Jul 17 2010

Rethinking Information Careers in Transition: Introducing Infonista.com

Published by kim under Uncategorized

After a terrific experience working with Rachel Singer Gordon, whose support and encouragement were the only things that could have convinced me I could actually commit to and complete a monthly column, I’m now moving in a slightly different direction.

I’ve begun my own blog, Infonista, to continue to write about LIS careers and how to create a resilient career. I’ll be covering LIS career opportunities, posting career profiles, recommending some great books, and sharing war stories from life as an independent information professional.

I look forward to continuing to participate in the ongoing conversation about expanding LIS opportunties, and like the rest of you, I look forward to continuing to monitor the cool new stuff that Rachel is doing!

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Jan 31 2010

Defining What Matters: What Are Your Words?

Published by kim under career fulfillment

True confession: it’s been way too long since I thought about the next phase of my career, which is sort of what happens when you join a start-up. The particular start-up in question is Disaboom.com, for which I worked until recently as Vice President of Content and Strategy. (Through a very positive mutual understanding, I was allowed to return to consulting status for Disaboom, and they are now one of the clients for Dority & Associates, Inc., my consulting company.)

Like other start-ups, Disaboom had consumed my life, my time, and all of my energy – but for a cause well worth the candle. Disaboom’s goal has been to create content, information resources, employment opportunities, and an online community that help people with disabilities live lives of maximum independence and opportunity. On a good day that’s exactly what we’ve done, on a less-than-good day we’d give it everything we had and then hope the payoff came in the future.

Is This What I Want?
But because the job had consumed so much of my life, it had gotten me thinking recently about whether or not my role at Disaboom actually aligned with what I wanted from my career.

I decided to see if I could define what I wanted my career to be about, and what I wanted to derive from it. I wasn’t looking for a lengthy or detailed mission or vision statement, but something brief and simple. After considering a number of words/descriptions, I realized there were three that mattered most to me: Impact, Independence, and Laughter.

Impact. My goal has been to have the work that I do make a positive difference in people’s lives. As an information professional, I have the ability to find, aggregate, synthesize, and organize information – skills that provide unique opportunities to create resources that can help others improve their lives.

Think of the impact a dynamic public library can have on the community around it, then consider the impact a single information professional can have on the lives around him or her. Information changes live; info pros can be the world’s greatest change agents. That’s impact.

Independence. For me, there is no freedom quite like that of being able to choose the work that you do, and how you do it. This is one of the great gifts of the library and information science profession – there are so many ways to deploy (and get paid for) your skills, that your options are limited only by your imagination and ambition.

Yep, you may need to invest in additional education, you may need to build your networking expertise, you may need to expand your opportunities through volunteering, speaking, writing, or otherwise “getting visible,” but the payoff is your freedom to choose your path, and your income.

Laughter. One of my favorite quotes is “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves for we shall never cease to be amused.” So true!  Being able to laugh at myself helps me take my work seriously, but myself not at all.

I value those who make me laugh, and relish the opportunity to make others laugh as well. Life is serious, being a professional is serious, our personal responsibilities are serious. But being able to lighten the load for ourselves or others provides all of us the energy we need to continue to fight the good fight. In a career, it can keep you focused on the things that count, and give you the release to ignore those that don’t.

What Are Your Words?
When I asked a very successful friend what words she would choose, she chose Impact, Laughter (she writes a very funny career column), and Connection. The joy in her career comes from collaborating with others, adding her considerable skills to those of colleagues to create something wonderful and unique. Another friend identified Security, Learning, and Friendship as her career drivers – she thrives in a stable environment that provides opportunities to learn and colleagues with whom to share stories and lives.

What words describe the values or goals that mean the most to you?

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Dec 06 2009

Libraries in the Information Age: New LIS Career Book

Published by kim under careers

Wondering where your LIS career might be headed in the coming years? You may want to check out the second edition of Denise K. Fourie and David R. Dowell’s Libraries in the Information Age: An Introduction and Career Exploration (Libraries Unlimited, 2009). Firmly positioned in the new realities of LIS work, this new book addresses the Internet, social networking, community outreach, and shifts in staffing approaches, among other topics. You know, the things that are either threats or opportunities for us, depending on how the day is going!
Types of Library Job Opportunities
Intended primarily as a textbook for U.S.-based LIS programs and especially for students who haven’t had experience in libraries, the book’s organization reflects this overview approach. After introductory chapters on “Redefining the Role of Libraries” and “A Brief History of Libraries,” the authors then explore in depth the “Types of Library Job Opportunities” in public, school, academic, and special libraries.
For each type of library, the book provides basic information about the library’s mission and audience, objectives and standards (where applicable), and types of services. Each descriptive section is a bit different in topics covered; for example, the overview of public libraries covers age-specific services, reference services, outreach services, library management, staffing, the e-rate, the Gates Foundation, public library use, etc.), while the coverage of special libraries includes types – research, federal, corporate libraries and information centers, and other – then provides information on library and information management.

Collections, Materials Processing, Circulation, and Reference
Subsequent chapters cover four specific types of library activities: collections, preparing materials for use (processing), circulation, and reference services. From there the authors move on to a lengthy chapter on ethics in the information age, a brief overview of job search basics, and an exploration of evolving library services (including online services, fee/free services, new online research capabilities, serving people with disabilities, supporting family/genealogy research, and the impact of staffing on libraries providing these new services.

Reflecting its library textbook focus, each of the book’s chapters concludes with a summary, study questions, and a print and online resources list. Illustrations, photos, and screenshots round out the text.

Learning More About Your Professional Options
Libraries in the Information Age joins a growing collection of very useful titles about LIS careers. Others you may want to check out include:

Building & Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional, by Mary Ellen Bates, 2003. 472p. ISBN 0910965625.  The bible for LIS pros considering becoming independent researchers.

A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library and Information Science, by Priscilla K. Shontz and Richard A. Murray. Libraries Unlimited, 2007. 464p. ISBN 1591583640.  Essays by nearly 100 professionals performing a wide range of LIS roles provide valuable “in the trenches” insight into various LIS job options.

The Information Professional’s Guide to Career Development Online, by Sarah L. Nesbeitt and Rachel Singer Gordon. Information Today, 2002. 401p. ISBN 1573871249. Using online tools to build and expand your career options.

Jumpstart Your Career in Library and Information Science, by Priscilla K. Shontz, Steven J. Oberg, Robert N. Klob, and Robert R. Newlen. Scarecrow, 2002. 208p. ISBN 0810840847.  Focuses on opportunities for those just beginning their LIS careers to grow those careers through career planning, developing interpersonal and leadership, networking, and more.

The Librarian’s Career Guidebook, by Priscilla K. Shontz. Scarecrow,  2004. 592p. ISBN 0810850346.  Sixty-three essays by a diverse range of practitioners address how to find, secure, keep, and grow jobs (and careers) in the library profession.

The Nextgen Librarian’s Survival Guide, by Rachel Singer Gordon. Information Today, 2006. 208p. ISBN 1-57387-256-3.    From one of the leading “nextgen” thought leaders, an introduction for young LIS professionals to the realities and opportunities inherent in their career choices.

Opportunities in Library and Information Science, 3rd ed., by Kathleen McCook. McGraw-Hill, 2008. 160p. ISBN 007154531X.  Brief but useful overview of LIS profession, including types of LIS work, education/training requirements, and salary projections.

What’s the Alternative? Career Options for Librarians and Info Pros, Rachel Singer Gordon. Information Today, 2008. 288p. ISBN 1573873330.   Describes a wide range of nontraditional LIS careers, what they entail, and pros and cons; includes interviews with practitioners.

And last (but hopefully not least!), my book:

Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals, by G. Kim Dority. Libraries Unlimited, 2006. 236p. ISBN 159158180X.  Overview of alternative career paths open to LIS practitioners, plus coaching on how to develop a career path that enables readers to achieve multiple and ongoing career goals.


Kim Dority is the Vice President of Content and Strategy for Disaboom.com, founder and president of Dority & Associates, Inc., and author of Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals (Libraries Unlimited, 2006). She can be reached at kimdority@gkdority.com.



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Nov 08 2009

Being Mentored: Getting the Most Out of that Cup of Coffee

Published by kim under careers, collaborating

Recently, a former student asked me to mentor her as she began her career as a public librarian.


Although I’ve mentored several students and colleagues over the years, I never felt like I particularly knew what I was doing. So when my young friend suggested we start out our mentoring relationship by establishing some practices that would best enable us to both stay on track, I jumped at the chance to collaboratively think through some sort of process for us to follow.


True to LIS form, we checked out a couple of books on mentoring, read several articles, and then checked with some friends and colleagues for their advice. We found that although many organizations have formal mentoring programs (which you should take advantage of if available!), many more mentoring relationships are of the “grab-a-cup-of-coffee” type – informal, focused on individual career goals rather than organizational “talent development,” and often reconnecting as needed over a period of years.


There wasn’t a lot written about how to approach this sort of casual relationship.  So, basically, we made up our own “best practices” list. And here’s what we came up with:


If you’re being mentored,

Establish your goals. Think through what you’d like to accomplish with your mentor, being as specific as possible. Do you want coaching on your communication style? Guidance on job-seeking? Advice about what career path might be best for you? Be clear about the reason for your request for mentoring, so your mentor will have an idea of how to help.
Come prepared. Every time you meet with your mentor, you should come prepared with a written list of questions or issues to discuss. Otherwise, it’s too easy to end up “wandering around” in conversation with no real focus to the discussion.
Come up with good questions. They can be as simple as “what do you think about (this course of action, this management idea, this professional development strategy)…,” or more specific questions such as “Do you think my personality would fit with a public library career?”
Leave with a to-do list. You are looking for guidance that will, most likely, often involve you undertaking some specific actions. This may be doing research, reading a recommended book, having conversations with colleagues or bosses, or engaging in some sort of self-assessment, among other actions. Your job is to make sure you’ve got your list of to-do items so you can follow through with the learning process.
Be accountable. That to-do list? Make sure you follow through on your commitments. Your mentor is giving up his or her time to help you; it’s up to you to be the one, however, who is doing the heavy lifting in helping you reach your goals.
Be open to ideas, and solutions-focused. If you ask a mentor for advice or coaching, and then counter each recommendation with reasons why you can’t do that, or don’t think an idea would work, or don’t want to do anything outside your comfort zone, your mentor is going to get pretty discouraged pretty quickly. You’ve come to a mentor because you want something in your life to change; to paraphrase Gandhi, you need to be open to doing the work to be the change.
Identify what you need, and how your mentor can help. Are you looking for advice? Brainstorming with someone who can help you think creatively? Or would you like to tap into your mentor’s network of connections? The more specific you can be about what you need from your mentor, the more likely he or she can respond to those needs.


If you’re the mentor,

Create a safe harbor. Let your mentee know that there are no dumb questions, making mistakes is a necessary part of growth and learning, and basically you’re on his or her side. It can be uncomfortable to ask for help; your goal is to be reassuring, supportive, and interested.
Come up with good questions. Sometimes when we’re facing major life choices, it can be tough to even figure out what questions to ask. You can help your mentee by coming up with some clarifying questions that help identify decision points, previous experiences that may be applicable, hidden assumptions, and more.
Acknowledge your own limits. There’s nothing quite as nice for the ego as someone thinking you know your stuff well enough to ask you for advice. But one of the things we need to identify is what we do know about – and what we don’t. I’ve never worked in a public library, so had to make it clear to my young friend that while I do know about LIS careers and career development, I’m not an expert in public library career paths or organizational dynamics.
Get over your ego. An adjunct to knowing your limits is keeping the focus of your mentoring relationship not on how smart you are, but rather on how you can most effectively support the learning and growth of your mentee. As noted, being asked to be a mentor can be a huge ego boost, but it’s important to remember that the relationship is about supporting your mentee’s experience and opportunities, not showcasing your own.
Keep it light. Laughter eases awkwardness and embarrassment in a million ways. It contributes to that “safe harbor” that makes it okay to ask any questions without feeling stupid. It erases the unspoken one up/one down line that can unfortunately sometimes come to define relationships of unequal status. Laughing together builds trust and diffuses tension.
Think of yourself as a coach, rather than a teacher. Coaches help people find their way to their best game. They build on strengths through encouragement, support, and the occasional whop upside the head. They hold their players accountable, but also make it clear they have confidence that those players can live up to their potential.


Being a mentor, or having a mentor, can be incredibly rewarding. As long as both of you agree on your roles and expectations, you’re bound to have a mutually beneficial experience – and with any luck, a great time as well.

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Oct 11 2009

Is an Employment Agency for You?

Published by kim under Uncategorized, careers

It’s tough to imagine a more challenging job landscape than the one we’re facing today.


Because of budget-driven restructuring of library organizations, it was already challenging to find full-time, entry-level professional jobs. But then the economy turned upside down, and local budgets went from iffy to disastrous. Needless to say, libraries – and jobs for librarians – have been caught in the maelstrom.


Might working with an employment agency give you an edge? Possibly – it depends on what you’re looking for, and what you have to offer.


Types of Employment Agencies and Consultants

Employment agencies and consultants provide several different types of services, with variations even within those services models.


Search, recruiting, or placement agencies. These organizations look for mid-manager to top-level information professionals (directors and assistant directors, academic library deans, heads of corporate information centers, etc.). These search firms may be retained – and paid by – the hiring organization on an exclusive basis, or they may be operating on a contingency basis, i.e., they only get paid if the candidate they’ve put forth is hired.


The more visible you are as an expert in a given area, the more likely you are to get a call from a “headhunter” either pitching you job opportunities or asking if you know someone appropriate for a specific job. While they generally won’t disclose the employer’s name, they’ll generally provide a fairly detailed job description and salary range.


Questions to ask search agencies:

?          Do they focus on specific skill areas, such as IT?

?          Do they cover only a specific geographic area, or are they nationwide?

?          Do your skills fit the level that they work with?

?          How do they work with their client organizations and potential employees?

?          Would it be appropriate for you to send them your resume?


Temporary staffing agencies. With jobs and projects that range from clerical to highly technical and professional, temporary staffing agencies can be a great option depending on your specific life circumstances. Generally, the agency will mark up the hourly rate they pay you by 25%-100% to the client, depending on the type of work and the staffing company. Assignments may range from a week subbing on a reference desk to 12 months doing contract work on a records management project.


Generally, you work with temporary staffing agencies by contacting them with your resume and discussing your skills and areas of expertise, and confirming your availability for work. Or, you may end up as an employee of a staffing agency by either 1) applying for a job with an organization that has outsourced all of its information roles to a contract agency or 2) working as an information employee for an organization that has decided to outsource all of its information professional roles to a contract organization. (Many government libraries follow this model.)


Questions to ask temporary staffing agencies:

?          Do they focus on specific types of employers, such as public or corporate libraries?

?          Do they cover only a specific geographic area, or are they nationwide?

?          Do your skills fit the level that they work with?

?          What should you assume for hourly compensation? (You also want to find out the payment schedule, but probably best not to ask about this right off the bat!)

?          Do they offer benefits such as health insurance and if so, is there a minimum number of hours you must work to qualify?

?          Would it be appropriate for you to send them your resume?


Employment consultants and career/job coaches. At some point in your career you may feel like some personal advice and counsel is in order, and coffee with your colleagues or mentors aren’t quite fitting the bill. In that case, you may want to consider hiring an employment consultant and/or career coach to help you identify and address specific career challenges. Employment coaches focus on helping you land your dream job (at close to your dream salary, if possible), while career coaches help you consider a broader approach to building a successful career path, working with people who may already have jobs but need to address specific career issues as well as with those exploring what job or career to target.


These consultants and coaches may charge a minimum fee (which can be as high as $5,000 and include a battery of tests) or by the hour (assume anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour) or by annual retainer (a twelve-month contract, say, at $500/month). Assume that there will be no guarantees of specific outcomes or achievements.


Questions to ask employment consultants and career/job coaches:

?          What is your approach to working with your clients?

?          Given your description of your situation, what outcomes would they hope to help you accomplish, and within what timeframe?

?          What is their fee schedule?

?          Can they provide references you can speak with to determine how well they have worked with other clients?


Also, you’ll want to ask yourself these questions:

?          How good a fit do you feel there is between your personality and their approach? If you don’t feel relaxed and trusting of someone or an organization, trust your instincts and move on.

?          If it’s important that they understand a specific work environment, e.g., the library world, how well do you think they do that? A career coach whose only experience has been in the pharmaceutical sales field may not be the best bet for someone dealing with career issues as an academic librarian.

?          How clear are you about what outcomes you expect, and what level of work you’re willing to commit to in order to accomplish your goals? For example, are you willing to travel for job interviews? Can you commit to a six-month project? Are you willing to spend several hours a week on career issues?


Keep in mind that depending on what type of LIS skills you have, those skills may be easily transferable across a wide range of jobs, so that you need not limit yourself to recruiting or staffing agencies specific to the LIS field.


Is an employment agency right for you? Why not contact several and see whether or not you feel they can help boost your career (or, heck, help you land a job!).




Below are some of the best-known U.S. employment agencies in the LIS field:


C. Berger Group



Gossage Sager Associates / Bradbury Associates



 Heller & Associates









Library Associates (LAC)






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Jul 12 2009

Multiple Knowledge Bases = Multiple Job Opportunities

Published by kim under careers, networking

Most of us graduate from our MLIS programs with the “library and information professional” skill set: we know how to do most of the basics of library/information work, such as doing a reference interview, cataloging special materials, organizing and publishing digital materials via the web.

Broadening from Skill Set to Knowledge Base
As you progress through your career, that skill set broadens and deepens into what I would call a “knowledge base” – you understand, for example, how the world of librarianship works, its issues, its working language, the profession’s thought leaders, the competitive landscape, the key LIS information resources and media, and related disciplines and industries. Equally important, you have built (or are building) an extensive community of colleagues and contacts who keep you in touch with career opportunities, emerging issues in the profession, innovative new applications and programs, and who’s doing what.

If you stay in the world of librarianship, you’ll continue to develop your LIS knowledge base. However, if you want to open up more job options, consider actively looking for ways to develop multiple knowledge bases.

Building from One Knowledge Base to Another
For example, one of the benefits of becoming a special librarian is that it offers an opportunity to develop an entirely new knowledge base. Perhaps you’re a medical librarian for an academic medical center. In addition to your basic medical librarian skill set, you’re also in a position to create a knowledge base around the broader medical field.

Knowing about the overall trends in the medical field, having connections with industry vendors, attending medical conferences not specifically geared toward librarianship, building contacts and relationships with people, for example, in biomed companies, consumer health firms, or similarly related disciplines, means that you now have two knowledge bases: librarianship and the medical industry. That means, you now also to have two pathways to find employment, two distinct networks to tap for job leads or career opportunities.

For example, during my career I have worked in traditional academia, publishing, librarianship, online learning, and the cable television industry. Because of that varied work history, I understand how each of these industries works, what the issues, opportunities, and threats are, and – equally importantly – I have good friendships with colleagues in each profession. Consequently, if I were I looking for a job, I would be able to explore opportunities in each of these directions.

Choosing Career Diversity
How does this translate in terms of career choices? Well, it’s a good argument for looking for job (or volunteer) opportunities outside traditional librarianship, in multiple industries and professional disciplines. If and when you land in those new industries, start building… knowledge and connections.

Why is having multiple knowledge bases so potentially important to creating a resilient career? Because as we’ve seen in the library profession in the past few years, industries – and professions – can go through major contractions that wipe out thousands of jobs in a heartbeat. Your best job security lies in being “fluent,” and able to make a contribution, in many professions.

Added Value: You Ability to Bridge Multiple Professional Communities
It also places you in a unique position to be able to “bridge” between multiple knowledge bases or communities. For example, if you have an LIS knowledge base and a medical industry knowledge base, you can work as a content or information specialist for a start-up biotech company, a researcher for a medical e-publication, a competitive intelligence person for a venture capital company specializing in healthcare, or a website developer for a pharmaceutical firm, among other options.

Another example of bridging multiple knowledge bases is the work I’m currently doing, which is being the head of content and strategy for a startup called Disaboom.com.  I was hired in this role because of my LIS skills of aggregating and organizing information. But part of my goal in taking on this position was to immerse myself in a new knowledge base – this time, in the field of disability.

Consequently, during the past two years, I’ve learned all of the information resources in the world of disability, I’ve built relationships with hundreds of individuals, and had the good fortune to meet many of the thought leaders in this community of more than 55 million US citizens. Equally important, at Disaboom we’ve had the opportunity to develop unique resources for the disability community (for example, a disability scholarships directory and a directory of over 400 disability-related organizations) that reflect my LIS commitment to creating useful reference tools.

If my career path were to change, I could now look at working in the disability field as one of my potential job opportunities because I have mastered this knowledge base. Because I know this field now, I also know where my skills could contribute most effectively. I’ve already begun to work on a book that identifies potential ways for public libraries to work with their local disability communities.

A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste
This quote, widely attributed to economist Paul Romer and cited by nearly everyone in the current economic upheaval, can also apply to your career. If your job is in jeopardy, and the library profession continues to contract based on local economic downturns, now might be just the right time to see if you can look for a career opportunity that’s outside of your current professional path.  In which direction would you like to head?


Kim Dority is the Vice President of Content and Strategy for Disaboom.com, founder and president of Dority & Associates, Inc., and author of Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals (Libraries Unlimited, 2006). She can be reached at kimdority@gkdority.com.

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May 03 2009

The Imposter Syndrome: Or How I Learned to Get Over My Panic Attack, Love My Promotion, and Make My To-Do List

Published by kim under careers, management

I love my job. Until recently, I was the Vice President of Content for a start-up called Disaboom.com, an online resource and community for people with disabilities. I love my boss, the CEO. He’s the smartest, fairest, least ego, most supportive leader I’ve ever worked for, and I trust his judgment — business and otherwise — completely. I love my career, which has provided many opportunities to work on cool projects with teams of knowledgeable individuals to create innovative solutions.

And, quite frankly, I’m old enough to know better.

But none of this kept me from experiencing a raging case of imposter syndrome (IS) when my boss stopped by my office last week to tell me he was changing my title from VP of Content to VP of Content and Strategy. Instead, I smiled, gulped, sputtered some inane comments like “Wow, thank you, that’s wonderful,” and then promptly adjourned to the restroom — where I tried not to throw up.

What is imposter syndrome?

Basically, imposter syndrome is the sense that you’ve been promoted beyond your abilities, that you’re in over your head, that through some combination of luck and others’ misperceptions, you’ve landed in a position for which your skills are wildly inadequate.

It’s the career version of performance anxiety, aggravated by a dread that you might be “found out” at any moment. It may not be rational, it may fly in the face of years’ worth of accomplishments, but it’s estimated that some 70 percent of successful men and women experience this chronic and often crippling self-doubt.

And that’s exactly what hit me when my boss gave me what he thought was terrific news about my promotion. His rationale was that he’d worked with me for 18 months, knew my strengths and weaknesses, and thought this was something I’d be good at. My reaction was that he’d completely overestimated my strengths, underestimated my weaknesses, and we were all about to find out in the most awful way possible… In essence, I was going to be “found out.” Classic imposter syndrome.

Sound familiar?

Imposter feelings, or a sense of being in over your head, of feeling “undeserving” of success, may manifest themselves as:

  • Feeling like a fraud who has somehow managed, intentionally or unintentionally, to deceive others as to your capabilities;
  • Assuming that your career achievements are due to luck, or being in the right place at the right time, or other external factors not based on your actual skills or value as a contributor;
  • Dismissing, discounting, or downplaying your successes to yourself and others with statements like “anyone could have done it,” “it wasn’t that important,” or “I really got lucky on that one.”

IS expert Valerie Young points out that “self-doubt and negative feedback weigh heavily on the mind, but praise barely registers. You attribute your failures to a stable, inner core of ineptness. Meanwhile, you discount your successes as accidental or, worse, as just so many confidence jobs. Every positive is a false positive…..”

IS is most prevalent among perfectionists, academics, and others whose careers are based on performing intellectually. This anxiety can be accompanied by fear of success, a pressure not to fail, or unrealistic expectations in yourself in new situations.

Coping — or masking — mechanisms may include being overly diligent (read: working really, really hard), figuring out what behavior influential people in your career want from you and “mirroring” that, no matter how inauthentic that behavior is to the real you, or studiously avoiding drawing any attention to your strengths or accomplishments to avoid being seen as overly confident.

The IS checklist: Where do you fall?

Wondering if you’re suffering from IS? Some of the questions experts use when assessing the presence of IS include:

  • Do you secretly worry that people will discover you’re not as smart or competent as they thought you were?
  • Do you have a difficult time accepting praise?
  • Do you hesitate to take on challenging opportunities because you’re afraid your lack of ability will be exposed?
  • Do you avoid presenting your ideas or opinions in meetings in order to avoid exposing your self-perceived lack of knowledge?
  • Do you have a hard time taking credit for your accomplishments, instead attributing them to good luck or others’ efforts?
  • Do you see making mistakes as a personal failure, and not being perfect as a weakness?
  • Do you feel like everyone you compare yourself to is smarter, more capable, more deserving of success than you?
  • Do you worry with every new responsibility that this will be the one that unmasks you as a fraud?

If you’ve got mostly “yes” answers here, join the club! Almost every friend I spoke with (mostly librarians) who had achieved any level of career success felt exactly the same way.

Getting beyond imposter syndrome

If it causes you enough anxiety, IS can limit your life in many ways: it can stop you from taking a great new job, limit your earning power, constrain your ability to contribute all that your skills qualify you for, and quite frankly, make working much less fun than it might be.

So what are some ways to get beyond the self-doubts and anxiety that IS lands on (and in) our heads? Here are some tips from the experts, all of which I tried and am happy to report actually do work pretty well:

  • Recognize when IS may be driving your reactions, for example, when you’re feeling panic rather than elation at a job promotion, and work to short-circuit your emotions with a strong does of reality-check. Feeling incompetent does not equate to being incompetent.
  • Realize that what you are experiencing is not a sign of weakness or incompetence, but rather an indicator of a conscientious nature, and a sense of seriousness about responsibility – any idiot can be overconfident, so pat yourself on the back for your thoughtfulness.
  • Accept that just about everyone else you know, in a similar circumstance, would probably experience the exact same self-doubt reaction (based on the fact that almost every librarian I know is an overachiever); what’s important is whether you allow that anxiety to hold you back.
  • Be willing to discuss your feelings with trusted friends and colleagues, to get those feelings out of your head and into the reality light of day.
  • Learn to recognize when you are discounting yourself and your accomplishments with statements like “I was just lucky,” and try instead statements like “I worked really hard/was really on top of my game/did some great writing, etc.” Let yourself (or rather insist that you) OWN your accomplishments.
  • Check your self-doubt against reality by revisiting those accomplishments; my guess is you have, in fact, faced unfamiliar situations or roles or responsibilities and managed to figure them out just fine.
  • Develop a healthy respect for the limits of your abilities, knowing that these aren’t weaknesses, these are simply areas that you haven’t yet chosen to develop into strengths. Then be honest about those areas when a promotion possibility is under discussion so you won’t feel like you have to “hide” those areas; instead, you can ask questions openly and learn from those who have those strengths.
  • Lighten up, and unload the burden of perfectionism. Any new opportunity involves a certain amount of tap-dancing, and that necessarily entails learning new things, making mistakes, and having to ask lots of questions. This is called growth, not incompetence.
  • Trust that the people who’ve worked with you and promoted you are not idiots. In my case, my CEO (whom, as already stated, is one of the smartest guys I know) had seen me work for 18 months and decided that I would do a good job coordinating strategy for the company. I may doubt myself, but I don’t doubt him, so his confidence in me boosts my confidence in me.
  • Pay attention to whether you’re feeling IS anxiety or a true mismatch between a job and your real self. If the latter, then make a change to a position that aligns more closely with who you are and what you enjoy. But be sure this change is based on positive growth rather than damaging fear.

In my case, I resorted to a large glass of wine, an evening of soul searching, and finally a determination that I really wanted to take on the strategy role to help drive Disaboom’s impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Then I took out my laptop, and started making my to-do list.

8 responses so far

Apr 05 2009

Acing Act Two: Preparing for the Rest of Your Career

Published by rachel under careers, learning, skills

First it was the Feb. 11, 2009 article in the New York Times about what to call people of (ahem) a certain age. In “Goodbye, Spry Codgers, So Long, Feisty Crones,” writer Jane Gross noted that The International Longevity Center has suggested in their new stylebook that we avoid the terms elderly, senior citizen, golden years, feisty, spry, feeble, eccentric, senile, and grandmotherly, among others. The age demarcation at which some of these terms might apply felt just a bit too close to home.

Then it was a request from my VP of Technology that I accompany his team to a cutting-edge tech conference in Las Vegas. I’m not a big fan of Las Vegas, didn’t want to have to be away from the office for a week, and doubted that I’d learn much from a week focused on emerging technologies, since my area of responsibility at Disaboom (my employer) is to head up content development.

Next came the all-day workshop on social media, e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, et al, and the role these media are now playing in digital marketing and PR. Familiar with LinkedIn as a career-building tool, I nevertheless couldn’t quite connect something like Twitter to serious work. It just didn’t seem, well, professional (read: grown up!).

So there I was, feeling dissed, cranky, and somewhat resentful about the fact that although my job was supposed to be about creating online content, I was also going to have to learn how to use these silly social media tools… and then I had a birthday. Not a decade-type birthday, but close enough. And I could feel myself sliding down that slippery slope from engaged, curious, enthusiastic professional to defensive, change-resistant, entitled old broad.

So I decided it was time for an attitude reset.

Act Two: From Closed Mind to Open Ideas

In order to “ace Act Two” of my career, I realized that I had to completely reframe how I respond to my professional universe. Instead of thinking of myself as someone at the top of my game, I realized it made more sense to think of myself as someone just starting out in my career, because in fact the LIS world I trained for was now 25 years in the distance.

Because I (as well as pretty much all of my friends) love to work and thrive on its challenges, here’s how I’m going to ensure that I can continue to contribute at a high level for the next 25 years:

Understand the strategic benefit of change. Yeah, yeah, I know that change equals opportunity. But the older I get, the more I feel like I’m ready to slow down the rate of change a bit, thank you very much. The comfort of familiarity seems to be a lot more appealing to me than it used to be. So I’m decided to instead focus on creating that familiarity and stability in other areas of my life so I can more easily embrace change in my career.

Know that my initial reaction’s likely to be “no,” then put it aside and move on to “yes.” It’s pretty much human nature to resist change, and I’ve observed that this tendency tends to rise in sync with your age. So, just as we can “feel the fear but do it anyway,” I’m going to go with “know you’ll be ticked off, then get over it and get moving.” That way I don’t waste time or energy on trying to change my initial responses, and can instead focus or improving my subsequent actions.

Seek out opportunities to learn and use new technologies. As part of the generation that didn’t grow up with technology, every new communication or IT tech seems to be a new foreign language for me. But letting myself avoid using these tools means that I won’t understand what they can do. As a result, I won’t be able to contribute ideas, strategies, or solutions. And what fun would that be?

Look for mentors in all the right places. That’s probably going to be your younger staffers, or people in other departments, or possibly someone you heard speak at a recent conference. When I was young and just starting out, my mentors were people older and more experienced than I. Now that I myself am the older and more experienced person, I seek out anyone who knows about the stuff I want to learn more about: technology, social media, popular culture, social entrepreneurship, organic gardening… More often than not, these mentors are at least 20 years my junior. Feels a bit strange, but it’s also highly entertaining.

Keep a sense of humor. Okay, I’ve socially humiliated myself on LinkedIn and Twitter a number of times as I attempt to master these tools, and I’m guessing I’m going to do it several more times (at least) in the foreseeable future. I can either be mortified (which will cause me to avoid trying again) or entertain my colleagues with stories of my social faux pas and keep at it. I find a sense of humor is a great tool for keeping both humiliation and one’s ego at bay.

Avoid being known as Ms./Mr. Cranky. The other great thing about hanging on to your sense of humor is that it allows you to avoid being known as The Cranky One. I never realized quite how easy it is to move into this persona as we get older and more set in our ways. But it’s important to be positive and optimistic if you want people to look forward to working with you instead of dismissing you as a negative and obstructionist old geezer.

Focus on energy and resilience. If you can engage with enthusiasm, bring energy to your work, and model a resilient mind and body, then it doesn’t matter how old you are — your spirit is still young, and people will want to work with you. So as I get ready for Act Two of my career, I’ve given up the flat-abs challenge to instead focus on energy — physical and intellectual — and resilience. Whether you’re stretching your mind or your muscles, doing so will keep you active.

Will these new attitudes enable me to continue to enjoy my career, contribute at a high level, and remain gainfully employed over the next twenty-five years of my career Act Two? No guarantees. But I’m pretty sure that if I don’t actively seek to avoid the pitfalls of “aging into obsolescence,” my value will diminish like yesterday’s hot stock. So I might as well get with the program!

3 responses so far

Feb 04 2009

The Starter Job: Or, Why You Should Consider that Job in Smalltown, USA

Published by kim under careers, skills

Recently I had an opportunity to work with a young woman who had just graduated from an MLIS program. She was unsure how to proceed with her job search given the precarious job market for librarians (and everybody else!).

This young woman had never worked in a library before, and, like many of us when we complete our degrees, wanted to get a job in the town where her university was located. But the reality is this: With little or no library experience, and facing stiff competition in an area flooded with fellow MLIS graduates, this young woman’s job prospects would be dim at best.

In fact, her best opportunities probably lie in a direction often avoided, if not dismissed, by recent grads: working for a public library in Smalltown, USA.

The Starter MLIS Job

A starter job is the one you take when you have little or no experience, and need to build up this aspect of your professional value. It may offer few of the elements you want in subsequent jobs throughout your career (high salary, cutting-edge projects, flexible hours), but it provides something else of high value: the opportunity to establish (for yourself and others) who you are as a professional.

A starter job can be of fairly short duration, which can be one of its attractions — if you find you really don’t like the place you’ve landed, you can comfort yourself with the fact that most of us can put up with anything for two years. (On the other hand, you may be surprised to find that the job and town you thought would bore you to death turn out to be a wonderful library and a delightful community, and you’d like to build a career there.)

Regardless, when you take a starter job, consider it a terrific opportunity to identify and practice those professional behaviors and attitudes that will help you succeed in the coming years.

Put together an agenda for what you want to accomplish/learn/practice over a given period of time — say, two years. Then, if you love your job, you’ll have positioned yourself to continue to grow in value to your employer — and if you don’t love your job, you’ll have prepared yourself to move on to a better position.

The Starter Job Agenda

Here are some ideas for action items to consider:

  • Try out as many roles as you can, noting what you enjoy, and what you do not. What do you enjoy enough that it might be an area you’d like to explore further?
  • Establish your professional persona, for yourself. Establish and practice positive habits, expectations of yourself, and “best practices” for how you handle your career. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to watch and learn from others, good and bad.
  • Focus on the lessons you learn about yourself and how you respond to circumstances around you. If you don’t like what you’re discovering about yourself, determine better responses and practice them.
  • Learn everything you can about management by observing the managers around you, and how their actions are or are not successful and effective. (Trust me here — you may start out your career wanting to avoid any management responsibilities, but they tend to sneak up on you when you least anticipate them.)
  • Start building your professional brand by writing, presenting, researching, and collaborating on topics that interest you, and for which you’d like to become known.
  • Start building your community of colleagues. Establish positive, supportive relationships with the people you work with, but also consider joining regional and national professional groups in your area of interest. When you volunteer, no one cares how much experience you have — they’re just thrilled to have you on board!
  • Become known as a great person to work with; focus on building rather than burning bridges.
  • Start bulking up your portfolio of professional capabilities and accomplishments — on the job if possible, outside the job if not.
  • Learn to work with all types of personalities, a skill that will be critical over a decades-long career. Anyone who’s played team sports knows that you don’t have to like a teammate to win a game with her; it’s the same thing with work. If you’ve got a problem co-worker, disengage emotionally, stop taking it personally, and embrace this as an opportunity to practice a very important job skill.
  • Learn how to work with a boss. In general, this means (besides just generally doing a good job) 1) learning how to provide the information he or she needs in the preferred manner, and with the preferred frequency; 2) making sure your boss is always up to date on any situations that may come up with his or her boss; and, 3) whenever possible, making your boss look good. (Corollary here: try never to make your boss look bad…)
  • Learn self-management. Be honest with yourself regarding your professional strengths and weaknesses, and practice how to manage your weaknesses and play to your strengths. If in doubt about these, ask a trusted colleague, mentor, or boss.
  • Develop an attitude of respect for the knowledge of everyone you work with. No matter how smart you were in grad school, you still have a lot to learn. People will be much more willing to respect the new knowledge you may bring with you if you first bend over backward to make it clear that you respect their hard-won knowledge.
  • Learn how to collaborate within and across teams. Being seen as a strong and positive contributor willing to share information, experience, and credit will cause people to trust you and seek out your participation.

The bottom line: understand that paying dues is both honorable and wise. Your job is to learn, to establish your professional persona, to contribute to the best of your ability, and to become known as a strong, valuable contributor who employers will hate to lose.

Then, when you’re ready to move on from that starter job, you will have built a solid career base from which to launch, and will have a folder-full of people eager to write letters of recommendation for you: the now-experienced information professional.

4 responses so far

Jan 02 2009

Building professional equity

Published by kim under careers, collaborating, networking

This has been a great year for conversations about “equity” –- political equity, financial equity (or not), social equity.

From a conceptual standpoint, equity refers to how much investment you’ve built in a given asset, which might be your political reputation and influence, the value of your home relative to your mortgage, or the amount of standing and influence you have in your community of choice.

This last example especially interests me, because my delightful (and oh-so-patient) twenty-something colleagues have recently been coaching me in the nuances of building social equity on sites like Reddit, Twitter, and Stumbleupon. Essentially, the focus is on investing time and energy in “engaging,” and on building community trust in who you are based on the value of your contributions to the community.

As I struggled to connect with my inner social marketer (and my coworkers tried not to laugh), I realized that the same concepts apply equally well to building what I would call “professional equity.”

Invest in Relationships

Every day in our careers we have an opportunity to build positive long-term relationships with coworkers we’ve identified as people we enjoy, admire, respect, and/or can learn from. While working with them, we have an opportunity to see very clearly who they are, how their values align with ours, and what professional skills they bring.

We also have an opportunity to help these individuals build their careers. In so doing, we build long-term and mutual respect, trust, and goodwill. By being a positive player in your coworkers’ lives and careers, you signal that you care as much about their success as you do your own. And, you build the professional relationships –- and equity –- that will sustain your own career for years to come.

Build Your Professional Equity

There are all sorts of ways to build positive connections with your coworkers and the other people with whom you come into contact professionally. Here are some of the basics to get you started:

Support others’ success. Despite author and playwright Gore Vidal’s oft-quoted statement that “it is not enough to succeed; others must fail,” your career will be a lot richer (in every way) if you find ways to help others succeed. They will appreciate it, remember it, and recognize that you are someone they can trust.

Share knowledge and experience. Assuming we’ve been paying attention, the longer we work, the more we learn. Understand that your knowledge and experience can be invaluable to someone who’s just starting out or may not have experienced what you’ve been through (and learned from). Share that knowledge and experience in a supportive, non-critical manner, while also recognizing that others have much to teach you, regardless of age or background.

Find opportunities to give credit –- in public. A powerful way to build authentic trust is to make sure that you publicly recognize (in meetings, team emails, company newsletters, casual conversations) coworkers for their good work. This could be a smart idea, an innovative process, a resolved issue, or a great team effort.

Model collaboration. Work environments can be competitive, or collaborative. Sometimes all it takes to move a group from the former to the latter is to take a leadership role and model collaboration. That means you, going visible with sharing knowledge, soliciting feedback, offering help and constructive recommendations, being a sounding board, and finding ways to support and promote a team mindset. People will value you as a colleague rather than distrust you as a competitor, and will feel safe seeking out future opportunities to work with you.

Find ways to help others. Ways to help others are limited only by your imagination –- most of us need lots of help, every day! But here are some possibilities:

  • Passing along information about a job opening
  • Brainstorming ideas with a colleague needing to develop new solutions for a work issue
  • Providing introductions and connections between colleagues with similar interests
  • Recommending someone for a job
  • Bringing someone in on a committee
  • Pinch-hitting for someone on a professional commitment
  • Sharing information of value you’ve come across
  • Contributing your expertise to a colleague’s social cause
  • Mentoring younger (or older!) colleagues

Add building professional connections to your new-job agenda. One of the benefits of moving around professionally (AKA, job-hopping) is that you get to join a lot of new professional communities, and build connections to a lot of new colleagues. In fact, if you’re looking to create a sustainable career, the breadth and depth of your connections is a key asset — but only if the people you’re connecting with trust and respect your professional skills and integrity.

So, make it a point with every new job to establish high-value relationships with key individuals (the ones you like and respect), and to demonstrate to them your commitment to collaboration, trust, and mutual success.

Recognize the difference between networking and building professional equity. LinkedIn and other social networking tools are excellent for building links to other people, but true professional equity gets created by working with individuals in a positive manner. That work can be virtual or face-to-face, business-oriented or volunteer, peer-to-peer or boss-to-staffer, or any other myriad variations. But the goal is always to find a way to establish a positive working relationship that will carry forward once you’ve moved on to other jobs or projects.

Professional Equity and Your Career

Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked in seven different organizations and led or been a team member for at least ten different information projects. During that time, I’ve also given workshops, served on professional committees, worked with book editors and marketing directors for my four books, and been part of a number of advisory boards. In each on of these situations, I’ve had an opportunity to establish positive working relationships with each of the individuals I came into contact with. Essentially, I’ve had an opportunity to build professional equity.

Happily, I tend to enjoy the work I do, and by extension, the people with whom I do it. I’ve tried to be enjoyable to work with, collaborative, supportive, and appreciative of others’ efforts and achievements and I tend to gravitate to others who mirror those same values. The result: during the process of working with a large number of really cool information professionals, I’ve had the good fortune to build long-lasting, extremely rewarding professional relationships built on mutual respect and trust. How has this turned out?

Last week I was able to provide two job references for former co-workers, connected a former colleague (now working as a contract employee) with a new client, helped a current colleague draft a conference proposal, and coached another staffer on how to talk so the CEO will listen.

Also last week, a guy I’d had the pleasure of presenting with at a conference put me in touch with an individual my company has been trying to connect with for months, a former student sent me information about a nonprofit with whom my company may now partner, and a fellow member of my local AIIP group recommended an intern who has just the digital media expertise we’ve been looking for.

Bottom line: think of building your professional equity as an updated version of karma: what goes around, comes around. And, if what you’re sending around is trust, collaboration, mutual support, and a genuine interest in others’ success, it’s pretty likely that all of those gifts are going to come back to you as well.

Multiplied over years of work engagements, the professional equity you build will be the greatest asset you have for creating a sustainable career.

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