Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature #33: Mid career directions – a viewpoint

If we define a new professional as someone in the first five years of their career, I passed that marker either in 2012 (five years since my first LIS job) or 2014 (five years since completing my MSc). If we take the more nebulous definition of a mid-career professional as “someone who has racked up enough professional experience to no longer plausibly claim to be new at all this”, then I probably passed that point a few years ago as well. Either way, I think I’m pretty solidly into my “mid-career” now!

It can be difficult to identify what to do next once you’ve reached this phase. In my early career I moved both jobs and sectors quite frequently, sometimes by choice and sometimes due to external factors (e.g. short-term contracts, needing to relocate). While this was often stressful, it did mean that I could grab new opportunities without giving too much thought to long-term plans. Now, I find it’s a lot more important to think carefully about what my next steps will be and to plan accordingly.

Since beginning my career, I have been…

  • A professional society library assistant
  • An e-resources assistant in an academic library
  • A law firm library assistant
  • A law firm business development researcher
  • A charity research and information officer
  • A subject librarian in an academic library

Very few of those were obvious next steps from what I was doing at the time, but all gave me valuable experience that I’ve been able to apply to any new role, as well as experiencing a wide variety of the types of jobs available in LIS. They’ve also taught me about what I don’t want to do, which is just as useful!

I think it’s really important in mid-career to have an idea in mind of what you want to focus on next and what you want out of a job. For example, I am pretty certain I don’t want to work in serials/subscriptions, acquisitions or cataloguing, but I’ve also discovered (unexpectedly) that I really enjoy teaching/training and presenting, so in recent years I’ve focused on developing those skills and finding roles where I can use them.

As well as the job itself, it’s important to know what you want from your workplace, your colleagues and your manager. One of the advantages of being a mid-career professional is having enough experience under your belt to know what you want to avoid!

Remember that when you’re applying/interviewing for jobs, it’s as much about making sure the workplace is a good fit for you as the other way around. Some of the things I look out for in interviews are:

  • Do the people interviewing you seem enthusiastic about their jobs and the organisation? My favourite question to ask interviewers is “tell me your favourite thing about your job” – you can tell a lot by how people answer this!
  • Do they have a clear idea of what they are expecting from your role? This is doubly important if it’s a newly created role – I always ask what they are expecting you to achieve/key milestones, and would seriously consider turning down the job if they couldn’t give a clear answer here.
  • Do they share your values? For example, if you look for a job where you can be creative and independent, beware if your interviewers are talking a lot about processes – you could be looking at a micromanaging workplace.

Of course, if you’ve found the perfect job you need to make sure you can explain why you are perfect for them! If you’re moving jobs, and especially moving sectors, you need to be prepared to explain why you are valuable to an interview panel that might not be familiar with the types of jobs you’ve done previously, and how they could apply to a new role.

It’s all about identifying your transferrable skills, and knowing how to explain these in plain English. It’s vital to make it explicit, in applications and interviews. how your experience relates to the criteria for the job. This was a mistake I used to make: assuming that if I said I’d done xyz, the panel would understand that meant that I could do similar things in the advertised role. What I learned to do which resulted in me getting more interviews and ultimately more job offers was to really spell that out, i.e. I did x in my last job, which involved y skill, therefore this meets z criteria for this job.

One tool that can help with this is a skills audit. This is a framework for identifying what skills you either use in a current job or require for a new job, coming up with examples of how you’ve applied them (this is essential for job interviews!), and spotting any gaps and how you could address them.

There’s a number of templates available online to help with this – below is a version I created from mashing together a few examples I found, with an example I completed when preparing for my most recent career move. Feel free to take and adapt for your own use…

Job role Skills required How you have applied these skills How you could develop these skills Actions
Design, deliver and evaluate information skills training Teaching/training




Public speaking

Taught basic inductions to trainee solicitors


Delivered presentations at LIS conferences and at charity sector events

Read up on pedagogy and information literacy in HE


Use professional network to explore topic further

Go through notes/blogs from previous conferences/events attended on teaching & learning


Look for relevant articles in professional literature


Reach out to academic librarians in my network for advice


Explore possibilities for formal development of these skills to discuss at interview if necessary


I think the best advice I can give to my fellow mid-career professionals is to know yourself. Know your strengths, know what you enjoy at work (and what you don’t), and have an idea of how you could develop yourself. Above all, remember that professional development isn’t just for new professionals! Putting time and effort into developing yourself and your skills will help identify when it’s time to move on from your current role, and will open up new opportunities for you.

LauraWoodsLaura Woods (aka @woodsiegirl), Computing & Engineering Librarian, University of Huddersfield


About spoontragedy

Former public library Children's Librarian, now working as a Careers Information Officer in a London university. Nearly finished being an #aberils student.

2 comments on “Feature #33: Mid career directions – a viewpoint

  1. Emma
    March 2, 2016

    Great piece Laura and I couldn’t agree more about knowing what you want from a workplace/colleagues/manager, as well as a job and asking the sort of questions you suggest in an interview. I also think your suggestion of a skills audit, to give some structure to figuring out what you’re into or not, where you want to develop etc, is ace. Given that our lives are made up of lots of different bits, allowing ourselves time to stop and think about what we’re doing and where we’re going job wise is not always a priority. Therefore this topic for #uklibchat provides an opportunity for discussion as well as reflection. I have certainly found it interesting. I can feel a blog post coming on myself!

  2. Pingback: #uklibchat summary – 1st March: Mid-Career Directions | #uklibchat

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This entry was posted on February 25, 2016 by in Feature, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .


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