Starting Work as a Graduate (with very limited work experience)

I’m going to try to make this post a bit shorter than the last few.

When I graduated, I had no idea what to do. I applied for lots of work, but most things required experience I did not have. Lots of the jobs advertised either didn’t require my qualifications at all, or were very high level. I rarely see any job advertised in between, even now.

I had to get work experience somehow. So I kept applying, for everything. Eventually, I was lucky enough for a high school to give me chance. I don’t know what it was, but they were willing to give me a go. Bless them. Finally a break. And what a good one, a great school and wonderful team. But, this was a Library Technician position, not really what I had been hoping for, but I was thrilled none the less. I was there for 6months covering someone on leave. Then I got offered the same job at an even better school, one of the best in the State (a select entry school), for a year. Then I got offered casual work as a Library Tech at another amazing school, and then more casual work finally as a Librarian at a university. Slowly, slowly, I have climbed.

Here are some lessons I have learnt from the last year (from working in only one particular area of libraries mind you!):

Lesson One: if you haven’t done the hard yards of work experience while studying (see previous post) you cannot expect to get a ‘real’ librarian position off the bat. Employers want to see you have experience and don’t want to train you up from scratch when there are so many others with years of work in the field. You will have to start at the bottom, despite your fantastic grades and loads of qualifications. Don’t feel bad about this, it’s just how it goes. Use the opportunity to learn as much as you can. Be grateful that you have some work, and don’t compare yourself to others who managed to get amazing jobs first off. Maybe they worked harder than you, maybe they were just luckier, either way, you will eventually get there. Get them to help you be better. Maybe they can look at your resume with you, or suggest groups to join. In addition, most jobs at the beginning will be contract, maybe six months, maybe a year. Maybe they’re covering someone on leave, maybe they can roll you over at the end of it. Many are part-time too. Be prepared, work two jobs if you have to. I still live in my parents garage so I can afford to find jobs that will help my career, even if they don’t pay so well or are only a few days a week. (Thanks Mum and Dad!) 🙂 When you land an ongoing full-time position, you’ve done very well!

Lesson Two: applications, resumes and cover letters. Job applications are damn hard work, and take hours. But don’t cop out. Take the time to draft a different cover letter for each job. Make sure your resume is short, and change the skills you list to be specific for that job. Is it working with youth? Or is it in a large corporation liaising with different departments? Show them how you specifically can address those needs. It’s a hassle but you’ll do better for it. There is loads of good advice for job applications on the internet, and at uni. Even as a graduate you can still get help from your university. Contact the careers center and make an appointment. Have a look at people’s resumes to compare your own. Keep on going. AND – apply for things that are above your level too! I used to be scared of applying for something I didn’t have heaps of experience in, even though I could have probably done it, or figured it out quickly enough. Remember – the selection criteria is a wish list! If you are the right person they’ll let you learn a few things. You need to be confident in your abilities or you’ll never work your way up (or just very slowly). Research things and trust that you can do things that are slightly outside of your full comfort level. They might not get an applicant who can do every thing they listed, and you might be the best choice. It’s always worth a go. I know it’s hard to spend hours on an application when you feel you’ll just be rejected, but try your best to push through that. Reward yourself for putting in those tough applications.

Lesson Three: Learn and record. When you are starting out – ask lots of questions. Try to learn everything you can. Don’t just process books (although you should learn to do this of course!). Offer to help your superiors with their work, ask to shadow them, ask them to explain what and how they’re doing things. Explain you want to develop your skills for the future. Learn to catalogue, run classes, budget, project manage, collaborate with staff, use different programs, use different technologies, how to acquire resources, how to weed, stocktake, learn everything!! Offer up your ideas – then you can know if they’re good or bad as well! Read professional publications (there are lots of library related ones such as FYI, Incite, Connections and many more, depending on your field) and see if your job provides any institutional memberships to associations. Keep up to date with innovations and news in the field. READ. Sign up to forums and feeds. Don’t just learn off your colleagues, try to go to events and do professional development in and out of the workplace. And most importantly – TAKE NOTES! There’s so much to learn, you can’t remember it all! Keep a folder of all the things you’ve done and learned. When you use a new program, or catalogue something new, write a step-by-step procedure for how to do it again. Keep an excel spreadsheet of all the tasks you do, and examples of them. This way, when you apply for another job and you need to provide examples for their selection criteria, you already have a list to refer to. You won’t forget any important details, I have found this extremely helpful! When you move jobs, and you know you did something ages ago but you can’t remember, you can refer to your notes and follow your procedures to do it again. You can keep updating these notes and you’ll rarely get stuck and need to repeat questions.

Lesson Four: control your enthusiasm. At least for me, I was very excited to have my jobs. I wanted to suggest a million things and make changes and dress up in costume and more and more and more!!! This was a little overwhelming for some of my other colleagues and I had to temper it a bit. Be strategic – list your ideas down and bring them up when appropriate. Go home and jump around with excitement, telling all your ideas to your friends, family or partner (who will be more patient!) and then be calm and professional at work. But do share your ideas, they’ll show your supervisor your initiative, enthusiasm and knowledge of the field.

Lesson Five: Be memorable (in a good way!). Share the notes you’ve made from professional learning events that other colleagues might be interested in. Offer to help. Look good. Join colleagues for coffee and social interactions. Get involved in committees or any extra opportunities (I just joined the university library netball team). Any number of things – I have a necklace that’s a little Dr Suess book and locket, it’s started so many conversations, Librarians always love it! Then I offer to send them the link to the Etsy store, and while I’m at it I can pass on my resume 😉

I think, in a nutshell, that’s all (for now!) I’m sure I’ll end up having to make another addition to this post after I’ve worked for another year and learnt even more. And tried different types of libraries other than high schools! But I hope this is a good start for you and provides some good ideas.  I also just read this great TED blog post with some more helpful career tips. Please comment if you have more great ideas to add!

Tune in next time for my post about Professional Development and Association Memberships 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Michelle DeAizpurua

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