Q: Help! I’m burned out!

Q: Can you please help me? I am currently a certified media specialist in Georgia, and I am so burned out. Can you tell me where to look to use my MLIS? I love research, but whatever I apply for has to pay a decent wage. Can anyone out there help me?

TA: Dear Burned Out in GA – Wow! There are so many things to touch on here, so I’m going to be brief. Specifically, I want to talk about three things:

  1. Handling workplace stress and burnout
  2. Working while looking for another job
  3. Successfully finding and moving into a new position

At the end, I’m also including some job-hunting web sites to help you start your search.

Handling workplace stress and burnout

First and foremost, most of us face stress on the job. This may stem from our job duties (meeting deadlines, dealing with difficult patrons, spending the year’s acquisitions budget) or the struggle to balance our job with the other parts of our life (children, parents, pets, hobbies, academic pursuits). In some cases, stress isn’t all bad – it can push us, motivate us, and help us achieve successes along the way. The problem arises when stress reaches the famous “tipping point;” when it no longer motivates you, but rather becomes overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, or, in some cases, paralyzing. When you’re losing sleep, dreading going to work, or just plain unhappy in your job, it’s time to look elsewhere. This brings me to my next point: How do you continue to work in an unhappy job while also looking for your next opportunity?

Working while looking

Looking for work can be stressful in itself, so it would seem that looking for a job while trying to get out of a stressful situation would merely add fuel to the fire. But, in my experience, looking for the next job is actually the first step out of that fire, and the hunt is usually met with excitement, enthusiasm, and hope. This is literally your first step away from a bad situation, toward something you hope will be better.

What you need to do is prepare yourself to find a position that matches your skills, experience and interests. Take a look at our previous columns on transferable skills, preparing cover letters and resumes, and getting ready for interviews. In situations like this one, though, where you’re working really hard to leave a position, you’ll want to take extra care to frame your application materials and interview responses in a way that keeps the focus on the new position, not the baggage you’re hauling around from your current job.

Always, always, always keep a positive attitude. Try to find the positive things about your current position and talk about those in an interview. Never, never, never speak poorly of your current situation. For example, instead of saying “I never got any help from anyone; I was always left on my own,” say something like: “I was often able to work independently, and made a lot of decisions on my own.” Talk about challenges, opportunities, and how you responded to make the most of the situation.

Most employers will be able to read between the lines, but they will also remember that you had the grace and professionalism to handle the situation in a respectful and dignified manner. If you’re asked about why you are looking for another position, talk about seeking new challenges, looking for new opportunities, or wanting to grow in the profession, then quickly follow up by explaining how their specific position will enable you to do that. The bottom line is this: if you speak poorly about one organization, the hiring supervisor will fear that you’ll speak harshly about them one day as well.

Finding and moving into a new position

So, you’ve read about a job that sounds great. You’ve applied and been called for an interview. During the interview, you acted professionally, talked about seeking new challenges, and made a great impression. While you were there, you also did some investigating of your own. You looked at how people were treated. You evaluated how they treated you as a candidate. And, during your interview, when it was your turn to ask questions, you asked people what they liked most about working there – and received a lot of great responses. This sounds like a good fit, and when you receive the offer, you accept. But the story doesn’t stop there – there are still a couple of other things you need to do.

First, while it may be incredibly tempting to just walk out of the door and leave your current place of employment in the dust, remember that this is a small profession. Given a choice, you never want to leave on bad terms. Follow your organization’s protocol for resignation, which usually consists of at least a two week notice. If you have to write a resignation letter, be professional and gracious.

Secondly, when you start your new job, start fresh. Try to leave old baggage and comparisons behind you. Find the joys, challenges and opportunities in your new position, and most importantly, have fun in your work.

Online Resources

My Job is Killing Me!

Let Stress Work For You

Job Stress Management

LISjobs/Library Job Postings on the Internet Job Listings

ALA Employment Opportunities

Chronicle of Higher Education Jobs

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