Q: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?

Q: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?

Q: Recently, we’ve received a number of questions with a similar theme, a little like we’ve seen before, but with a new twist: How do I get a library job before I go to library school? Two of those seeking advice have been accepted to library schools in the fall, and want to know how to get a position in a library to gain a little experience before classes start. The question is: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?

TA: First, let me just say kudos to you for giving this some thought before you enter school. Not only will you get a jump on your fellow classmates in terms of job opportunities, but you will start building the experience section of your post-MLS resume. Additionally, working before and during school can really enhance the classroom experience by providing real life context and examples.

I am still astonished by the number of resumes I see with a degree and no experience – or the posts I see on lists of new-to-the- profession librarians who lament the fact that they can’t get a job, but who have no library experience at all. Your time during school should be spent, not only learning in the classroom, but also exploring the profession through work experience (paid or unpaid, for credit or not). It’s much better to learn in school what you really like to do (and perhaps even more importantly, what you really don’t enjoy doing) than to learn that lesson in your first professional position.

So, how do you convince hiring authorities that you’re worth the risk before you have any experience, a degree – or even coursework? First, look for transferable experience. If you have any previous work experience or educational qualifications that may be valuable, play those up as strengths. One person who wrote to us had a background in the Marine Corps aviation unit, as well as ten years of experience as a chef. That individual may want to emphasize the ability to work effectively with others, lead a team, or manage resources, all of which are incredibly relevant in today’s libraries.

Another person wrote to us with the experience of being “an avid user” of libraries. He or she may want to draw upon those experiences as a user to talk about familiarity with print and electronic resources, experience navigating the library’s web site and online catalog, or positive reference interactions and what made the exchanges successful. As an applicant, you’re going to need more than “I love books” or “I love libraries,” but this can be as simple as analyzing everyday events and previous experiences to make them relevant to today’s job search.

Secondly, you’re going to need a good cover letter and resume. Your resume should outline your job history, and your cover letter should explain it. Your cover letter should also draw parallels between your experience and what the hiring institution is looking for. And finally, your cover letter should be a genuine introduction of yourself and your interest in the position and the profession. Enthusiasm is endearing; if you can express your interest and passion for library work in your cover letter genuinely and without sounding forced (or desperate) they’re going to want to talk to you. Once they want to talk to you, it’s up to you to convince them you’re the best candidate for the job… but that’s another column!

For additional tips, see the articles and sites Susanne listed previously on job hunting, resumes, and cover letters.

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

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.