Interviewed by Ellen Mehling
EM: What was your first professional position?
KD: I was a copy editor and copywriter for Libraries Unlimited, a publisher of reference books and textbooks for the library profession.
EM: How did you get it?
KD: Libraries Unlimited was located where I lived and where I was completing my MLIS (Denver), and the company had called the grad program to see if they could recommend someone with good writing and editing skills who was looking for an entry-level position. I’d attended the Publishing Institute as part of my MLIS coursework, and was known to the program administration, so they recommended me.
EM: To what do you attribute your job search success?
KD: At that point in my career, I would attribute my success to the three things that have opened up every job opportunity I’ve had since: 1) build good relationships with as many people as possible, 2) become visible for the type of work you want to do (the MLIS administrators knew how interested I was in publishing), and 3) try to be in the right place at the right time, what I would describe as putting yourself in the path of opportunity. You never know what skill or connection or contribution will open up opportunities for you, so just keep engaging, talking with people, volunteering, helping others, and doing everything you can to be standing in the middle of the road when an opportunity comes rolling through. Every job or project I’ve taken on since has been the result of this type of “happy happenstance,” but it only happens when you’ve created the conditions for it.
EM: What advice do you have for librarian/info-pro job hunters?
KD: Let everyone know what type of job you’re looking for, ask for their advice/counsel/recommendations, and then get active. Make sure you have a killer online presence (especially a solid LinkedIn profile) so that if someone casually recommends you in a conversation with a potential employer, that potential employer can immediately check you out (and be dazzled by you). Volunteer in some way or on some project that lets you use your information skills to create value – this not only extends your network and professional visibility, it also gives you good stuff to talk about in an interview. Don’t focus so much on sending out 100 resumes to online job postings every day; instead, do several information interviews a week (be sure not to ask for a job!), work on cool information projects that interest you and could help others, and remain active and professionally engaged. And if a part-time gig or temp job helps you get a foot in the door and demonstrate how amazing you are, go for it!
I’d also recommend that job-seekers think of potential jobs from a broader career perspective. With every new job, you want to be able to continue to build what I would call your “professional equity” – that is, what you know (skills and domain knowledge), who you know (your professional community or network), and who knows what about you (your professional reputation and visibility, also known as your brand). Sometimes a job may not be the perfect match at first blush, but when you consider a position from the broader perspective of your career lifecycle, it may turn out to provide substantial benefits.
I think this is especially the case in an era where people may be changing jobs (voluntarily or not) more frequently. Going into a new job knowing 1) that it may not last ten years, but 2) that’s okay, because you’ve put together an agenda for what career goals you intend to accomplish while you’re there, tends to make it much easier to become professionally independent. The reality is that regardless of where we work today, we’re all self-employed, and need to look at our careers from that sense of self-management. That said, who could imagine a cooler, more interesting, or more infinitely adaptable skill set than we’ve got?!
Kim Dority is President, Dority & Associates, Inc. and author, Rethinking Information Work, 2d ed. (Libraries Unlimited, 2016)