On being an information entrepreneur

Making the most of your starter job

Or, why you should consider that job in Smalltown, USA


Female student working in the libraryRecently I had an opportunity to work with a young woman who had just graduated from an MLIS program. She was unsure of how to proceed with her job search given the precarious job market for librarians (and everybody else).

This young woman had never worked in a library before, and, like many of us when we complete our degrees, wanted to get a job in the same town where her university was located. But the reality is that with little or no library experience and facing the stiff competition that comes in an area flooded with fellow MLIS graduates, this young woman’s job prospects would be dim at best.

In fact, probably her best opportunities lie in a direction often avoided if not dismissed by recent grads: working for a library in Smalltown, USA.

The Starter MLIS Job
A starter job is the one you take when you’ve got little or no experience, so need to build up this aspect of your professional value. It may offer few of the elements you’re might want to go after in subsequent jobs throughout your career (high salary, cutting-edge projects, flexible hours, etc.), but it provides something else of high value: the opportunity to establish for yourself and others who you are as a professional.

A starter job can be of fairly short duration, which can be one of its attractions – if you find you really don’t like the place you’ve landed, you can comfort yourself that most of us can put up with anything for two years. (On the other hand, you may be surprised to find that the job and town you thought would bore you to death turned out to be a delightful community with a wonderful library, and you’d like to build a career there.)

Regardless, when you take a starter job, consider it a terrific opportunity to identify and practice those professional behaviors and attitudes that will help you succeed in the coming years.

Put together an agenda for what you want to accomplish/learn/practice over a given period of time – say two years. Then, if you love your job, you’ll have positioned yourself to continue to grow in value to your employer – and if you don’t love your job, you’ll have prepared yourself to move on to a better position.

The Starter Job Agenda
Here are some ideas for what you might want to consider as action items:

Bottom line: understand that paying dues is an honorable and wise activity. Your job is to learn, to establish your professional persona, to contribute to the best of your ability, and to become known as a strong, valuable contributor who employers will hate to lose.

Then when you’re ready to move on from that starter job, you will have built a solid career base from which to launch, and will have a folder-full of people eager to write letters of recommendation for you, the now-experienced information professional.

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