Thursday, August 14, 2014

Job Fit Revisited: What to Do When You Are the Square Peg, by Megan Brooks

Congratulations, employed Young Librarian. After finishing your degree and going through a job search, you’ve finally landed a job that requires that degree. Or maybe you’re in the job you had while you were getting your degree, even though it might not require your degree. At any rate, once you’re in a job of any sort, you will find yourself in one of a few situations.

The OMG This Is Awesome situation: you enjoy the work, you enjoy working with your colleagues and patrons, and you enjoy the organization you’re working for. If this is you, congratulations; it’s time to party!

The OMGWTF situation: the work isn’t at all what it was billed to be, every coworker could have stepped out of a horror movie, and/or the organization is morally bankrupt. If this is you, you may find something helpful in what I have to say, but focus on self-preservation first, and if you can, get the heck out of there, following Captain Awkward’s fabulous advice on quitting.

The Meh situation: you enjoy the work somewhat, although it’s not quite what you envisioned during your interview; your colleagues and patrons aren’t troglodytes, but neither are they folks you’d ever call BFFLs; and the organization you’re working for has some problems, none of which are easily solved, but on the whole they’re not awful. You’re not quite sure you really want to be working for them, but it’s kind of
okay, but still a little weird. In short, the FIT between you and your job are off just enough that things feel weird and a little uncomfortable; you are a square peg. If that’s the case, this post is for you.

Please remember this: only YOU are the authority on your situation. I’m lucky enough to have avoided OMGWTF. I’ve been in OMG This is Awesome a couple of times (and am lucky enough to be there now, praise your higher deity or lack thereof of choice.) And I’ve been at Meh in every single one of my jobs at some point. And that, I believe, is telling: often times a job may start out as OMG This is Awesome, and due to changing responsibilities, projects, and colleagues, shift to Meh, and then back again. So what do you do when the fit between you and your job isn’t quite right?
  • Keep your ear to the ground: Keep your resume updated and monitor INALJ and other places where your particular flavor or location of library jobs are advertised. You never know when something might pop up that is potentially your dream job, in your dream locale, working with great people.
  • Maintain work-life balance: Develop or maintain your outside-of-work interests, while engaging in self-care. Outside of work, I play ice hockey, downhill ski, and lift stupid heavy weights. My self-care practices include reading whatever I want to, avoiding negative people, and sleeping at least 7 hours a night. The key is finding those things that get you into a happy place, practicing them regularly, and surrounding yourself with people who help you be your best.

ski photo © Owen Ringwall, lifting photo courtesy of author
  • Then, and only then, focus on changing things at work. Try to figure out three things about your job and focus your energies there: 
    • Identify small, concrete actions you can take on a clearly-defined timeframe to reduce the impact of the biggest obstacles to being successful in your job. Do those actions and see what happens. Voila! You’re a step closer to being successful. Rinse, repeat.
    • Find a way to leverage your exceptional skill so you can you be the biggest asset possible to your organization. Me? I’m great at translating between organizational subcultures, so during a time when one of my jobs didn’t quite fit, I volunteered to be the liaison to IT. Don’t have an exceptional skill? Think harder - you do. But if you really can’t figure it out, volunteer for one thing that’s really important to do (but everyone hates doing it), and then shine at it.
    • There is something to learn in every job: identify what those are in your ill-fitting  job and learn the daylights out of them (even if they are what a therapist of mine affectionately referred to as AFOGs.) Things I’ve learned during times when my jobs didn’t quite fit: I am mediocre at regular collection development. Reporting to two bosses makes me anxious. Presenting at conferences has a fair amount in common with library instruction. I am outstanding at helping people negotiate ridiculously uncomfortable changes. Taking a step backwards career-wise was the smartest thing I could possibly do for my long-term career success.

So, Young Librarian in a slightly-weird-fitting job, those are my words of advice to you. You never know what’s around the corner… in a new job or in the job you already have that might just fit just a little better tomorrow than it did yesterday.

Megan Brooks is no longer technically a young librarian, having earned her MLS way back in the 20th century. She is currently director of research services for Wellesley College’s Library & Technology Services. She’s on Twitter as @librarygrrrl.

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