Curating your career

28 Jul

As a relatively new librarian, I’ve had the good fortune to become a professional in an era where there are several outlets one can post a job, find a job, or promote your brand. I’ve also had the misfortune to come on board in a job economy that isn’t what it was five years ago for librarians, making it easy for employers to demand a certain level of experience for a certain amount of pay that wouldn’t have gotten a single applicant in years past.

All of the people I keep tabs on from library school don’t have full-time library jobs. Some have part-time jobs in libraries, that they then supplement with part-time jobs in other fields.  Granted, I certainly don’t keep tabs on everyone I graduated with, and I’m sure some went right from school into a job.  I just don’t think that’s the majority anymore.

It’s possible that all the graduates that have a “nostalgic” idea of what the job market “used to be” really have no idea what it was; those people who imagine that going to the “right” school and networking with your professors would get you an inside track into openings and really good positions, all based on a recommendation of how well you handled yourself in class and how your test scores were – are they making this ideal up?  I don’t know, as I certainly don’t know anyone this happened to.  It could be the situation that happened exactly once, and then was propagated via anecdote.

In any case, my experience in today’s job market is that if you are an unknown, the employer just isn’t interested.

Graduating librarians should note that “unknown” used to mean “no work experience”.  That’s not necessarily the case: you don’t need experience to transition from an unknown to a known.  Conversely, you can have experience but still be largely unknown.  The reason for that is simple: social media.  Today, everyone and their dogs (in some cases, literally) has a Facebook, or a Twitter, or a LinkedIn account.  I’m sure they’ll all start getting Google+ accounts too.  If you’re not on at least one of these platforms, you’re an unknown.  More importantly, you need to be on these platforms professionally.  That means no Facebook page where you’re friends with someone named “Cuddles McGee” unless that person had parents with an odd sense of humor.  You should have a professional headshot, with all your work experience listed, subscribe to feeds that relate to your profession, and list interests that are professional, along with a couple that are personal.  This page needs to be searchable, and you need to be aware of the type of content you’re creating.

More than ever, our professional reputations need to be public and visible.  It’s no longer enough to put in your hours at your job, do well, and hope to get noticed by superiors.  That model worked when you were likely to stay with an employer, or within a small geographic area, for your entire career.  Today, it’s not enough to have a career; you have to curate your career, just as you would a valuable collection.  What could be more important to your career than your reputation?  It’s not built on hard work alone.  You need to demonstrate that you’re interested and active in your field, that you have something to say and know how to say it, that you not only see the problems out there, but are capable of developing solutions.  The solutions don’t have to be perfect, the activities don’t have to be dull, but you must do something.

Build your brand while you’re still in school, through student organizations and as many internships as you can stomach.  Do poster sessions at conferences if you can afford to, and if you can’t, try to publish articles in student publications.  Bare minimum, maintain a professional Facebook and post links to stories and comment on them.  Offer to conduct workshops at your local library (they might turn you down, so check community colleges too).  Build networks of professionals and listen to their advice.  I know, you’ve heard this before.  Now more than ever, getting a job requires you to brand yourself and demonstrate your professional abilities and interests.

You curate your career because, honestly, it’s a lot of work.  It takes time to find things to comment on, and to write.  It takes creativity and energy that you could direct to some other aspect of your life.  But, being an information professional, you should be aware of the power of publicly available information, and you should be on that wave.  It’s “curating” because it requires attention, time, and nurturing that our predecessors didn’t have to put in unless they were senior management.

Today, everyone has a reputation.  Use it.

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