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Wondering if there’s a perfect LIS job out there for you that you’ve somehow missed? Considering a potential new position but aren’t sure if it’s the perfect fit for you? If so, welcome to one of the most popular groups in the world – the ‘I’m still looking for the perfect job’ club.

In fact, it’s such a hot topic that a quick cruise through any online bookstore will also make clear what a financial bonanza it is for the publishing industry: there are thousands of books related to finding your path, landing the job that’s perfect for you (I especially like the title that also promises a $250,000+ salary), creating your best work, and identifying working environments that will unleash your inner peak performer, among other topics.

In their own way, each of these books is likely to have a nugget (or several) of wisdom to help you get closer to your perfect job. But it might be a lot more effective to shoot for a great career rather than a perfect job. Why? Because, as Emerson noted, life’s a journey, not a destination. So, too, are careers.

Moving into your next step

The great thing about careers as a process is that almost every job can in some manner be a “next step” job – one that enables you to accomplish things that get you closer to a job that’s ideal for you. How? By taking control of your goals and outcomes. Specifically:

Consider your professional equity (PE).  Think about your professional equity as a Venn diagram of overlapping circles: what you know (your information skills), who you know (your network), and who knows about you (your brand or professional visibility). Your goal is to continue to build out each of these areas – this is the career asset that will continue to open up great opportunities for you the more you invest in it.

Create an annual agenda.  Keeping that professional equity in mind, in what ways can you use your current job or the job you’re about to take to expand in one, two, or all three areas? What can you learn? With whom can you establish new relationships, especially in new professional communities? Is there an opportunity to raise your career visibility by writing, presenting, blogging, or in some other way sharing a new or expanding area of expertise?

Once you’ve thought this through, create an annual job agenda that reflects your professional equity goals and what actions you’ll take to accomplish them. Give yourself some accountability – how many people will you reach out to over what amount of time, by when will you have gotten that photo up on your social media accounts, what online tech course will you take, where and when? Then put your agenda in play – that way you’re making forward progress toward your career goals, building your professional equity, and moving closer to your ideal job no matter what else is going on in your current one.

Take charge of performance reviews.  One of the great things about millennials in the workplace is they seem to be having a wonderful effect on the highly-detested annual performance review…as in, they’re going away. In their place, managers are more often now giving feedback in the context of the moment, which of course makes much better sense. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t create your own (perhaps quarterly or semi-annual) performance review. The difference is, when you’re initiating your own performance review, it can focus on helping you reach those agenda goals you developed earlier.

So, for instance, if one of your goals is to learn more about project management, let your manager know that you’d like to take on more responsibility in this area and make it clear that you’re willing to do any necessary learning to do so, including taking courses, reading books, reaching out to experts, etc. (if necessary, on your own time). You want to make sure that the skills you’re trying to build/expand will benefit your employer as well, but try to “double down” as often as possible. 

Create DIY learning opportunities.  Do-it-yourself learning opportunities can often be found via volunteering for new project initiatives within the organization and learning as you work. Other ways to learn new skills on the job include working with a mentor (younger or older, but someone who’s got the skills you seek), organizing “lunch and learn” presentations, taking free online courses and then sharing your knowledge with colleagues, signing up for vendor training (often free), and participating in LinkedIn group discussions relevant to your job/organization’s focus.

If you’re working for a great employer, they’ll fully support your efforts by giving you time during the day to build your skills. If, however, you’re working for a normal employer, you may end up doing your learning on your own time. But really, that’s okay – you’re investing in your career future, and you’re the one who’s going to reap the long-term benefit of those efforts.

Focus on the key player: you.  By now almost everyone knows the drill: no matter who we happen to be working for today, we’re all self-employed. That’s not because employers are terrible, it’s because we’ve moved into a workplace reality where budget constraints and “operating efficiencies” outweigh all other considerations. That boss who loves you and understands what a terrific job you do may still have to lay you off at some point. It may tear her up, but it won’t be her decision to make, no matter how much she values you as an employee and a person.

The takeaway for all of us? All working relationships – including those in libraries – are business relationships. That means that you must be your own best advocate and protector. No one else can do this for you. So in every job situation, your responsibility is to make sure that you’re using the job to enhance your future career opportunities while you’re also doing a great job for your employer. The two can actually dovetail quite nicely if you do some strategic thinking and planning.

Pay attention to the bridge.  Every next-step job (which actually means almost every job you’ll ever have) is a platform from which you’ll build the bridge to your next one. Essentially, the professional-equity-building work you do in your current job should ideally be positioning you for the next opportunity you’d like to grow into. What skills would you need? Who would be helpful to know? What could you do to start building visibility (and credibility) with this new-opportunity community?

Not sure what next-step job might interest you? Now’s the time to start exploring. Join LinkedIn groups, read trade journals, scan conference programs, do information interviews – come up with as many different ways as you can to expand your career horizons.

Moving toward your perfect work

As you move through your LIS career, each stop along the way can provide you with valuable information and positioning opportunities, but only if you take responsibility for that outcome. Is it worth the effort? As someone who’s done this throughout her entire career, I’d say absolutely yes – if you want to continue to move toward your perfect work.