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Interview: Lisa Jeskins on working abroad

How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?

I had the world’s worst career advice at university. A man came into a room of 400 language students at Bradford University and said that if we wanted to use our languages every day, we would have to be teachers, translators or interpreters. He then walked out again. Lisa Jeskins

I absolutely didn’t want to be a teacher. (No laughing)

Translating is quite dull and the money is in technical translating (or at least it was when I was 22) and you need to be pretty damn good to be an interpreter. (Hindsight and working in universities for 15 years means I know now that I could have done anything really)

Generally I felt a bit stuffed. I’d spent 4 years at university and I wasn’t ‘a thing’ at the end of it. I had no clue what I wanted to do. So I started temping. There was a call centre experience we won’t talk about here. *shudder*

I temped for a while but wasn’t fond of any of it really and in the end, my Dad, the maths teacher and careers type person, (Not an official role) asked me what I might be interested in if money wasn’t part of the equation. (Do you see what I did there?)

I said I was quite interested in libraries but I didn’t think librarians were paid anything at all.

I started volunteering one day a week at a local 6th form college library. (Yes, Dad did get me that gig). I loved it. They were incredibly lovely to me though. I got to catalogue the language collection and if they thought I might be bored after doing something for a while they told me to go and do something else less boring instead.

I ended up getting a GT position at MMU Library, doing my masters at Leeds Met and going back to MMU for my first professional post.

Tell us about your current role and the specific skills needed.

I’m currently self-employed and I’m a coach, trainer and consultant. Which means that I help people with life, or career coaching, I train people in lots of soft skills subjects, such presentation skills, train the trainer, moving into management, customer service, time management, negotiating and influencing, resilience etc. I predominantly train LIS professionals, in different sectors and university staff. I also get involved with desk research projects, focus groups, and other types of consultancy.

I wrote my own job spec for my fellowship and list goes on for a while…

Knowledge and experience

  • Training and learning theories
  • Experience in delivering training and the ability to engage people in their learning
  • Trends in continuing professional development including management theories, change theory, leadership models.
  • Coaching theory and techniques
  • Project management and research skills
  • Background in higher education
  • Excellent communication and organisation skills, including networking and interpersonal skills
  • Extensive problem solving capabilities


  • Subject knowledge in management and leadership, training, presentation skills, change and resilience, negotiating and influencing, interview skills, time management, customer service skills, social media.
  • ILM 7 in Executive Coaching and Mentoring and evidence of coaching supervision
  • Belbin Accreditation
  • Excellent presentation and communication skills in order to present complex information to a variety of audiences
  • Experience of facilitating away days such as team building, Belbin, identifying operational priorities, social media and marketing and communications.
  • Excellent track record in designing and executing successful training programs
  • Familiarity with traditional and modern training methods (mentoring, coaching, on-the-job or in classroom training, e-learning, workshops, simulations.)
  • Extensive knowledge of  instructional design theory and learning principles
  • Understanding of effective teaching methodologies and tools
  • Excellent communication and leadership skills
  • Ability to plan, multi-task and manage time effectively
  • Sound decision making and organisational skills
  • Sound understanding of business and legal requirements required in running a business
  • Proficiency in MS Office (esp. PowerPoint) and ICT skills
  • Organisational and time management abilities
  • Critical thinking and decision making
  • Strong report writing and record keeping ability
  • Willingness to keep abreast of new training trends and techniques

What made you decide to make the switch to self-employment and what tips do you have for others who are considering becoming freelance?

I’d been at Mimas as a Promotion and Outreach officer for the Archives Hub and Copac for 5 years, the longest I had ever worked anywhere. I was ready for a promotion but nothing seemed to fit. I wanted to train. All the time. So I invented my own job.

I was very lucky as I was able to go down to 4 days a week and I worked as a trainer on my 5th day. This meant that no matter what happened my mortgage was still paid. It meant I could practice and build up a client base in a no risk situation.

When deciding whether to become self-employed full time, I had some coaching/mentoring from Deborah Dalley. (I’d always wanted to be Deborah when I grew up) She asked me if I’d worked out how much I need to pay bills and eat each month. I had. We then looked at how much I was charging and then how many days a month I need to get work for. It made me realise that it wasn’t unrealistic or that scary, which gave me a lot of reassurance.

Top tips:

  • Save up some money because when you don’t get any work it can be really scary at first. (at least a couple of months of bill paying)
  • Get an accountant. Even if it’s just for an hour of their time to tell you what to keep, record and do etc. Mine even helped me with what to include in an invoice.
  • Make use of your networks. See who is interested in what you offer. Tell people about what you’re doing.
  • Set up a website and social media presence.
  • Work out a rough business plan – you don’t need to be rigid but if you don’t know where you’re going it’s hard to see the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. And a sense of purpose is vital to your job satisfaction.
  • What are your values and how do you want to be perceived are useful questions to ask yourself too.
  • Remember that you will be putting up with the uncertainty of your income so that you can love what you do. So you must love what you do. If you don’t then you might as well get paid the same amount every month, with sick and holiday pay, pension etc.
  • Find new networks of people who are freelance too – they will be invaluable – as sounding boards, inspiration, people to collaborate with and if the worst comes to the worst, someone who could cover for you if you’re sick.

You have previously worked abroad in a LIS role. Can you tell us a bit about your experience including what influenced you to work abroad?

From starting university in 1993, to the time I was a senior assistant librarian in 2003, I’d lived in Bradford, Paris, Barcelona, Milton Keynes and Leeds, and was at the end of 3 WHOLE years back in Manchester. I had itchy feet. I’d been visiting my friend Kirsty who lived in Dubai and we joked about me coming out to live there too. One afternoon I had an idle search for jobs and was slightly shocked at the money and the benefits. So much more money that I was earning at the time, and they provided housing, and Kirsty was there and it was sunny ALL THE TIME, and there were 56 days holiday. FIFTY SIX! I could travel the world! I didn’t see that I had anything to lose.

What would you say are the benefits?

  • Depending on where you go, it opens your mind and your eyes to how lucky I am, through a geographical accident of birth to have access to equality, the UK education system (however flawed it may be), free health care and workers’ rights. (This list started as 1 thing then almost morphed into a whole ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ length list)
  • I loved meeting and working with people from all over the world.
  • I never have to think ‘I wish I did that’.
  • It looks great on your CV. Well it did, it’s too long ago now to really count.
  • It helps with your understanding of international students.
  • It made me LOVE roving.
  • I changed the way they taught information literacy and marketed the library and I’m really proud of the work I did there.
  • You get to meet people and see and do things that you would never get to do if only go abroad on holidays.

What disadvantages are there (if any)?

  • It’s different. (Screamingly obvious I know) It can be harder. Different rules and regulations, different culture, can all be quite stressful as you’re getting used to a new country. I definitely had a few moments of ‘we’re not in Kansas now’. (I even had one in Paris, not just in the UAE) You can go somewhere on holiday and love it, but when you live there, you have to do all the hard stuff that you have to do at home. But in a developing country. Or in a different language. You don’t realise that all the humdrum day to day stuff; opening up bank accounts, paying bills, finding the post office, is completely second nature in the country of your birth. To varying degrees, depending on where you choose, it will be harder.

What advice would you give to anyone in the LIS sector thinking of going to work abroad?

I’ve re-read my blog posts from a few years ago and they may be 8 years old and the links may no longer work I still think all the other advice here should still apply. My caveats are I was job hunting in the Middle East 15 years ago. Things will have changed.

The world is now so much smaller and there are now so many more UK, US and Australian universities that have campuses in different countries that it must be easier now to find work abroad.

Working abroad blog post

Library Routes blog post

You’ll see my main advice is research and visit. You’re information professionals. You got this. 😉

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This entry was posted on January 7, 2019 by in Interview and tagged , , , .

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