When I finished my library degree, my entire life and mental well-being was consumed with finding a job. When that mystical unicorn of a full-time, permanent library job finally appeared, it dawned on me that I had spent no time thinking about what comes next. The most uncomfortable part of adapting to my first professional job was coming to grips with the volume of things I still didn’t know. Luckily, I‘ve always thrived on being thrown in the deep end and, over the past couple years, have managed to cultivate a reputation as someone who knows what she is doing, both within my organization and the larger library community. These are my tips for giving the impression you know what you are doing, even if you feel like you have no idea:
- “Fake it ‘til you make it” is probably hands down the best advice I’ve ever been given. I first heard this advice as a stage actor in my teens, as a method to combat stage fear. Be confident, be assertive. If you visibly look like a wreck (slouching, mumbling, avoiding eye contact) and act like a wreck (not participating in conversations, giving “I don’t knows” without any follow-up suggestions) people will assume you are indeed a wreck, or at least a newbie not worth taking seriously. Faking it however does not imply you should lie which brings me to my second point:
- “I don’t know the answer to that question, but let me find someone who can.” As a systems librarian, I get asked a technology question that I can’t answer to at least once a day. Never lie about or misrepresent your knowledge or skills. Instead try to connect staff or patrons with people in other departments who can better help them. If no such person exists, do some research and give an honest answer about what you are or are not capable of. Even if you can’t help someone in the end, they will appreciate an honest and considerate answer.
- Share the knowledge and skills you do have. Even when you feel like you know nothing, the truth is you do have a lifetime of experience and skills behind you. Don’t be afraid to speak up at your organization about your ideas. Even if they are turned down, you will still learn something about the organization, and they will learn something about you. If you have a skill others don’t, share with them, either informally (“hey did you know there is a shortcut for that?”) or more formally (hold a workshop in the office, or submit a conference proposal). I’ve learned that I really enjoy doing staff training (previously a pretty minor part of my job) and that a silly Microsoft certification in high school has turned out to be a really good base of knowledge to pass on to others.
- Realize that you don’t need to actually know all the things. Keep a tab on emerging trends and issues in the field, but don’t try to become an expert in all of them. Explore more deeply the ones most interesting or relevant to your position, other ones can be merely observed as they develop. If you think something is particularly relevant to your organization but you don’t have the time or prior knowledge to understand it further, (politely) direct it to colleague who might be a better person for that topic.
- Surround yourself with an interesting community. Both online and offline, try to connect with a variety of people you find inspiring. Find people who are in the same place in their careers, some who are few years further out, and some more who are even further out than that. Respect people’s boundaries, but if they are willing try to get to know them as a whole person, not just a librarian. Include people in this community who are in a similar place in their career, but are in a completely different field.
Now that I’m a few years into my librarian career, I feel a bit more comfortable at work, but I still find this list helpful… and I’d love to hear how others manage to get through it when they feel like a wreck.