leaders continually question.  And leaders aren’t just the people at the top of an organization.  Committee chairs, working group leaders and well trusted colleagues all hold important leadership roles in an organization.

Preparing for Library Leadership

So, if a librarian is interested in a leadership role how do they prepare?  If a librarian finds themselves in a leadership role, how do they get up to speed? Certain concepts come up again and again in the literature related to leadership skills.  They are:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Understanding the Bigger Picture
  • Professional Comportment
  • Change Facilitation
  • Decision-Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Innovation

My first piece of advice to anyone moving into library leadership is to get familiar with these notions.  But don’t just take my word for it, research what others say about essential skills for library leaders and familiarize yourself with the concepts they list.

First Steps for improving Library Leadership Skills

Here are 10 easy-to-implement actions for improving your leadership skills.  They are in no particular order and are applicable to people in any field, not just library leadership:

  1. Find a mentor (formal or informal).
  2. Form a “Community of Practice” or “Mastermind Group” of other developing leaders to share your experiences and learn from one another.
  3. Create a daily reading list (including the campus or local newspaper, Chronicle of Higher Education or other industry publication, blogs, twitter, etc.). Map out time on your schedule to accomplish this.
  4. Conduct a skills assessment–where do you most need to grow?
  5. Apply to a leadership development program (ALA’s Emerging Leaders, Harvard’s Leadership Institute, Educause/CLIR Leading Change Institute, etc.).
  6. Learn your organization’s mission(s), vision(s) and values.
  7. Write a personal mission, vision and values statement.
  8. Schedule “thinking time” and “reading time” on your calendar.  You may not always honor it but you will honor it more often than if you don’t schedule it!
  9. Adopt an innovator’s approach to your work.
  10. Look for inspiration everywhere.

Are you transitioning to library leadership?  I would love to hear about your triumphs and challenges.  Have you learned your own leadership lessons?  Share your wisdom!

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Find Your Passion & Put It To Work

Something awesome happened to me last year–I figured out a way to work related to my passion.  I didn’t even know how awesome it was at the time but recently got some perspective on it.  A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend whom I hadn’t seen since before that time.  I explained where I was professionally right now and he was shocked.  The last time we spoke I was…adrift.  I had relocated abroad, leaving a career I loved behind.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to find professional fulfillment in my new environment.  I had lost my focus, my mojo, my spark–Then BAM!  Things changed. Since he was looking to reignite his own professional spark, he asked me.  I didn’t have a ready answer.  How did it happen? Here are some factors:

1.  Know your passion

I am really lucky that I have always known my passion: I want libraries to be excellent and for that to happen excellent people have to work in them.  For some people it’s not so easy to know exactly what their passion is.  How do you begin to discover it?  Ask yourself what is important to you– important enough to work for. Then try to narrow down to the most important thing for you. Think about your skills and ways that you have contributed in the past that have given you personal fulfillment.

2.  Get some perspective

Once you know your passion it’s important to create the mental space to really consider the “how” of executing this important work. My thinking took place on holiday but it’s not necessary to take a trip.  I think getting outside of your normal routine can help with this kind of soul searching but it could just be going for a walk or sitting quietly for a few minutes.

3.  Ask, “How can I make my passion work?”

I knew what was important to me, I just didn’t know how to make it work with my life circumstances.  I began to wonder how I could engage in meaningful work related to my passion.  Even when I was a practicing librarian I was occasionally retained as a consultant and  always dreamed of making that my full time job. Now I had the opportunity to do just that.  I asked myself, “what would have to be in place for me to be successful?”  and thought about what was already in place that would allow me to do this important work. I thought about what I wanted to do and how I could get there.

For me in order to create the professional fulfillment I want I had to do a few things.  I knew I had to stick with the target audience I know–North American research libraries.  That means I would have to accept zone differences and some degree of professional travel, even with a young child.  Once I got myself OK with that, I thought about what I needed to do to start working at my passion. For me the answer was to make time.  Rather than thinking about work as something I slotted in when I had the time I decided to make the time.  By dedicating actual work hours I created a business plan.  I wrote a social media strategy. I look for new prospects and leads.  I use the precious commodity of time to pursue my passion. I read.  I blog. I have ideas for new services I can provide to help libraries and librarians be excellent.

Have you found a way to make your passion work?  I’d love to hear about it.

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Assessing Job Interviews: Ace the (Library) Interview, Part 6

The Importance of Assessing Job Interviews:

This month I have dedicated my posts to job interviewing.  Topics have included the importance of knowing the organization, evaluating “fit,” preparing for common questions and knowing which questions to ask.  With interviewing practice makes perfect.  Like many skills, interviewing is something that you get better at each time you do it.  This final installment of the “Ace the (Library) Interview” series is about evaluating the process.

Points for assessing interviews include fit,

How Assessing Job Interviews is Done:

The process of job interview assessment is quite simple.  After the interview, take a few minutes to objectively evaluate how it went.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What three things worked well?
  • What three things might be improved?
  • How well would fit in the organization?
  • Would you be happy in this job?  Why or why not?

The more you know about yourself in terms of how you interview and what type of organization you would like to work in the better your chances of landing your dream job.

The Result of Assessing Job Interviews:

By paying attention to the process you will see your interview skills improve.  Paying attention to the process ultimately means you will be better able to choose the right job for yourself.  So the next time you have a job interview do yourself a favor and take a few moments to objectively evaluate the interview process.  By thinking  about what you might do differently (and what you would do the same) next time.

Has this series been helpful to you? I'd love to hear why or why not.  
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This is the final in a six part series that provides useful tips for interviews. Although provided in the context of interviewing for professional library jobs, the information in this series has application for other industries as well.

Dealing with Difficult Colleagues

Lately several clients have shared with me their challenges with coworkers they perceive as difficult.  These might be people who border on hostile, or might be people who don’t try to get along, or maybe they are people who are just different from my clients–people who are from a different generation or background or who have a different work style or work ethic.

No two human beings are exactly alike, so there are no two interactions that are exactly alike.  Therefore, it is really challenging (read: impossible) to find proven universal solutions on how to deal with a difficult colleague.  But there are definitely a couple of things to keep in mind when dealing with a colleague that you find difficult.  First and foremost, there are expectations of appropriate conduct in the workplace.  Take the focus off of the personalities at play and keep the focus on actions.  Despite the challenges, colleagues must remain civil, and if you or your colleague are having trouble demonstrating acceptable workplace behavior it is time to seek assistance from the appropriate person in your organization, be that Human Resources or your manager.

Another area of focus I recommend is yourself.  While you are unlikely to change the things about your colleague that you find difficult, you can control the way you react to them.  Observe what it is that bothers you and pause before you react.  Keep it professional.  Try to see the other person’s viewpoint and understand why they may feel the way they feel.

Sure, a difficult colleague can be one of the biggest challenges you can face professionally but by keeping your own emotional reaction in check, practicing empathy toward your colleagues and upholding standards of professional conduct you can improve the situation even if the other party does not show any interest in doing so.  And by doing so you are using a great opportunity to stretch and improve your interpersonal skills.

7 Brain Biases and How to Minimize the Impact on our Work recently published an article about our mental biases and how they effect your investment choices.  As I read this I couldn’t help but think about how these biases also impact our work.

  1. Recency is short term memory winning out over the long term.  Is it really time to find a new job, or are you just having a bad stretch?
  2. The Sunk-Cost Fallacy is kind of the opposite of Recency; it is the notion that you have already invested the time so you may as well stick around so that invested time isn’t a waste.  It is the notion that you can’t “cut your losses”–but usually you can!
  3. Overconfidence is seeing only the positive. At work this could be fear of failure or perhaps the “halo effect” that can happen during personnel evaluations.
  4. Confirmation Bias is the basic human trait of thinking you are always right.  People naturally go to great lengths to seek out information to uphold our preconceived notions. this could include opinions on people you hired or projects you ran.  Are they really perfect?  There is always room for improvement.
  5. Status Quo Bias is sticking with what you know.  Over time this can weaken an organization as they hire more of the same type of person, leading to a lack of diverse thinking in an organization.
  6. Bandwagon Effect is going along with the crowd.  Does your organization offer services and products the same as everyone else’s or do you truly innovate?
  7. Negativity Bias is giving more credence to bad news than good news. At work this could translate to focusing on what your organization is doing wrong or failing to learn from failure.

So, if you can see some of yourself or your organization in the list above, what do you do about it?  the Forbes article lists some strategies that are worth taking a look at.  The coach in me says that simply being aware of these biases in your self or your organization can be a tremendous catalyst toward managing them.

Write Yourself a Letter

photo from

photo from

I recently posted about personal vision statements and mentioned a very simple but impactful activity:  writing a letter to your future self.  This is a really accessible, helpful way to begin to make your goals a reality.  By envisioning where you would like to be in one, five or ten years you can start to get there.

At the beginning of September I ran across an article that outlines another great way to use letter writing to your advantage.   The author indicates that seeking advice from your future self–the you 20 years in the future–can help you to make authentic, ethical decisions.  It also strikes me that these are very likely to be decisions you can live with because you aren’t turning to someone else for advice! Specifically, writing an article about your current life from the perspective of yourself 20 years in the future can provide you with insights about decisions and choices to make.  And doing this regularly can help you to strengthen your commitment to what is important to you.

So why not write some letters?  You might be surprised by the trajectory you set for yourself and the advice your able to provide.


Honor the Pauses

When was the last time you enjoyed a quiet moment? Such moments are rare treats in today’s multitasking society. But calm, meditative moments are essential for tapping into our creativity–the creativity that’s essential for problem solving, leadership and generally getting things done.

We often hear people say that they are too busy and need some quiet, but quiet is very rarely something that you luck into. Quiet is something worth seeking out in our daily lives. While it might not be realistic to carve a 90 minute yoga class or a walk in the park into our busy schedules, what about simply honoring the pauses inherent in our days? The next time you have a few minutes to wait in line at the grocery store or are waiting for a subway, why not use your time to rest your mind? Instead of getting frustrated at the next red light or slow traffic, why not appreciate the silence inside your car? Or perhaps occasionally enjoy the rare treat of consciously doing one task at a time?

We need quiet to process, analyze and plan the best way forward.  We need to stop.  Then we need to think.  And to do this we need to take advantage of the opportunities for quiet in every day.


Defining your personal vision

I recently met with a friend from high school who is now a successful PR manager for a multi-national software company.  We reconnected in the midst of his Summer-long sabbatical in a beautiful beach-front artist community, a town where he had spent numerous vacations and feel at home.  During the course of our conversation he half-jokingly explained to me a fantasy he has of opening a small deli in this town.  He was apologetic and almost embarrassed that he had had thought this out so clearly.  It got me thinking about the importance of fantasy in our lives.  It’s not so silly.  Fantasy puts you one step closer to a goal; from there you can see what it would take to make your fantasy a reality.

Shortly before I graduated from library school I was assigned the task of writing a letter to myself stating what I wanted to accomplish professionally in the following five years.    Looking back, I accomplished everything on that list within that time frame–everything.  If I had not taken the time to actually think of where I wanted to go in my career and written it down, I doubt I would have actually accomplished these things.  What I had done, and what my friend did by working on the details of his fantasy, was create a personal vision statement.

Visioning is something organizations do quite regularly to plan their future direction.  This is something we can capitalize on in our personal lives and to set our personal/professional trajectory. It is just one of the ways we improve our personal satisfaction by applying business principles to our personal lives.  Wondering where life will take you?  Why not work on your personal vision and determine where you will take your life!