Friday, 23 March 2012

In relation to thing21 - job hunting

In relation to thing 21 - job hunting

Job-hunting in the electronic age seems so much more difficult than in the era of pen, paper and snailmail. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the job market, but have recently been helping no. 1 son with a search for suitable employment. To date, we have been unsuccessful, so whilst some of the observations below might be worth reading, my singular lack of success could well lead you to dismiss my advice!

The job market today is frighteningly similar to that in 1981 when I graduated and found myself looking for a job. The Library Association Record Vacancies Supplement, as it was then, amounted to one side of an A4 sheet, and after six months, during which time I worked as a Christmas cashier in a high street newsagents, volunteered at my local tourist information centre, and ran a pilot community library one day a week in a local secondary school, I eventually found a cataloguing role funded by the Manpower Services Commission.

Job-hunting in the digital age
Given the similarity of our situations, and the fact that I sift through completed application forms as part of my job, I thought I knew what I was doing helping no.1 son hunt out a job, but, so much has changed in the intervening 30-odd years that my skills / knowledge are a bit out-of-date!

Of course, we regularly look in the local newspaper, the local shops, the local job centre, etc., but so much these days is online, which brings its own problems. There really are so many online job sites that it can get a bit overwhelming! Some of these sites are quite clever and have some good search facilities, which, if you take the time to explore properly, can save you a lot of time, and help you target your searches so you’re shown stuff that is mostly timely and relevant. Some of the ways you can refine your search include things like specifying and searching by:
  • Geographic location (down to town, area or region, and within a specific radius)
  • Salary expectations (quite helpful if you are just starting out on a career and not yet ready for that director position!)
  • Newly posted jobs (some even allow you to search for jobs posted in the last hour!!)
  • Specific job titles
Also, there are specialist job sites for different industries, so if you know you want to work in a specific trade or profession, or have qualifications for specific areas then searching these sites can be quite fruitful.

Problems with online job sites
But, online job sites can also present problems that can drive you to distraction. So you may find that:
  • Same job are posted numerous times on the same website, or on many different websites
  • Jobs are still posted even when the closing date has already passed
  • Jobs are re-advertised every week
  • Unreal jobs are advertised
  • Training courses are disguised as jobs
  • Jobs are advertised that you have to pay to take
  • Commission only jobs are advertised with salaries
  • Jobs are posted that are located “anywhere”
  • Jobs are posted that are located where you want – as well as dozens of other places – but often turn out to be unreal (meaning there are no specific vacancies available)
Organising your information and records
On top of the difficulties you might encounter with searching online job sites, I believe that in this digital age you have to be even more organised than ever before. In my day, you sent off for, or telephoned for an application form and further details and these arrived in the post some days later. Then, if like me you were not particularly confident, you’d get a sheet of A4 paper and write out and tweak your further information before copying it out for real on the application form. Then you’d file it away with the job details and the ad, all in the envelope that you received. Ok, that’s a bit long-winded, but at least that way you had a copy of what you’d written.

Nowadays, the application process is often online too, so you click on a link to get more details and a separate link to actually apply for the job. You type in your details and your further information and you click apply/send. Great. Job done. However, when you get that email that invites you for interview, you can’t remember what you wrote in the further information section, and you can’t check back to see what the job required because the online details are usually no longer there, as the closing date has passed! There are some sites, however, that do store your details so that you can re-use them when you apply for another job using the same site.

So, you have to be incredibly well-organised to ensure you are able to give of your best in the interview.

We haven’t quite got this right yet, but we’re getting there. At the very least, I’d suggest, that you need to save a copy of:
  • The job description
  • The person spec
  • Whatever information you provided in the further information section and the covering letter
  • The contact information, including the website you went through and the company details
Do this by either creating some easily identifiable folders on your pc, or using a USB dedicated to job applications, or even print everything out and store in a filing cabinet or paper folders, just like in the old days!

Another tip is to create your further information in a Word document and then copy and paste it into the application. This way you get the benefit of the automatic spellchecker (although, of course, you should never rely solely on this), you have something to hand that can easily be amended for the next application you do, and it’s easy to scroll up and down to check what you’ve written (so many online forms seem to give you a tiny box to write in that it’s hard to navigate and check). During the recruitment process I have seen many printed copies of online applications where sentences have accidentally been repeated, line breaks are in funny places, and numerous other little things, but now, seeing it from the other side of the fence, I can understand how this happens, and be more sympathetic!

A belt and braces approach to keeping track of where you are at and what you have applied for and written would also see you creating a spreadsheet in which you record details of each job application. We haven’t actually done this, but if we did it would include columns for things like:
  • Job title,
  • Company name,
  • Website where advert was found,
  • Date of application,
  • Name of file(s) where you have saved the job description, your further information etc.,
  • Closing date,
  • Published interview date
  • Contact details in case of a query
  • Outcomes (rejection, interview, job offer)
  • Feedback / notes (yours and theirs!)
I recently read of someone who had applied for over 1600 jobs. This makes job-hunting a fulltime occupation in itself. Indeed, if you are as highly organised as I think you need to be to find that elusive job, then you are well on the way to a career in office administration!

I don’t know why but rather than use the web browser’s favourites, or bookmarks, we have copied links for useful job searching sites (with our criteria saved) into a Word document and then opened this daily and clicked each link to check for new jobs. This means that we can annotate the list with the latest search date, just in case for some reason we don’t get to check every day.

Below I’ve listed some of the more general job searching sites that we’ve found useful when looking for any job we could possibly do!
  • Jobs through agencies, e.g. Reed
Examples of specialist job search sites:
  • lisjobnet - for jobs in the information profession
  • caterer – for jobs in catering and hospitality
And, finally, don’t forget to search all those local companies in your area, and all those national companies who have offices in your area and the professional press!

Good luck with your own job searching!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Classification - a bit of a rant!

A book classified is a book lost … if no-one understands the classification scheme!

When I started at university one of the first big words I heard was “serendipity”. At the time my understanding was that the lecturer concerned was referring to the joy people experienced on browsing among the bookstacks and happening upon some exciting book they weren’t looking for but were keen to read, now that they'd come across it.

Today we could equally well apply this browsing to the [online] library catalogue. There are so many opportunities for users to happen upon something of interest, through almost any search of the catalogue – author, keyword, related search etc..

I went into librarianship because I wanted to help people, but was bothered by the sight of blood and the smell of hospitals, was not comfortable with the formality of teaching, was ill-prepared for a career in social work, but wanted to do more than work in a shop. I didn’t enter the profession because I loved books! For me, the excitement was always in tracking a book down - and not often about reading it - and seeing library users go away happy!

Do you need to understand Dewey (or whatever classification scheme the library uses) to know where to find your books? I would argue that you don’t. As a cataloguer, however, I do need to understand Dewey so I can assign your books with a number that suitably reflects the subject of the book, so that when you are looking for books on that subject you will be able to find them. And, yes, it would be nice if all the books on your subject and related subjects were on the shelves together, but this is virtually impossible to achieve, whatever classification schedule the library chooses to use. This is because in some way all subjects are related, either through their discipline, their subject, or in your own mind! This is perhaps where the internet has lead us to false expectations: Yes, if you are reading an article on the web about one thing, it will have links to articles on related topics, which you can easily navigate to and read, and then return from whence you came. That’s because computers are built to store and retrieve things in a particular way, which just isn’t possible with tens of thousands of physical items – in this case, books.

So, books are ordered on the shelves according to a specialised classification scheme. This could be a sequence of numbers, or letters, or a combination of both, and to the untrained eye, could be seen to be random. A classification scheme is designed with a couple of things in mind: It helps to a certain degree to collocate related subjects and it helps you to find the one book among the thousands on the subject you are interested in.

But, if books are hidden in some, seemingly, peculiar order on the shelves, how do you unlock the secret of that order? Well, the way in is through the OPAC; OPAC is your finding tool. If the library has it, it will be listed on OPAC and by typing in anything you already know about a specific book, or about a specific subject you can find the location of any book in the library. Library staff at the enquiry desks are always able to help you use OPAC and find what you are looking for.

That’s the easy bit! Once you’ve found your classification number, knowing how the books are arranged on the shelves and being able to find the one you want can be rather difficult, if not daunting. And that’s why we have library staff roving the floors, and who can be called upon to help you find books on the shelves. They are expert at it; this is their job!

We also provide leaflets aimed at explaining to you how to find things on the shelves – written by experts, with you in mind! However, when those experts question the choice of classification scheme, I do begin to despair …