27/03/2012 § 26 Comments
Photo credit: Lifehackery
A few weeks ago, I signed up to attend McGill’s School of Information Studies’ annual career fair, which was held last week. Over thirty employers were going to be present from all over Quebec and Ontario. As the fair approached, the organizers began to send e-mails about how the attendees could prepare. One e-mail included the following:
“Last year we did get complaints from employers about some students who were not dressed appropriately. We hope that this will not be the case this year. Please, no ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts, hoodies, etc.”
Perhaps my shocked reaction to reading this demonstrates my conservative side. I am still getting accustomed to being back in Canada again after four years of living in South Korea, a far more formal culture where ripped jeans are still only barely considered acceptable street wear, never mind career fair attire. Nonetheless, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old grandmother, I feel strongly that those who wore street clothing to the fair missed a crucial opportunity to make a strong first impression on potential employers.
As my previous boss used to say, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
After many years of a student life and a student budget, the idea of dressing up for potential employers is a bit daunting. Business suits are expensive, and if you don’t wear them regularly they can make you feel awkward and fake, like you’re trying to be someone you’re not. But you’ve just spent one or two years in library school building up your professional experience and credentials. Don’t undermine all your hard work by wearing inappropriate clothing to an interview!
Unfortunately, I did exactly that. A few years ago, when I was about to graduate from my undergraduate degree, I applied for an administrative assistant position and was granted an interview. Figuring that because I was still a student I would not be expected to dress up, I went dressed in a casual summer skirt and sandals. When I got there, I was horrified to discover that every single other candidate there was dressed in a business suit. As you might expect, I did not get the job. I learned my lesson. The next time I had an interview, I wore a tailored suit and new shoes. It was an uncomfortable drain on my budget, but it got me my first professional job. Proper attire is an important investment in your employment future. Even though I have zero interest in working in a corporate environment (I hope to become a school librarian), I found that wearing suits helped me to develop my professional identity and gave me a sense of confidence when I was a first year teacher.
Dressing well in any situation where you might encounter potential employers not only conveys that you respect them, but also that you take yourself seriously as a professional. Additionally, it is a very easy way to give yourself an edge over others competing for the same job (just like writing thank you notes after a job interview, a professional courtesy that shows you to be polite and considerate).
So, whether you’re looking for your first professional job or a summer gig, dress as professionally as you can. Here are some tips:
1. Invest in a quality suit in a conservative colour that fits you properly. Get it dry-cleaned several days before your interview. If you choose to wear a skirt, look at yourself in the mirror while sitting down to make sure nobody gets an accidental glimpse of something they shouldn’t!
2. Wear clean, polished shoes. Ladies, go with flats or low heels, and make sure that you can walk comfortably in them. Also, pantyhose. I hate them too, but they’re an unfortunate necessity.
3. When you choose a shirt to wear under your suit, select a solid colour (no patterns) and make sure that it is pressed.
4. Go with a conservative hairstyle, jewellery, and makeup. Ensure that your hair is out of your face. (There is some debate about visible tattoos and facial piercings; personally I think that depends on the organizational culture of the workplace that’s interviewing you. If you’re not sure, call ahead and ask the administrative assistant what he or she would suggest.)
5. If you need a briefcase, take one. If you don’t, leave it. Also leave any bulky bags or purses at home. You want to convey an aura of organization and efficiency.
6. If you’d wear your outfit to a nightclub or a pub, it’s not job interview attire.
7. Be comfortable! When I went to the career fair last week, I saw that my classmates had all followed the advice of the e-mail and were professionally dressed. However, it was clear that some of them were extremely ill at ease in their formal attire. Employers will be able to pick up on your discomfort. So if you’re not used to business suits, wear one to class or the library or the coffee shop until you start to feel more comfortable. (I like to wear my suits while I write cover letters!) Sign up for a mock interview at your university’s career centre and wear it to the interview. Soon it won’t be so uncomfortable.
Once you actually start working, of course, take the organizational culture of your new workplace into account. After I wore a full business suit to a job interview for a part time student job at a local public library, my new employers laughingly told me that suits wouldn’t be necessary on the job. These days, I wear business casual clothing to work, but I’m still extremely glad that I wore a suit on the day of the interview!
I’d like to hear from you. What is your favourite professional attire? What professional attire do you hate? Do you have any stories about clothing that got you (or didn’t get you) the job you wanted most? I look forward to hearing your stories and comments!
28/11/2011 § 6 Comments
For those of us preparing to graduate in the next several months, it’s time. Time to get ready to job search. Or, as I’m known to do, it’s time to prepare to get ready to job search because, hey, you can’t be overly prepared, right? This piece isn’t about applying for jobs themselves–for that, turn to Heidi’s post from earlier this year– but the few weeks or months of preparation before you start: the “holy crap where do I even begin to look or know what I’m looking for?” stage, if you will.
I am by no means a job-seeking expert, but I do have a running joke with my family that I collect part-time jobs, so I’ve been friendly with my resume and cover letters for a while. Spending time tweaking and polishing your official application materials is important but I’ve found that the job search preparation process is just as important. What am I talking about? Here’s a few tips to make your search a little more organized.
1) Face the facts
For the last semester, I’ve subscribed to just abaout every relevant job-seeking listserv out there. Among my favorites are I Need a Library Job because you can sort by state, Lib Gig Jobs because I don’t have to sort through dozens of non-relevent job openings, ALA Job List because even though they have a lot of intermediate and upper-level jobs I get a sense of where my career could be headed, and ILI-L, ALA’s Information Literacy and Instruction listserv because that’s the type of job I’m looking for.
The benefit of subscribing to listservs is 2-fold: first, you can get a sense of what’s out there now. Do you really want to move back home to Ohio but in 4 days you only ever see 1 job opening? You might want to consider another location, at least temporarily. Do you have your heart set on cataloging in a special library? In a few days, you’ll see how many positions are out there. It’s a good reality check. And don’t forget: ain’t nothing wrong with part-time (for now)! Second, you can see where your skill sets are useful and what needs to be improved on. For me, after reading dozens and dozens of job descriptions, I have a pretty clear understanding where my shortcomings are and because I still have several months until I graduate, I can start working on them now.
Be warned: subscribe to the digest version if you can! Because the last thing I want to do is get distracted by potential jobs during finals, I have a list-serv folder in Gmail, subdivided into the specific list-serv, and I have all the emails directly routed to the folder. That way I can look at them when I’m ready. Check out Lauren’s post on special libraries and Annie’s post about art libraries for resources.
2) Get the word out
If you’re going to ask people to be your professional references, which, by the way, you should always ask, give them plenty of notice. Some people want to be notified of every job you’re applying to so they can be prepared to be specific, others just want a sense of the types of positions you’re looking for, and others still might want to write you a stock letter of recommendation. The point is, now’s the time to figure out who will be your references for what kinds of positions and to give those people a heads up. Many academic positions want letters from your references and the more time you can give them to write it, the better the letter will be and the more your reference will like you (no one wants a 1 week deadline). It’ll also open the conversation for your professional mentors to talk to you about their job search, what skill sets they see in you, and any tips they might have.
I have a Google Calendar to keep track of deadlines, required application materials, and an estimation of how long the whole application will take me to put together (overkill? That’s my middle name). Point is, figure out what works for you to keep up with deadlines and whatnot. Now’s the time to nail down an organizational structure. For example, I have a “job search” folder on my hard drive, and within that folder, I have folders for every position I apply for that includes the job description, any research I might have done on the organization, my resume, cover letter, references, and any supplemental materials they require. I like to group them by type: academic, public, instruction, outreach, etc., but that’s just me. Again: what works for you?
What strategies do you use for the job-search preparation process?