Saturday, 5 January 2013

On Chartership and Job Seeking

At the end of January I'll have been registered to Charter for a year. I've made steady progress throughout the 12 months with some notable highlights including my two day shadowing at Bolton Health Library, the ARLG Conference in Newcastle and organising a mini meet up for other Chartership candidates in the local area. I think I've developed both personally and professionally and I've made some lovely friends due to the process. 

I'd set myself January as my deadline and at the end of October I was well on track to meet this. I'd gathered most of the extra information I needed, finalised my CV and PPDP, listed my evidence and done a draft of my personal statement that my mentor later approved.  A January submission seemed a sure thing yet I find myself in 2013 and very little further on than I was back in October. (I should add at this point that, personal disasters aside, Chartering from scratch is easily possible within a 12 month period)

The fact is, that due to a rather drastic change in personal circumstances, I have spent the  months since October sleeping in friends spare rooms, staying in hotels and juggling my friends and family in Manchester with my work in Preston. This change was of course the big D, (divorce) or at least for the moment separation.

Since my husband dropped the D bomb I've known that I would have to get a new job. I was made redundant from my previous post, a very early victim of the public library cuts.  My personal circumstances at the time, mainly the nature of my husband's job, meant that while I was limited geographically I was able to accept a post that paid considerably less than I was used to. This has now changed and although I love my job (honestly, I really do) I cannot continue to work a 40 week contract.

A lot of people will claim that getting a job when you are employed is a lot harder than getting a job while you are currently working. They may be right. But I can only speak from recent  experience which has taught me that searching for and applying to jobs while also working full time is exhausting. Couple that with living out of a suitcase and you'll quickly realise why I have made little progress with Chartership. 

I realise that I am luckier than some. I have a job and don't, for the time being at least, have to worry about paying the bills. However I do need to make a fresh start and for me a major part of this is finding a new job I will enjoy and find challenging. The advantage I have now is that rather than being limited geographically I am free to move anywhere and can therefore seek jobs that that I would love.

I have yet to secure a new job so I'm not going to comment on my interview process. The one which I have attended so far was a total car crash which is a pity because the job was genuinely interesting and one I would have loved to do. What I can do is share my experiences of searching and applying for jobs in the very difficult information and library world. For me it's been just a valuable learning experience as a training course or workshop and while I may run the risk of strengthening the competition I don't think I've said anything here that wouldn't be obvious to anyone with a bit of experience. 

First establish what you are looking for.

Due to large scale redundancies in both public and academic libraries competition for jobs is very high. Something which put this into perspective for me was finding out that my Chartership mentor was interviewed for a post I applied for but didn't get short listed for. 

In this environment and given my circumstances it would be easy to panic apply for everything available regardless of it's suitability. Not wishing to fall into this trap one of the first things I did was to draw up a list of criteria that any job would have to meet before I would apply for it. 

  • it had to progress my career. 
  • it had to be a full time / full year contract. 
  • it had to pay more than more current salary. 
  • it wouldn't be in public libraries and it definitely wouldn't be with a certain NW council.*
  • if academic it would be a HE library or at least include elements of HE provision. 
  • it had to be a job that I would find interesting and/or challenging.
  • I had to meet all of the essential and desirable criteria on the job spec. Realistically with competition so high there is little point applying otherwise. 
Some people might not bother with this step and just apply for everything available. I do not have this luxury. The fact is that applying for jobs is time intensive and, if you have to travel, expensive. I've found that I need at least a full day to complete an online application form/write a covering letter. Then if you get an interview you will probably have to prepare a presentation, do further research on the organisation and travel on the day. To commit this amount of time and then realise that you don't really want the job anyway is a waste of time for both parties. So, before you even start looking, make sure you know what you want. 

* it's nothing personal against public libraries, I really enjoyed working in this environment previously. I just feel it currently offers no job security. 

Prepare your CV

While most jobs I've come across require the use of an online application form and explicitly say that they will not accept CVs it does no harm to get yours into shape. 

I was lucky in that I had recently prepared my CV for my Chartership portfolio so it needed little up dating. This Chartership CV is four pages long but I actually added to it when preparing it for job applications. It includes everything I have achieved since qualifying  including every training course and workshop I have been on. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Of course I don't submit this five page monstrosity but use it as a template for applications, using only the parts which are most relevant to the particular role. Being able to C+P from this master copy speeds up the input of standard information such as qualifications and means that I don't forget about any relevant training or experiences when writing personal statements. If you're applying for a number of jobs it's a really useful tool to have. 

Find the jobs. 

Update and the Job Centre are pretty much useless on this front but in the main you can automate the process using feeds from websites such as LIS Jobs and  I have also found Twitter an invaluable source of information and have made a point of looking at suppliers and publishers websites for non traditional jobs. I also check in periodically with the Sue Hill site although I have yet to find anything suitable through it. 

If you are interested in a particular location it is worth making a list of all the relevant potential employers, for example universities and FE colleges, and either visiting their sites regularly or creating email notifications for jobs matching your criteria. 

Remember to check websites and feeds regularly. Most sites charge to advertise jobs and I've found that some organisations will pay for just a few days before the job is taken down, way before the actual closing date. 


Once you've found a job and established that you to want to apply for it you need to get your application in. 

  • First read the application information paying attention to any information about the provision of CV's and deadline dates and times.
  • Make sure you follow any instructions. Sounds obvious but failure to do so is at best going to make you look stupid and at worse will result in your application being rejected automatically.
  • Research the organisation - this will help you personalise the application. 
  • If asked to submit a CV keep it to within 2 pages. Always include a covering letter addressing why you meet each criteria on the person specification if it is not obvious on your CV.
  • If using an online application form with space for additional information or a personal statement address each criteria in the job specification individually. Remember that the initial applications may be sifted by HR and/or be one of hundreds of applications. You need to make it obvious that you meet each point. 
  • Don't just say that you meet the criteria. Use evidence to say why. 
  • Make your application relevant to the job description, not just the person specification.
  • Remember to sell yourself and your abilities and knowledge. 
  • Don't lie. You will be found out at the interview. (This isn't from experience, it's just a bit of sound advice)
  • In all cases check your spelling and grammar carefully.

Of course professional recruiters may disagree with the above, this is just how I do it. However so far I have a 50% success rate for applications leading to interviews which I don't think is bad in the current climate. Strangely I am yet to get a interview for a FE environment (in which I currently work) but have had a number of interview offers for universities. 

Once you've applied

Some job application sites allow you to log back in and retrieve submitted applications but this isn't always the case so if you have the option print or save a copy of the complete application first. This will be useful for future applications and be invaluable if you get an interview.

If emailing a CV and covering letter make sure your email copy is professional and that you request confirmation that it has been received. 

And finally for now..

I challenge anyone to job seek, Charter and work full time. I've had to recognise that I can't do all three successfully which is why, even though I am within touching distance of having a completed portfolio, my Chartership has had to be put on hold, at least for a few months. 

Once I've got a job I'll follow this post up with my interview experiences - you'll just have to wait and see for that stage. Here's hoping it happens sooner rather than later, if only so that I can stop submitting applications and refocus on submitting my  portfolio.