Well done for making it so far! After learning so many useful things, we need to think about how to promote all the hard work we do and the abilities and skills we have acquired in our career and life so far.
Part 1: Identifying your strengths; capitalising on your interests
These two really go together. What you like doing is often also what interests you, and vice-versa. In order to identify your strengths, take a good look at yourself, your tasks at work, your career, you life: what do you like to do? What do you dislike? Do you remember the last time you felt that feeling of deep satisfaction after creating, building, completing something? What was it about? What skills do you need to do the things you like? These skills are your strengths; they stem from your interests.
I am a strong believer in the fact that people are happy when they do something they actually enjoy. As we spend most part of our lives working, a sure way to be happy is to do a job you like (or love, if you are very lucky). A job that allows you to capitalise on your interests and use the skills needed to pursue them.
Most cpd-23 participants have found the love of their working life; some are still looking for the true love (a better library; a different work environment; a completely new job); some are uncertain on what to do next. It is important to remember that we are changing all the time: our interests change, our skills develop, we discover new things we like which we didn’t even know existed. Make sure that you keep up-to-date with yourself, and if you are unhappy in your current situation, acknowledge what has changed and take action.
Part 2: Applying for a job
After identifying your strengths, build a record (a database, a list, an Evernote folder, a piece of paper...) of everything you have done that demonstrates you’ve got the skills stemming from your interests. This will be extremely useful when writing your CV or filling job applications in, as you will be able to select information from a list rather than having to start from a blank page every time, thus risking to forget something. Keep this record up-to-date. Your CV is a living thing.
There is a huge amount of advice on CVs and application forms out there, and it would be really impossible to draw up an exhaustive list. Therefore, what follows is a summary of the things I have learnt from experience, and the advice I have received so far. Some of you have far more experience than me in this field, and I would love to hear your comments.
· The first, most important rule, is that no CV is the same. You need to tailor it according to the job you are applying to.
· Keep it short and readable: maximum recommended length is 2 pages of an A4 (front and back). You don’t need to put everything on it: select the most appropriate entries according to the job you are applying to. Use bulleted lists and hidden tables to make it visually easier to read.
· Job adverts have two main parts: job description, and person specification. The requirements listed under job description must be addressed in the work experience section, where you describe your current job and your career so far. The person specification requirements must be addressed in the space reserved for additional information. If you are using an application form, this is the paragraph that more or less says “tell us why you are applying, plus something you haven’t told us elsewhere”; if you are sending a CV, this type of information must be written in the cover letter.
· Try to meet all criteria (essential and desirable) listed in the job description and person specification. Don’t trust employers too much when they say that something is desirable and not essential: if it is listed there, it is important to them. Meeting the essential criteria is...essential (sorry!), and meeting the desirable ones is very, very, very important. Don’t overlook them.
· If you don’t meet all the criteria, you can still apply and try to make your case (if you don’t even try, you don’t give yourself a chance to be successful) but, if you keep receiving rejections, you should do something about filling those gaps, for example volunteering, on order to acquire all the skills you need.
· Make sure your references are relevant. Keep in touch with previous employers and, if your references are getting out-of-date, volunteering or getting involved in other initiatives that get you out there and better known (your professional association, for example) might be a good way to get new references.
Some people might feel awkward about “boasting” about how good they are in their applications. Well, remember that it is not boasting, but making the world aware of what you did, how (amazingly) you did it, and why you are more than willing to do it again for your potential employer. It’s giving you justice and credit for all your hard work and commitment. You are not stealing. You are not lying.
As I have been one myself some years ago, additional notes for foreign applicants willing to work in the UK.
· The so-called European CV is basically unknown in the UK; moreover, its format is quite unreadable for UK standards.
· Translate everything in English: employers might be clever and work it out, but they are not supposed to know that “bibliothèque municipale” or “biblioteca comunale” mean public library.
· List all your qualifications in their original names but explain what they are: some typical Italian sample formulas are “Laurea” degree (= BA), and “Maturita’ classica” (= diploma of classic studies, involving five-year classes on the following subjects: ...).
· If you can, get somebody living in the UK to proof-read your CV or application. It’s a matter of culture rather than grammar.
Part 3: Interviews
If you are called for an interview, it means that your CV or application were already positively judged by the panel. All your faults and gaps might jump to your mind as soon as you read the invite, but again, you need to give yourself credit for making it to the interview stage of the process, and get some confidence from that. This doesn’t mean that the job is already yours, but you have been given a further chance to shine, so why not making the most of it?
The first, basic rule is: prepare. Or, to use a well-known motto: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Re-read the material on the employer; visit their website; re-read your application form/CV and any job description; prepare for awkward and less-awkward questions.
Try to get as much help as possible: for example, check if your careers service is offering interview practice of some sort. If you are in the UK, remember that CILIP members are entitled to two sessions with a careers adviser per year, offered by the Careers Group - University of London – you could use a session to explore interview techniques and ask questions on how to best promote yourself.
A very useful structure when answering competency-based questions (like “tell me about a time you found a creative solution to a problem”) is the acronym CAR, which stands for Context. Action. Results.
Start by describing the context, i.e. the situation you were in. Then highlight the action(s) you took to address the issue. Finally, explain the results, also specifying what you learnt in the process and, in case, what you would do differently in the future.
Resist the temptation to ramble. Avoid negativity. And remember that if you don’t get on well with the panel, it is unlikely that you will be happy in that workplace. An interview that didn’t go well is not necessarily a huge setback: when you finally land the job you love, it is likely that you will be thinking “thankfully I didn’t get that other one”.
Further reading: there is a lot to read on these topics but a very short selection of links I have found useful is here:
· Open Cover Letters: anonymous cover letters from hired librarians and archivists – an amazing website with samples of successful cover letters
· What’s the key to a good interview - beyond the usual truisms we all know already? – a blog post by Ned Potter, aka The Wikiman, and the various comments to it.
Summary of tasks:
Answer the questions in Part I and make your own list of activities and interests: from watching the telly to something more work-related. Tell us what you’ve found about yourself: achievements/activities you had forgotten about, things you love to do, what they mean, how you could use them in your working life.
Update your “CV database”.
Share any interview tip or experience you found useful in your career.