by Karly Szczepkowski, Michigan Chapter, Business & Finance Division
I still remember when I attended orientation for my MLIS. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted an MLIS! I was sitting in an auditorium and the dean of the program said, “Look around you [at the other students attending orientation]. This is your competition. This is who you will be competing for in the job search.” I hadn’t thought about it that way, but he was right. I looked around the room and saw all these intelligent, hard-working people. How was I going to distinguish myself from them? We will all receive a MLIS, so how will I demonstrate to employers that I am the best candidate for the job?
I went home and thought long and hard. I thought about what I did and didn’t do when pursuing my undergraduate degree. Then I created a three-prong approach. In addition to pursuing my MLIS, I decided to:
- Gain relevant work experience. For me, this was critical: it would provide experience so I could meet those requirements on job applications, it would provide networking opportunities, and it would expose me to the type of work I would be doing BEFORE I graduated, giving me a chance to evaluate the work and decide if it was what I was really interested in. Figuring this out before graduation was important to me; it’s much less stressful to change your mind when you are a student then when you a permanent full-time employee that may have moved across the country to work in a field you later realize you don’t like. Even if you already have work experience, I still don’t see how it hurts to continue to gain experience while you are studying. I knew a few people who quit their jobs to focus on school full-time; one even turned down a prestigious internship because, “internships are for people with no work experience. I already have experience.” Then they graduated and had no job. Worse, their skills were now 1-2 years old and they were competing against other grads with more current skills.
- Join a professional association. It’s a great way to network. Since I was interested in nontraditional libraries, I chose to join SLA, which has a very active state chapter. At first, I was afraid to attend meetings. But everyone was so nice and welcoming! They were thrilled to have me join them, even though I was a student. And amazingly, despite living in a state with two library/information science programs, I was often times the only student to attend meetings. That got me noticed! Professional librarians – the people who could possibly have job openings in the future – knew my name, knew I was interested in special libraries, and through my work with SLA, knew what I was capable of.
- Create my own personal brand. I know what you’re thinking: what does that mean? Isn’t that just some meaningless advertising mumbo-jumbo? Instead of answering that question, I’m going to ask one: What color is the UPS truck? It’s brown. How do you know that? Because UPS made a conscious decision to “brand” itself as brown. Just like Coke made a decision to use red in its packaging and McDonald’s made sure all its arches were golden.
In life, we have many choices on how to ship packages, what to drink and where to eat. And employers have many choices on who to hire. I’ve heard of library directors receiving 100+ resumes for just one open position. How do they choose? That could be a book all in itself, but rather than sit and think about it, I wanted to do something about it. I decided to create my own brand. I was lucky to have a rather unique name, so I decided to use it to my advantage. When people heard my name, I wanted them to associate that name with an up-and-coming information professional.
I did that by taking on a leadership position in my school’s student chapter of SLA, first as Secretary and then as President. I organized frequent tours of special libraries – sometimes one every three weeks (which is another way to network!). I spoke about SLA at student orientation, I served on a panel offering “success tips” to new students, I presented at conferences, and I posted regularly on the student listserv.
You can brand yourself, too. Think about what makes you different from the hundreds of others who are in your LIS program. What do you have to offer that they don’t? Share that with the LIS community!
Can’t think of anything? Well how about this: you have initiative. You’re reading this blog. You’re thinking about what makes you different. Some people never do that. Or some people do, but never do anything about it. Just by doing something about it, you’re demonstrating how you’re different than everyone else with an MLIS. So even if you think what you’re sharing isn’t unique, even if you think you’re not unique, the mere act of taking initiative will make you stand out and get you noticed.
Karly Szczepkowski, is a Development Research Analyst at Wayne State University. She gathers, interprets, analyzes, and disseminates information to secure support for the University. Karly is currently President of the Michigan Chapter of SLA.