This is one in a series of stories written by mums for mums about going back to work after a career break.
In today’s guest post, Susan Mends shares her top tips on how to prepare to go back to librarianship after a career break. If you are a library returner, follow Susan’s blog here or on Twitter @LibraryReturner.
And if you have a career break story to share, please DO get in touch.
In Susan’s experience, employers often treat those returning from a career break more like a recent graduate rather than someone who completed their library qualification many years ago. After a career break, applicants need to persuade those hiring that their ‘skills and experience as a professional are up to date’. (Mehling, 2018)
Yet at the same time, you are competing against other applicants who are already in professional librarian positions, during a time of economic austerity. Susan shares her top tips from her experience.
How to enhance your library skills to return from a career break
When you are ready to return from a career break, there’s a lot you can do to enhance your library skills to make that transition easier.
1. Shadowing or voluntary work
The job market in 2018 is tough. After one or two interviews it becomes apparent that employers expect you to update your skills through shadowing or undertaking voluntary work while you are ‘at home’. It is not essential for this to be a professional role but fresh experience will be required and it should be in librarianship. But how do you secure such work?
One approach is to speak with someone at your local public library. Chances are you’re already familiar with the staff through attending the library with your family and would feel relatively comfortable approaching them for information and advice about the opportunities available. The first thing to clarify is whether they accept volunteers at all. Some authorities advertise volunteer positions in the same way as paid work. Others will not accept anyone except teenage volunteers during the Summer Reading Challenge.
The use of volunteers in public libraries is controversial and library leaders will be trying to ensure that your presence does not compromise service provision or replace paid employment in any way. Explain your position and what you hope to achieve by the experience and hopefully you will find success.
Job shadowing opportunities in librarianship have been developed for new professionals and students by the team behind NLPN (New Library Professionals Network). They maintain a list of people who have specifically volunteered to show the type of work they do in their home work environment. The good news is that they encourage those returning to librarianship to avail of their services too.
2. Get help from friends
Keeping contact with former colleagues may lead to job opportunities. It’s great if you have maintained your links while out of the workplace, but, if not, sending a message to former colleagues may prove fruitful.
Other potential opportunities: get in touch with your referees and re-establish contact with other professional contacts. Tell them that you are starting to look for work and ask them to think of you if they hear of any openings.
It is a long-held belief that your professional network is the best way to find out about new job openings; particularly informal and unadvertised work. It is useful for hearing about openings before they are publicly advertised. While it is hoped that the more suspect recruitment practices are declining, being known to others is likely to be of more use than not.
Building up a network takes time so how else can you grow your network?
Joining a library committee is a good practical way in which to assist a return to professional work, particularly if you find yourself volunteering or working at a lower level post.
Maintaining a Linkedin profile and connecting with others to expand your network and, once you are established, becoming active in LinkedIn library groups enables you to ask for advice from the group. [More tips on using LinkedIn after a career break here.]
Attending free library events can be worthwhile as well as becoming active in your professional association once again.
3. CILIP: get the most out of your professional association
If you’re a member of CILIP (The library and information association) you can consult the Careers Hub on CILIP’s virtual learning environment (VLE ) for general career advice. Or speak to the staff.
Getting involved with your region and the CILIP Special Interest Groups will give you the opportunity to network with fellow professionals and stay in touch particularly if you can take a more active part like volunteering for a committee or to help with an event. You can also apply to your region and the groups for bursaries to attend specific events.
(Helen Berry, Email correspondence, Apr 30, 2018)
Undertaking chartership or revalidating can provide a focus for your career restart. The CILIP Benevolent Fund which exists ‘to help CILIP colleagues and their families who have fallen on hard times or have been faced with unexpected financial difficulties’ may also be of use.
It can feel that new entrants to the profession and librarians at the height of their career are represented most visually. However with increasing calls for flexible working and a profession that has had to respond directly to layoffs and redundancies, it is self-evident that the time has come to act for career breakers. While return-to-work schemes and internships may seem like a pipe dream in librarianship, getting involved with your professional association is one way to show career break librarians exist and need professional support.
The recently developed section ‘rejoining the profession’ on the VLE is a positive indication that career break issues may soon be addressed.
4. Relaunch yourself
Standard advice suggests that you should register with sector specific recruitment agencies such as CB Resourcing, Glen Recruitment, Sue Hill Recruitment and TFPL. They can also provide support with CVs, applications forms and interview technique but perhaps of less value if you live outside a major conurbation and are not looking to relocate.
In terms of presenting your CV, the ‘portfolio of skills’ approach suggested by G. Kim Dority (2006), Oliver Cutshaw (2011) and others seems to be the best way forward for career break candidates. (Here you are detailing your qualities and experience through your skills rather than a chronological job history with career break gaps.)
Consider having your CV reviewed by someone else, preferably someone with experience of recruitment, to be sure that you are presenting yourself effectively and compellingly for a professional position.
5. Job searching: the need for career flexibility
Cutshaw (2011) further emphasises the need to have flexible job and career expectations. So you need to expand your job search away from the areas you used to work in. Having worked to construct a skills-based CV you should be equipped with clear knowledge of what you can actually do, not just what job you did. Try not to restrict yourself by library sector or job type but keep assessing the skills you have and consider using them in a variety of jobs.
6. Find good and meaningful work … at a different level
Open up your horizons to apply for paid work at a different level to the one you were at when you went on your career break.
Bekki Clark in The Mum’s Guide to Returning to Work refers to this as a ‘mini-career’, something that you might choose to do that’s part-time, possibly to coincide with school hours. In such roles you’re unlikely to be working at the level or receiving the kind of pay you were used to before having children but you will be using the role to gain experience, increase your confidence and earn something however small. (Clark, 19)
There are very few stories in the professional literature offering advice about which route to take when going back to work after a career break in librarianship. One of the few articles written on the subject (and the one which I kept with me to refer to from time to time) is by Alice Crawford.
In Getting Back In Crawford details how the library assistant post she secured after her career break became her re-training ground for a professional position.
I think the approach must be to emphasise one’s willingness to take on work at any level in order to ‘get back in,’ and so in due course to qualify oneself with the ‘new experience’ necessary to apply later for more senior posts.
It can be difficult to get professional experience if you return to a different level. So aim to expand the professional experience you gain outside the workplace.
7. Return or not? Alternate careers
Either at the start of your return to work or at some point in your job searching you may find yourself considering whether to return to librarianship at all. Returning from a career break is certainly a time of reflection and where you may think about why you got into the profession in the first place.
You may be reminded of your desire to make a difference or your hopes for long-term job satisfaction. Instead you may decide or to seek out non-library based jobs while your caring responsibilities remain. Or not to re-enter librarianship and to look at a completely alternative career.
If continuing what you did before your career break proves to be challenging, take some time to assess your transferable skills to find out what other kinds of work you can do.
8. Take care of your wellbeing
The lack of resources for those on a career break in librarianship means that it is impossible not to feel alone. While you may hope to enjoy the time you have with your growing family, it is impractical not to be worried about what comes next, when you should return, how you will afford that. If you had a fulfilling job prior to the break with professionally enthusiastic sociable colleagues, it can come as a great shock when that contact dries up as your immediate day to day concern does not match theirs.
You hardly feel like a model mum when in these times of stress and personal struggle you start to question your decision or feel frustration about the responsibility you have with your family.
Libraryreturners.com blog was set up after not being able to find a career break information resource for those who used to work in librarianship and wished to return. The blog has assisted my own emotional well-being by enabling me to become involved in current professional issues while ‘re-training’.
I would very much welcome the opportunity to share stories, tips and ideas, to hear from others who’ve taken a career break for reasons of illness, redundancy, travel , to care or career change and to inspire and encourage those about to take the plunge that they can return to librarianship in a manner that suits them.
- List of UK Volunteer Run Libraries
- NLPN job shadowing opportunities [To be added to the NPLN job shadowing opportunities list, please email them on firstname.lastname@example.org]
- The CILIP Benevolent Fund
Library and information science recruitment agencies:
- Berry, Helen, Re: Career enquiry. Email correspondence, Apr 30, 2018
- Clark, Bekki, The Mum’s Guide to Returning to Work, (Beamington Publishing, 2010)
- Crawford, Alice, ‘Getting Back In: Returning to Libraries after a Career Break’, in Impact (Journal of the CILIP Career Development Group), December (2007), 73-75
- Cutshaw, Oliver, Recovery, Reframing and Renewal: Surviving an Information Science Career Crisis in a Time of Change, (Oxford: Chandos, 2011)
- Dority, G. Kim, Rethinking Information Work: a Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals, 2nd ed, (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2016)
- Mehling, Ellen, ‘Q&A: Returning to a Professional Librarian Position after Years in Para-Professional Roles’, Library Career People, July 17, 2018, https://librarycareerpeople.com/2018/07/17/qa-returning-to-a-professional-librarian-position-after-years-in-para-professional-roles/ [Accessed 16/09/2018]