Patricia Layzell Ward

Switching jobs is something we all consider at some point during our working lives. The days when one entered a job on leaving school or graduating, contributed to an occupational pension and retired at the expected age with the presentation of a gold watch vanished in most parts of the world some years ago. Today many students graduate with a large financial debt and try to get a first post that roughly equates with their preferred career direction and which will yield a salary sufficient to start paying off the debt. If they have looked ahead they will probably already have a CV which indicates some work, or life, experience that will attract the eye of an employer.

Today’s graduates and job seekers now have services that will help them to achieve their goal. In the past decade there has been a tremendous growth in the number of specialist employment agencies. No longer is getting a job likely to depend only on applying to an advertisement in a newspaper or professional journal. Now there are opportunities, in many countries, to talk with someone who has up-to-date knowledge of a specialised job market - where the vacancies are, the level of salary and benefits being offered, the skills required, what types of post might suit individual job seekers, help with the preparation of a CV, etc. In a word they are employment counsellors who generally charge the employer for their services, not the job seeker. Other pages on this site carry details of some of these agencies that specialise in the information and library field. Getting a foot on the first rung of the career ladder is important, and, unless the choice has been a real disaster, it is as well to stay in that post for a time and build on the basic CV by attending conferences, courses and adding essential skills and professional knowledge. In today’s world this will include information technology skills, communication skills, basic management skills and a wider understanding of the development and nature of the profession, its issues and code of ethics.

But at some point the urge to look around will grow stronger, and before making a move some information gathering is essential. Look at the emerging CV - what does it indicate about your knowledge, skills and level of performance? Analyse each aspect of your work in the post and tease out what you have gained from it - have you run a marketing programme? Trained or coached others - users or colleagues? Developed a new database? Supervised staff? Then consider what you have enjoyed doing most - how do you see your career developing? Which sector appeals - do you see yourself working happily in an academic library? In a public library? The field of information work has a number of sectors and specialist posts. What about the growth areas? Could you work in health information management or knowledge management? Do you see yourself as an innovator? Have you enjoyed management, and do you see yourself as a boss in a few years? What level of salary do you feel you need to receive? Do you have a partner, children, or other relatives to consider? Where are the current vacancies, in which field, and what are salaries offered in different geographic locations - together with the all important question of the costs of housing and living at these locations? These are a few of the issues to consider in an information-gathering exercise, and with some answers to hand, a mentor could provide some helpful - and honest - feedback.

Having set a preferred career track, then there is the need to work out how to get from the present job to the next one. Skills and knowledge may need to be updated through further study. Consideration of a move involving a shift to another part of the country or abroad needs further information gathering. Can you shift your home? How much will a move cost? How will this affect your family? There is a considerable amount of information that is needed before you can start applying for a post - information which is necessary if you are offered a post and need to negotiate about salaries and benefits.

Salaries and benefits need careful examination, and perhaps negotiation. To a basic salary may be added a weighting or allowance for living in an expensive city; a superannuation scheme which may be contributory or non-contributory; health insurance; a car or car allowance; crèche or child care facilities (and some enlightened employers are beginning to provide day care for elderly dependants); educational allowances for the employee or employee’s family, etc. They stretch a basic salary. In addition leave allowances are more generous in some countries than others, and from one employer to another. Some employers in the private sector allow purchases of their products to be made at a low cost. (The author once worked for a textile firm with such benefits and had access to a wardrobe of designer clothes, and another employer had more mundane electrical equipment on offer.)

Changing posts requires an investment of time and energy if the switch is to be successful. Career planning is possible, and having information available can enable opportunities to be taken. But as a career develops, the degree of flexibility for many people becomes limited for a time. Family commitments can loom large in making decisions; skills and knowledge gained in one field may not be portable to another preferred field. Making the right choice at the beginning is vital, as is the development of a CV and information gathering which helps to make an informed choice.