Are you currently in a MLIS program, and wondering how you’ll get a job when you graduate? I had the same concerns while I was enrolled in the University of Illinois’s LEEP program from 2018-2019.
Given my lack of professional experience in the library world, I was especially nervous after graduation. Because of that, I decided to approach the experience by following advice from Conan O’Brien, of all people. He has this quote, which I’m sure you’ve seen on many Pinterest boards: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” I knew that, if I really wanted a new job when I was done earning my degree, I had to go above and beyond – I had to work really hard, and be kind. And spoiler alert: it worked.
In October of 2019, two months before graduating, I accepted a job offer as Communications Coordinator at Skokie Public Library. This was my dream job, at my dream library. I’m still a bit shocked that it happened, to be honest. So, what “work hard and be kind” steps did I take? I’ve outlined them below, in the hopes that it can help others working on their degree as well.
Be kind (a.k.a. take every opportunity to meet people and create connections)
U of I’s LEEP program hosts a Welcome Weekend every year for new students. I almost didn’t go, because I think mingling with strangers is absolutely terrifying, but I’m so glad I did, because I made connections with people who changed my entire MLIS experience. That weekend, I made sure to introduce myself to as many people as possible, and get their contact information. It was nerve-wracking and exhausting, but because of that effort, I met people I’m still friends with, and met a man who connected me with the practicum supervisor at his library in Oak Park, IL. That connection helped me land a practicum there in the fall of 2018, which was a priceless experience.
I also took a chance when I went to a LEEP job fair in early 2018, and forced myself to talk to every public library booth rep. That is how I met the Skokie Public Library director, struck up a conversation about leadership roles in libraries, and got his business card. I reached out to him after the job fair, and while we exchanged a few emails, nothing came of it until I mentioned our email exchange to him during my job interview. That night, after my interview, he found the email I had sent him the prior year, and I think that helped me stand out among my competitors.
Lesson: find ways to connect with new people. Go to job fairs and networking events, follow up with every person you meet, participate in library and MLIS Facebook groups, attend potentially awkward conference dinners and mixers – do it all. Meet new people and see how you can help each other out in this crazy library world.
Work really hard (a.k.a. aggressively seek real-world experience)
I was a working machine during the majority of my time in the LEEP program. For more than half of my two years in the program, I held a full-time job, took classes part-time, and then also had an internship or part-time job at a library on top of that. It was exhausting, and my priorities outside of work had to be homework, sleep, and taking care of my dog. But I knew that just having a degree would not be enough to stand out in such a competitive field – I had to have real experience too.
After adding my practicum experience to my resume, I spent weekends checking job postings for part-time jobs that I could do in addition to my full-time job and school. That practicum gave me the confidence and experience to apply for and be offered a part-time adult services position in Elmwood Park, IL., where my main role was working reference. The work I did for both my practicum and my part-time job helped me land my job in Skokie.
Lesson: get all the real-world experience you can while you’re still working on your degree. Figure out how to volunteer or work part-time outside of your current job. Whether you’re changing careers or want a promotion, taking advantage of new opportunities shows dedication and enhances your resume. And I honestly believe that just having the diploma doesn’t cut it in our field.
I wrote about the actions I took while working on my MLIS degree, but also want to acknowledge the luck side of things as well (and how I took advantage of those too).
I don’t have kids or a spouse. I have a dog, but other than that, I could be selfish with my time. If this is true for you, then use your free time to build up your resume however possible.
My full-time job was flexible when it came to working from home. This certainly helped ease the burden on days when I had to work during the day and at night. You realize how many hours there really are in a day when you maximize your time.
I had made a strong connection at a library. This (I’m certain) was huge in helping me stand out during application and interview processes. The inside connection? My practicum supervisor! I was able to use her as a reference when applying. The actions I took during the LEEP program (attending Welcome Weekend, attending the job fair, doing the practicum and part-time job) all led directly to my getting a job.
So what are you waiting for? Go work hard and be kind – make yourself (and Conan) proud.
1. The entire quote is from Conan O’Brien’s monologue on his last show on the NBC network, January, 2010: “To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. As proof, let’s make an amazing thing happen right now.” Read more here.