Making Your Last Semester Count

It is the beginning of February which means that the Spring semester for most M.L.S. students is well underway.  And for those students who are graduating in May or June, this semester is going to be one heck of a headache.  So here are a few tips from someone who has been there and done that two years ago:

Update your resume now!
If you haven’t already started applying to jobs, this semester is the semester to do it, so you’ll want your resume to be in tip top condition.  If it’s been awhile since you’ve looked over your resume, may I suggest checking out a few resume books or paying a visit to a career center (your university should have one, and if you’re an off campus student, you can probably e-mail your resume to someone at the career center).  Also, have lots of people look over your resume.  We all make mistakes, and the more people who look at your resume, the better chance you have of catching all the typos and formatting errors.

Get your references lined up!
Asking someone to be a reference for you is always a little bit intimidating, but I assure you that most people don’t mind.  Ask people who know you well, particularly if they know your work well.  Bosses, coworkers, volunteer supervisors, professors, etc. are all good choices.  Also, be sure that all of your references have updated versions of your resume.  If you land an interview with a potential employer, you might even want to give your references the job description and the cover letter you sent in as well.  The more they know about you, the better they can recommend you!

Pay attention to job descriptions!
I cannot stress this one enough!  When searching the job ads, pay attention to what they’re asking for in the job descriptions, particularly the stuff listed under the “required” heading.  These are the things that your employer is going to be looking for on your resume.  If there’s some experience that you don’t have, find a way to get it.

Get off your butt and get as much experience as possible!
Hopefully you’ve been doing this from your very first day of grad school, but if you haven’t gotten much practical, hands-on experience outside of your classes, this is definitely the semester to get some.  I hate to say this, but the M.L.S. is just a check mark on our resumes.  What employers are really looking for is hands-on experience (see my point about job descriptions).  Volunteer.  Job shadow.  Conduct informational interviews.  Do a practicum or internship.  Ask your professors as many questions as you can.  Start or join a student group or organization.  Attend conferences.  Even if you’ve spent years working part time in circulation at a library, see what you can do about coming in during your time off and working on a project in a different department of the library.  The more experience you have in different parts of the library, the easier it’ll be for you to find a job after graduation.

Create a portfolio of all the work you’ve done!
If nothing else, creating a portfolio will help you remember some of the past projects you’ve worked on and accomplishments you’ve made.  You may not have any professional grant writing experience, but that grant that you scored an A on in class could impress future employers.

Start saving your money!
If you’re willing to move across the country for a job, then you also have to be willing to fly yourself out for interviews.  Some libraries will pay for your flights and hotel, but these libraries are few and far between in this economy.   If you are completely broke, rest assured that many libraries do phone interviews first and that some may be willing to do the “in person” over Skype. 

Take a few time outs for yourself!
My last semester of grad school was pretty hectic.  I have fond memories of it now, but the truth is that I was juggling a lot and I was tired of classes and homework and was just ready to be out in the working world.  Unless you already have a job lined up for after graduation, this semester is going to be your most stressful.  You should take advantage of every opportunity you get, but also remember to have some time to yourself to unwind.  Go out to dinner with some friends.  Sleep in when you can.  Tell yourself that you won’t do any homework on such and such night.  Whatever you need to keep you sane.

Stay active, even after graduation!
Back when I was graduating with my M.L.S., there were some students who were lucky enough to have a job lined up before graduating, and many others who had to wait for months (or even longer) after graduation for something to open up.  I was someone who had to wait a few months.  It was very frustrating, but the way I got through it is by remaining active in the field.  I continued to volunteer at a public library and found stuff to do that would look good on my resume.  Not only did volunteering help with my resume, but it also helped with my morale.

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Holiday Cheer for MLS Students

If you keep up with the professional literature/blogs these days, you have undoubtedly noticed the influx of articles/posts dedicated to MLS students (or prospective MLS students).  These articles/posts usually have a grim tone to them, even the ones that are trying to be positive.

Now, I’m not saying that we should sugar coat anything.  Are we in a terrible recession?  Yes.  Are job prospects bleak?  Pretty much.  However, it was just last year that I was an unemployed MLS graduate and the pain, frustration and creeping depression of that time is still pretty darn fresh in my mind.  So, with the holidays approaching, I’ve decided to bring a bit of holiday cheer to those MLS students who are not only stressing over final projects, but who are also stressing over the impending job search.  Because what these MLS students really need right now (aside from completed projects and full time jobs…which I would love to give all of them but sadly can’t) is a reminder of just how awesome they are!

SO HERE’S TO YOU, MLS STUDENTS!  WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH, REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE…

1.  Determined
You’ve made it through grad school, and that’s no easy feat!  You’ve conquered your cataloging classes, where you learned how to use colons in ways that were not taught in your 5th grade English class.  You’ve vanquished your tech classes, where you spent hours writing code and using semi colons in ways that were not taught in your 5th grad English class.  You’ve done research, answered seemingly inane questions in your reference classes, mastered intellectual freedom, and made it through endless debates over ‘what is information.’  I know people who can’t get accepted into a graduate program.  I know others who started grad school only to drop out after a semester.  You’ve made it through.  Don’t take that lightly.

2.  Brave
Let’s face it:  the job search is terrifying in general.  No matter the profession, anyone who’s without a job is intimidated by the process of getting a job (unless they’re exceedingly cocky or have a parent who’s in a position to hire).  But if you’re working on professional development.  If you’re sending out resumes.  If you’re trying to network.  Then you are brave and you are doing so much more than the people who are too scared to do so.  So put your game faces on, people.  It may be a bumpy ride, but you’ve got the guts to see it through.

3.  Self Motivated
These days our profession is known for its online degrees.  Others can say what they want about obtaining a Masters degree online, but the simple fact of the matter is that anyone who successfully completes an online degree is very, very self motivated.  It’s exceedingly difficult to complete assignments on time when you don’t have to face your professor in person.  You don’t have anyone reminding you to get stuff done, you just have to do it yourself.  Not many people can do that.  Furthermore, many of you have juggled class with work and family and other obligations.  It takes an extremely self motivated individual to work for the man, take care of loved ones and then sacrifice sleep in order to turn in that 20 page paper about censorship.  If you can do that, then you can motivate yourself to get through the job search.

4.  Smart
Do you think that just anyone can master metadata or SQL?  How many non-library science people know of ways to look for information without the help of Google?  These are valuable skills even outside of the library science field, and you have them!  You’re tech savvy, people savvy and well read.  You have several degrees under your belt, and you should be proud of that fact.

5.  Patient
If you’ve done a practicum or internship where you worked at the desk or helped with programs, then you’ve developed the patience needed to work with people — the problem patrons, the helicopter parents, the snooty teenagers, etc.  If your practicum or internship experience was on the tech side of things, then you’ve developed the patience needed to work with computers — and let’s face it, computers can be just as frustrating, if not moreso, than people.  You’ve even developed patience just by working on those group projects that MLS programs are so fond of assigning.  Patience is a virtue, and it’ll take you a long way.  You just have to be patient for a little while longer.

Final Thoughts:

One year ago, at the beginning of November, I was an unemployed MLS graduate who had sent out countless applications to libraries but hadn’t heard back from many.  By Thanksgiving, however, things changed and I was called by 3 different libraries within two days to set up interviews for December.  By the end of the year, I was hired by my current employer.  The moral of this story is that during the job search, you can go through months of radio silence, not hearing back from any of the places you’ve applied to.  Then, a tweak of a resume or a new networking opportunity or something else entirely can change everything.  It may take awhile.  And it’ll be hard work.  And you might have to make some sacrifices along the way.  But I promise you, if you stick with it and keep trying, then it’ll be worth it.