operationalizing your inner rockstar: a response to Bohyun Kim

Over at Library Hat, Bohyun asks — if you can’t get involved much as a library school student, “what can you do to increase your chances of getting a job after the MLS?”

I really resonate with her question. In her case, she couldn’t get involved because she was working full-time on top of her courseload; in my case, childcare limitations kept me from getting involved with student organizations (as I’d really wanted to) or applying for part-time library jobs (all of which paid less than childcare cost; no, thanks), but it comes to the same thing. I don’t know how much my advice is worth since (having graduated in May) I’m still looking for that first professional job, but my mantra was: “a constraint, not an excuse”.

Look, I am not going to go to a prospective employer and say “well, I am SECRETLY awesome, I just couldn’t show it because there were these circumstances that prevented me, but you should hire me over these people who are DEMONSTRABLY awesome”. I mean, I would have to laugh myself out of that job interview. So it was important to me to think — given the constraints I have — what can I do to be demonstrably awesome? Because the alternative is really not an option. The way it’s been working for me:

  • Go beyond the minimum on final projects. If at all possible, produce something which has actual users or a world-visible product. DCKX, my topical index of science content in the webcomic xkcd, was my final project for my subject analysis class — but it was also an excuse to solidify my skills from my databases class; work with real users (science professor beta testers); put something online where it demonstrates my technical competences; and, frankly, do something sexy. OK, it was more work than I had to do and it kind of ate my life, but I was going to have to do some kind of final project anyway, and my other class projects were going to survive if I cut corners.
  • Leverage your strengths. Use the time you do have. In my case, regular weekly commitments were hard, but occasional major time commitments were manageable, as was anything I could do on a flexible schedule after my kid’s bedtime. So I dumped the kid on friends and family for a solid weekend and went to ALA Midwinter 2010 (conveniently next door in Boston). And I did a few presentations at the Simmons tech lab — not too daunting since they drew on my teaching background — but boom, CV entries. And I’m good at writing, so I took an idea I was kind of obsessed with and, in two solid weeks of staying up way past my bedtime and writing and researching and coding like a banshee, wrote a paper that won the LITA/Ex Libris student writing award. Whee! (Then I slept. And did two weeks of overdue homework. I stand by my choice of priorities there.)
  • When you can network, do so, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Janie Hermann wants volunteers for Battledecks? Sure, I’ll throw myself on that grenade. (See above about teaching experience. Teaching middle school is pretty good prep for extemporaneous public speaking…) I signed up for Twitter just before Midwinter so I could join that conversation, and used it like mad at Midwinter and Annual to meet people and find good things to do (both sessions and after-hours); I am flabbergasted at how much it has enriched my life. I spend a few days at conferences forgetting I’m an introvert and just try to be as visible as I can. (Another mantra: “If I can’t be employed, at least I can be famous.” Four mentions in ALDirect so far. And tomorrow, the world.)

Maybe this is not your sort of thing. Maybe you’re not into teaching, and finding time for networking is hard. I get that. The point isn’t the specifics of how I do this (which, heck, for all I know won’t even land me a job) — the point is that we all have ways we are secretly (or not-so-secretly) rock stars, and “a constraint, not an excuse” means that you have to find the ways — within the time and budget and schedule you have — to operationalize that rockstardom so everyone can see it. The constraints might mean you have to be a rock star on a smaller stage than you dream of (or can handle). That’s how it goes (for now). Doesn’t mean I have any intention of sitting in the audience, meekly sipping my drink.

We are all library rock stars

So, how about you? How do you work around constraints to be a rock star?