How the Library Keeps Kansas City Working

Library Life
Eric Petersen and Hank Shivers
Eric Petersen and Hank Shivers

For many people, job searching today is a full-time, well, job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are out of work. Kansas City’s unemployment rate, while better than the national rate, is an unsettling 8.5 percent, and area job seekers face many challenges, from negotiating public transportation to navigating the online employment maze. The Central Library’s H&R Block Business & Career Center is here to help.

Business Librarian Eric Petersen is presenting Use the Library to Get That Job, a free class for anyone who’s in the market for work, on Tuesday, November 30, at 9:30 a.m. at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.  The class will offer practical tips on finding and landing a new job, such as using employment-listings sites effectively and crafting a strong résumé and cover letter.

“Librarians have assisted job seekers since the profession began,” Petersen says.

Peterson and the other Librarians in the H&R Block Business & Career Center spend a good portion of their work week assisting patrons who are looking for work. Use the Library to Get That Job incorporates many of the lessons they share with job seekers on a daily basis and provides an opportunity for attendees to ask questions and share advice with one another.

Thanks to funding from H&R Block and the H&R Block Foundation, the Center’s team of business librarians is able to assist patrons not only with job and career services but also with building small businesses, establishing non-profit organizations, increasing financial literacy, researching companies, and more (read about the Center’s overall services).

Given the current economic outlook, it’s not surprising that the Center helps nearly 100 customers per week with various aspects of their job search. Petersen and his fellow librarians are used to queries both basic and advanced.

 “One of the first things I ask after, ‘Are you looking for a job in Kansas City?’ is ‘What kind of transportation do you have?’” Petersen says. He says it’s important that even job seekers who do not have their own transportation know how to get around the metro area and even something as simple as showing someone how to plan a trip by bus is an important part of helping people with job searches.

Quite a few of the customers who use the Library to conduct a job search do not have a home computer. But many who do have had to cut back on expenses while they look for work, and often, one of the first things to go is internet access. That can complicate any job search in an increasingly digital world.

The Center offers eight computers and two laptops, all with free internet access, with no limits on how long customers may use them as long as the use is related to a job search.

But sometimes learning how to use them comes first.

Many customers come to the Center for job search help after long careers in fields that didn’t require the use of a computer. These customers may be highly skilled, trained, and experienced but have never had to browse the web or use email. The Center can help them set up an email account, search for a job online, craft a resume and cover letter, and submit an online application.

In a spirit of encouraging independence and self-discovery, Petersen and his colleagues help customers learn to help themselves – and to make their own decisions.

“When people lose their jobs, and their whole world has been turned upside down, there’s so little they have control over,” Petersen says. “When they come into the Library for help, they need to feel in control.”

Even for computer-savvy users who already have their résumés posted on popular sites such as Career Builder and Monster, the Center has access to lesser-known but valuable resources, such as local job listings and trade organizations’ websites. (Find a list of online resources on the Center’s Get Hired page.)

Additionally, the Center subscribes to nearly two dozen business-related research databases, which are provided to users free of charge. In fact, you don’t even need to leave home to use them. All it takes is a Library card to boost your job search with help from the Career Insider database, which provides information on specific career paths and company profiles. Likewise, Library account holders who are studying for a standardized test can take advantage of the free LSAT, GED, U.S. citizenship and other practice exams that are available on LearningExpress. Learn more about using the Center’s business and career databases here.

Customers who do visit the Center can use WinWay Résumé Deluxe software to build a résumé, draft a cover letter, and search multiple job sites. And when in doubt, you can always schedule a personal consultation with a librarian. Call 816.701.3717 or email bcc@kclibrary.org.


Hank Shivers assists a patron in the H&R Block Business & Career Center

But whatever you use it for, you’ll likely find that the H&R Block Business & Career Center is a good place to get things done. Considering that it’s 100 percent free to use, it’s a cost-effective workspace, too.

Just ask Erin Burroughs, one of the Center’s regulars.

Burroughs is an entrepreneurial do-gooder who has founded a mobile church ministry service, five non-profit organizations, and a private Christian high school. During times when she hasn’t had a paying client in a while, she needs a place with all the amenities of an office – but none of the costs of maintaining one.

“It would be impossible to continue doing business if it weren’t for the Center,” she says. “It’s a lifesaver.”

Like all classes offered by the Kansas City Public Library, “Use the Library to Get that Job!” is free and open to the public. No registration is required. The class begins at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 30, at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street. The H&R Block Business & Career Center is open for business during regular Library hours.

 

Eric Petersen’s Top Five Tips for Job Searchers:

1. Search high and low.

In addition to popular online job boards and company websites, check professional/trade association websites for listings. For example, the National Council on Public History has a list of jobs for historians, museum professionals, and other positions related to historic preservation.

Not sure what trade associations operate in your field? Google’s directory of business associations by industry is a good place to start.

2. Don’t rely on “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

Even Google has an advanced search (but not that many people think to use it). Use advanced search functions in online job search engines to limit your search to get the best results.

Example: Simply Hired’s advanced search lets you set filters to find a job that matches your location, experience level, education, etc. The same goes for Monster and just about all job search engines (and search engines in general).

3. Know when broad search is in order.

Use category or subject searching on online job boards. For examples, take a look at some of the searchable career categories on Career Link. Knowing the language that job listings sites use will help you find that hotel job you heard about, which is often listed under “Hospitality.”

4. Get personal.

Consider submitting your cover letter and resume in person as well as online. Though employment applications are generally only available online, delivering your cover letter and resume personally will set you apart from those who only submit them electronically. Be assertive, but not aggressive; this will ensure that your dual submissions won't be interpreted as overkill.

Read more tips on creating a résumé and cover letter. If you have Microsoft Word on your home computer, watch our video tutorial on the Résumé Wizard.

5. Show gratitude.

Send a briefly worded, handwritten thank-you note the day of your interview unless you're informed that a decision will be made that day, in which case you send a thank-you note by e-mail. A handwritten note will set you apart positively from candidates who e-mail their note. The time you take to express your gratitude will be viewed as an indication of your interest in the job.

Need ideas? Try Hallmark’s Thank You & Appreciation page.

For more tips from the H&RBlockBusiness & CareerCenter, visit our job search strategies page, or visit the Center.

-- Jason Harper