Surviving and thriving and getting that professional archives position.

Welcome. If you're here, you're probably wondering how to get some job--maybe the perfect professional archives position or maybe just something you can use as a springboard--and you're seeking advice on how to do that. From searching for advertisements to writing a resume or cover letter to making it through the interview. And hopefully even beyond.

No guarantees, you probably already know a lot of this, but maybe some help from a lot of people who want to make sure that good candidates get good jobs. If you've got better advice? or need further explanation? Please share in the comments.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

BTP: the costs of a recruitment

BTP=Between The Posts. I'd actually plotted out the posts I wanted to do at the beginning (which will shock any teacher I've ever had--they know for a fact I don't outline anything ahead of time). But I was also aware that along the way topics might come up in comment discussions or other recruiters might want to say their piece, so if you see a blog posting labeled and tagged with BTP, that's what's going on. Since Jamie commented about my estimate of $15K for the cost of a recruitment to an institution and I suddenly got worried that my vague and guesstimated math I'd done a couple of years ago could have been really wrong, I sat down this morning and recreated it as best I could. The following is that calculation. I'll admit, this probably won't really affect anything in your searching. It shouldn't. What it should do--if I've aimed correctly here--is remind you that no matter how frustrated you are with your jobsearching and how expensive it can be for you in terms of time and money, you're not the only one feeling some pain here. The recruiters have it as well, albeit with some differences. You're not in this alone.

Any average search committee member’s hourly cost (including benefits) is going to be between $25 and $60, skewing heavily to the upper end of that range since many professional archivist search committees tend to be more heavily laden with faculty or long-time professional staff rather than technical staff. We’re going to take $40/hr as our average per person per hour of work. Again, that includes benefits. I agree that might be high for non-profits or local government, but I suspect it's not far off for govt, academic or larger corporate. And although I’m basing the numbers of candidates and search committee members below on our most recent search, the hour estimates and other payroll type costs should not be assumed to be from that search and as such, this should not be taken as an exact replica of what my institution is doing. For one, we were able to take some of the work from a similar search done two years previously and re-use or adapt that, which reduced some of these time frames considerably. (Have I made it clear yet that I’m not speaking on behalf of my institution here?) This is an estimate--an educated estimate--as to how much could be spent on a recruitment from start to finish. Obviously different institutions, with different procedures and different costs, will vary.

I also should state that I will go more in depth into the structure of a search as we pass through the entries in this blog. I promise I’ll talk more later about some of the specifics—like the various screenings—and what they are and how they might affect you.

Here we go, ready for this?

Preliminary work: developing job description and ads, creating screening documents, developing interview and reference questions, working with HR, sending out postings, getting admin permissions, etc: est 16 hrs work. ($640).

Last search, we received 75 applications. The first screening was done by a single member of the search committee with an average of 15 minutes spent with each application: est. 18.75 hrs work, let’s round that up to 19. ($760 for a running total of $1400). In some places the whole committee (up to 5 people) does this step thus taking $760 up to $3800.

The first screening left us with 30 applicants for the second screening/ranking. This is more intensive work, average of about 1/2 hour per applicant per search committee member (total 5 people): est. 15 hrs X 5 committee members for a total of 75 hrs. ($3000 for a running total of $4400).

Data entry on a spreadsheet and calculations to rank all the remaining applicants and create an ordered list by average score, assuming no negotiations to fix scoring that had gone astray on the part of any one search committee member, oh and getting notices out to candidates who were screened out on the first level. 1 person: est 3 hrs work ($120 for a running total of $4520).

Search committee meeting to determine the cutoffs for phone interviews and develop a schedule for the interviews: 1 hr X 5 committee members for a total of 5 hrs. ($200 for a running total of $4720).

* note additional time spent here playing email and phone tag with candidates to schedule said interviews plus getting notices out to the candidates screened out on the second level.

8 phone interviews at 1 hour each: 8 hrs X 5 committee members for a total of 40 hrs. ($1600 for a running total of $6320).

Search committee meeting to determine the finalists to bring in individuals for an in-person interview and to pick potential dates: 1 hr X 5 committee members for a total of 5 hrs. ($200 for a running total of $6520).

Reference checks on (in this case) 2 candidates. 3 references per person, average of 20 minutes per check. 1 hr X 2 search committee members X 2 candidates for a total of 4 hrs. ($160 for a running total of $6640).

Paperwork time. Writing justifications for interviews, justifications for non-interviews, getting permissions from HR to interview, arranging travel, arranging dates with candidates, getting notices out to candidates screened out by the phone interviews, done by several different individuals but at least 4 hrs work: 4 hrs. ($160 for a running total of $6800).

In-person interviews, personnel time. Chair of committee has a full 8 hrs committed. The rest of the search committee is probably putting in about 4 hrs each, for a total of 16 hrs. Over the course of the day, about 40 hrs worth (minimum) of other library employees’ time including departmental meetings, meals, open presentations and open meetings: est. 64 hrs X 2 candidates ($5120 for a running total of $11920).

In-person interviews, other costs. Airfare for 2 candidates, approximately $600 each, $1200. Hotel: $75 each, $150. Taxi from airport to hotel: $20 each, $40. Lunch and dinner sponsored by the Library for 4 people (3 employees, 1 candidate or 2 employees and candidate and significant other): $150 (this is really a low estimate) each: $300. ($1690 for a running total of $13610).

Search committee meeting to determine the finalist: 1 hr X 5 committee members for a total of 5 hrs. ($200 for a running total of $13810).

Paperwork: writing justifications, negotiations with candidate, permissions obtained from HR and other admin types, creation of contract, getting letters/calls out to the non-successful in-person candidate, done by several different individuals but an est. 8 hrs work. ($320 for a running total of $14130).

So that’s $14K. A 3rd in-person candidate would add another $3405 for that interview day. And don’t forget all the copy costs, long-distance phone calls, the HR hours that are done outside of our field of vision, the prep times for meetings, and so forth. All of those add to the total. Plus my current institution often pays relocation costs which can run upwards of $8000 (though usually not).

Having said all this: this is part of the price of doing business. At some academic institutions, since most of the search committee is faculty and salaried, a lot of them are still putting in nearly full hours on their jobs alongside this, so some of the time is more or less a freebie. Some of it is repetitive: if the institution hires regularly or has a stringent job hierarchy, they're probably spending fewer hours on the development of job descriptions, interview questions, so forth. It's all dependent on the type of job too: when I hired a contract archivist a couple of years ago, the cost was significantly less because we didn’t go beyond phone interviews, didn’t offer moving allowances, much of the paperwork was simplified. Other places aren't going to have the air fare costs that Alaska or Hawaii does.

Okay, so that's the first BTP entry. Again, this probably won't make much difference to you as an applicant and I'm pretty sure there's a few recruiters out there reading this and laughing hysterically at how much some places spend on recruitments (I hope a few are nodding in agreement). At any rate, I thought you might find it interesting--oh, and it's entirely possibly that I've gone completely astray in some of the math above. I'm usually good with basic addition and multiplication, but story problems really nail me. Feel free to correct my math. Back to our regularly scheduled postings now.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I’d like to start out with an introduction of who I am and why I’m doing this and some background to this project. My name is Arlene Schmuland. I’m head of Archives & Special Collections at the Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage and a tenured associate professor. I’ve been an professional archivist for over 15 years now and probably most people would consider me a mid-career archivist (although I hope my longevity is a little more than another 15 years). Though I’m currently working as an archivist/manager for a special collections department in a state university (both university archives and manuscripts collections as well as rare books), I’ve also worked for a state government archives (Utah) as a processor, reference archivist, and cataloger, and for a county court system (archivist, microfilmer, and records manager). So not just the academic side of things. My masters is from the archives and records management/history program at Western Washington University and I also hold the Certified Archivist credential. I’ve been active in SAA, NWA and CIMA.

On to the caveats. Having said all that, none of the opinions expressed in this blog should be assumed to reflect any of those institutions or organizations. And I should say that I barely squeaked through statistics during my years as a math major a few decades back, so I'm hoping I won't go too far astray on some of the numbers I provide but odds are... I'll take the blame and the heat for any mistakes I make. By like token, the caveat follows that none of this should be taken as take-to-the-bank, I'm-going-to-read-this-and-get-a-job promises. Job searches and job recruitments are so individualistic that no one can provide a perfect step one, step two, step three, voila job approach. The aim here is tips, hints, advice, ways to make better, things to avoid, and so forth. I'm also not the most expert archival recruiter out there (as you'll see two posts from now in the section about the survey respondents) but I am one of the more obsessive ones which leads me to:

Why I’m doing this. I’ve served on a lot of search committees for professional archivists in the past 15 years. I’ve headed up several committees in just the past few years. I’ve also applied for far too many positions in the past 15 years too. And I've not always done a good job of it. What I’ve come to realize is that in a lot of cases, I've wrecked my own chances at the job. Not deliberately and maybe not even something I could ever have prevented, but with the exception of one early failure, the people doing the hiring did seem open-minded and interested in giving me a fair shot at the position. As I've served on search committees, I've also seen a good number of excellent applicants whose application materials and interviewing skills represented them well. Unfortunately, I've seen a few bad applicants whose applications materials and interviewing skills represented them well, which was probably for the best. But sometimes--even one is far too many--it's been a case of good applicants who weren't able to represent themselves as well as they ought.

As I've chaired at least 3 professional archives search committees in the last three years, I've developed a few traits as a recruiter. (I'm getting to the why, hang with me please.) I don't have a lot of patience for vaguely worded application materials, candidates who don't target the job I have on offer, badly structured resumes, in short, anything that I come to regard as time-wasting at a time when I'm probably down by one full-time person in a small department. Even when I'm fairly sure that the candidate could be a good candidate, if they'd just done that one little thing different. So based on my experience, I got to thinking about how I could save time and effort in future searches. One of the things that occurred was that a lot of the problems I was seeing were most likely based on a lack of available advice to job-seekers.

There's the crux of the why. The more applicants that get it, the more applicants that understand what rules and regs and processes constrict my handling of the recruitment process, the more applicants that are able to give me the information I need to make my assessments, the simpler this is for me. This is really self-interest at play here. I don't like spending an hour reading and re-reading a single resume and cover letter set seeking that mention of that minor requirement: I'd much rather quickly check off that requirement and go on to the more serious assessment and ranking of how well this candidate might fit this job and to have all the information I need to assess that comprehensively. By the way, I'm not alone in this. I don't think I'll be doing another recruitment for awhile, but I've talked to enough of our colleagues now to realize that they want this too. And since I have a break from performing a recruitment right now, it seemed a good time to get this all written down.

And since I'm not nearly egotistical enough to assume I speak for anybody else, much less the whole archives profession, I asked colleagues for help. That help consisted of a few things. One was conversations with other hiring professionals on how they felt about the recruitment process and what they were seeing and what they wanted to see. The more official though perhaps not much more scientific method was to conduct a poll for anybody who had conducted archival job recruitments or served on committees doing so and ask them what they thought. So I drew up a basic survey. From there I asked several colleagues to review the survey and many had criticisms, corrections, amendments, additions, and deletions to it, and I took much of that advice. I then posted the link to that survey to the Archives and Archivists listserv and gave people about a month and a half to fill it out. I received 70 responses. Not all of them filled out the whole survey--it was pretty long. But I think that in there is some valuable advice and I'll be passing it along to you. Recruiters participated in the survey because they want applicants to do the best possible job in their applications. It's a potential time-saver for us when our applicants really hit our marks.

Plus I'm interested in it from the other side of things. I don't know that I'll stay in this position for the rest of my career. I'm tenured now, and I must admit, I really, really like my job, but I like to keep my options open. And I want to be sure that solid job-seeking advice is out there for when I go looking for the next one because I'll probably continue to make mistakes in my own job-seeking (I'm good at making mistakes). So to that end, the comments option for this blog is enabled. If you want to provide advice too or tell me I'm off the rails, that's all right. I am moderating comments to make sure spam doesn't get through, but if it looks real enough, I'll post. If you want to ask something and you don't want to go public, if you register with the blogspot site you'll be able to pull up my email address and contact me directly (beware that I may still use it as fodder for further discussion.) If you have questions about stuff I've failed to cover, ask. If I can do something with them, I'll try. If I can't, I'll try and get you pointed at someone or something that can. If you know of any other really great resources on archival job searching (has somebody posted NARA's guide to KSAs?), share please?

In the end? It will be a learning experience. For all of us, hopefully.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the bad news/the good news

I'm sorry to start on a depressing note, so please be sure to read through the end of this posting.

There's a lot of archivists out there and the schools with archival programs are producing a lot more every semester. And honestly, there probably aren't enough jobs for all of them in the "classic archives" field. At a session at SAA '09 (See Session 106 description) in Austin, Dana Miller (see comments please) noted that according to a count she'd done for the previous six months, the library schools are graduating four archivists for every open position, and that doesn't include the archivists coming out of non-library archival programs. Plus, of course, a lot of people are entering the profession from outside of graduate archival programs. And those open positions? Not all entry-level.

I'd rather not get into the topic of the choices our graduate programs are making and I certainly don't want this blog to be about making the career choice in the first place. So from here on out, I'm going to assume that whether you're looking for that entry level position or you're a little further along in your career looking for a change, that you've got the basic credentials: professional training, experience appropriate to the job in question, and interest and passion for the work. Also? That you're willing to put some serious time and effort into your search and applications. I'm going to be asking you to do work. Thinking time, writing time, editing time, practicing time, not only for you, but for colleagues and friends that you're going to get to help you with this process.

A couple more bits of bad news and then on to the good. I'm not seeing a lot of advertisements for professional archival positions out there. This is nothing new, this is not new to the economy right now, this has been the case for a long time. Sure some archivists maybe be retiring or due to retire in that moving target of soon, but sometimes those positions go unfilled for years, if not permanently. Worse, last open position for which I was doing the recruitment? 75 applicants. That's a pretty big pool and means the odds were stacked against any given applicant. Not to mention that recruitments are very, very expensive. I'd guess that my last recruitment--between personnel time for the search committee and flights, housing and food for interview candidates--probably ran my institution close to $15,000. So why do I mention that? It might help explain why we sometimes get so picky and critical about the details: our institutions tend to get very unhappy about failed searches so we want to do it right the first time. Plus the costs of hiring the wrong person for the job are incalculable, but even so, who wants to add another $15K onto the incalculable?

And now I'm going to say quite the most awful thing I didn't ever want to hear being said as a job candidate. And I'm sorry about this, but you have to hear it if you haven't yet. The high rate of response on most recruitments means that--for the first run-through at least--many of us are not looking at all your hard work, we're looking for reasons to reject your application and to get our work down to a manageable level. That stinks and we know it, but there you are. That's a strong part of the reason why I think the advice spread throughout this blog is important: you need to get past that initial cull so the people doing the reading and assessing and ranking can really start looking for what's good about you, not what's bad. I've taken too many candidates out on the first screening who probably would have been in the top group of eligible candidates for interview because they made a small mistake in their application materials. And sometimes individuals have made it into the interview pool who really weren't all that spectacular comparatively because they didn't make those mistakes. So let's give you--the prepared and qualified candidate--all those opportunities, okay?

So I've made you wait long enough. The good news. The good news is that professional archival recruitments are still happening. New jobs are being created. Most of the recruiters I've spoken with aren't playing the "who you know" game but are willing to consider all applicants equally. Honestly? The smart recruiter wants somebody who will be good in the position but who also wants the position and will be happy in it for a while. So for those of you who may not have a lot of experience, sometimes that means that the most experienced candidate may not be the best fit and you still have a good shot at getting the job. If you concentrate on putting an effort into a job search, if you somehow manage that elusive goal of having your application materials and answers to interview questions match up with what the recruiter is seeking, you're qualified, and you keep focused on what you want to be doing and make sure you're taking all the necessary steps, you'll have a decent chance at most jobs.

So how do you figure out what the recruiter is seeking? What are those necessary steps? I'll get to those in further posts. I'm aiming to post entries about 3 times a week til we're done. Thanks for hanging out so far, more shortly.