Finding a non-traditional career path – candidate post 3

Question 3: What sort of advice would you give to professionals, both newly minted and more seasoned professionals, who might be interested in non-traditional career paths?  Bethan Ruddock, candidate for Director.

The idea of finding a career path outside more ‘traditional’ library roles in one that will be of interest to many – if not all – information professionals. Everyone will have to job hunt at some point in their career, and widening your search can open up the employment options available to you, and net you a fantastically interesting and rewarding role. And this question is particularly timely at the moment, with blog posts from Nina McHaleBobbi Newman, and Kate Kosturski about why they have (or are considering) taking their information professionals skills to work outside the library world.

Any company that deals with information has a need for information professionals (whether they realise it or not), and every company deals with information. As one SLA member said in a blog post about their recent job search:

‘the core skills of an information professional lie in their ability to effectively manage information, in whatever format it may come in’

As SLA members, you probably have a wide idea of ‘traditional’ to start with. You already know that there’s life (and what life!) outside academic or public libraries. And you know that there’s life outside library and information centres, too. I certainly do – I haven’t set foot in a library (except as a patron) for the past five years.

I work for two resource discovery services – Copac and the Archives Hub – based at Mimas, at the University of Manchester, UK. I’m also working on the Jisc Library Analytics and Metrics Project. These roles use skills which I had no idea I had when I joined Mimas five years ago. There was no mention of ‘library’, ‘librarian’ or even ‘information’ in the job title, and I found the job description rather intimidating.  But I decided that, whatever happened, it would be good experience to apply, so I took the chance, and have developed skills that will stand me in good stead to work with all kinds of information in the future.

My top tips for finding an ‘alternative’ career path:

1) Decide what you can do and what you want to do. Do a skills audit and write down every single skill or bit of experience you have. Choose the ones you want to use most in the future. use those as the keywords for a job search. Stuck for inspiration? Why not have a look at the keywords used for searching on ‘I Need a Library Job‘?As Kate points out, they go far beyond just ‘library’ and ‘librarian’.

2) Take chances. A job application costs nothing, except time, and the rewards can be immense. No-one will mock you for applying, and even if you don’t get the job, they might be able to give you some valuable feedback.

3) Use your information professional skills. You’re great at finding alternative search terms and constructing queries. You know how to find contacts at a company who might be able to give you some inside info (don’t forget the SLA membership database!). You know how to align yourself with a potential employer and talk their language. Make your information professional skills come out in your applications and interview, not just in what you say but how and why you say it.

4) Don’t get hung up on a job title. Or a job description. You might feel a fleeting sense of loss that you no longer have ‘library’, ‘knowledge’, or ‘information’ in your job title. But you’re so much more than your job title. You are and always will be an information professional, no matter what it says on your office door. They make take your books, they make take your reference desk, but they can’t take that away from you.

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