Cover Story •
Market Yourself Online!
by Rachel Singer Gordon and Sarah L. Nesbeitt
The online environment offers tremendous potential for librarians interested in professional development, whether it be by staying in touch with colleagues, creating an online resource or resume, or finding a new job. If you're comfortable interacting online, you'll find it easy to establish a network of associates—and a set of skills—that will be helpful in all stages of your career. But because anything that you do online has the potential of reaching and influencing a large community of your peers, you should consider creating either a formal or informal online marketing plan of your own—the result of which we'll call your "online presence."
Your goal is to attain the name recognition and background necessary
for professional success. Each component of your online presence helps
shape your professional image. In the following paragraphs, we'll focus
on the three main elements of an effective online presence—your online
network, your electronic resume, and your professional Web site—and we'll
give tips on using each aspect effectively in your personal online marketing
Forming Your Online Network
Information professionals' main method of networking online is using e-mail, whether through one-on-one communication with peers or through participation in electronic discussion groups. You should view even these sorts of informal contacts as ways to market yourself professionally. The colleague you help on a discussion list today may end up giving you her recommendation or collaborating with you on an article tomorrow; an e-mail message you send to the author of an interesting article or to the Webmaster of a useful site can gain you a mentor or lead to a mutually beneficial relationship. Since much professional development takes place within a community of peers, Internet-facilitated remote discussion allows information professionals to develop their careers by drawing on the support of other librarians.
One of the best ways to get involved online is to join and participate in relevant discussion lists. Start your search for such lists at Library-Oriented Lists and Electronic Serials (http://www.wrlc.org/liblists). Librarians at all levels join in such discussions, and participants often help one another by passing on job opportunities or serving as mentors, collaborators, or resources. Regular participants in popular groups can gain enough name recognition that they later go on to run for office in library organizations or write for library periodicals—and improve their chances of getting interviews and job offers.
The convenience and seeming informality of e-mail, however, make it especially important for librarians to focus intentionally on its use as a personal marketing tool. Our use of e-mail in a library environment reflects on us professionally—sometimes even years later. When participating in library-related lists or writing to other librarians, remember these rules:
The best way to market yourself through e-mail is not to be overt. The
point here is not to tout your own credentials, but to remain active, helpful,
and professional—helping to lay the groundwork for your online presence
and allowing you to create the next element: your electronic resume.
Creating Your Electronic Resume
The job hunt is another case when marketing yourself and your skills is essential. The content and format of your resume, a required element of almost any job search, will have a significant impact on whether an employer will decide to interview you. This is just as true in the online world as it is in the traditional job market.
More library employers are giving candidates the option of sending their resumes via e-mail. When you're offered the choice, it can be to your benefit to apply online. According to Geri Hernandez, technical recruiter for Endeavor Information Systems, resumes received via e-mail have many advantages, such as easier distribution among company employees, easier tracking, and faster response time on the part of the employer. The mere fact that you have an electronic resume will also indicate a certain degree of technological ability to Net-connected employers, which today comprise the majority within the information field.
All this being said, it is still the substance of your resume, rather than the format, that will ultimately determine your eligibility for employment. Your online resume should contain the same overall content as your print resume. Above all, it's important to remember that keeping your electronic resume professional is of prime importance. Just as is the case with online networking, employers or other professional contacts may have no other way to judge your qualifications.
In an online environment, your resume can have two distinct forms and functions. In the first instance, you can create an electronic resume in either ASCII (text only) or word processor format to be sent to employers as part of a job application. In the second, you can produce an HTML (Web-based) version of the same file, to be posted online.
When creating a text-based or word processor resume, keeping to standards is essential, as you want to ensure that your resume is readable on the recipient's end. This includes using one-inch margins, including hard carriage returns for line breaks, and avoiding weird fonts. Within ads, employers will usually indicate their preferred format for electronic resumes. If no specifics are provided, it's always safe to send your ASCII resume within the text of an e-mail message, preceded by a brief cover letter. If the employer asks you to send a resume in Microsoft Word or other word processor format, first check your hard drive for viruses. You'll want employers to remember your application, but giving them a virus isn't the way to do it! Finally, before sending any resume electronically, test it out by e-mailing it to yourself (and perhaps to a friend).
Even if you're not currently job-hunting, posting your resume on the Web can prove useful to your career. It's a relatively simple way to broadcast your credentials to your peers and colleagues, and its very presence shows your Web design and professional skills. (If your qualifications happen to meet an employer's needs, you may get inquiries from employers in any case!)
If you do have some background in Web design, take advantage of the
capabilities of the Web to spice up your resume by adding color and links
to your work or to previous employers' Web sites, and don't forget to include
your e-mail address. Remember, though, that you don't want to go overboard.
Keep your design simple yet effective. Make sure to view your resume with
both Netscape and Internet Explorer to make sure that it appears correctly
in both. (See a basic example at http://www.lisjobs.com/careerdev/demoresume.htm.)
Sites such as eResumes and Resources (http://www.eresumes.com)
will provide additional guidelines. A well-designed resume, however, is
only one part of a professional Web site—the next element of your marketing
Designing Your Professional Web Site
Savvy information professionals who are serious about promoting themselves and advancing their careers will want to establish their own Web sites to showcase their contributions to the profession. Creating your own site gives you an easily accessible body of work to which you can refer potential employers, editors, and/or clients, and also helps display your Internet and content-creation abilities.
Librarians create their own sites for a number of reasons, including these:
From the electronic resume you created in part two, you may wish to link to a fuller online portfolio that displays your strengths in particular areas. You can incorporate PowerPoint presentations that have been converted to Web format, images or downloadable files of brochures and handouts, letters of recommendation, and any other displayable material that shows your skills. This gives potential employers a concrete demonstration of your abilities and achievements. A natural extension of this online portfolio and resume is using the Web to post and/or link to your articles, speeches, or other writing. Since many library-related journals post all or part of their content online, you may be able to link directly to your article (or at least to an abstract) at the journal's own Web site. Be sure, however, to check the links to your work periodically—publishers often rearrange their online content. If your article is not online and you retain the copyright, you may be able to post it yourself. (Check with your editor.)
Even if you lack articles or other personal projects to post, you may
wish to create an online resource for the library community, such as a
book review newsletter, a library portal, or a site focused on a particular
topic in librarianship. If you create a site that's useful to other librarians,
you'll increase your name recognition and promote yourself professionally.
Luckily, creating Web sites has become simpler than in the past. Librarians
who know no HTML can invest in a software "editor" such as Microsoft FrontPage
(which will look familiar to users of other Microsoft products such as
Word or Publisher).
Promoting All Your Skills Online
Once you've created the three main elements of your online presence—your online network, your electronic resume, and your professional Web site—you should use them to promote yourself and your skills. It's important to be proactive without being blatantly self-promoting. Make intelligent, correctly worded, on-topic posts to discussion lists, rather than simply lurking. Get your online resume and Web site linked to the Web site of the institution you work for, or that of your library school's alumni office. Include the URL for your online resume in the print version, and mention your personal Web site in your e-mail signature file. Colleagues and potential employers will likely be curious enough to take a look.
If your Web site fills a unique role in the library community, e-mail the authors of related sites to see if they would be interested in linking to yours (and your site to theirs). This approach has worked to our professional benefit: Index Morganagus indexes Rachel's e-mail newsletter (http://www.lisjobs.com/newsletter), and ALA's employment page links to Sarah's library job site (http://webhost.bridgew.edu/snesbeitt/libraryjobs.htm). Finally, consider suggesting your site for inclusion in library portals like the Internet Library for Librarians (http://www.itcompany.com/inforetriever).
Above all, keep in mind the principles and practices of our profession
as you market yourself and your skills in the online world. Your colleagues
and the library world at large will sit up and take notice.
Rachel Singer Gordon and Sarah L. Nesbeitt are the co-authors of
The Information Professional's Guide to Career Development Online (Information
Today, Inc. 2001). Rachel Singer Gordon is head, Computer Services, at
the Franklin Park Public Library in Franklin Park, Illinois. She holds
an M.L.I.S. from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, and is
the Webmaster of library careers site Lisjobs.com (http://www.lisjobs.com).
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah L. Nesbeitt is reference/systems librarian at Maxwell Library at
Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. She holds an M.I.L.S.
from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Since 1995, she has compiled
"Library Job Postings on the Internet" (http://webhost.bridgew.edu/snesbeitt/libraryjobs.htm).
Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
[Editor's Note: This article is condensed from several chapters
of The Information Professional's Guide to Career Development Online
(ISBN: 1-57387-124-9, $29.50). To order the book, you can contact Information
Today, Inc. at 800/300-9868.]
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