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LIS Job Hunt Secret Ingredient

August 17, 2010

When LIS graduate students ask me about job-hunting, they are all guaranteed to hear one piece of advice in common, regardless of their professional goals. 'Are you a member of the X association?' (where X=the professional association that best matches their desired field of employment). This advice is based on more than conjecture. Time and time again, I have heard stories where a key factor in a graduate's successful job hunt was related to their association involvement, such as:

  • a contact made at an association event,
  • a reference supplied by a mentor or senior colleague with whom candidate had done association committee work,
  • the fact that a candidate's resume showed a history of professional association involvement opened doors.
Today on the way to work I heard yet another anecdote from a recent graduate who's job hunt I have followed over the past year. The back-story is that she had an art history masters degree before starting at Drexel's iSchool. She had also volunteered for a nonprofit art-related vendor for the duration of her time in graduate school. Unhappily, her volunteer work did not translate into a full-time offer after graduation. So graduation was followed by a period of fielding resumes while holding down a full-time tech-support position at a university library in the area.

To make a year-long story short, she finally connected with a university library that was seeking a visual arts subject specialist librarian. In addition to her stellar self-presentation and highly relevant second masters, what she said turned out to be the clincher was her longstanding participation in the arts librarian association ARLIS. The person who had the position before her was also active in ARLIS. From the sound of it, her hiring committee saw her continued participation in ARLIS - even when she was not directly employed in that specialty - as a distinguishing mark of professionalism, and a good indicator of her potential for success in the position.

What? You want *more* specific details about how association involvement helped? OK, here is the lowdown. By going to local chapter meetings, attending the national conference, and even just reading the listserv, she gained a lot of knowledge about the highly specific field of art librarianship. So when she was asked to give an interview presentation on the role of the arts librarian in a research intensive university, she was already well versed in the major issues and had lots of specific stories to draw on as examples. This helped tremendously, not only with landing the job, but also with setting her up for success once she starts her position.

So there you have it. Another warm-fuzzy story about why every LIS graduate student should keep active in their preferred association. Please recall - most offer student memberships at a steeply discounted rate! Check out this starter list of associations for more ideas if you're not already involved!