Monday, 24 September 2012

Thing 21: Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

Well done for making it so far! After learning so many useful things, we need to think about how to promote all the hard work we do and the abilities and skills we have acquired in our career and life so far.
Part 1: Identifying your strengths; capitalising on your interests

These two really go together. What you like doing is often also what interests you, and vice-versa. In order to identify your strengths, take a good look at yourself, your tasks at work, your career, you life: what do you like to do? What do you dislike? Do you remember the last time you felt that feeling of deep satisfaction after creating, building, completing something? What was it about? What skills do you need to do the things you like? These skills are your strengths; they stem from your interests.
I am a strong believer in the fact that people are happy when they do something they actually enjoy. As we spend most part of our lives working, a sure way to be happy is to do a job you like (or love, if you are very lucky). A job that allows you to capitalise on your interests and use the skills needed to pursue them.
Most cpd-23 participants have found the love of their working life; some are still looking for the true love (a better library; a different work environment; a completely new job); some are uncertain on what to do next. It is important to remember that we are changing all the time: our interests change, our skills develop, we discover new things we like which we didn’t even know existed. Make sure that you keep up-to-date with yourself, and if you are unhappy in your current situation, acknowledge what has changed and take action.
Part 2: Applying for a job
After identifying your strengths, build a record (a database, a list, an Evernote folder, a piece of paper...) of everything you have done that demonstrates you’ve got the skills stemming from your interests. This will be extremely useful when writing your CV or filling job applications in, as you will be able to select information from a list rather than having to start from a blank page every time, thus risking to forget something. Keep this record up-to-date. Your CV is a living thing.
There is a huge amount of advice on CVs and application forms out there, and it would be really impossible to draw up an exhaustive list. Therefore, what follows is a summary of the things I have learnt from experience, and the advice I have received so far. Some of you have far more experience than me in this field, and I would love to hear your comments.
·         The first, most important rule, is that no CV is the same. You need to tailor it according to the job you are applying to.
·         Keep it short and readable: maximum recommended length is 2 pages of an A4 (front and back). You don’t need to put everything on it: select the most appropriate entries according to the job you are applying to. Use bulleted lists and hidden tables to make it visually easier to read.
·         Job adverts have two main parts: job description, and person specification. The requirements listed under job description must be addressed in the work experience section, where you describe your current job and your career so far. The person specification requirements must be addressed in the space reserved for additional information. If you are using an application form, this is the paragraph that more or less says “tell us why you are applying, plus something you haven’t told us elsewhere”; if you are sending a CV, this type of information must be written in the cover letter.
·         Try to meet all criteria (essential and desirable) listed in the job description and person specification. Don’t trust employers too much when they say that something is desirable and not essential: if it is listed there, it is important to them. Meeting the essential criteria is...essential (sorry!), and meeting the desirable ones is very, very, very important. Don’t overlook them.
·         If you don’t meet all the criteria, you can still apply and try to make your case (if you don’t even try, you don’t give yourself a chance to be successful) but, if you keep receiving rejections, you should do something about filling those gaps, for example volunteering, on order to acquire all the skills you need.
·         Make sure your references are relevant. Keep in touch with previous employers and, if your references are getting out-of-date, volunteering or getting involved in other initiatives that get you out there and better known (your professional association, for example) might be a good way to get new references.
Some people might feel awkward about “boasting” about how good they are in their applications. Well, remember that it is not boasting, but making the world aware of what you did, how (amazingly) you did it, and why you are more than willing to do it again for your potential employer. It’s giving you justice and credit for all your hard work and commitment. You are not stealing. You are not lying.

As I have been one myself some years ago, additional notes for foreign applicants willing to work in the UK.
·      The so-called European CV is basically unknown in the UK; moreover, its format is quite unreadable for UK standards.
·      Translate everything in English: employers might be clever and work it out, but they are not supposed to know that “bibliothèque municipale” or “biblioteca comunale” mean public library.
·      List all your qualifications in their original names but explain what they are: some typical Italian sample formulas are “Laurea” degree (= BA), and “Maturita’ classica” (= diploma of classic studies, involving five-year classes on the following subjects: ...).
·      If you can, get somebody living in the UK to proof-read your CV or application. It’s a matter of culture rather than grammar.
Part 3: Interviews
If you are called for an interview, it means that your CV or application were already positively judged by the panel. All your faults and gaps might jump to your mind as soon as you read the invite, but again, you need to give yourself credit for making it to the interview stage of the process, and get some confidence from that. This doesn’t mean that the job is already yours, but you have been given a further chance to shine, so why not making the most of it?
The first, basic rule is: prepare. Or, to use a well-known motto: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Re-read the material on the employer; visit their website; re-read your application form/CV and any job description; prepare for awkward and less-awkward questions.
Try to get as much help as possible: for example, check if your careers service is offering interview practice of some sort. If you are in the UK, remember that CILIP members are entitled to two sessions with a careers adviser per year, offered by the Careers Group - University of London – you could use a session to explore interview techniques and ask questions on how to best promote yourself.
A very useful structure when answering competency-based questions (like “tell me about a time you found a creative solution to a problem”) is the acronym CAR, which stands for Context. Action. Results.

Start by describing the context, i.e. the situation you were in. Then highlight the action(s) you took to address the issue. Finally, explain the results, also specifying what you learnt in the process and, in case, what you would do differently in the future.
Resist the temptation to ramble. Avoid negativity. And remember that if you don’t get on well with the panel, it is unlikely that you will be happy in that workplace. An interview that didn’t go well is not necessarily a huge setback: when you finally land the job you love, it is likely that you will be thinking “thankfully I didn’t get that other one”.  
Further reading: there is a lot to read on these topics but a very short selection of links I have found useful is here:
·      Open Cover Letters: anonymous cover letters from hired librarians and archivists – an amazing website with samples of successful cover letters
·      What’s the key to a good interview - beyond the usual truisms we all know already? – a blog post by Ned Potter, aka The Wikiman, and the various comments to it.
Summary of tasks:
Answer the questions in Part I and make your own list of activities and interests: from watching the telly to something more work-related. Tell us what you’ve found about yourself: achievements/activities you had forgotten about, things you love to do, what they mean, how you could use them in your working life.
Update your “CV database”.
Share any interview tip or experience you found useful in your career.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Thing 20: The Library Routes Project

This post was originally posted by Laura Woods as part of the 2011 programme.

This Thing is all about library careers.  I’m going to talk about the Library Routes Project, but recommend that you visit the Library Day in the Life project as well.

The Library Routes Project was set up in October 2009, following a lively conversation on my blog about how people get into librarianship. As a result of this conversation, Ned Potter (aka thewikiman) and I decided that it would be a good idea to set up a space where people could share these stories, and thus the Library Routes Wiki was born. Now, almost two years on, it has around 180 entries and has been visited over 39,000 times.

A photograph of a signpost and its shadow.
'every which way' by jenny downing on Flickr
The idea is simple: blog about your library roots (how and why you got into the profession in the first place) and your library routes (the career path you’ve taken so far), and add a link to the great big list on the front page of the wiki. The value of this is twofold: first of all, it is interesting! If you’re a nosy person like me, it’s great to be able to have a look through people’s career histories and reasons for becoming librarians in the first place. Secondly, we think it’s a useful careers resource for people either thinking about careers in librarianship or just starting out on their path.

I think the latter is particularly important because a common theme in the stories on the Library Routes wiki is that of not knowing much about what librarianship involved, or even that it existed as a career option; or being discouraged from pursuing a career in libraries by people who had misconceptions about the options available. Like many people, I fell into librarianship after trying my hand at other jobs that I wasn’t really suited to. Once a careers adviser suggested to me that librarianship was something I could actually do for a living, it was like a light bulb going off: why hadn’t I ever thought of it before? Well, the simple reason was that I just didn’t know that it was an option. My only clue as to what librarians did was the ladies I saw stamping books and shelving in my local public library. I suppose at some level I must have been aware that there was probably more to it than that, but I’d never have guessed at the sheer range of jobs available within the information profession. I know from reading the blogs linked from the wiki that mine is a fairly common story: unless you had a close friend or relative who worked in libraries, you probably didn’t have much of an idea of what the profession involved before you joined it. The Library Routes project is intended to shine a much-needed light on the types of jobs and career paths available within the information profession.

Things To Do
The main activity for this Thing is to blog your Roots/Routes, and add a link to the wiki. I know a lot of people did this for Thing 10, so if you’ve already done this stage then the additional activity is to go through some of the links already on the wiki and reflect on how they compare with your own experiences. Do you think your own path was typical or unusual compared to others? Have you got any advice for people at earlier stages in their careers than you, or can you glean some useful tips from other people’s posts?

Monday, 10 September 2012

How I learned to stop worrying and love CPD

This week it's a catch up week and we've invited Librarians with lives blogger, Jo Wood, to write a guest blog post about fitting professional development in and making the most of the time you have. Over to Jo...

Juggling priorities to fit things in?
Pedro Moura Pinheiro on Flickr
I used to be really intimidated by the Librariati* and their terrifying ways. Two years ago I set up a blog to try and deal with my feelings of inadequacy and have learned a thing or two about fitting CPD into a busy life along the way. Here are my five tip tips:

  1. Find some aspects of CPD that you really, really enjoy and focus on them. For me, it’s blog writing, mentoring Chartership candidates and very occasionally contributing case studies to books. I know I’m really bad at – or simply not interested in *cough* activism *cough* – other aspects of CPD so I leave them to everyone else. 
  2. Every so often, do one thing that really scares you. The comfort zone is all well and good 95% of the time, but occasionally it’s good to really put yourself ‘out there’. Earlier this year I wrote a blog post that I really liked. Just after I published it I spotted a ‘call for speakers’ e-mail. Normally I file these in the ‘I really ought to do something like that’ pile and promptly forget about it. This time I turned the blog post into a speaker proposal. I decided not to pin any hopes on it and decided to treat the experience as a ‘sighter’ for other opportunities down the line. I had written the whole enterprise off and was amazed when I received an e-mail inviting me to speak. I’m used to public speaking, but speaking to my peers is going to be something else. 
  3. Accept your time constraints and learn to say no. Don’t be guilt tripped into something that you really, really don’t want to do. You’ll resent the person that got you into the mess in the first place and every moment you spend doing the thing will make you grind your teeth in frustration. The key is to be polite and slightly vague: ‘Thank you for thinking of me but I have a lot on at the moment’ works pretty well as a get-out phrase. 
  4. It’s better to go to one really good conference than ten average seminars. I don’t get to do much (or, in fact, any) CPD in work time. It’s pretty hard to convince my line manager that an afternoon out of the office attending a seminar on something really librarian-y is worth it. However, a day or two at a proper professional conference – although it generally costs far more – is more likely to impress. I try to attend one major conference a year and get it written into my appraisal targets so that my employer has to fund it! 
  5. Don’t compare yourself to the gods and goddesses of CPD. It’s a waste of time and you’ll never manage to a. Join them without sacrificing something else in your life e.g. watching the Great British Bake-Off or b. Stop being jealous of them. I now regard the hardcore Librariati with great affection, in the same way that you would regard the family dog. I want to pat them on the head indulgently and feed them biscuits. My view on them is: they do it so the rest of us don’t have to. 

The final thing is not to let CPD , or feelings of inadequacy about not doing enough CPD, take over your life. After all, there is more to life than professional development: cake, museums, cross-stitch, cricket, stalking divers, family, friends, enemies, pets, reading books for pleasure, music and board games to name but a few. Keep things in perspective and you’ll get the CPD balance just right.

*not a real word, but it's mine and I like it.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Thing 19: Catch up week on integrating 'things'

Jigsaw-ing by lilahpops, on Flickr
Fitting pieces together
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License

It's time for a little bit of a breather and some reflection on what you've gained from the programme so far and how you might continue to use what you've learnt. We've covered a number of social media tools (e.g. blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter, LinkedIn) and productivity tools (e.g. Google calendar, Evernote, Google Docs, wikis), as well as considering a number of different elements of our professional development (e.g. personal branding, reflective practice, advocacy, events). You can see a full list of the things we've covered so far here.

The purpose of this week is to look back at your previous posts and consider which elements you have found most useful and how you might integrate them into your working routine. You might already have done this, so feel free to blog about how you have done that if so. Maybe you've started using RSS feeds or Twitter during breaks to catch up on news. Maybe you're using LinkedIn for group discussions on professional topics or to share updates about your professional developments. Perhaps it's a technical solution you have discovered which updates multiple services at once or enables you to manage a number of different things. Or perhaps you haven't had chance to think about integrating anything yet. Now is your chance to review the previous tools and think about how you might continue to use them. Choose one or two (or more if you're feeling ambitious!) and share your thoughts in this week's blog post.