Disappointment and disillusionment were words that the 2009 graduates used frequently when describing their postgraduate expectations. Some even expressed the wish that they had selected different areas for their graduate studies, such as health-care administration or nursing. Yet others felt great satisfaction with their new jobs but tempered it with comments that they considered themselves “very, very lucky” to have found a full-time, permanent position with an adequate salary in a bad economy.
As in the past, LIS graduates continue to be career changers with 48% of the 2009 graduating class describing first and second professional careers before entering library and information science. Former professions continue to range from education, publishing, and human services to computer science, life sciences, and engineering. However, having a prior profession did not make the job search much easier than for any other graduate. Those reporting job experience and other professional backgrounds averaged a job search of four and half months before finding a placement (full-time and part-time combined). Many of these career changers explained that if they did not have any library experience either through internships and fieldwork or through nonprofessional jobs prior to graduating with an MLIS degree, the job search was difficult at best. Many employers were looking for two or three years of library experience. Interestingly, career changers had a much higher rate of unemployment compared to their peers seeking a first profession (7.3% unemployed compared to 4.5%). This suggests that not only was lack of library experience a detriment, but career changers encountered difficulty in parlaying previous experience into equivalent library experience.
Reports of layoffs occurred more frequently among the 2009 graduating class than in previous years. While the actual numbers appear to be small, for some the “last hired, first fired” cliché held true. All types of libraries and information agencies were subjected to staff reductions. After a job search that lasted several months, hopes were dashed when budget cuts and reduced hours meant being laid off and back in the applicant pool. The frustration and disappointment was further compounded by the necessity of taking civil service exams that are offered infrequently, thus causing potential candidates an additional burden of being ineligible for public service jobs after being laid off from other types of agencies.
Advice from the trenches
The graduating class of 2009, however, did offer words of encouragement to their future colleagues. They repeatedly said, “Be flexible,” acknowledging that the job search was difficult and “soul-sucking,” but for those willing to compromise, something would come along. They also advised that upcoming graduates must be willing to start small in order to move up and that grads need to think about their information skills as valuable to other agencies beyond a traditional environment.
Graduates who found employment observed several key factors. First, job search is a process that will take time and effort and that the process must be managed carefully. Many felt that their application letters were incredibly important, and those letters required a high degree of customization showing how closely the applicant matched the available position. Some graduates explained that once they began focusing their job search and writing strong letters, the search eased—not necessarily becoming shorter but at least generating interviews rather than outright rejections.
Fieldwork and internship opportunities have been highly cited in previous surveys as important to securing employment. In 2009, graduates reemphasized that these activities were crucial to job success. Fieldwork and internships aided in putting classroom learning into practice and exposed grads to potential employers. More than one graduate suggested, “Complete an internship or volunteer in the place where you want a job. The decision-makers get to know you, making it easier to be hired.” In addition, graduates indicated they gained valuable on-the-job experience required by employers as well as making connections within the professional community. They also gathered insider information about potential openings.
Early indications from the 2010 graduating class suggest that it will be another challenging year for finding jobs. They are sending out 50–60 résumés without landing an initial interview or even acknowledgements that a résumé has been received. Applicant pools continue to be huge, with employers having a wide range of experience levels and skills from which to select. LIS grads will need to continue to make compromises and be flexible in managing their education and job searches. As a group, the 2009 graduates offer the suggestion that their new colleagues need to keep “all options open,” “be diverse in their coursework,” and take time to prepare through internships, volunteering, and networking.
|Stephanie L. Maatta, Ph.D. (email@example.com), has been on faculty at the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science, Tampa|