Ten Tips for Building Your Career While You’re in Grad School
Grad school is not only an opportunity for you to develop your LIS skills and expertise, it’s also an opportunity for you to build a professional platform that will help launch you into a career that’s rewarding both personally and financially.
The following tactics will help you jumpstart your career:
1. Set your personal career growth agenda. Focus on growth, not grades, because your ability to grow professionally (that means stretching beyond your comfort zone, trying new challenges, recovering from failures and moving on to successes) lasts a lot longer – and will do you more good – than an A in cataloging.
2. Multipurpose your assignments. Use them as an opportunity to connect with potential employers, clients, and colleagues through assignment interviews, and turn assignments into presentations, articles, and online content contributions that start building your visibility within the profession.
3. Create your own learning assignments. At the very least, focus on:
- Learning how to write – for the real world
- Learning how to present – to colleagues, to decision-makers, to non-LIS audiences
- Learning how to analyze and synthesize information
- Learning how to make decisions, commit to them, and take responsibility for them
- Learning how to create a basic website – understand the tools, the language, the possibilities
- Learning how you most effectively learn
4. Start building your professional network. Build relationships with student colleagues, faculty, guest speakers, and assignment contacts by sharing your knowledge and expressing your appreciation when others share theirs with you. Many of these relationships will be the source of future career opportunities.
5. Practice self leadership. Understand and use the concept of internal locus of control, which basically says that you are responsible for the outcomes of your life (and career). All the choices and decisions are up to you, if you are willing to become the hero of your own life.
6 Grab every opportunity to build your portfolio. Volunteer, take initiative, look for cool projects to be a part of. If you’re thinking of traditional librarianship – school, public, academic – volunteer in the type of library you hope to work in. The broader and deeper your experience, the greater your job opportunities.
7. If you’re considering academic librarianship, get published as much as you can. If possible, participate in research projects and look for opportunities to turn assignments into articles, preferably in peer-reviewed journals (easier to do if you are co-writing with a tenured academic!)
8. Get visible on topics that interest you. Building your professional brand is especially easy to do in the online environment – consider blogging and/or guest blogging, creating a special-interest website for a topic in which you have unique expertise, presenting at conferences and then posting your presentations online, etc.
9. Practice doing scary stuff. Graduate school is a great place to practice skills you’d like to improve before you need to deploy them in a professional setting, where the consequences of messing up may be more serious. Also, this will allow you to become more comfortable with pushing beyond your “competency zone” on a regular basis.
10. Explore how many different ways your LIS skills can be played. Start monitoring resources (blogs, e-newsletters, organization newsletters, listservs, etc.) in all of the areas that might be of interest to you, to develop a familiarity with the opportunities, issues, and resources of potentially interesting career paths.
You will be spending a lot of time and money to complete your MLIS degree. It just makes sense to double the return on your investment by getting started on a great career at the same time!