Tips for new students: One year out the gate

by Mary Gu

As a perpetual student, September has always meant the joys and anxieties of the new school year to me. I finished my Master of Information at the University of Toronto in the summer of 2014 and, one year later, September still feels like new beginnings to me. I have been in the workforce for one year having started my first non-student job at the end of August 2014. Since then I have moved on from my first job and started working in academic librarianship this September. September and my own new beginnings have inspired me to look back at my student days and reflect on what I’ve found most useful in my professional life that I gained as a student.

  1. Get work experience.
  2. Participate in extracurriculars.
  3. Being generous.

From the above, you can probably sense that I took a very pragmatic and career focused approach to my Master’s program. I do believe that it has served me well since finishing school, but these suggestions may not be as relevant for those of you who are more interested in continuing further in post-secondary. So take what I’ve written here with that caveat in mind.

Getting working experience

I had the great pleasure of working for several departments on campus while I was completing my Master’s. I provided reference and research services for a social sciences/humanities library and for a life sciences library. I also worked for a summer in the collections development department for the university libraries. These jobs gave me invaluable work experience, opportunities to participate in exciting special projects, and grounded my understanding of my profession in personal experience. As well, I met wonderful colleagues and supervisors whose support I continue to rely on. And, of course, it’s no surprise that work experience is a must-have in the competitive job market.

Ways to gain work experience:

  1. Check campus libraries for student job postings.
  2. Check if your institution has work study options or practicum/co-op courses.
  3. Work in the city/town’s public library system.
  4. Volunteer.
  5. Take jobs or volunteer positions with transferrable skills (e.g. customer service, events planning, administration, tutoring, counselling, etc.)

Not everyone has the luxury of getting a library job or being able to give their time for free. In these situations, try to find jobs with transferrable skills or participate in occasional, short term volunteering opportunities that are relevant to the library or information profession.

Participating in extracurricular activities

Sometimes it can be difficult to get work experience, but participating in extracurriculars can give you a range of relevant skills and experiences. Whether it’s participating in a student group or a professional association, running your own program, or participating in student council, these activities can provide you a lot of opportunities. These are opportunities to try something new, take on new responsibilities, learn skills, give you interview question fodder, and add depth to your resume.

Examples of extracurricular activities:

  1. Opportunities associated with your program.
  2. Student groups.
  3. Student council or other academic governance roles open to students.
  4. Professional associations.
  5. An independent project.

To touch upon an earlier point, there are skills that can be gained through extracurricular or non-library jobs that can be very desirable for library or information jobs.

Examples of desirable skills or characteristics:

  1. Good customer or public service.
  2. Budgeting/financial management.
  3. Project management.
  4. Teamwork and leadership skills.
  5. Organizational or time management skills.
  6. Interpersonal flexibility.
  7. Ability to change quickly to respond to the environment.
  8. Interest in contributing to communities.

Being generous

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time in this profession so far has been how generous my colleagues have been with their time and advice. My cohort in my Master’s program have been invaluable sounding boards and cheerleaders as we navigate the job market. My past supervisors have given useful feedback, references, and advice. Of course, I’ve benefited from the many professionals who volunteer their time through professional associations to impart advice and skills. I urge you to take advantage of these sources in your own life and be bold (and courteous) when approaching other professionals. In return, I believe it’s important to be generous with my own time and abilities. Take advantage of what other people are offering you and be generous yourself when you are able.

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