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.