Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thing 21: Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

I should be whizzing ahead with this Thing. I've been working on it as part of my expanded CV for Acilip, and recently applied for a promotion within my organisation. So I had a range of tools to chose from to help me identify the stuff I'm supposed to be good at...and the things that I need to work on.

Cilip Body of Professional Knowledge provides an overarching framework for the skills needed by librarians. Rather than outlining specific skills, it covers broad area's covered by library and information professionals. I'll admit that when I first looked at it, my first thought was 'is that it?'. It's a technical document that doesn't really describe skills in details or allow you to assess your competence. There is an interesting viewpoint from Susie Kay available on The Information Professional Wiki that is worth reading.

'Capabilities Dictionary'. This is an internal tool that names and describes a complete set of skills and behaviours required. They range from an understanding of and ability to apply knowledge of legislation to your own work, through to influencing, persuading and negotiating skills. My own job requires 'data and information management', 'customer service' and 'communication' skills. The job I actually want requires 'legislation', 'influencing, negotiating and persuading' as well as 'customer service' skills. So it gives me a clear idea of where I need to improve or develop in order to progress into the role I want.

A lot of this work draws on the Civil Service Professional Skills for Government. The Skills identifier outlines core skills required at different levels of working, and also points to further resources for specialists posts. Which leads me on to...

Government Knowledge and Information Management Professional Skills Framework. It's a really comprehensive review of skills required by information professionals at different stages of their career, and for me, this sets the standard in terms of giving me a set of skills that I can use to measure my own competence.

So rather than starting from a blank piece of paper, I was able to use a range of tools to help me think about my strengths, and which parts of knowledge and information management I'm really interested in, and where there are gaps in either my knowledge or practical skills.

I have found that my strengths / weaknesses change and adapt depending on the job I've had and being able to put those skills into practice and keep them up to date. My current job has left me feeling like I've lost some skills. Six years ago, I created a simple but fully functional self-service library catalogue for a small chaplaincy library using Microsoft Access. Now I doubt I could even create a simple relational database without an awful lot of swearing as I just haven't used this software in my current role. But the role has given me other interests and strengths on which to build.

One tool that I have found really useful for recording the achievements in my working life is Recording Skills Development for Information and Library Science. [PDF] This appeared back in 2002, when I had not long started working in libraries. I printed it off, and started using it to record little accomplishments and keep tabs on how I was progressing. It became my own little library of case studies, and one that I find really useful when applying for jobs and attempting to think of examples for proving that I have particular skills. It's not as comprehensive as newer skills checklists that have been published more recently, but it was extremely useful for helping me compile the evidence I needed for Acilip.

So after that ramble, it's time to actually answer some of those questions...

What do you like to do?

Every job I've had - or wanted - has always been about helping people. When I switched careers from being a nurse to being a librarian, I found an awful lot of similarities between the roles.

I love finding things out. Figuring out ‘why’ as well as ‘how’. I like a challenge. It's fair to say if someone says 'you can't do that', I will find a way of doing it. I hate to admit defeat. Which is useful when I'm attempting to figure out how to change a setting on our LMS.

I also love learning new skills. I don't think I've ever stopped being a student. Since leaving school, I've spent time doing short courses with the Open University on humanities, computers, IT and legislation. Learned British Sign Language. Makaton. Studied child development. Completed the ECDL, NewClait and learned how to touch type. Taught myself XTML and CSS. Taken an English A'Level 'for fun' (although I didn't do the exam). I'm not an expert in anything though. Just interested in lots of different things. I can often be found browsing the Open University course guide planning the next short course to take. Being a librarian allows me the joy of always learning something new.

What do you dislike? 

Back in the 1980's, kids like me were called 'keeners' at school. Although I hated the politics of school, I loved the learning. But if I had to put a list of subjects in order though, maths would come at the bottom of that list. I really wanted to like it. It should have been simple. Just follow the rules and the answer will appear. But I don't have a lot of confidence with numbers. It's a weakness I recognise and have taken steps to work on it. It doesn't stop me compiling statistics though. As I find numbers difficult to digest, my goal is to make sure that in reports and presentations, the 'numbers tell a story and are easy to read and understand through the use of graphs and charts.

Do you remember the last time you felt that feeling of deep satisfaction after creating, building, completing something?

Building a toolkit to help 'Communities of Practice' put their enthusiasm and energy into creating a group that could have a profound change on the way the business does it's work. It was the first time I'd worked on a major project. I felt proud that we'd done it in-house, without contractors and using - and building - our own skills. It was a challenge, but one I very much enjoyed. I enjoyed the research that went into informing the project. Enjoyed the opportunity to be innovative and creative, to meet lots of different people, talk to them and find out about what they did and how we could help them to do it better.

I'm also happiest when I'm teaching. I'm a big believer in the 'teaching people to fish' philosophy (Apart from when it comes to changing my car tyre. Could someone just do it for me please).  I see the role of 'teaching' quite broadly, so this could involve anything from helping someone on the phone make sense of finding British Standards, writing a guide finding grey literature or standing in front of a team of lawyers and showing them how to use Lexis to find case law.

What skills do you need to do the things you like?

Communication skills. I would like to improve my written communication skills. You might have noticed my tendency to ramble for a paragraph or two before I finally get to the point.

Influencing, persuading and negotiation skills. Influencing skills are becoming more important for advocacy work.
Project management. Particularly as librarians are doing more work in partnership with other departments or external organisations on short-term work.
Networking Knowing who is who, and where to put those influencing skills to use.
Customer care skills I'm amazed by librarians without it. I've met a few. I'd like to put them on an island somewhere. Preferably one without electricity and only JedWard for company.

How to progress from here? I have an idea of where I want to be in five years’ time. I'm going to have to work hard to get there, because looking around; the view is very different from where I am now. I like having a plan, but I don't let that plan become the rock around my neck, and I'm happy to embrace new opportunities that I hadn't anticipated and tweak those plans slightly. But for now, my focus is on a job interview that I have in two weeks that just happens to use some of those skills above... wish me luck.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, I found it very useful as I'm starting to record these things for Chartership.
    Good Luck with the interview BTW

  2. Thanks! I'm hoping the person interviewing me doesn't read this blog. It's perhaps not a great idea to outline a weaknesses when in the interview I'm clearly going to attempt to convince them that my 'weaknesses are my strength, or irrelevant'!