Q: How do I make my resume work for me?

Q: I just finished my MLIS degree and need to start some serious job hunting. I am seeking advice about my resume and previous job experience. I feel a bit intimidated that many of my classmates were already working in libraries as aides, library assistants, etc.

I know I have transferable experience, but I want to make it work for me in my resume. Much of my background is basic administrative clerical, e.g., secretarial, administrative assistant. This has given me many good skills, especially with computers, and also in working with people in a variety of settings. I actually temped for many years, and don’t want this to look bad on my resume. I have two internships under my belt, and I worked in a library in high school.

Please advise. Are there any good librarian-oriented resume services online that I can hire to critique my resume? Or should I just get the books and do it on my own?

TA: It’s good for you to start thinking about your job experience and transferable skills while you begin your search. For those reading this column who may still be in school, let me make a pitch that you, too, should be thinking about your job search strategy and skill sets. You may think you have plenty of time because you haven’t even graduated. Keep in mind, though, that the typical academic search takes anywhere from six to nine months – so start thinking, looking, and applying now!

However, back to our reader’s questions… While having previous library experience is always a plus, it isn’t necessarily a deal- breaker if you have other experience to draw on that you can show directly relates to the job for which you are applying. (Another note to those still in school: I know we’ve said this at least a hundred times, but it bears repeating. Get as much experience as possible while you are in school. It will be a practical supplement to the theory you learn in the classroom and will look excellent on your resume. Use field experiences, independent studies, student assistant experience, etc., to build your library experience. This makes for a better-rounded applicant, and, when given two candidates who are more or less equal, search committees are more likely to select the candidate with experience over the candidate without.)

And again, back to the reader’s questions. There are three areas to address: transferable skills, including your temporary experience on your resume, and using resume services.

Transferable Skills

When you are applying for positions, always look for transferable skills. You may not have experience as a library aide or assistant, but you may have experience that relates to the position for which you are applying.

You mentioned computer skills and the ability to work with a diverse clientele, both of which are incredibly important in today’s library. If you are able, draw direct parallels between your experience and the experience that is called for in the vacancy announcement. For each of the positions listed on your resume, emphasize the need for organization, flexibility, and communication that the job required. Also be sure to mention the different types of clients or constituents that you served, and, if applicable, the different settings in which you worked.

To highlight your computer skills, I would include a separate “Technical Skills” section on your resume (toward the end, after your professional experience and before your references), and list the computer skills, databases, and programs that you feel are relevant to the position.

Your cover letter is also a good place to state your case, explaining what makes you the best candidate for a given job. Use your cover letter as a bridge between the vacancy announcement and your resume, stating your interest in a position and demonstrating how you meet each of the required qualifications. Draw on all of your experience, in the classroom and in the workplace, in a library, or in another setting.

Including Temporary Experience On Your Resume

Temporary employment can be a valuable experience in a number of ways. First, it pays the bills! Secondly, you get firsthand experience at a number of jobs, in a variety of settings. You also have the benefit of working with a diverse clientele from position to position. The ability to jump right in, learn a new job and have the flexibility to adapt to a number of situations are all extremely valuable assets.

But you are right to be a little concerned about how a number of temporary positions will look on your resume. You don’t want to be mistaken for a “job hopper.” I would recommend listing your time with the temp agency, as opposed to placement-by-placement. For example, you could list your experience with the “ABC Temp Agency” from January 2000 to December 2000, with a brief description of your various placements, duties and responsibilities. I would caution against listing each placement as a separate item on your resume; the short durations of employment may raise red flags to folks who take a superficial glance. Just keep in mind that it’s all about the spin – be sure you are able to explain how your temp experience was valuable, the skills you gained, and the benefit your experience will bring to the potential employer.

Resume Services

As for resume services, there are a lot of excellent (and free) services that you can take advantage of before spending good money on a fee service. Take a look at the following list for articles on resumes and cover letters:

ALA’s New Members Round Table (NMRT) also provides a resume reviewing service, by mail, e-mail and on site at the ALA annual and midwinter conferences. The NMRT Resume Reviewing Committee schedules librarians from all types of settings (public, academic, school media centers, etc.), and the reviewers are available to sit down with you to review your resume materials, offer feedback and suggestions, and answer any questions you may have. They also have career materials available at the resume reviewing site for you to view while you visit.

If you are attending the conference, the resume service is free of charge. If you would like to have your resume and cover letter reviewed at any point throughout the year by mail or e-mail, you must be a member of NMRT. (NMRT membership is only $10 a year; probably much less than resume service, and you receive additional member benefits.) Visit the NMRT Resume Review Service web site to learn more about their services.

One thought on “Q: How do I make my resume work for me?

  1. Pingback: Career Q&A with the Library Career People » Two Questions on Getting Experience Through Internships and Volunteering

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