Grad school is not only an opportunity for you to develop your LIS skills and expertise, it’s also an opportunity for you to build a professional platform that will help launch you into a career that’s rewarding both personally and financially.
The following tactics will help you jumpstart your career:
1. Set your personal career growth agenda. Focus on growth, not grades, because your ability to grow professionally (that means stretching beyond your comfort zone, trying new challenges, recovering from failures and moving on to successes) lasts a lot longer – and will do you more good – than an A in cataloging.
2. Multipurpose your assignments. Use them as an opportunity to connect with potential employers, clients, and colleagues through assignment interviews, and turn assignments into presentations, articles, and online content contributions that start building your visibility within the profession.
3. Create your own learning assignments. At the very least, focus on:
- Learning how to write – for the real world
- Learning how to present – to colleagues, to decision-makers, to non-LIS audiences
- Learning how to analyze and synthesize information
- Learning how to make decisions, commit to them, and take responsibility for them
- Learning how to create a basic website – understand the tools, the language, the possibilities
- Learning how you most effectively learn
4. Start building your professional network. Build relationships with student colleagues, faculty, guest speakers, and assignment contacts by sharing your knowledge and expressing your appreciation when others share theirs with you. Many of these relationships will be the source of future career opportunities.
5. Practice self leadership. Understand and use the concept of internal locus of control, which basically says that you are responsible for the outcomes of your life (and career). All the choices and decisions are up to you, if you are willing to become the hero of your own life.
6 Grab every opportunity to build your portfolio. Volunteer, take initiative, look for cool projects to be a part of. If you’re thinking of traditional librarianship – school, public, academic – volunteer in the type of library you hope to work in. The broader and deeper your experience, the greater your job opportunities.
7. If you’re considering academic librarianship, get published as much as you can. If possible, participate in research projects and look for opportunities to turn assignments into articles, preferably in peer-reviewed journals (easier to do if you are co-writing with a tenured academic!)
8. Get visible on topics that interest you. Building your professional brand is especially easy to do in the online environment – consider blogging and/or guest blogging, creating a special-interest website for a topic in which you have unique expertise, presenting at conferences and then posting your presentations online, etc.
9. Practice doing scary stuff. Graduate school is a great place to practice skills you’d like to improve before you need to deploy them in a professional setting, where the consequences of messing up may be more serious. Also, this will allow you to become more comfortable with pushing beyond your “competency zone” on a regular basis.
10. Explore how many different ways your LIS skills can be played. Start monitoring resources (blogs, e-newsletters, organization newsletters, listservs, etc.) in all of the areas that might be of interest to you, to develop a familiarity with the opportunities, issues, and resources of potentially interesting career paths.
You will be spending a lot of time and money to complete your MLIS degree. It just makes sense to double the return on your investment by getting started on a great career at the same time!
I am a current LIS student, and really appreciate the tips! It is so important to grow one’s career from the beginning, and challenge oneself along the way.
I ended up on this page via http://www.destrickerblog.com. The advice here is great. I wish I’d thought to volunteer at a library, and I wish I’d come up with an interesting research project to submit to a journal. For the most part, though, I feel like I did employ several of the tactics here, and those are the experiences that I think will ultimately help me in finding a job.
Stephanie and Ben, glad the post was useful!
I think it’s so easy to be focused on grades and assignments during grad school (and understandably so), sometimes students forget that the point of those one or two years of nonstop studying is to position themselves for a career that they’ll love. Hopefully, these points will be helpful reminders!
I have to confess, though I think you have great advice here, I have a hard time not putting my energy primarily toward a grade, because the education (or funding related to gpa) doesn’t go forward without the grade. I’m not averse to changing this way of looking at things because it’s admittedly stressful, but I need help seeing the truth of it. I should add that I have challenges where energy is concerned due to Lyme Disease. I will feel plenty challenged to pay the bills and take one class at a time, let alone engage in peripheral activities. Do your really think I should put performance on coursework second?
Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!
You’re absolutely right, Jen, when your funding depends on a specific GPA, you do need to make sure you’re hitting that benchmark. This is a good question, and allows me to clarify this point a bit.
One of the things I find when I teach LIS students, is that they are so focused on being outstanding students, being perfect students, that they miss the broader picture — i.e., they’ll only be students for one or two years, then they’ll graduate and need to land jobs.
My suggestion is that students not put all their energy and efforts into being “perfect,” straight-A students but rather shoot for being a good-enough student to keep that GPA where it needs to be, and then be able to put a bit of effort into other, career-positioning activities. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but just enough to start building some visibility as a professional.
For example, although your Lyme Disease no doubt curtails too much activity, you could use it as the basis for demonstrating your LIS skills by perhaps doing a brief guide to the best resources on Lyme Disease for your regional public libraries to make available to their patrons.
As a student, see if any of your assignments will let you focus on topics such as Lyme Disease, disability-related research and resources, or virtual LIS careers – ones that can be done regardless of location or time constraints.
Then perhaps consider doing a blog on Lyme Disease, and search for and post recent research findings. Or connect with some of the disability-related employment sites and research alternative jobs, then write an article for one of the good disability websites or publications. Or do a presentation on one of these topics at your state library conference.
As a student, Jen, you have an opportunity to start exploring which types of work might be best for you through many of your assignments. Although I have no doubt the Lyme Disease makes many efforts difficult, it also gives you a unique insight into and interest in some of these topics. I’d love to see you find ways to contribute your knowledge in these areas.
Ok, I think I get it. Think in terms of making myself a resource now, in whatever small (or large) way I can. Thanks for helping me see that I may have more to give now than I thought–and that my mlis education will progressively provide even more ways to be a resource–or to convert what I know into a resource form. And some of this I can begin now.
As a current MLIS student, tips on maximizing my time in school are always helpful. There are some great ideas here that I will be working into my grad school plan. Kim, would you mind if I included a link to your blog in a class assignment I’m working on regarding web skills necessary for LIS jobs? I think you could be a great resource for my classmates.
Jen, I’d be honored!