When I was looking for a job, I remember reading (and sometimes participating in) the many discussions about the job market on NEWLIB-L and NEXGENLIB-L. People would talk about how they’d read articles about a rosy employment forecast for librarians and how the graying of the profession would lead to plentiful jobs. I read those too. In fact, I remember my dad sending me clippings about the “librarian shortage.” However, I’d decided I wanted to become a librarian well before I read any of those things. It was really the only thing I could imagine myself doing and I still feel that way. People on the board vented their frustrations — to varrying degrees — about their job market frustrations. And I shared many of those same frustrations. Yes, the constant discussions about the job market became tedious, but what I really found absurd were some of the responses of our more fortunate (employed) colleagues.
Some people with jobs responded with sympathy and concern for their unemployed colleagues. Some offered useful advice. Others were not so kind. I can’t tell you how many posts I read that basically “blamed the victim” and chalked the fact that they hadn’t found a job up to a defect on their part. Some complained that the job-seekers were too negative (some may have been, but most were just discussing the fact that there really was no evidence of the promised librarian shortage). Others who had jobs bragged that they’d had no problem finding a job after graduate school and they couldn’t understand the problems we were having. Others described why they had a job and we didn’t. It was because of their great cover letters, their tech skills, their assertiveness, their practicum, their prior experience, their geographical flexibility, etc. All in all, I found people’s explanations of why they had a job and we didn’t lacking. I was geographically flexible. I’d worked in a public and academic setting while in grad school. I had tech skills. I’m not a terrible writer. Offering advice on how to craft a great cover letter or what to ask in a job interview is very valuable, but to pretend that you really know why you got a job is laughable.
Finding a job, to me, seems about as difficult as finding love. Some people find the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with in high school. Other people don’t find that kind of love until they’re in their 50’s or 60’s. And it’s not necessarily because they are not attractive, or smart, or have a great personality (though those can factor into it). Mostly, it’s because they haven’t found that elusive sense of “fit” with another person. They haven’t found that person that they click with — that they can be completely themselves around. I certainly never found that until I met my husband, though I’d dated a lot of people with whom I didn’t have that sense of “fit”. And there were so many things that could have gone wrong. It would have been so easy for me to never have met Adam and it was so random that I did. And why do people initially click? Is it because of their mutual love of Star Trek or Thai food or because they find they went to the same college? What is it specifically about me and Adam that made us such a good match? It certainly doesn’t boil down to any one thing. But people — women especially — are lead to believe that there is something wrong with them if they aren’t married by a certain age or are at least in a serious relationship. One of my former social work colleagues is bright, beautiful, successful, and independent. Why hasn’t she found lasting love when I think any guy would be lucky to be with her? Is she picky? Or is she just looking for someone she feels that sense of “fit’ with?
It’s the same for finding a job. Why did I get my job? Was it because they liked the screencasts I’d created? Was it my blog? Was it my enthusiasm for Vermont? Was it because I can design websites? Was it because of my cover letter? Was it because I sent thank-you notes? Was it because I was a Wesleyan grad and Wesleyan has a historical connection to Norwich? Or was it something more elusive? Maybe it’s because I “clicked” with everyone I spoke with at Norwich. I certainly felt more comfortable in that interview than I had in any other. I think it was a combination of so many factors — both in and outside of my control — that I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to why I got this job and others haven’t found one yet. A librarian friend of mine suggested that perhaps she got a job offer because she’d gone to the same school as the library director’s daughter. How random is that? So much of finding a job is those little connections you make with the people you will be working with. I’m happy to offer advice to job seekers, but I can’t pretend that my finding a job somehow makes me superior or gives me any superior knowledge.
I got to thinking about this while listening to an inteview with Barbara Ehrenreich on NPR about her new book Bait and Switch : The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. In this book, Ehrenreich pretends to be one of the growing population of those who have been laid off from white collar jobs. She looks for jobs and gets insulting job offers (considering the resume and references she cooked up for this). She goes to job seminars that promise to help people find high-paying full-time employment. What she said is that people who have been laid-off are treated like there is something specifically wrong with them which is keeping them from finding a job; that they are somehow deficient rather than simply being a victim of circumstances. This got me to thinking about my own job hunt and the randomness of it all. Sure, you need certain skills, flexibility, and personality to find a job. But so much of it is just out of our control.
Here are some statistics which show that, at least right now, there is a serious shortage of jobs for librarians. Let’s take a look at the ALA Placement Center Statistics from the Annual Conference over the past few years. From 1998-2001 there were always more job openings than seekers. In 2001, at the ALA Conference in San Francisco, there were 703 job openings for 463 applicants at the placement center. By the next year, the tables had turned and there were 278 jobs for 368 job seekers. Here are the stats for 2003 until 2005 (the conference in Chicago).
|Year||Location||Job Openings||Job Seekers|
Kudos to anyone who was able to find a job against those odds. But for those of you who didn’t, don’t think that someone getting a job over you always means that you are less qualified. Work on your cover letters. Work on your interview skills. Beef up your tech skills. Try and get published or get more involved in professional organizations. Scour those job websites. But don’t let anyone make you feel like you have some sort of deficiency because you don’t have a job. Keep your chin up!
Your article makes me feel better. I have sent, perhaps 15 I don’t even remember, job applications, mostly in the past four months since graduation. After I did what I could to improve my cover letters and resume (following some of your suggestions), I am considering applying for PhD programs again.
Maybe it is because I am a foreigner, maybe it is because of my major, maybe it is because I don’t live in the big cities where I apply for jobs, maybe I should send another 10 or 20 applications . . .
Being one of the lucky ones who not only found a job soon after grad school (with some harrowing weeks wondering if a job offer would come in before the lease ran out), but also found a second position that’s better, I can echo the point about luck. Or maybe synchronicity. I was looking, they were looking, it worked out.
All I can say is, keep looking and don’t ignore any of your own experience. You never know what will tip the balance and intrigue someone enough to give you that extra shot. Good luck to all!
Fifteen apps in four months — isn’t enough, unless you are engaging in an extremely local search or looking for an extremely specific kind of job. It’s truly not.
At the height of my job search, I was shoving out five a week, on average. I’m not even sure I’ve gotten the last “not interested, thanks” letter, and I’ve been employed for two months!
Consider looking for ways to broaden your job net, and do your best to streamline the application process. Not a silver bullet, because Meredith’s right that nothing is, but it should help.
Well said, Meredith! Finding a job is often a matter of finding a good fit. I’ve gone through two layoffs and several resume-pounding months. However, when I found my current job, which is an EXCELLENT fit, I was was a bit taken aback by everyone saying, “Well, you just got lucky.” While being in the right place at the right time is certainly good fortune, I also know my own hard work and experience helped me get this job. You can’t find a good fit unless you actively look for it.
Nice essay, Meredith. I’m feeling more and more like I’ll have to go the consulting route… I’m married to a wonderful guy, we have a great house that’s paid for, and he has a job and routine that he likes.
The odd thing about academic libraries in my region is that many librarians are not being replaced as they retire. Some retire, then come back to work part-time (the joke is that now they only work 40 hours a week!), while the duties of others seem to be picked up by the paraprofessional staff. The local university library also has 12 individuals with MLS degrees working in paraprofessional positions… in theory, some of those folks could move up, but I think the reality is that they’ve been pegged as something less than librarians now.
We’ve got to do something to change the labor market for librarians. If anyone wants to join me in becoming confrontational when libraries lay-off, de-professionalize, or otherwise eliminate librarian positions, send me an e-mail and let’s do some direct action until the situation changes.
[…] feels like is designed to make people feel like there is something inherently wrong with them, and some have suggested that the system supports the idea that you’re out of work and searching for a job because you are flawed. For folks […]