Q: I’m considering making the shift to academic librarianship after 5 years of being a Research Analyst at a large global corporation. Before my corporate position, I worked in an academic library, so I do have some experience. The question I have is in the approach. The corporate environment has given me a lot of confidence and has taught me to seek out what I want and to own my career. This leads me to have a strong urge to simply call up the head of the local academic library and request a meeting with her. I’d like to sit face to face with her to share my resume and tell her about my skills. Note – there are no current openings at said academic library! So, is this a potentially off-putting approach? Would I potentially burn a bridge by being this direct? Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.
TA: I commend you on your confidence and for taking ownership of your career. I also commend you for questioning whether or not your approach is potentially off-putting. My response is, If you need to ask that question, you already know the answer.
Corporate libraries and academic libraries can be similar in many ways, and different in others. Generally, the corporate culture that surrounds corporate libraries can be fast-moving and competitive, and for good reason—the livelihood of the company can hang on response time and accuracy. Some of the associated traits, however, can come across as aggressive in other workplace cultures. It’s a matter of recognizing what works for the specific situation or workplace.
To get a sense of the workplace, and the style of approach that a director might appreciate, I wouldn’t start with the director. I would recommend you think about conducting two or three informational interviews with others in the library. You mentioned there were no current openings at the library. That’s great. What that means is you are truly seeking information about the library itself, not about a specific job. Perhaps there is someone you already know in the organization? Buy that person a cup of coffee and compare and contrast your corporate experience with his or her academic experience. Is there someone who is doing work similar to yours? Invite that person out for coffee and compare notes on how the work you do is similar and how it differs. Throughout these interviews, you should also seek information on the culture of the organization. How does work get done? Do people work in groups? What’s the style of the director and how does he/she motivate, recognize and reward good work? If this is a small enough organization, and you learn through your interviews that the director would be open to this kind of “cold call” then you might want to make the request for an appointment. If, however, what you learn reinforces the reservations you already have, take a more cautious approach. Maybe you can start with a letter and resume to introduce yourself, letting the director know that you’ve learned a lot about the organization and are interested in being a part of something so exciting… Include your contact information with an invitation to talk further, and wait for the director to reach out. At best, you’ll get an invitation. At worst, you’ll be a recognized name when a position actually opens up and your application comes across the desk. What’s important, though, is that you haven’t burned bridges before you even entered the door.