Blogs: Jobs and careers

A college degree is one of the most expensive items you will ever buy. It can leave you in debt for years, so you want to be as smart as you can about your education. When you attend college, you are "buying" a college degree, much as you purchase other big-ticket items. So, you want to make sure you get your money's worth.

Barnard College

Figuring out what college is going to cost

The U.S. Department of Education has a useful website called College Scorecard. You supply information about the type of degree you are looking for and locations or regions that you are interested in, and you'll receive results that show the average annual cost of tuition and fees at each matching institution, the graduation rate, and the annual average salary of their graduates. It's a great website for getting an overview and comparing what different colleges cost.

Another great place to research college pricing and student aid is at The College Board website. There is a wide variety in prices charged by institutions of different types and in different parts of the country, so it can really pay to do your research. 

Be sure to add in what your room and board costs will be, including your meal plan, books and supplies, and other personal expenses

Your Personal Resources

Before you apply for student aid or scholarships, you'll need to figure out the amount of money that you and perhaps your parents can afford. Some parents choose to contribute and others believe that it is the student's responsibility to pay for college.

If you are saving for college, the State of Oregon offers the Oregon College Savings Plan which provides tax advantages. 

Federal Student Aid

If you plan to apply for aid, check and double-check the application deadlines. State and college aid may have earlier deadlines than federal aid. When you apply, you want to be in the first stack of applicants, not the last. You can check the federal and state application deadlines at

The first step to apply is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Financial aid experts recommend that all students fill out the FAFSA because it is used by colleges and grant-makers to figure out financial need. 

The fastest way to fill out the FAFSA is online at, but you can also get paper forms at all our public library branches: Just ask at a reference desk. Give yourself plenty of time to fill out the form. You'll need to have information about your financial situation and you or your parents' federal tax forms from the previous year at hand.

Using the information that you supply on the FAFSA, the financial aid office at your college will determine that amount of aid you may receive.

Find Out What's Available

Trinity collegeIt's never too early to start looking for scholarships. The best time of year to start looking is in the summer or early fall. This lets you find programs before their deadlines have passed, and gives you enough time to complete a well-planned application. Many scholarship programs require an essay and recommendations from teachers or other adults who know you, and these take time to prepare.  

There are many scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships and work-study jobs available. You'll likely encounter some common eligibility criteria. These include which state you live in, if you've performed military service, whether you have minority status or a particular nationality or ethnic background, a religious affliation, or if any of your family members belong to a national or local organization or civic association. If you fit the eligibility criteria, be sure to consider applying! 


The library is a great place to get started as you research scholarships. Whether you are looking for a scholarship in the humanities, the sciences, the social sciences, or sports, we can help you discover ways to find scholarship awards for higher education. 

Scholarship HandbookThe Scholarship Handbook is organized by common eligibility criteria. It lists scholarships based on which state you live in, whether you have performed military service, if you have minority status or come from a particular nationality or ethnic background, if you have a religious affliation, and whether any of your family members belong to a national or local organization or civic association. Each scholarship program is described by eligibility, basis for selection, application requirements, amount awarded, application deadline, and contact information.


Ultimate Scholarship Book"Billions of dollars in scholarships, grants and prizes." The Ultimate Scholarship Book organizes awards into categories such as humanities, social science, science and general. You don't need a perfect GPA or financial need to win a scholarship. There are plenty of awards that have none of these requirements.



College help for teens: More resources for financial aid, admissions, guides, and Study Abroad.

Saving and paying for college: Additional help with financing college.

Getting ready for college is a state of mind


Florida State 1904Every year, hundreds of high school juniors and seniors in the Portland area are faced with the decision of whether to go to college, which colleges to apply to, what to study, how to get accepted, and how to pay for it. The library can help! 

If you’re wondering if you’re ready or not, ask the advice of a trusted high school counselor, teacher, or librarian. They can help you find resources to decide whether you have learned to set clear, achievable goals, can manage your time well, and have the skills you’ll need for college-level courses.

Compare your options

College Blue BookThe library has several different resources to help you evaluate your options. One of the best available is the six-volume College Blue Book. You can look at it online or come in to Central Library to browse.

The first volume has the most narrative information about different options. Find the number of students and faculty, entrance requirements, costs per year, and lots more. You could use this volume, for example, to compare the campus at George Fox University to Lewis & Clark College.  

Looking for which degrees are offered by college and subject? Volume 3 is where you can find, for example, that Portland State University and University of Oregon both offer degrees in architecture. Volume 5 has an up-to-date list of scholarships, fellowships, grants and loans. And if you're interested in distance learning programs, look at Volume 6. Almost every course, certificate, and degree program that you can take on campus is also available in a distance learning format.

Deciding what to study

Occupational Outlook HandbookDuring high school, students typically begin forming some idea of what they want to study or do for work. The Occupational Outlook Handbook can help with up-to-date vocational guidance, employment forecasting, and information about different occupations. You can also use their electronic resources online for career information about hundreds of occupations.

For each job, the book discusses work tasks, job outlook for the next few years, training and education needed, pay, work environment, similar occupations, and additional information sources.

The library also has the Oregon Career Information System (CIS) database which provides information about occupations in Oregon that relate to your interests, aptitudes, and abilities. After you create a portfolio, you can use CIS to take college admissions practice tests, upload your career search, and build a résumé. Deciding whether to return to school? CIS has career assessment tools to help you out.

Considering whether to use a college consultant

College consultants can help you develop strategies about planning for college. Look for someone who is knowledgeable about a wide range of colleges and their admissions processes. They can help identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help find schools that are a good fit. They can also advise on what you need to do to prepare for applying to college, such as choosing college prep classes, participating in school activities, and volunteering in the community.

There are many college consultants in the Portland area. The following sites have tools for finding phone numbers and addresses of local consultants.

Independent Educational Consultants Association

Higher Education Consultants Association

laptopAt your Multnomah County Libraries, you can find a wide array of free computer classes - from computer labs where you can get extra assistance to e-book and e-reader classes to office productivity skills, like spreadsheets and word processing.  Here are some other great options:

  • Free Geek - Free Geek offers a range of educational opportunities including hands-on experiences in their Build and Adoption Programs as well as a wide variety of desk-based learning in their classroom.
  • Portland Community College (PCC) - offers a wide variety of computer and IT courses, tailored to fit your situation - find out more about their computer education programs
  • Mt Hood Community College (MHCC) - for East County residents, MHCC offers many in-person and online computer classes through their Community Education program
  • Portland Parks & Recreation - offers basic computer and Internet classes for senior

support groupsAs some smart person once observed, looking for work is work, darn hard work.  And the pay stinks.  It's a process full of frustration and disappointment, which makes keeping the focus and motivation necessary for a good outcome difficult.  But you don't have to go it alone.  The Portland/Multnomah County area is full of people in the same boat as you, willing and able to offer their comradery, support and advice to help you through these trying times.  I recently sat in on one such group, the Job Finders Support Group, which meets at the Capitol Hill branch, noon to 3pm every Friday.  I was greeted warmly by a bunch of very together people who were happy to share their experiences with job applications, networking events, social media, the latest job search-related apps, company research, interview strategies - in short, they were on top of all different aspects of the job search game and very encouraging and supportive of each other.  It is facilitated by local author Cleon Cox and he lists many other local support groups and other job seeking resources on his website.  Another source of support in the east county area is the Job Seekers Support Group which meets at Gresham Library at 1:30pm on Tuesdays. Finally, an option in your job search arsonal is the job fair, where employers vie for the attention of prospective employees like you - the State of Oregon website lists job fairs and events in the area

Need help finding more job resources? Let us help!

Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
*Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

Craigslist is a popular online tool for job searching. Because it’s open to anyone, there is a wide variety of jobs available, but be careful to avoid scams!

Here’s how to search, but keep in mind that services like this change all the time, so it might look different when you try these steps.

Start at Craigslist.

In the jobs column, find your field or click jobs to search all jobs.  

The default search is “all portland,” which includes Multnomah County plus six additional counties. Use the drop-down menu to refine the search to a specific county.

Choose a county

Type a keyword or keywords into the search box. Don’t enter a complete sentence, just use a few words that describe the job you want.

  1. Limit the search by using the check boxes for telecommute, contract work, internship, part-time work, or non-profit. Leaving these blank will generate the most results.

  2. Click search.

  3. Organize results the way that’s most useful for you. Map displays your results on a map so that you can see where each job is located.

  4. Click the link to read a description of the job.

Apply for the job:

Be sure to read the entire job description. Follow the application directions in the posting very closely.

Often you can apply for the job using email by clicking the reply button.

  1. Click the reply button

  2. From the drop-down menu, select the text in the copy and paste into your email field.

  1. Right click and select copy.

  2. Paste that email address into the To field in your email.

For more help, try the Craigslist help page.

For more help searching for a job, try Multnomah County Library’s Jobs and careers page, Job Seekers’ labs, and classes for job seekers.


Job search image

If you're looking for work and aren't sure where to start, consider these top sites that will help you begin your job search, network with others find out when jobs in your area of interest open up.
OregonLive: Best Local Jobs
Take a look at the Oregonian’s online employment classified section.
Craigslist isn't just for getting a couple of bucks for selling that old futon in your basement - you'll also find lists of local jobs in a wide-variety of categories. Here's a great article on getting the most out of Craigslist for your job search.
Craig isn't the only one with a list - this is a newsletter and website that posts jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities from hundreds of Portland Metro and greater Oregon non-profits, public agencies, and private employers. It also offers a resource page with recommended books, career coaches and more.
LinkedIn is a profession-focused network that allows you to link to people you know and network with those who know them. Its job board allows you to post your resume and it also includes a browser toolbar widget that can help connect you with your targeted employer. Still not sure what LinkedIn is or how it can with your job search? Take a look at LinkedIn's job searching tips and here are some tips from Forbes that LinkedIn won't tell you.
Indeed allows you to set up searches and have the results emailed to you daily and/or pushed to you via RSS. Easy to limit to a particular location. As with LinkedIn, this site also lets you post your resume.
Search for jobs throughout the state - use the advanced search to limit to a wage per hour, occupational group and more.

Closing the ‘Skills Gap’

A report released by the Oregon branch of America's Edge describes the cost of the state's skills gap

There have been many articles about the relation of unemployment and the so-called ‘skills gap’ recently and there have been lots of discussion about whether that’s real or just hype (check out these articles from the Harvard Business Review, the Economic Policy Institute, and Wharton Digital Press).  But regardless of where the real fault lies for jobs going unfilled in a time of high unemployment, that's the reality of hiring in the computer age, with the advent of applicant tracking systems, scanners and parsing software. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to adjust to the realities of computerized hiring and cut through the avalanche of job seekers applying online (and the software employers use to weed them out), to get to the actual people who still do the hiring.

First, you need the skills to actually do the job before you can convince someone you can.  We can help you brush up your computer skills with our library computer classes and labs, as well as books and other self-instruction materials. The library also offers online tutorials and practise tests on a wide range of in-demand skills, including preparing for many occupational skills and licenses and even connects you with career experts online. Let us help you navigate these options in person, by phone, email or chat.

The next step involves telling your story to potential employers...

Resumes and cover letters

Everybody talks about how choosing the right words to use in computerized job searches, resumes, cover letters, and interviews is the key to success, but how do you find them? shares several articles about using keywords to enhance your resumse’s effectiveness, how to find those keywords and even offers a worksheet to help you get at just the right keywords. This article from Wharton Digital Press is a practical guide for what can you do about parsing software.  You can find more advice and examples on websites like Susan Ireland’s Resume Site, and the many resume and cover letter books we have at the library. Before submitting your resume to potential employers, it’s always good to have someone else review it - you can do this for free by posting your resume to the library’s service or MSN’s CareerBuilder site.


Because 'It's not what you know...' - well, actually it is, but it's also who you know who knows someone who needs what you know.  So you need to make those connections and here are some ways to do that:

  • LinkedIn: use that “six degrees of separation” thing to your advantage and put your best foot forward in a place where people who can help will see it.

  • pdxMindShare:  techies and creatives, this is your place.

  • CNRG:  networking and more for the local nonprofit world.

  • Network After Work - Portland: old-fashioned, face time networking events.

  • Meetups: because you have other interests, and so do the people who can help you get hired; and they have job seekers groups too.


Now that you’ve gotten the interview, it’s important to prepare before you tell your story in person. has lots of examples of real questions applicants were asked in real interviews with various companies, as well as other insider tips.  They may not ask you exactly the same thing but it will probably be a similar kind of question - according to Forbes, all job interview questions boil down to three basic things:  ability, motivation & fit. The library also offers many books to help you prep for your interview.

Keeping all your ducks in a row  - organizing your job search

There’s a lot to keep track of in a full scale job search - industries and companies researched; networking contacts made; applications due and applications sent; jobs boards searched, results of different job titles, skills and attributes sought; followup, resume revisions; etc.  How do you keep track of it all?

Fortunately, there are a number of places that can help you:

  • Learning Express - this library database does more than provide a way for you to learn new skills, it also has a Job & Career Accelerator section which can help you with your job search in many ways, including keeping track of it all.

  • - a web-based way to keep track of it all.

  • this spreadsheet from the makers of Excel is designed to track various aspects of the job search and can, of course, be modified to suit your needs.

  • Do it yourself, e.g., a very simple Word doc with expandable rows & columns for keeping track of where you’ve looked, what you’ve found, and, most importantly, what new searches that leads to. Any calendaring system can be good for keeping track of deadlines, interviews, callbacks, etc.  You just have to pick one and use it consistently.

"Music is the poetry of the air." 
--Jean Paul Richter

If poetry lifts up your spirits, chances are really good that you are also uber fond of music. Legendary songwriters like Tupac and Bob Dylan are poets at heart. Writing a poem is already quite a task, but coming up with words that fit a particular melody is an entirely different journey.

Do you feel that there is an inner songwriter in your that is just aching to explode out of you? Our library collection can certainly aid you in creating musican content. Who knows? Maybe this is your songwriting year!



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