The Division of Government Information is delighted to be posting on the Future Ready 365 blog this week. DGI is a diverse community of knowledgeable information professionals who share an interest in government information and government librarianship. Our posts this week come from librarians in a variety of government library environments including federal, military, and academic. These DGI blog contributors share their insights on navigating the complicated landscape that today’s information professional must travel — from getting that library job to staying on top in a rapidly changing field once you’re there. Maybe you’d like to join us on the journey! Come check out the Division of Government Information at: http://govinfo.sla.org/.
Compiled by Nancy Faget and Jennifer McMahan (Eugenia Beh, Blane Dessy, Aimee Babcock-Ellis, Marianne Giltrud, Jessica Hernandez, Rich Louis, Virginia Sanchez)
Nancy Faget, Federal Librarian
In our 4th year of Careers in Federal Libraries activities, about 50 of us are helping students and job seekers learn about federal librarianship. Many of us speak at webinars for library schools, national virtual convergence, annual networking/career fairs, and conference events. Some have even taken on the role as an official federal liaison to a library school and career center.
Good things are happening, but there’s got to be a better way of doing this! One-to-one conversations are wonderful in building relationships and delivering personalized advice, but we must raise our game. Not everyone is following the hiring reform changes, so would everyone know that job openings are sometimes advertised as thus: “Closes April 29 or when the first 75 applications are received”?
Is there a benefit to building a “many-to-many” online way to share tips from several advisors with whoever cares to read it? Would it benefit us to have an online way for students and job seekers to request a mentor or request a resume review?
As evidence of the great advice that could be provided (many-to-many), here is just a sampling of advice and testimony from a small but diverse group of volunteers and accidental advisors. They all contribute something different and valuable to the conversation. You’ll also get insight into why they dedicate their time and effort to being an accidental advisor.
And lastly, here is the next challenge. How we do leverage or build an online space where advice can be sought and provided in a many-to-many environment? This project will produce a long-lived valuable resource. Work with University of Illinois Urbana Champaign begins soon to explore how best to connect our federal community of advisors to a library school career center. Something wonderful may just happen.
Jennifer McMahan, Supervisory Librarian, US Department of Justice
For the last couple of summers, I gave a presentation at the CUA Institute on Federal Library Resources. I liked doing the presentation and talking to students because I was completely clueless when I first applied for federal jobs and several people were kind enough to help me. And, selfishly because I want to see the best new librarians applying for federal jobs! Here is some of what I told them:
- When looking at the announcement, make sure it’s something you actually want to do. But just because you’re more familiar with certain library positions, doesn’t mean you can’t try something new. That’s why it’s good to take advantage of practicum and internships now to try to figure out what kind of environment you like to work in. If you don’t have time for an internship or practicum, consider job shadowing for a day or two. Most librarians I know, myself included, would be happy to host a student for a day who wanted to learn more about what we do.
- Don’t sell yourself short and don’t be afraid to apply for a job for which you don’t think you have the exact right experience/skills. For example, a lot of students are scared off by the “law librarian” title in our job announcements, but much of what we do is not legal research and typically we are looking for a well-rounded person with good research skills in any discipline.
- You might not feel like you have enough experience to be applying for certain jobs. But you might be overlooking experience that’s not library-related but is very relevant. One of the KSAs I see most often and that we always use: ability to communicate orally and in writing. I remember seeing a resume of someone who had little library experience, but she was involved in her local Toastmasters organization; another one was a former journalist. Those skills are incredibly important and very relevant.
- Even if KSAs are not required, still write a cover letter detailing your experience and what you’d bring to the job. Use specific examples. I like reading/hearing about examples of how a person has shown creativity and initiative with projects.
- Bring something to the interview, such as a “pretty” copy of your resume and a writing sample or a product that you created.
- In the interview, brag about your accomplishments, rather than yourself. Saying, “You should hire me because I’m smart,” doesn’t tell us anything about what you can do.
- A question that gets asked at most interviews is, why do you want this position, or why do you want to work here? Be prepared to answer that! Make sure you learn whatever you can about the mission of the agency and specifically the library. At least one part of your answer should be, “because I believe in what you do,” or at least that you are interested in government service.
- This is your opportunity to interview the library and organization as well. Try to find out what the work environment is like. Does it support creativity? Most of what I’ve done in my job since I started at DOJ has not been in my job description. I created it on my own. Try to determine how rigid a place is and whether it’s a good fit for you. Talk to employees who would be at the same level as you if given the opportunity. The federal hiring process can take a really long time, so you don’t want to waste your time or the agency’s if you’re not going to be happy there.
- Always write a thank you note – I can think of one situation where it helped make the decision to hire one person over another.
- References – make sure any person you list as a reference knows you’re doing so and will give you a good reference. It seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve talked to people who didn’t remember the person in question, were surprised to hear he/she was applying for other jobs, or couldn’t say anything good about the person.
- If I were hiring someone right now, I would love to find someone who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience, but lots of energy and enthusiasm. Someone who wasn’t afraid of not knowing everything, or anything, at first, someone who was constantly curious and wanting to learn new things and take on new challenges. Also, someone with strong attention to detail, and really good written and oral communication skills.
Blane Dessy, Executive Director, FLICC/FEDLINK
I generally tell students that the MLS degree is a starting point in the job search. Having an MLS does not guarantee a job, so the applicant must add value to their resume and their interview by explaining how his/her skills will be a complement to the agency. Applying for a job is much like a sales job; you have to understand the Agencies being applied to and you have to make yourself unforgettable (but in a good way!).
Aimee Babcock-Ellis, Librarian, Drug Enforcement Agency
- Don’t be so picky about your first job; it’s not your last job.
- Increase your chances of getting hired: be mobile!
- The time is to learn how to instigate change is NOW. Practice by setting up your own mentoring relationship or finding your own practicum.
- Listen and attend as many events as you are able to. There are free career events at EVERY conference.
- Students are responsible for their own future.
- Consistency and proper grammar do count! Use your on campus Career Center to your advantage.
- The more approachable you can be, the more likely it is that you can help the candidate.
Jessica Hernandez, Librarian, FDA Biosciences Library
As a recent graduate and new federal librarian, I benefit a great deal from advising students and job seekers. Promoting federal careers is a wonderful way to keep a pulse on the latest job trends. Each interaction is an opportunity for me to refresh my knowledge of the hiring process, learn about different career paths, and reflect on my own skills and future plans.
Virginia Sanchez, Federal Information Professional, 2010 Library Journal Mover & Shaker
What advice do I usually give when I review someone’s resume? Never assume, especially in the use of acronyms. It is tempting to use acronyms in order to save valuable white space, but as one resume reviewer said to me, “I have no idea what that means,” and he did not have the time for me to explain as he moved on.
Whenever I can, I give information specific to the student when counseling them on how to find a job. I also launch into Story Time mode and share personal anecdotes, complete with sound effects and arm waving.
What do I get out of the experience? Bug eyed wonder. Seriously, not only do I get an opportunity to assist an aspiring employee in attaining a goal, which would in itself be enough, it does cause me to take a close look at my own resume. It goes back to something I learned in my martial arts training: teaching forces you to examine and refine your own techniques to ensure your students receive proper training.
Eugenia Beh, Texas A & M University, Electronic Resources Librarian on “Why I help manage the CiFL group”
My involvement with the Careers in Federal Libraries group has enabled me to connect with outstanding librarians at all levels of federal librarianship. The group is the first place I look for information on the latest federal library positions and/or to get a question answered about applying for a federal position. I highly recommend joining this group to anyone interested in federal librarianship, whether you are a student or someone considering a mid-career change.
Rich Louis, Information Resources Specialist on “Why I help manage the CiFL group”
Involvement with CiFL has been invaluable as far as meeting librarians employed by the federal government. Getting to talk with current federal librarians has allowed me to gain a much better understanding of what it is that the federal government is looking for and how I can tailor my skill set to federal employment requirements. Being a part of CiFL has allowed me to be of service to my colleagues and, for once, to really feel a part of a professional organization.
Marianne Giltrud, Librarian and Adjunct Faculty, Catholic University of America on “Careers in Federal Libraries: Uniting Professionals in Service to America”
Anyone looking into the possibility of federal service as a professional librarian need look no further than the Careers in Federal Libraries Google Group. Collaboration, Engagement and Agility are why I belong to the group. While the purpose of the group is to develop a cadre of service oriented staff that are committed to their agency mission and at the same time are current with the rapidly changing information environment, this group provides a lens into the rich, deep and varied opportunities in the profession. Truly, library skills translate across many areas, in many contexts, and many media. Information, Resources, Mission, and Competencies are benchmarks that define this group’s success.
When I talk to individuals about this group, I highlight the benefits:
- Open group
- Vacancy announcements, internships, fellowships, student temporary employment and student career experience, Presidential Management Fellows program information
- Career advice
- Resume Reviewers
- Presentations, Documents, and Webinars
- Get involved!
Nancy Faget works as a federal librarian in Washington, D.C. She enjoys volunteering with professional associations and mentoring information professionals in Careers in Federal Libraries activities. Nancy’s most recent article appears in “Mid-Career Library and Information Professionals: A Leadership Primer”. At the ALA 2010 Annual conference, her peers awarded her the ALA FAFLRT Distinguished Service Award.
Jennifer McMahan is the Head Librarian for the Civil, Criminal, and Civil Rights Divisions at the US Department of Justice. She joined the staff there in 1999, shortly after receiving her MLS from Catholic University. Her activities include managing four of the Justice Libraries, as well as reference, training, and helping to create and maintain the DOJ Virtual Library.