Q: I am changing careers after completing an LIS program. I have been working at a technical help desk in various roles using many of the skills taught to information professionals. For example, I have taught effective search techniques, researched technical issues using various technical resources, and practiced customer service through various communication paths. Is there an effective way to present these types of transferable skills when applying for a library position?
SM: This is a good question and an issue that many people have, especially those who are changing careers and those who are just entering the profession and have little or no library experience. One option is to use a functional resume, rather than a chronological resume. Functional resumes focus on skills and experience rather than work history over time. You might choose to organize your resume into categories such as: customer service, research, instruction, and technology. Within the categories you can list out the different skills and go into more detail about the jobs themselves. The skills you mention transfer nicely to the library world, and the job of working at a technical help desk is comparable to working at a reference desk, so this seems like a natural fit for you.
When you are writing cover letters, emphasize whatever skills are emphasized in the job description. For example, if the job is for a reference librarian, write about how you have assisted users both in person at the desk and online — and be specific about the tools/technologies/databases/media/etc. that you used. Employers like to know that you have experience (or expertise) with the same or similar tools that they have at their library. And they like to know that you are knowledgeable about current or emerging technologies and trends.
Resources that might be helpful:
Should You Use a Chronological or Functional Resume? By Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Crafting a Winning Resume by Tiffany Eatman Allen
JobStar Resume Guide (+ sample resumes)