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Career Challenges: developing a portfolio career

04 March 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Career Challenges: developing a portfolio career


Changing jobs and even careers seems to be a trend nowadays; however, it was not as common when I started working in early 1980's. Having lived, studied and worked in four countries, I take being flexible and adapting as part of the course. It is perhaps not surprising then that I changed professions three times (translator, college and university instructor and librarian) and worked in almost all library sectors (as a school, public and now academic librarian). The changes were more a flow of circumstance, with only few being actual decisions.

The latest decision I made was to change library sectors from public to academic. Being in my mid-fifties, however, this brought out quite a bit of angst despite all of the transferable skills and great experience I had. I was personally dealing with a lot of change! I had lost quite suddenly both my parents within a few months, and at work we had been through a restructure.

However, thanks to a bit of stubbornness on my part (termed resilience on my resumé!) and my husband's and daughter's support, I decided to quit my job as public librarian and give myself time off to travel, exercise and think about the next stage of my life.

Although I am a passionate supporter of public libraries, jobs in the academic sector seemed more appealing to me. Besides, it was a homecoming: before being a librarian, I had taught for 15 years study skills and ESOL in higher education. In fact, in my early forties I transitioned to being a librarian — the Internet boomed and I had realised I wanted to teach students how to research. While I very much appreciated my time working in public libraries which had involved reading in the community, stock management, customer service, community engagement and even delivering information literacy sessions to primary school students, I wanted to go back to a more intense program of information and digital literacy skills.

The first two applications I made were not successful, I had become a bit rusty. The third time was lucky and I got my first interview! Unfortunately, it was not for an academic institution and I received a rejection letter – the letter was however, full of praise of my skills and experience but no job offer (I should frame it as the best rejection letter!). I also realised that the job would not have been a good match for me. This was also true of a couple of other positions I applied for, so in many ways it was a relief to find out that the potential employer and I agreed. It was inevitable, however, to sometimes feel like a failure and very tired: the prospect of a new beginning was very daunting. I had my sobbing sessions, usually in the middle of my "work" day looking for a job, I took a lot of restorative naps and exercised.

The whole job searching, applying and interviewing process took three solid months, June to September, after which I had decided that the season for hunting academic jobs was over: eight applications, five interviews. However, one application, almost forgotten, turned into an interview and a part-time job, which I thought was a relaxed way to ease into a new job and career, unlike my entire previous life when steep learning curves and quick adaptation were the norms.

I must admit I started preparing myself for the sector switch while on my professional break. I needed to think things through since throughout my whole career my knowledge and experience were not always visible straight away. For instance, although I had taught in a higher education setting, I had not worked as a librarian; I happened to know many university settings informally rather than through jobs as I had assisted many researchers who were friends on ad-hoc basis and volunteered my research skills to community projects. I was able to explain this experience and knowledge in the comments section in the application process and during my interview, demonstrating my entrepreneurial skills and showing adaptability, creativity and willingness to learn -- all key skills in the workplace nowadays.

Right now I am pleased to be able to say that I am happy at my current job but I am always on the lookout for more part-time or project-based work opportunities to enhance my professional development.


Ivana Curcic's article is the fourth in a series of personal career stories. We asked library and information professionals around the country to share their stories of how they've addressed a particular challenge in their professional lives.

You can find Kathryn Aylward's account of how she got started in health libraries after graduation; Natasha Chowdory's account of moving into health libraries and Matt Imrie's account of moving to school libraries.

We have refreshed CILIP’s careers content to better reflect the challenges we face, whether it be starting out, rejoining the workforce, looking out for new opportunities or stepping up into leadership roles.

If you're not a CILIP member yet, now is a great time to join. Your membership gives you access to a broad range of career enhancing resources including online short courses, webinars, discounted events and chartership.

Contributor: Ivana Curcic

Published: 7 March 2019


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