Sunday, 30 December 2012

Job Hunter’s Web Guide: The Library Career Centre

This month I am honoured that one of my favourite career websites for librarians has featured The Library Career Center on their pages.

"The website profiled here is run by a person who hires librarians, a regular contributor to Friday’s Further Questions posts.  I’m always impressed by her thoughtful, nuanced answers.  I’m pleased to present The Library Career Centre, run by Nicola Franklin."

I am always impressed by Emily's dedication to developing and running the Hiring Librarian's site, and happy to formulate a response to her (or her readers') new recruitment question each week.  

Job hunting can seem like a full time occupation in its own right, with its own arcane 'rules of the game', and I believe anyone offering help, advice and support to those trying to develop their career should be applauded - particularly when they volunteer their time.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

What's In a Name?

Librarians' stock in trade is the naming and classification of things.  Perhaps that is why something I read today made me sit up and take notice.

I spotted a tweet today by Alison North, linking to an article in Healthcare Today which is reporting on a suggestion by Dame Fiona Caldicott that the term "Information Governance" should be replaced by "Clinical Governance" in an effort to "encourage a cultural shift in the NHS towards more information sharing"

While I am all in favour of this aim, I cannot see how this suggested change in terms is likely to help meet that goal.  

Firstly, I think such a change in terminology is likely to lead to increased confusion over meaning. As things stand, the term 'information governance' is widely understood (in the Records Management and Information Security professions anyway, if not by clinical practitioners in the NHS).  Why take a well known term for an activity and change it?  (for example,  Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory firm, defines information governance as 'the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archival and deletion of information.').

It is especially puzzling to me to suggest changing it to something that could be easily confused with a different activity altogether.  'Clinical governance' has connotations of how clinical procedures and decisions are made - nothing to do with the management of information.  It seems that the issue (if one exists) is whether there is effective promotion of this concept within the NHS and training of staff in its meaning and in how to accomplish it.  

Secondly, I'm not at all sure of any causal linkage between having sound information governance (whatever it's called) and encouraging the sharing of information.  In order to safely and effectively share (often sensitive) information within the NHS, good information governance in a prerequisite.  However, of itself, having good information governance neither encourages or discourages the sharing of information.

This example goes to show the key importance of what's in a name.  Giving something a label means attaching to it all sorts of assumptions and implications - which may or may not be those that the person making the original suggestion contemplated. This is especially important where you are trying to promote something or advocate for something.  It might be obvious to the speaker or writer what they had in mind - but the audience might get a completely different picture.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Marketing - who's your audience?

Marketing can be a contentious word for librarians.  For public librarians it smacks of commercialism and selling out to a capitalist ideology.  For corporate librarians, business researchers or web content managers, it's something their firm does to attract external customers.  In either case, it's apparently nothing to do with them.

However, without marketing librarians would have no users.  Marketing simply means communicating with people who might find your services useful, so that when they need those services they think of you and may choose to use your services (rather than some other means) to meet that need.  To communicate in an effective way, first you need to understand people's needs (market research), know where and how they communicate (marketing channels), and understand what's important to them (value proposition). 

Activities like having a library web site, user education, putting up a poster about a reading group - they are all marketing activities.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking 'what services do we have; we need to promote those services', and to design communications around that 'push' mentality.  However, marketing works a lot more effectively if you start by considering your audience - and work from a 'pull' perspective.

Who could you be marketing to?  The obvious answer is 'our users'.  While it is important to maintain a relationship with existing users, for example sending out surveys to check on their customer satisfaction, or telling them about new content or services, if that is all the marketing that's being done then the best outcome you can hope for is to maintain the status quo, in terms of numbers of users.

The real aim of marketing is to increase things.  Increase the numbers of users, increase the number of visits, number of loans or number of enquiries, or increase the amount of renewals or interlibrary loan requests made online.   Carefully targeted marketing, for example about business directories and start up guides demonstrated at a fair for entrepreneurs, or about art and design books at a craft fair, can draw new patrons into the library or onto the library's website.

Thinking about who you audience are (or could be), and where they are (in physical spaces or in virtual ones), and crafting your message to meet their needs and be seen where they hang out, can get you a long way.

Marketing can also be done to an audience of stakeholders, senior managers and budget holders.  This sort of marketing communicates to these groups how the library services help them meet their needs - that is, the goals and targets of the organisation as a whole.  

If you work in a public library service, this is a part of a larger city or county wide public sector body, with funds from taxpayers and goals to meet.  It probably has a whole series of goals.  In Glendale, CA where I live, for example, some of the city's goals include:
  • Encourage neighborhoods to take ownership for improvements 
  • Increase neighborhood involvement by educating residents to take active responsibility for their neighborhoods 
  • Retain and expand local small business as a foundation for community economic development.
  • Communicate successes to illustrate that Glendale neighborhoods are safe.  
  • Seek opportunities to inform the public regarding the role played by Glendale in support of Luke Air Force Base
I wonder whether the city council members are aware of how the public library service could help them meet these goals?  A strategic and business plan prepared by the library, demonstrating this, could be an important factor in raising their awareness of the value of the library to the city, and help in future budget discussions.

Whether your audience is a group of potential new users, or the media who influence city councillors, consideration of their needs and communicating how you can help them meet those needs, is marketing at its best and most effective.


Friday, 19 October 2012

MOOCs - My Experience So Far

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are becoming more common, and from the numbers signing up certainly seem very popular.  For example, the course that I am currently doing (World History since 1300 from Princeton on Coursera) has over 80,000 signed up and 1,700 submitted the first assignment.

There are several university partnerships that have sprung up to offer MOOCs for free, the best known being Coursera (originally Stanford, Princeton, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and now many more), and EdX (MIT, Harvard, Berkeley).  There are also a number of other providers, such as Udacity, Academic Room and others, which either focus on one subject area (Udacity is IT focused, for example) or offer one-off video lectures and articles rather than fully formed courses.

So what is it like as a student on one of these courses?  My experience so far has been largely very positive, with only one or two very small niggles.

Main Screen of the History of the World since 1300 course on Coursera

This is the main menu screen of the course, which is based around two weekly video lectures, plus recommended text and the forums.  These latter have been very active and have provided some valuable peer-to-peer learning, as people discuss issues and offer links to additional reading and video resources.

The video lectures menu

The video lectures are broken down into 10-15 minute segments, with embedded quizzes at the end of each one, but the main assessments comes from the weekly essay assignments.  We are given a choice of 3 topics and need to pick one on which to write our essay.  These are then assessed by five peers, using a rubric covering argument, evidence and eloquence, and a score given which is the average of the peer scoring.  As an incentive, if you don't evaluate your peers' essays, you can't get to see you own score!

The quality of the lectures has been very good, and the Professor and one of his graduate students have taken an active part in the forum discussions, making it possible to pose questions and get informed responses (as well as well aimed questions to seed the discussions).  Technically the VLE system has been working well, with the only problem being having to scroll through lots of material to get to the most recent posts (at the bottom) - which was raised early on and that they have tried to fix by adding a 'newest first' button in each forum thread.

One minor niggle, which several people have reported on the forums, has been lack of feedback to the essays.  In addition to giving a numeric score, peers are supposed to write comments under each section.  However, many people seem to be just receiving one or two lines (or one or two words!) as feedback, or are only getting written feedback from 1 or 2 of the 5 people who reviewed their essay.    

Many people have also been discussing the issues that arise from so many of the enrolled students having English as a second language, as those studying the course come from all around the world.  There have been lively discussions of how to score someone who is clearly trying hard but having trouble expressing themselves, versus someone who just can't be bothered to write clearly or doesn't have the understanding of the course material.

This particular course doesn't offer a certificate, although many other Coursera courses do.  This doesn't matter to me personally, as I'm doing the course out of personal interest, but it has been mentioned as being of concern by some students.  Overall it has been a great experience so far, and I have just submitted my second essay assignment and have my fingers crossed I get a good grade!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Event - SLA SoCal Award Dinner

Last night I attended my first event since moving to the USA, a very enjoyable award dinner for the SLA's South California chapter.

Just over 20 people gathered at the Almasour Court golf club for drinks and dinner, followed by a very entertaining after dinner speaker.  Nick Smith is a library technician at Pasadena Public Libraries, but is also a passionate historian and storyteller with a speciality of US Civil War history.  Nick told several stories about civil war veterans who had either come from, or retired to, the LA area.  

Some were poignant (the soldier who didn't get his Medal of Honor award until long after he had passed away - it was finally awarded by Bill Clinton), some were funny (the Indianapolis gunboat that was captured by the Confederate army, and then promptly blown up by them when they were worried it would be re-captured) but they were all interesting and told in a very entertaining way.

Joyce Hardy receiving her award

Two awards were also presented during the evening, a merititious service award to Richard Hulser for his work mentoring students, and a lifetime achievement award to Joyce Hardy (pictured), in particular for her work organising the SLA SoCal archives. 


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Now You Are a Manager

You may have been working towards a promotion for ages, and finally won that coveted team supervisor role, or perhaps your job has just kind of expanded almost without you realising it and now you are coaching a volunteer or graduate trainee.  Whatever the route, one day you realise you are a manager now.  This can be a scarey thought!  Many people have had a manager who was less than ideal - they may have been a micromanager, bossy, unappreciative or just too busy to have any time for you.  Most people are determined that they will never be as bad.

I remember when I was first offered a management role, at Manpower back in the mid-1990s.  Although it was for a very small branch, with one full time consultant and one part time administrator, suddenly I had gone from just having to worry about my own performance to being responsible for delivering half a million turnover, managing two staff, and being the person clients meant when they said *let me talk to your manager*.  Although I had a regional manager and head office full of senior specialists to call upon, it felt like a very exposed and scarey position!

Making sure you are a better manager than those aweful managers you remember from the past means learning a whole new skill set.  Many people are entrusted with supervisory roles because they were a great performer in their previous job.  However being good at doing a particular job doesnt necessarily make you good at managing others doing that job.  Doing and managing are very different activities.  Knowing how to do the job is useful, when knowing what to delegate, being able to coach others to do a better job, and knowing when part of the job isnt being done very well.  In other words, it is necessary to the job of managing, but it isnt sufficient.

So, what other skills do you need to be a good manager
  • Able to set an example - act as a role model
  • Value individual contributions - treat colleagues with resect, solicit alternative opinions
  • Cultivate collaboration & continuous improvement
  • Set stretch targets - challenging but achievable with the resources available
  • Inspire and motivate others - create a vision, set goals, offer praise
  • Adept at critical and analytical thinking - ask open questions, ask why and so what, question the status quo
  • Influence others - either persuade with strong arguments and facts or bring people round to see the benefits to themselves of your ideas
  • Building relationships - with your direct reports, with your own manager, with their manager and the rest of the senior team, and externally with suppliers and other partners 
  • Able to translate organisation and team goals down to individual level - including understanding budgets and desired outcomes
Some of the tasks you will be doing as a manager are also different from those you do as a team member.  These include things like setting objectives, delegating tasks, monitoring progress, giving feedback and reviewing performance.

Some of the best tips Ive seen for new managers can be found at Work Awesome. They advocate making sure you allow team members to be pround of their work - this means taking account of their ideas, allowing them to implement those ideas where they fit into the overall team goals, and giving credit to them for the idea and the outcomes.  It means not micro-managing them while they are doing the work.  There is a difference between having one-to-one meetings at agreed intervals, where progress on current tasks is reported, and you checking several times a day to see how things are going and to tell them how to do each step along the way!

The other key advice they offer is to "catch me doing something right".  It is very easy to spot when someone has missed something, or isnt using the best technique to get something done.  However, if the majority of your conversations with your direct report are criticisms of what they are doing or how they are doing it, you will quickly demotivate them and they will end up thinking "why bother, nothing I do is right, there is no point trying any more".

Although this seems obvious, it is surprisingly difficult to make sure the balance stays in favour of praising more than offering criticism.  Issues tend to jump out and catch your attention. You could end up being very busy attending to all those issues. Someone doing good work - ie, "just doing their job" - tends to be taken for granted.  Try and take time to notice the little things - a simple "thank you" or "well done" or "thats great" works wonders, especially when delivered in public.

Another useful site, which has a list of common mistakes new managers tend to make, is the management site at  One of the key points they make is that a major change once you become the manager, is that everything that happens in your team is now your responsibility.  This holds true whether it is something you did or knew about, or not.  You are accountable for the performance and behaviour of your team members.  This means it is up to you to have developed those relationships, delegated and motivated effectively, and communicated often and well, so as to minimise those "oh ......!" moments.



Monday, 17 September 2012

Services Extended to the USA

From the 1st October this year The Library Career Centre is delighted to be able to extend its recruitment and career coaching services to library and information management professionals in America.

Director Nicola Franklin says she is very excited by this development “With developments in technology it is now possible to carry out video interviews and coaching sessions, as well as work collaboratively on documents and keep up to date with issues and discussion on Twitter, for example, from anywhere.  This means that physical location is less important than ever before to the successful delivery of recruitment and also career coaching or CV writing services.

“I believe there are commonalities as well as variety between people in the library and information profession across both sides of the Atlantic, and I am looking forward to working with clients and candidates in both areas.”

Nicola will be dividing her time between Los Angeles, CA and the South of England. “I am looking forward to meeting many of the US based professionals I already share ideas with on Twitter, as well as to making many new contacts with people along the west coast and from across the US at conferences and events.”

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Library Outreach, Advocacy & Marketing - close cousins or poles apart?

Last night I took part in a very interesting #UKlibchat discussion on the topic of Outreach and Inclusion on Twitter.  Many of the comment revolved around whether, and how, librarians should use marketing knowledge and techniques to better achieve outreach goals.  Even on the topic of social inclusion, marketing was being cited as a useful means to an end.

There were several comments indicating that some librarians either didn't have the knowledge about marketing (or business concepts in general) or were reluctant to consider using marketing techniques.  Reasons for this were given variously as fear of incurring costs, lack of time/staff resource or a feeling that marketing, in a commercial way, went against the ethos of a 'purely cultural' institution or meant that libraries would be competing against each other, which was inherently wrong and would lead to 'chaos'.

So is marketing the close cousin of outreach and advocacy of library services, or are they poles apart?

I believe that it is possible, and indeed essential, for librarians to learn about marketing concepts and techniques, and then to apply them sensibly to the situation in which libraries find themselves.  In an age of scarce funding resources and rapid technological change, when politicians, budget holders and society at large are questioning the role and place of libraries (and indeed education as a whole), I think it is imperative that librarians 'shout out' for libraries, for their value, and for the benefits they can bring to their communities.

Whatever name or label you give it, this activity is marketing.  You can try reinventing the wheel and creating campaigns called 'outreach' from first principals - or you can learn about marketing theory and learn from past examples of marketing campaigns, and then apply those principles to the matching of library services to the needs of different groups in the community and to the promotion of those services.

Surely it is better to learn the best of what's available, and adapt and grow from there, rather than to dismiss all that knowledge as 'too commercial' and try and recreate a way of communicating with users from scratch?

Update 8 September 2012:

The discussion continues on Twitter (most recent tweets at the top):

What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts so please do leave a comment if you have a view on the whole 'marketing, good or bad?' debate.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

"What's Your Problem" Series #6 - Tricky Interview Questions

Most interviews you attend will throw up at least one tricky question, that one question that you hope they won’t ask, or one where you just can’t think of a good example to give as evidence of a competency.

Your first priority in a situation like this is to make sure you don’t panic.  Panicking is a sure way to make your mind go blank!  To avoid this there are things you can do as part of your preparation before the interview, as well as coping mechanisms during the meeting itself.

Before you go to your interview make sure you’ve thought honestly about your CV/application form in comparison to their job description & person specification.  Consider if there are any gaps in your work history, whether there is more than one job where you only worked there a short time, or if there are any areas called for on the job description where you have only weak evidence. 

These sorts of situations are predictable areas for the interviewer to probe, with questions that could be tricky to answer if you haven’t through it through beforehand.  Ignoring them in the hope that the interviewer won’t spot them, or won’t bother querying them, is a sure route to disaster.

Honesty is the best policy in answering questions about any anomalies in your past work history.  Having said that, blurting out “I had to move jobs because I hated my last three managers, they were awful and had no idea how to manage people” isn’t a great idea.  So, how do you explain difficult situations from past employment?

There are a range of situations from past jobs that need careful handling in interviews –some of these are listed below, with suggestions of ways to talk about them in interviews.  These ideas are not meant to be proscriptive, as each person’s situation will be different from these generic scenarios, but hopefully offer some ideas that can be adapted to suit

Situation Suggestion
Gap between jobs Depends upon the reason for the gap and its length. Short gaps while job hunting (less than 6 months) should be explained simply as time spent searching for the right job. For longer gaps it is good to show how you kept active, involved in the profession and up to date with current issues and skills during your time out of work (eg activities as a member of information associations & groups, involvement in Twitter or LinkedIn discussions, professional reading, writing a blog, etc.

For gaps due to other life events (moving house, caring for a relative, studying) it is fine to give the honest reason for the career break, and again to demonstrate how you have kept up to date.
Many short-duration jobs If these jobs were a series of fixed term contracts and temporary roles, the interviewer will be seeking reassurance that you are now committed to a permanent post and will stay for longer than a year or two (ie, that you will repay their investment in you in terms of induction and training).

One idea is to describe them as something you did in order to gain a range of new experiences and learn new skills, which you now want to put to good use in a long term position. If these jobs were permanent posts, but you moved between jobs once a year or more often, then the interviewer will be concerned about possible clashes of personality with peers or managers, or whether you may have been sacked from one or more of those jobs.

If you genuinely left jobs because you disagreed with the company culture, attitude of colleagues or management style, then it is fine to say so as long as it’s done in a positive way. You also need to acknowledge that any disagreement was a two-way thing, and show you recognise that your own actions or attitude may have contributed to the situation(s). Showing self awareness, reflection and learning from past situations is a key skill interviewers are looking for.
A job where you were sacked for misconduct or poor performance Answers to questions about leaving past jobs, where this was the case, will depend upon the exact reason(s) and how relevant that situation was to those likely to arise in the job being applied for.

For example, if the reason was poor performance in customer service, while the current job application is for a back room library services role, then simply stating the reason plus saying that you have now shifted your career goals to less customer facing roles, could be the best approach. Alternatively you could explain how you’ve worked to improve on the skill at issue in the time since (perhaps you’ve had a retail job in the meantime, or volunteered to help at a conference or membership group seminar?).
A criteria in the job description or person specification where you have weak or no evidence The first thing to remember is that they have called you to interview despite there being little or no evidence that you meet this criteria on your CV/application form or cover letter. This means it isn’t an immediate deal breaker, and they are open to hearing how you are addressing (or planning to address) any deficiency. The interview is your opportunity to discuss this with them.

When they ask a question ‘give an example of a time when you xxx (the situation you haven’t faced at work’, first of all give an example a similar or comparable situation, and then use this as your chance to show what you’re doing to get more of this skill, experience or knowledge.

For example, if they want budgeting experience and you haven’t been in charge of a budget, you could give as your example a time when you contributed figures or results to your manager and discussed with them how they’d impact the budget, and go on to say that you’ve signed up for (or completed) a budget management course to extend your knowledge, and you’re now keen to put that into practice.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

What's Your Problem series #5 - Answering Competency Questions Successfully

Many interviews these days will include some competency-type questions, if not be solely based upon a full blown competency framework with few, if any, ‘normal’ questions included.

So what are ‘competency questions’?  They are based upon a framework that described the ‘competencies’, or behaviours, knowledge and skills, that need to be displayed in order to carry out the responsibilities of the job effectively.  Competency questions are calling for evidence that the candidate has exhibited these behaviours, in situations similar to those likely to arise in the role, in previous jobs or other activities.

A competency framework usually has several levels for each competency, for example corresponding to behaviours that indicate a novice, practitioner or expert level of competence at a particular activity.  An interviewer may therefore have several example answers they are looking for, which correspond to these levels.

What do competency questions look like?  Since they are asking you for evidence of certain behaviour in the past, they are generally calling for you to give examples of having done things before.  Some examples might be:
  • Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer
  •  Describe a situation where you had to win consensus for a course of action
  • Give me an example of how you researched a question from a user
  • Tell me about a time when you worked in a team to achieve something

The interviewer is hoping that you will tell them about how you did things in the situation they’ve described, since that will give them an indication of how you could behave in similar situations in their organisation.

In order to answer these questions successfully, you need to have prepared quite a few examples of different tasks you’ve done or situations you’ve been in, so you don’t have to rely on one example to answer several different questions, as well as thinking through how you dealt with those tasks and situations.  When you prepare your answers to these questions, a useful framework to use is the STAR framework.

This acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  Since the interviewer wants to hear about how you did things, and whether it was a success, you need to focus on the Action and Result parts in your answer.  Talk briefly about the situation, describe the task you had (ie, your goal in that situation), and then go into a bit more detail about the action(s) that you took to try and achieve this goal, and about the actual outcome or result of those actions.

Taking the first example question above, here is one potential answer to it, using the STAR formula:

“I once had a user who was very upset that we didn’t have a particular book on the shelves the day they came in.  They said they didn’t have time to come back and it was a disgrace that we couldn’t keep popular books in stock.”  (situation) 

“I had to calm the person down, explain to them why the book wasn’t available, and try and find a solution to their problem of getting access to it.”  (task) 

“First of all I showed that I appreciated it was an upsetting situation for them by saying ‘I agree it’s frustrating the book isn’t here immediately’, then I got their permission to start explaining by saying ‘would you like me to explain how this has happened’.  Next I told them how many copies of that book we had in total, and when each copy had been signed out, and so when the earliest of those was due to be returned.  I said that we can only stock so many copies of each book, so that we can have a full range of books available.  Lastly I explained that they could reserve the book, and we’d contact them to let them know when it was available, so they wouldn’t have to come in again on the off-chance but only safe in the knowledge it would be here waiting.”  (actions)

“They gradually calmed down as we were talking, and agreed that we couldn’t stock unlimited copies of each book.  They were surprised to hear about the reservations procedure and asked if they could reserve a book without coming in face-to-face, so I told them about phone and online reservations.  They were pleased about this and said they’d do that next time.” (result)

When you go into your interview, it’s a good idea to take a notepad, ask the interviewer ‘is it OK if I take a few notes?’ and then have it sitting in front of you.  So that you can remember your examples, prepare your notebook in advance by writing keywords that will job your memory in light pencil at the bottom of the page (ie the part nearest to you when the notebook is on the table).  You can then just glance down and quickly remind yourself, if your mind goes blank from nerves during the interview.  You can use the top part of the notepad to takes notes of the answer the interviewer gives to all the questions you have prepared!

Monday, 6 August 2012

"What's Your Problem" Series #4 - Selling Yourself; the big bugbear demystified

Job hunting these days seems to be all about selling.  From personal branding and image, or designing your CV as a marketing brochure, to selling your key skills at interview, at all stages of the process you need to be selling.
Many people find influencing and persuasion skills difficult to master, and just the thought of trying to persuade someone to hire you, especially by ‘blowing your own trumpet’ face to face in an interview, can seem even more awkward and unappealing.

However, help is at hand.  There is, if not a formula, at least a set of communication skills that can be learned that will help you present yourself and what you can do for an employer more successfully.

Here are some links to useful articles about influencing and persuasion skills: links persuading, influencing and negotiation together

All of these techniques are based upon focusing on what the other person’s needs are rather than on your own.  In a job hunting situation it is easy to get trapped into only thinking about what you need – what kind of job, where, with what organisation and at what salary.

However, to sell yourself successfully you should spend some time finding out what the potential employers you are applying to need.  Think about things from their point of view – what sort of person would they expect would be able to do the job they’re advertising?  What qualifications, skills and experience are they hoping to see on a CV/application form?  What answers would they be expecting to their interview questions?

If you can answer these questions, then you can work backwards to prepare better answers to interview questions, write a more tailored CV, and create a more impressive online presence. 

One of the simplest things you can do is to ruthlessly avoid using the words ‘only’, ‘just’ or ‘we’ in your answers.  For example, instead of saying “it was just a small project” say “it was a small project where I ...” and instead of saying “I’ve only used xxx system once” say “I used xxx system at...”

In the words of one of the articles quoted, the aim is to create a proposal the person wants to say yes to, because it will benefit them.  It is your job to ensure that your CV/application form, and your interview answers, form this ‘yes proposal’ in their minds.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

"What's Your Problem" series #3 - Troubleshooting Your CV

If you have sent your CV off in response to lots of job adverts, but haven’t been having any success, then your CV might be suffering from one of these common problems:

1.   Too descriptive – Reads like a narrative or like a ‘cut and paste’ from your job description.  Lots of detail about what your duties or responsibilities are, but little analysis of what your results or achievements have been.
Remember, your CV isn’t your life history; it is your personal marketing brochure.  Like a brochure, it should focus on the benefits you bring to an organisation, not on a list of things you have done.  Put the most beneficial tasks and outcomes, or those most relevant to the job you’re apply for, near the top of each section.  Make sure your skills and achievements are clearly stated.
2.   Too assumptive – Leaves the reader to assume what your skills are from the mere fact of where you have worked, what your job titles have been or the length of your experience.   Assumes that the reader is going to be a librarian or information professional who ‘gets it’ and will understand.
Both of these assumptions are likely to be wrong.  The reader is more likely to be from HR, or to be a senior line manager who doesn’t come from a library background.  Even if a librarian is involved, they may not make the leap from your job titles or lists of duties to believing you have the skills they feel are necessary to do the job they’re advertising.
A CV should have as its primary goal communicating your key skills clearly to the reader.  As a test, give your CV to a friend, without any hints, and ask them to tell you what you main skills are.  Make sure they tell you skills, not ‘things you have done’, or experiences.  Can they see what your skills are?  Are the skills they come up with the ones you expected?  Are they the relevant skills for the job you’re applying for?
3.   Doesn’t look professional.  You are an information professional; part of your core skill set should be presenting and communicating information.  If your CV is poorly laid out, riddled with grammatical and spelling errors or typos and hard to read then you are demonstrating that you fall down in this key skill area.
Your CV needs to be well designed.  There are lots of CV templates and examples available in books and on the internet to give you ideas.  Make sure that you use a professional looking font, use enough white space to make it pleasant to read, and use bullet points, bold, a larger font size, indented paragraphs or columns to make sure the information is well laid out and key points are highlighted.
4.   Lacks key words. While your organisation may call the intranet their ‘Knowledge Base’ or another jargon term, the reader of your CV or the agency doing a text search of your CV is more likely to use the generic, well known, term.  Make sure you ‘translate’ organisation jargon into everyday terms.
If your CV is going being uploaded to an employer’s CV database or to an agency, then their system may not be able to read text inside text boxes or tables, so it is better not to use them in those circumstances.  These databases can parse text and pick out key words to populate skill code fields in the database.  Make sure you include the right key words for the type of job you are seeking in the plain text areas of your CV.
Addressing some of these issues with your CV and making sure that your skill, achievements and passion for your work stand out will greatly increase your chances of getting an interview.

Tailoring your CV, so that the skills and experiences most relevant for the job you’re applying for are found near the top of each section, will also help you get to the top of the list for shorlisting for interview.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

"What's Your Problem" series #2 - Personal Branding, is it for you?

There has been an increasing emphasis given to personal branding, online reputation management, and personal image management in recent years.  Numerous websites, blog posts and articles have been dedicated to the subject, which has generated debate on Twitter and elsewhere over whether this is a good thing. 

Many feel that ‘branding’ smacks of over-commercialisation, and that it is uncomfortable to try turning something as complex and nuanced as a person into a ‘brand’.  There may also be a feeling that having a focus on image or branding means an unhealthy focus on something superficial.

The fact remains that a person is going to have a reputation, for good or ill, whether they make any attempt to ‘manage’ it or not.  People will have perceptions and will form opinions about someone based on what they see and hear, either first hand or reported by others, whether in person or online.

Given this fact, and assuming you are concerned about how others might react to you, whether in your current job, when seeking promotion, or when looking for a new role, it makes sense to take some steps to ensure the perceptions people form are positive ones.

As with most things in life, too much of anything is a bad thing.  No one wants to create a ‘false front’ or insincere brand or image; the very idea of putting on an act like that makes most people cringe.  However, making no effort at all and being oblivious to your own reputation can be equally damaging – who likes someone who swans through life giving no thought to how they affect others?

Perhaps it is more sensible to think about taking care of your reputation, rather than trying to create a ‘brand’.  All the things that you do or say, at work, at external events or online, has an impact on your reputation.  It therefore makes sense to give some thought to how those words or actions might be perceived by others.

To give an example:  what would your conclusions be if, on arriving at an evening seminar and networking event, you noticed someone standing by themselves, wearing a shabby, shapeless jumper with messy hair, who made a beeline for you and announced “I hope tonight is worth it, the last one of these things I came to was useless”. 

Now it could be that this person is a dedicated librarian, who does a great job and is committed to the profession, but has simply had a bad day and did in fact have a bad experience at their last networking event – but those are probably not the first thoughts that went through your mind! 

Looking smart, being positive and professional at all work related events, and saving the moaning that we all do for family and friends, are small steps to take but could make a world of difference to your reputation.  Similarly, being aware of the impression you are creating at meetings, while chatting around the water cooler/making a coffee, or even just when talking to colleagues during your day to day work is worth the effort.

The same principle applies online; just a few tweets, list-serve posts or comments on blogs which appear unprofessional, overly critical or negative, can have a significantly negative impact on your reputation.  On the other hand being professional and friendly, sharing links and information and making positive comments to posts can have the opposite effect.  It can be as simple as saying "...people could do xxx" rather than  "people shouldn't do yyy".

Worrying about your brand might seem narcissistic, but being concerned to develop and protect your reputation is simply being sensible.  As with most things, getting the balance right is the key to success.

Monday, 23 July 2012

"What's your problem" series #1 - What role would you enjoy?

In the first of a series of articles examining some of the common problems encountered by people seeking to develop their career, this post takes a look at career goals.

What sort of job, in what sort of organisation, do you want to aim for?  How do you know?  I’ve always envied those few people I’ve come across who have it all sorted, who have known from a young age exactly what they wanted to do in life, and have succeeded in achieving their goal.  On the other hand, I’ve also found such single mindedness a bit daunting.  How on earth did they know, aged 13 and ¾ or whenever, what they wanted to do with their whole life?  Why did I have no idea?

There are several different approaches to developing your career, all equally valid in my mind.  These range from the single-minded, vocational, ‘I’ll be an xx when I grow up’ through the general aptitude and interest ‘I’ll give that a go and see what happens’ to the uncertain but need to earn a living ‘I’ll take anything that I can do with the skills I’ve got’ approach.

Do you have to have a career goal?  The short answer is ‘no’.  If you are happy with how things are going, you’re working in a job you enjoy and earning what you need, and you expect to either stay in that role or earn promotion naturally over time, then you probably don’t need a grand master plan.

On the other hand, if you are feeling at all dissatisfied with your job, aren’t earning enough, or aren’t sure where you’ll be or if you’ll be enjoying it in a few years time, then a bit of strategy and some action planning on how to get somewhere better probably wouldn’t go amiss.

Once you’ve decided that you need to think about where you’re going with your career, then the problem becomes one of ‘how?’.  There are two halves to this question – how to find out about the wider information profession, so you have a clear picture of all the possible opportunities and directions available out in the market, and how to determine what you’d enjoy doing and have the capabilities to do.

Finding out about the first one is a matter of research.  Investigating all the various library, information, records & knowledge management groups and associations that are out there is one good way to tackle this.  Every part of the industry, it seems, has its own group catering to its own networking and professional development needs.  Simply creating a list of them all will give you a good idea of the full spread of the information profession.  Taking a look at the events and courses they offer will give you more insight into each area.

Finding out what you’d enjoy doing entails:
  • Examining your personal values (what’s important to you; status, achievement, learning, money, promotion, reward, acknowledgement, family, etc)
  •  Looking at what gives you job satisfaction (finding information, helping others find information, organising data, facilitating knowledge sharing, etc)
  • Understanding your personality type (how do you behave in a team, what sort of management style will help you thrive, etc)
With the outcomes from these two questions in hand you can match between the two, and hopefully find some degree of overlap between available options and roles you’d enjoy having!  That gives you a clear template to use when you are browsing lisjobnet or other sources of library and information sector job adverts, to filter down to only those jobs that will help you on your path to your ideal job.

Having a clear career goal in mind, and being aware of your skills gaps and how certain roles might help you bridge these, also means that you can be better prepared for interviews.  These are two way communications and are your chance to find out enough about the organisation, its culture and the job itself to see whether it’s a good match for you.

I also came across this article with some great tips for making goals achievable and realistic by Annette Earle that I wanted to share with you.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What’s in an elevator speech?

One of the themes reported to have been running through the recent SLA Conference in Chicago was to have your elevator speech prepared.

This may seem a daunting proposition to many.  What should you include?  How can you avoid making it sound cheesy and canned?  When will you be able to use it?

If you have ever had someone say to you ‘What do you do?” and been stuck for a simple, clear answer, then you’ll understand the need for a short, prepared sentence or two to explain.  The alternative is either saying “I’m a librarian” (irrespective of whether you work in a library, a knowledge centre, or somewhere else), or going into a long winded explanation of some of your daily tasks (while watching your conversational partner glazing over).

So, what does an elevator speech look like?  Here are some examples that could suit various different kinds of library & information roles:
  • I help people find the right information, from books, journals and online databases, to write better assignments, as well as training them to use the resources more effectively for themselves
  • I use a range of subscription-only sources to provide business information and analyse it to create insights the (consultants, lawyers, etc) can use in their client work, either to develop new business or provide better services to existing ones
  • I organise the organisation’s own information so people can find it more quickly and easily, and help people share the knowledge in their heads so they don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ all the time
  • I support people with all sorts of things – from introducing kids to the joys of reading via storytimes and helping people find the information they need, to helping elderly people create their first email account or job seekers submitting an online job application
The key thing is to focus on the benefits to the user of the work you do for them, not to try and explain the detail of how you go about doing this.  Unless the person you’re talking to is a librarian themselves, they’re unlikely to be interested in a detailed explanation of Boolean searching or how you constructed a taxonomy! 

Another SLA Chicago attendee, Neil Infield, also blogged a while ago about a workshop he'd attended on creating an elevator pitch.  While being focused on a pitch for a business, it is well worth reading for some extra tips on how to craft a good message.
Prepare something short, outcome/solution and benefit focused, and have it ready to go next time someone at a party asks you “so... what do you do?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

What’s Your Problem?

Six posts in this series of articles about common job-hunting problems are now up!

Is your career going swimmingly? If you are totally satisfied with your career progress so far and confidently expect your career development to continue on a smooth upward path, until your eventual retirement, then read no further.

*Shaking myself awake from this utopian dream* If, however, you are like most of us and are struggling to balance life, career, money, hobbies and time, then you might have one of these problems:

  • You’re not sure how your career could develop, or what sort of jobs you’d enjoy doing in the future
  • You’ve heard about personal branding, online reputation and image management but aren’t sure how they apply to you or what you should do about it
  • You’ve worked hard on your CV, but when you send it off you get very few interview invitations
  • When you get to interviews and they ask you to name your key skills, top three strengths or tell them ‘why should we hire you for this role’, you panic and can’t think of what to say
  • You’re often faced by application forms when you apply for jobs, and feel daunted by the large blank box asking you to explain why you’re suitable for the post
  • At interviews you try and answer their questions to ‘tell me about a time when you....’ but they never seem satisfied with what you say and you have no idea what you’re doing wrong
  • You always get asked tricky questions at interviews, about why you left previous jobs, or what you want to be doing in 5 years time, and you never know what to say for the best

These are common concerns that come up when I’m spending time with people I’m career coaching, so over the next few blog posts I’ll try and address a few of these issues and offer some suggested strategies to cope. 

If you have come up against a different career development problem you’d like me to cover, why not add it in a comment below?

Six posts in the series are now up!