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.

Friday, February 26, 2010

BTP: The serial archivist

Matt asked: what to do when you’ve got two jobs back to back at the same place? How do you handle those in a resume? Depends on circumstances, as you might expect. Are both related to the job for which you are applying? Does the more recent show that you were promoted? Did one stop when the other began or was your workload simply increased?

Let’s take that last case first because I think it’s the simplest and it demonstrates a format I think might be helpful throughout. Here’s my story. When I first started working for the Utah State Archives & Records Service in January 1998, I was hired as a “Patron Services Archivist.” For most of us at the time, that meant about 80% processing, 20% reference (probably a little lower on the processing once you threw in the “other duties as assigned.”) We all took at least one day a week on the ref desk with two of our crew taking more: two of the guys put in three. One of the three-day-a-week reference guys was more or less the reference lead: not exactly a supervisor, but he’s the one who made sure the reference tracking system was always working and up to date, developed procedures, did the filing, and balanced the cash register, did training and served as the go-to guy on general reference matters. Well, he left in December of 1998 and I took over from him. So while I remained a Patron Services Archivist (and spent my two days off desk continuing processing) I had a format change in my job and a number of additional duties. Then a couple of years after that, we lost our cataloger (he passed away, tragically) and the decision was made not to replace him with a full-time cataloger but to assign those duties to someone else. Guess who?

So here’s a rough outline of how I chose to handle these changes in my resume. I decided this arrangement allowed me the minimum of confusion with the maximum of information. I never really underwent a title change, I was always a Patron Services Archivist, I just added the Cataloger title in there too. Ignore the formatting, blogs don't do so well with set tabs. Or at least not when I'm writing in them.

January 1998-October 2002 Patron Services Archivist
Utah State Archives and Records Service
Salt Lake City, Utah
• Relevant blah blah blah
Primary Reference Archivist (January 1999-October 2002)
• Ref lead responsibilities blah blah blah
Original Cataloger (April 2000-October 2002)
• Cataloging duties blah blah blah

This format/structure/organization showed that I was getting both promotions and additional duties, that ever important “demonstration of increasing responsibility” statement that you sometimes see in advertisements.

Now, let’s look at my current position. This is one where when one job title ended, the other began. And since my title is multi-layered, I chose to put the dates here first. If submitting this for a resume, I'd figure out how to make these two sets of experience match in structure (either dates first then title or vice versa). Having to switch around finding the basic information from entry to entry in a resume can be quite annoying to readers!

November 2002-present Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, Alaska

June 2007-present:
Head, Archives and Special Collections
Associate Professor of Library Science
• Relevant duties blah, blah, blah
• Promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor, July 2008
November 2002-June 2007
Reference Archivist, Assistant Professor of Library Science
Duties included:
• Relevant blah, blah, blah

I could have chosen to format these as totally separate positions and I have done so for my full CV. It would have been easy because of the clear title and level of responsibility change. However for a resume, I often choose to combine them under one locale heading but as two separate positions delineated for one primary reason: I’m far enough along in the experience to be worried about how much space little things, like employer info, will eat up and this allowed me to not have to repeat the employer’s name. An additional benefit? Combining them under the same employer also adds context. It subtly helps promote that concept that you’re growing and becoming more responsible professionally. Most recruiters reading your resume are going to pick up on the same employer, different job thing if listed separately but I think this helps make the connect easier to spot.

Now, this happens to be what works for me with the way my work experience has panned out. If you had two jobs with the same employer but with different titles and drastically different responsibilities, you could consider listing them separately. Especially if one is much more closely related to the position on offer than the other job might be. This would allow you to go further in depth into the relevant one and lesser on the non-relevant without quite so much of a side-by-side comparison between the two. And if you aren’t as worried about how long the document was getting, it might be a reasonable approach as well.

But what if there’s a gap bridged with something else? Same employer for two positions but another employer in between? I’d list them out separately. I really prefer the chronological listing personally as it makes it easier for me to spot gaps in the resume. Hey—don’t try and hide gaps this way because I’m going to find them anyhow and then I’m just going to be less than impressed at what looks like a deliberate and sloppy attempt at a cover-up on your part.

I have exceptions to that “list separately” suggestion.

If you were employed by the same org for a great length of time and somewhere in there was a less-than-one year job elsewhere, I might just go with a single listing for the one employer and note the exception on another entry. In that case, the bracketing job would come first (most recent first) with the gap represented in the date span, followed by the other filling in that gap. Just be aware that if you do have this on your resume, you might be called upon to explain it. Make sure you can avoid the worst possible construction on this (leaving to take a job which turned out to be an utter failure so you went running back home to the safety of your previous position) if you are asked about it. Oh, and you do have to list the interrupting position even if the job duties don’t relate. That could be in the resume or perhaps in the cover letter. Personally, I’d hesitate at doing so in the cover letter because it seems to highlight this non-related bridge position more than I’d want.

The other exception in this scenario would be if there was a significant difference in title or job responsibilities between the bracketing employer that would justify putting them in as separate entries. Which could look, of course, like you’d left a position and they missed you so desperately that they offered you a bunch of concessions to come back to work for them.

In general, straight chronological might be problematic for those who have non-relevant jobs in between relevant ones. You could list all positions and just provide duties detail on those that relate to the job to which you are replying. But I’d be tempted to leave the non-relevant out altogether, label the experience section “Related Professional Experience” and throw an explanation into the cover letter that makes it clear that you didn’t just sit waiting for months or years between relevant jobs. (For those of you still in school, you have a built-in excuse if you have a time gap between internships or paraprofessional but related positions: it’s assumed you were concentrating on school instead of working. How lucky are you? The rest of have to make it clear that we weren’t dealing with an involuntary incarceration.)

Again, the structure I’ve chosen is what I find simplest and easiest to comprehend when I’m first glancing through my resume and then later reading it in more depth. If yours only ends up looking confusing to you, you might want to consider reformatting to show the flow of positions better. And yes, go find your proofreaders and get their take on it too. As we continue through the blog postings on what to do or what not to do with your resume, I hope the information our survey respondents provide help you make some of these calls for how to structure your own resume. And guess what? It’s entirely possible that you might follow different structures depending on the job for which you’re applying. I’m hoping that for the moment my structure stays stable—I’d much rather amend the content in the job description section to match the position than be facing a situation in which I need to totally re-organize and reformat my resume. Remember this is pretty much my take on the way to do it. Other recruiters may feel differently. Let's hope they comment, right?

Okay, this is far too long and I’m fairly certain that had this been National Novel Writing Month I could have completed my entire monthly allotment of verbiage based on the various and assorted reports I’ve had to write this week alone, so I’m quitting for now. Plus I need to write one more report before I crash tonight so I can confer at some annoyingly early hour tomorrow morning with an employee reporting in from Stuttgart, Germany. Think long and hard before you apply for those administrative positions, everybody. Even if you love them, they’ll occasionally try to eat you alive.

Resume part 2: what to include

For starters, take a look at the bullet points in the previous posting. In many of them I've given you an idea of how many people aren't all that interested in seeing them so you can decide for yourself how you think those apply to your own record. Again, the relevant point applies. If it's a grant-funded processing project, your own ability to write grants may not be something you'd include. I'll save you the trip back and summarize them in order of what our respondents generally found was most valuable:

Beginning: Degree & credentials, professional experience. Followed up by professional development/continuing education. Then publication record, presentation/teaching record, and grants obtained. Lastly, professional affiliations.

To follow up, I asked: What are the most important elements of a resume/cv? A more open-ended question, perhaps too open-ended. The benefit to asking a question is that while yes, I received some repeats of the info I provided to you in the previous posting, but this gave respondents the opportunity to emphasize or to provide a more over-arching view of it.

Here goes.
For starters, close to 1/3 used the word relevant or something that equated. But as to specific elements, 27 of the 51 respondents (53%) said some variant on "education and experience." Again, a chance to emphasize what they felt most important. Of the remaining, 16 said experience (31%). So I think you can assume that a lot of our respondents felt the need to emphasize that. Many of these and the remaining 8 elaborated further on specifics.

Here's some of what they had to say, style-wise. We'll get deeper into this in a couple of posts when we talk about what makes a good/bad resume, but here's some bits. Well-organized, easy to reading, articulate, chronologically complete.

Content-wise: detail is important. Don't just list your job title (more about that in the next post). Some respondents want to see outcomes: if you hired for a processing position, how many finding aids did you complete? How big were the collections? Many respondents liked to see development over your experience which almost requires that you go into detail as to job duties.

Here's some of the more specific comments that I think you might find useful as you develop your resume.
  • Depending on level applying for: Entry-level, education, basic experience (internship, volunteer), areas of interest. Mid-career: experience, projects, professional development, service.
  • Professional experience and (less so the further one is into one's career) educational background. Evidence of professional involvement and development efforts is nice to see, too.
  • Details, especially for the experience component. How big were the collections? What subject areas or types of records were they? Easy to read and well organized. Don't assume we know you have a skill, especially if it's in the announcement--write it down.
  • Where you have been & what you have been doing.
  • Education credentials, previous experience, publications, committee work
  • The specific job duties performed. It's how we tell what qualifications and experience they really have and how that will translate to our job.
  • Work experience and education are the two most important elements to me. Though other elements could be elevated in importance depending on the position. For example, a director would need good experience in writing grants or a reference librarian may want to demonstrate instructional experience.
  • Practical experience; I want to see what they've done themselves that prepares them to do the requirements listed for the job. If there are huge gaps in employment I would like to see them acknowledged and some explanation given.
  • work experience and education with demonstrated commitment to professional development (e.g. attending conference, presentations, etc.)
  • What academic qualifications and professional experiences qualify the person for this particular job?
Next up? A closer look at the experience and education components: what the recruiters want to see. Can you believe we're half-way through my proposed set of postings? We'll see about that since the first half is already about 5 posts longer than I anticipated. Thanks for sticking with me so far.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Resume part 1: volume and arrangement notes

Okay, let's get this one thing out of the way before we go anywhere else. This is where we really seem to disagree with the standard resume manuals. I said: "how long should a resume be?" And provided the options of 1 page, 1-2 pages, 3 pages or less, 3-5 pages, doesn't matter as long as it's all relevant, shorter is better, and other. Respondents could choose more than one response. Not a single one of them--not one!--chose 1 page. Okay, so a lot of them went for the shorter options (not so many on the 3-5 page option) and a lot also noted that shorter is better, but a large percentage (58%) also said that it doesn't matter, as long as it's all relevant.

I think we can conclude a few things. Like cover letters, don't include the extraneous (unless it isn't extraneous and you're about to explain why in your cover letter.) Keep it as short as possible. The resume length should probably be proportional to the job level: i.e. entry-level is closer to one page, higher up proceeds accordingly. Corporate types didn't lean toward shorter. The 1-2 page types were evenly divided between state/local government and academic institutions, with a couple of private/non-profits thrown in. Take what you will from that.

Now that we've got that taken care of, on to the arrangement. Now this is a little hard to do since--hey, I'm not a statistician--I really didn't do a good job on structuring the options. I basically listed a bunch of typical elements of a resume and asked respondents to put them in order. It's not that I came up with unusable data, it's more that I have to do some more work in interpreting it. But I'll try and keep that invisible to you.

First? 72% of respondents wanted to see your degree and credentials first. I found this one kind of interesting, myself, because prior to this I would have assumed that if the job were above entry level, the readers would be more interested in my experience than in my degree. But that's because I wasn't thinking of the first few reads being in the nature of check-off lists. But now that I'm doing the reading? I want to see the degree (which I require) and check it off so I can move on and start with the assessment/ranking of the resume. Oh, and those that didn't put it first? Another 12% put it in second place and 10% put it in third place. That's 95% (including rounding of a few decimals) of respondents wanting it somewhere very close to the beginning.

Let's take a moment out to consider what else might go in first place. The vast majority of those who didn't put the degree/credentials first? They put professional experience in first place. Some respondents put both interchangeably.

As you've probably noticed, I generally don't pay a lot of attention to survey results that get only one response. Unless I happen to agree with them. However, I'd like to take a closer look at one person's "other" response because I think it bears some investigation. What that person asked for was a summary list of skills/experience as extracted from the positions list and that individual wanted that first thing. I also know that a "relevant skills" listing is what a lot of resume manuals and career guidance types are advising these days. But I've talked to a lot of archival hiring types (myself included--yes, I talk to myself all the time) who detest this practice. It takes up a lot of valuable real estate on the front page of the resume and, more to the point, isn't attached to any sort of proof. When I'm past the initial check off list and on to the scoring piece? It doesn't help me to see a "relevant skills" list that doesn't tell me how long you did this task, how often, at what level.

Balancing act, again, and I really do appreciate the way our anonymous respondent phrased this because s/he nailed it. Anon said: "as extracted from." Read this to mean that this is not living out on its own without any connect to the experiential section of the resume. And I think that's probably why those of us who hate these feel that way--sure, you say you've got digitization experience but unless it's attached to Job A from Date A to Date B (or Course B or so forth) I'm not going to give you credit for it. I've seen a lot of these lists. And with few exceptions, I've not seen anything else in the resume to substantiate the contents of these lists. If you're going to follow this route, you must, sadly, get repetitive. The skills will be effectively listed in two place: in the summary, and in the appropriate section of the resume that documents the experience with job or course titles, date spans, job or course content descriptions. If you're going to spend the extraction time, make it good, make it connect. And consider doing it in the cover letter since a lot of you will be doing it there anyhow. If you don't submit a cover letter, then maybe doing it in the resume isn't such a bad idea.

Since I structured my question badly, let me list the elements I provided and give you some views of where people wanted them more generally in the arrangement. Not everybody wanted them in these orders, so I'll provide the percentages to help where I can.

  • Degrees and credentials: beginning--1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. 95%.
  • Professional experience: beginning--1st or 2nd place: 95%.
  • Professional development/continuing ed: a semi-bell curve there. I'll give you the diagram on this one so you can see what I mean. That column to the left is the number of respondents who gave that answer.
  • Publication record: looks similar to the professional development/continuing ed on, skewing more heavily to the back of resume. Only 12% wanted it toward the beginning.
  • Presentation/teaching record: about the same as publication record, but picking up one more person who didn't care to see it (10%). Oh, and by the way, for the individuals who wanted to see it toward the beginning? Not so many academic types: this skewed more to the private non-profit or corporate types. Same for the publication record, by the way. I'm not sure what that means, but I do find it intriguing. If anybody has an explanation, let's hear it.
  • Professional affiliations: 96% included it, but none in the first or second slot. 9% put it in slot 3 and a full 1/3 wanted it toward the end. 7% didn't care about it.
  • Related experience (professional or otherwise): 74% wanted it in the beginning, the vast majority of those wanted it at the end of the beginning (secondary to direct professional experience).
  • Grants obtained: toward the end. Here's the visual.
    I'd also like to note that one respondent clarified that simply working on a grant project didn't count: you had to be the author, manager, or director of the grant. That could probably be clarified by entitling that section something like "grants obtained" or "grants managed" or similar.
  • Other: no real numbers to play with here, but some comments that may prove useful. Computer skills (though many as you'll see in later posts do not agree), languages along with degree of facility, and standards. Again, adding in the caveat: if relevant. Don't list elements if they're not requested and you're not absolutely certain they're relevant. For example, I receive a lot of resumes that list language skills. I haven't asked for it and in our case, I'm going to assume--perhaps mistakenly and that's a reasonable objection--that it means you didn't do your homework and/or you didn't tailor your application because if you've looked at our collections list at all, it should be obvious that most of the materials we have are in English. I'm a little more willing to forgive people who list languages that could reasonably be assumed to be relevant to my part of the globe since I'm not totally insane and don't expect homework at the application level to include reading 3/4 of our finding aids which often don't mention language anyhow, but it's something to keep in mind. You're understandably proud of your reading knowledge of obscure Portuguese dialects, but best case scenario is that I ignore it, worst case scenario is that I start wondering why you're applying for my job since it's obviously not something matched to your interests or skills.
Next step, what should a resume include?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cover letter part 3: Good or bad, what makes it so?

Before I get into the details of the good/bad traits of a good/bad cover letter, I want to share with you one of the answers I got to this question. I think it's the final justification on why producing a good cover letter should matter to you.

The cover letter is the ultimate "writing sample."

Even if they haven't asked for a writing sample, they're going to be judging this with that in mind. And chances are, somewhere in one of the screening or ranking documents or somewhere along the way, you're being judged on the quality of your cover letter and it will have an effect on your passage through the process. Thank you my anonymous survey responder, your succinct and concise explanation did a much better job of explaining than I could. On to the data.

Now this was interesting. 81% of the respondents answered this question even though I made it totally open-ended which meant they'd need to spend some time, they couldn't just choose from pre-written responses. They really do want to share this with you.

The other interesting thing about the responses to this question is that despite the impression you got from the previous blog post on what not to do, these are almost universally positive. Some of them did address the bad side, but almost all of them addressed the good side. So they've not been burned out which is good news for the applicant as it's hard to please a cranky recruiter.

I'll compile for you. In this case, I'm not sure percentages and numbers really matter. Some of these could be a little nebulous like "something that will catch my attention," but I think most of them are not so much. These are things that even if you can't gauge your own writing on, one of your proofreaders (yes, I said "one of" suggesting more than one is good) could probably assist. These are the basic traits of a good cover letter, all of which speak to your communication ability--and that's something a bunch of survey respondents specifically stated. (Note: if you don't see why communication ability matters, let me know please. I didn't think I needed to go there but maybe I do.)

In tone and style: Professional and to the point. Easy to read, well-written, with good grammar and punctuation.(Note: good grammar and punctuation? Shows attention to detail, generally considered a good thing in our profession.) Congenial, shows personal/professional writing style without being overly informal (that doesn't mean informal,) displays enthusiasm and some personality, well-organized, fact-checked, and polite. Simple. Concise, possibly even brief. Provides quick access to pertinent information. Reads like a well-written piece of expository writing - had a introduction (with engaging topic sentence), support paragraphs, and effective summation. Addressed correctly. Polite.

In content: Specific, relevant, and tailored to the position for which you are applying. Touches exactly upon the qualities that we desire, e.g. a project archivist cover letter should mention things like project management skills, benchmarks, etc. (there were several variants on this phrasing). Makes a good case as to why the individual is a good candidate. Exhibits research skills (often in finding out about the institution), explains concisely how the applicant is a match for the position even if the resume doesn't match exactly, and tells how applicant can use their experience to the institution's advantage. States what you're applying for. Expresses a desire to advance professionally. Draws direct connections to the open position, might even acknowledge areas where the match isn't perfect and establishes the candidates interest in the specific job.

Oh and for those hard copy apps? Make sure you use good quality paper.

As for the traits of a bad cover letter, you can basically flip the above. A few respondents had some additional points that I think really are worth mentioning and some explanations/clarifications about the flip side. So quickly:
  • in every recruitment I've done, there have been applications from individuals who were obviously just applying for every available job at my institution. Those people clearly didn't understand the nature of the job (hence the emphasis on tailored applications)
  • nebulous terms like "works well with others" and "positive spirit"
  • forgettable, impersonal, generic, and boring
  • presumes on existing relationships
  • odd fonts, colors, strange paper, food stains (for some reason this one really charms me though certainly I wouldn't be so amused if such a paper app landed on my desk)
  • poor continuity and flow
  • too general--could be for any archives job
  • flip of the expressing desire to advance professionally: not to the extent that their willingness to perform entry level work or accept supervision is in doubt
  • obviously unqualified applicant stretching to get an interview because s/he is desperate for a job
  • explains to me why you want the job even though you know you are not qualified for it (remember my talking about how tricky it is to convince the recruiter that something else substitutes just fine for one of the requireds that you don't have? This is what happens when it doesn't work.)
Oh, and most who mentioned it, preferred prose to bullet points. Bullets were okay by some people, but they had to be judiciously used. Might be best to avoid, or use only sparingly.

You ready for it? Let's kick into resumes next.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BTP: The wild west is where I wanna be

(Apologies to Tom Lehrer. I couldn't resist.)

So this was Amber's question in a comment on the last entry: I've always thought that if you're applying to a job in another part of the country you SHOULD mention that you want to live there in the cover letter, so that the hiring agent knows you're not just blanket applying to every archival job in the world. Not the case?

Before I start to get into this, I'm not addressing those of you who cannot be flexible in location. You've got enough limitations on your job search without worrying about this one.

So what about the location affinity statements in a cover letter? Especially when your return address is somewhere else? In or out?

Mention it? Okay. Make generic statements about how people there are better workers than people anywhere else? No. (It figures that somebody would pick up on one of the only two entries I added to that list of no go items in the cover letter. I'm still not telling what the other one is.) Balance it? Yes. As I noted in the previous posting, you need to make sure that the reader doesn't walk away from reading your cover letter with the impression that the only reason you're applying is because you want to live there. I've seen a few 3 paragraph (1 page) cover letters where the applicant dedicated a full paragraph to their interest in our locale. Too much? Yes. Especially since that paragraph could have been used to put in some details they missed. Especially since in every one of those cases the candidate failed to provide some other information which was very important to me. So that's the answer that I think is generally applicable. Balance.

Now here's my own take on this one. To be far more blunt than I should be. If you apply for a job I have, I'm going to work from the assumption that you're okay with the location. You don't need to state it. I don't care if this is your dream city. That doesn't tell me anything substantive about your potential job performance. I'm not saying that it doesn't have some potential effect, I'm saying that it doesn't have enough to catch my attention at this time. Saying that isn't going to get you past my requirements checkoff list, isn't going to get you any bonus points on the ranking sheet which is limited to the requirements and preferreds, and I don't include "must be willing to live in Anchorage" in my requirements listing in the job ad. So it does zero for you at the first two steps in the process. The earliest you'd really need to say this to me, with the process my institution follows, is at an interview when I ask you why you want this job at this place. Stating it in your cover letter is simply a waste of real estate for me. I'm not going to slap you for saying it in a cover letter, I'm not that awful, but it really doesn't enter into my calculations. So why not use that space to talk about something more important?

And it might not enter into calculations even later. If I had two absolutely perfect, tied in a dead heat candidates, location would matter only for the candidate who failed to give me any interest or gave me the idea that they weren't so thrilled with moving here. If both seemed positive about the location? I'm not going to give the job to the person who wants the place more. There's going to be some other difference between the two that is more important to me. Which candidate has an edge with the other employees in the department? Which candidate seems more flexible on working hours? Which candidate has better inter-personal skills? Which candidate is willing to cat-sit? (Okay, really really kidding. And I can prove it: my last two hires are severely allergic to cats.)

Subject knowledge is altogether different. If the repository you're applying at has a geographical focus to collections and you have some history/experience/knowledge that gives you a leg up on learning collections there, that is completely fair and a good thing to include in a cover letter and gives you a great reason to express why you want to get back to that area.

Yes, I'd like to know that our part of the world isn't going to send you screaming back to civilization (whatever you define that as) in three months. But if you're taking the time to apply for an open position at my place? I don't think it's out of line for me to assume that you're willing to live here. But what I want to know, what I need to know from your cover letter is that you'll be able to do our job and that you want our job. The location is only the tiniest proportion of it for me. KSAs and affinity for the duties of the job, passion for the mission, that's all far more important to me. Make sure that's what's in your cover letter first. If you still have space, then you can mention the location.

And again, personally? I'm okay with you applying all over the country although blanketing, not so much. I'm better than okay, I prefer it (though I don't advise sharing your job search exploits that with recruiters). I've done it myself (not the blanketing). The job has always been more important to me than the location.

Here's my thoughts on this from the other side of the table. You see, there is a part of the country I really, really, really want to live and work in. I like many of the local institutions. But even with saying something little in the cover letter--well balanced with everything else--I've never had an interview in the multiple times I've applied to jobs in that place. My normal interview to application ratio? About 4 interviews for every 5 applications. This is about the only part of the country where I can't get an interview. So my results on this place are totally out of whack with my normal results. Despite saying that I'd like to be there. So I'm not seeing any evidence from the applicant side that this is worth my time to say.

Oh, by the way, don't take that interview ratio as some sort of superpower on my part. I'm just extraordinarily picky about the jobs I apply for and I rarely apply for something that I'm not completely qualified to do or pretty close. So that cuts down on the amount of applications I've done. And my job offer to interview ratio isn't quite as good.

At any rate, this is one of those subjects I've got a fairly firm opinion on. Let me sum up: you can tell me you like my area of the country if you want, I won't downgrade you for it (unless it comes at the expense of something I actually want and which is missing), but I'm probably going to ignore it. If you're out there reading this and you're a recruiter and you need to hear that an applicant wants your region, let's hear what they should say, how they should say, and when they should say it. And why. Thanks Amber, for a really good question that made me sit back and think about something I haven't spent a lot of time pondering. Let's hope we get some more feedback.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cover letter part 2: what not to write

Sorry, this has the potential to be really negative. But the respondents are sharing this because they want to make sure you don't misstep. This is what some of them consider missteps and they have seen them. Most likely more than once. Possibly often. Consider these learning experiences. This time I'm not going to paraphrase, just make some judicious edits for clarity and spelling. This is what recruiters are saying. Oh, and if you start to recognize yourself? You probably aren't--as a direct quote, I mean. You may still be guilty of it but so are a bunch of other people. I've seen most of these multiple times myself and I'm not the one who submitted them. I've only put two in, and I'm not telling which ones.

Under the heading of This Is Repetitious (and these comments are repetitious but I included them all so you can see how badly they dislike these items. Who knew there were so many synonyms for reiterative? Aside from Roget, anyhow):
  • don't just reiterate resume
  • full history as presented in resume
  • a regurgitation of the resume
  • A restatement of what is in the resume
  • a repeat of the application/resume
  • Should not simply rehash your resume
  • Re-listing what's in the resume
  • a straight rephrasing of the resume
  • Rehashing the exact job description (well, that's a little different)
  • A detailed summary of the contents of the CV or resume
  • information taken from the resume that has not been elaborated on
  • Redundant information
  • Redundant information - information already included in the CV or résumé
  • a restatement of all the experience on a resume
  • information that could be learned elsewhere
  • laundry list of duties or jobs
  • Recitation of what's already in resume/CV
  • Word for word copy of the position description
  • duplication of information in the resume
Under the heading of Thanks, Don't Mention It, No Really:
  • Personal information (9 counts)
  • personal life
  • irrelevant or extraneous information (8 counts)
  • hobbies (4 counts)
  • the applicant's life history
  • a list of courses taken (2 counts, although 1 noted entry-level are exceptions and I'd also amend it by saying that if I'm demanding graduate level archival training, you've got to give me something, though I'd prefer it in the resume to cover letter)
  • qualifications not sought or needed from applicant
  • age
  • religious affiliation (2 counts)
  • Life experiences and interests not directly related to the requirements
  • A long explanation of why applicant is leaving present job and how past jobs have wronged him
  • Irrelevant skills or hobbies such as "in my spare time I like to garden" or "I'm really great at organizing social functions"
  • non-applicable information for the specific position
  • non-work information
  • a photograph of the candidate
  • detail about interview availability (okay, this is a toughie since two of our respondents specifically asked for interview availability, but maybe the compromise is not to be too specific.)
  • marital status (2 counts)
  • sexual orientation
  • basic job history (that could also go under repetitious)
  • anything too terribly personal
  • excessive personal information (2 counts)
  • clubs to which you belong
  • children
Under the heading of Flat-Out Mistakes:
  • the name of the wrong position
  • contradictory information
  • Typos (5 counts)
  • Misspelling my name or the name of the institution
  • Grammatical errors (5 counts)
  • unfinished sentences
  • spelling errors (3 counts)
  • another hiring institution's name in lieu of the one to which the applicant applied
Under the heading of It's All A Matter Of Style:
  • don't gush about wanting the job or how good a fit you are
  • Obvious that it has been cut/pasted from multiple applications, previous cover letters
  • Obvious generic passages, e.g. detailed descriptions of processing projects when the job is for reference. (I could have written that one, but I didn't.)
  • Too many words--too wordy (is anybody else seeing the irony in this one? See, recruiters aren't perfect either)
  • Rambling
  • Jargon
  • empty phrases
  • inappropriate informality
  • Lengthy information
  • cookie-cutter letter
  • long ramblings of "me" and "I" statements
  • Should not be too broad or too detailed
  • informal language
  • acronyms that are not initially spelled out
  • slang
  • humor (2 counts, though the second one was "attempts at")
Under the heading of Where Angels Fear To Tread:
  • emotional pleading
  • ask to be directed to a job with duties the advertised one does not include
  • name dropping
  • relaying of personal hardships
  • use this job as stepping stone in career ladder
  • superfluous bull (sorry, that's a direct quote)
  • mention of other positions applied for
  • fluff
  • adverse comments about applicant's current/former employer
  • really short letters that basically say "I like archiving"
  • demanding letters that say "I'm the best candidate" or "you should hire me" and "I'll call you next week if I don't hear from you" (note: this becomes a bigger faux pas when the candidate doesn't call next week. Know what? I've heard this several times, I've never received the follow-up call.)
  • excessive admiration for the potential employing institution
  • flattery
  • desperation
  • statements like "I've always wanted to work in that part of the country because people there have a better work ethic than where I am now"
  • explanations of jobless circumstances
  • hype
  • long drawn out explanations of why we should hire them even though they do not meet the requirements
  • Why, or how badly, the applicant needs the job
  • offers, like 'I will buy you a cup of coffee'
  • 'I have always dreamed of living in ____'
  • Aspirational nonsense, e.g. "I've always wanted to hold history in my hands."
  • Don't tell me about your personal friendship with a member of our legislature, or with a highly placed state executive, please. It will not help your application, and it may make me wonder why you feel it should do so.
  • Desperation, no matter how desperate.
Now that you've read those, are you freaked? Are you saying "I can't believe people do that sort of thing?" Wonderful. That's exactly what I want to hear from you. If you're saying "What's wrong with that?" let's start the conversation. I don't necessarily follow these exactly myself, but let's figure out why these fall under the listing of "what not to include" for so many of our recruiters. Do you have an argument as to why we should vote one or some of these off the list? Why they should be acceptable? Let's hear it. Or if you think that one of these could do with some further explanation (why is humor so bad anyhow) and you have some insight, share, comment.

In general, aside from the interview availability where we've got a couple of people asking for it and at least one saying no, these fall into two categories: don't do it, or the balancing act. Obviously some of these could be survivable in moderation but if you're unsure if you've crossed the line, again, hit up the proofreader. If you want, hand them this list and say "make sure I haven't done any of these, okay?"

Next up on Monday: more of a summary of cover letters that will hopefully tie some of this together. What makes good ones good, what makes bad ones bad.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cover letter part 1: the long and the short of it

Part 1 will be about the length of a cover letter, what it should have. Part 2, coming shortly, will be about what a cover letter shouldn't have. Part 3 will be about what makes a good one good and what makes a bad one bad.

First assumption I'm going to make here: You ARE tailoring each cover letter to each application. Go ahead and create that master cover letter with boilerplate language or with the fill-in-the-blank MadLibs look, but you must modify. That's not just me. I heard it from the survey respondents, I hear from recruiting colleagues all of the time. Job ads are kind of like snowflakes (I can hear my high school writing teacher howling right now) in that a lot of them may appear alike, but there's going to be differences, even if subtle. Even if it's the same job a short time down the line, do you want to take the chance that some reader with a spectacular memory will notice that your two cover letters are word-for-word the same? More importantly, if you didn't get the job the first time, what are the chances that repeating your exact efforts are going to work the second?

Let's dig in.

The length of the cover letter. Apparently? Size matters. At least to most of the respondents.

I also offered "the shorter the better" as an option and a few people chose that, mostly in tandem with other size preferences.

The interesting thing about these results are that I put in some vague statements (shorter is better, any size if all relevant) and people still chose specific lengths. Nobody sent me a comment saying that they needed more choices: that they preferred 5 page letters, for example. Nobody argued with the answers they had to choose from. That hit for 3 pages or less? 1 respondent only. I think you can take from this that 1-2 pages is acceptable but the closer you can get to 1 page, the more likely you'll hit the mark.

So short and succinct. But not too short, mind you. Again, I told survey takers to assume you've put your contact information on it. This probably isn't a safe assumption--I've received a number of cover letters submitted that don't have any header information on them at all or have only a name. If the cover letter manual you read between the last post and this one says you don't have to put that information in? It's wrong. I've also received cover letters that essentially said: "I'm applying for X job at Y institution." And nothing else. We get our share of apps that are from people who are clearly just applying for anything open in the system whether or not they're remotely qualified for the position, but some of these came from people who were actually seeking the position in question. Really, really not good. As for contact information: provide your name, address, phone, email. One of the survey respondents has obviously been bit a few times by cover letters that only have a signature at the end and no other mention of the name. (Sounds like s/he dropped a few bunches of papers and had to gather them together too.)

So what does my panel of experts say on what a cover letter should include? Here we go...

For the first point, I'll quote one of my experts. "Evidence that the candidate has read the job description carefully." This is pretty broad, I'll agree. The first way to demonstrate this? Not only mention the position by title, get the name right. If they're advertising for a User Services Archivist, don't call it a Reference Archivist. Why? If you don't prove that you've read the job ad and read it closely, you're not going to convince your recruiters that you're interested in the position. We all want to hire somebody who really wants the position we have on offer, as well as somebody qualified to do it. Getting somebody like that means the employee is more motivated in the position, they tend to do a better job, all things that make supervisors' and coworkers' jobs easier.

According to several panelists, they want to know where you saw the ad too. And in the spirit of keeping things short, it nicely combines with the previous requirement into one sentence for your introductory paragraph along the lines of "I'm applying for the position of XYZ as advertised in PQR." Why mention this? Time savings for the recruiter. If none of my qualified candidates picked up the ad from LibJobs, well maybe I don't need to bother to advertise there. If the subject-targeted listservs are generating the best candidates, maybe I need to send the ads out to those sooner with occasional reminders. Or if I'm paying for the ad in one of the for-pay venues and I'm not getting responses from there, maybe I can save that money. Or better, if somebody has reposted my ad to another place and I get a lot of good candidates from that source, I'll be sure to post directly to it next time. Not everybody cares about this, but enough do to make it worth the 3 or 4 words you need to dedicate to it.

Experience, experience, experience. Every single respondent had some sort of riff on this topic. Not a rehashing of your resume which they'll also look at, but a summary. Mind you, that's a summary of experience as it relates to the job duties. Connect each element clearly to the job responsibilities and requirements if you're not using the exact phrasing that the job ad used. (Though do try to use the keywords as they appear in the posting, okay?) In your summary, either provide examples or reference the explanation provided in your resume--and by directly pointing to it. "I have three years of progressively responsible reference experience with XYZ Archives, as detailed in the enclosed resume." Keep it short. Not every respondent emphasized that, but enough did. They were using words like summary, brief, pithy (I love that word), short, overview, relevant, relevant, relevant.

The cover letter is also the place to explain why the readers should pass you even though you may not have one of the requirements. This is tricky. As one respondent put it: "If the candidate does not meet any of the stated job requirements, there MUST be a VERY persuasive argument for alternate relevant experience." Sometimes the institution is stuck and can't waive one type of degree for another or a certain length of documented paid full-time experience can't be made up of unpaid part-time work. But if you can't make the argument and you aren't qualified according to their standards, you're probably not going to make it past that first screening. Take a shot at it, but make it a good one. Don't ignore it in hopes that nobody will notice. I'm not kidding about the check-off list that a bunch of institutions use.

Also, if there's no apparent direct correlation between your resume information and the requirement, this is your chance to draw that connect or, perhaps, to reinforce it. I had a friend who a few years back was able to get a reference job (library) based on her argument that her cataloging experience gave her the ability to understand the search process and how to make the most of it. Connects like that are really important. In our last position opening, I didn't require archival reference experience (I think it was a preferred) but I did require customer service experience. I was willing to take retail, waitstaff, anything that showed the candidate got the public service side of things. A few candidates did an excellent job of telling me about their part-time retail college job and why that was pertinent. Okay, so I gave them the initial connect by stating the customer service requirement, but those who demonstrated that they understood why it mattered? They got a lot further along in the process. They reinforced the relationship between the job requirements, the job duties, and that hard-to-judge "is this person suited to this type of job" query.

Provide other relevant experience or knowledge that may or may not be covered in the resume. Like past experience that may not be in the archival field that still relates (note customer service example in the previous paragraph). Relevant is important here: a reading knowledge of a language may or may not be relevant. If it's in the job ad? Obviously it's relevant. If not? Maybe you should go take a quick peek at the institution's collection policy or collections list: do they have anything or are they trying to collect materials in that language? If not, probably not a priority for the cover letter. Especially if leaving it out can help you condense down to a page.

A few other things. Do some homework on the institution, make it show. That's true for every step of the way, by the way. If you can demonstrate a feel for the types of materials the institution collects, the mission of the organization, so on, that's a good thing. Survey respondents--when they defined what would exhibit understanding of the institution--pointed at holdings and mission. Keeping it short, of course. I was amused by one respondent who answered "Appear as if you have done some research on the place or job." Note s/he didn't say do homework, just appear to have done homework. You don't want to go too far, too early, since I'd be worried about somebody who quoted the minutiae of our commercial use fee policy in a cover letter, but keeping in mind the keeping it short goal should help you avoid the worst excesses.

Express why you're interested in the position. Now this can get tricky too. You don't want to emphasize one piece of it over the others. I had this discussion not too long ago with a jobseeker who wanted to know how to make it clear to places he was applying that he really, really wanted to live in that part of the country. He wasn't just applying because of the locale, but the locale was an attractor. The problem is if you tell me "I really, really want to move to Alaska" and focus too much on that, I'm going to start wondering if the reason you want my job is because you want somebody to pay your way here (we offer moving allowances) and a few months of salary and you're going to dump me for some other local job soon after you get here. It's a balance. I also don't want to waste my time and our travel budget interviewing the otherwise-perfect candidate because they really just aren't quite ready to move away from home yet so a statement of location affinity isn't a bad thing. But if you put it in? What will balance it out is a clear and effective statement of why you want that job, not just the locale. Something about the duties, the challenges, the responsibilities.

But don't tell me (or just tell me) why the job is perfect for you, tell me why you're perfect for the job. What will you bring to my department that's you-specific and should make a difference in my calculations? Careful here, you want to do this without slamming the competition or making a statement that can't be supported by evidence. I had a candidate one time who told me something like "I'm better for this job than all the other candidates because I have thus-and-such qualification." And my first thought was "how do you know any of the other candidates don't have that?" and my second thought was "wait a moment, 2/3 of the candidates have that," and my third thought was "I don't have that qualification so is this candidate slamming me?" But back to how to do this. Look over the job duties and requirements again. Do you have a special ability in one of them? A combination of some of them that would make you stand out from the crowd in some way? Some sort of compliment you received on a review that you could quote?

Some other points mentioned by survey respondents. Show some personality. (Not too much, because hey, only one respondent said that.) Explain any gaps in your resume. Provide information as to when you might be available to interview. You don't have to provide an exact time and date and if you'll be available at their pleasure, go ahead and tell them that. If you can't take phone calls at certain times of day, let them know when it would be good to call. Make sure you put in your time zone. (Please, begs the Alaskan of any Louisiana, Iowa, or South Dakota applicants, save me the lookup. I'm good with both coasts and offshore, but I occasionally misstep in the middle). If you have a preference for method of contact, let them know what it is. Provide an alternate in case that doesn't work for them. Make it as easy as possible for them to contact you when they're ready to do so.

Ready for what not to put in? That's the next post.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BTP: Curriculum Vitae

I'm going to get into what should or shouldn't be in a resume/cv later--at length, trust me. But for the moment, we've had a comment from Pearl asking for clarification about what a CV is--she'd basically been told a CV is a resume with some personal info (DOB, gender, race) added. Pearl? I'm sorry. Somebody has led you astray.

First bit of clarification. So far as I've been told, anybody hiring in the US can't ask those questions (gender, age, ethnicity and many others including marital status and so forth). International may be different. So don't ever provide those, okay? And worry about any recruiters in the US who ask for those things. I'll get more into specifics about what to include/what not to include on a resume or CV in a professional job search in later postings.

A CV differs significantly from a resume--mostly in length, usually in relevance to the job at hand. A resume is usually created for purposes of job searching or similar, a CV is more like a personal professional history which can also be used for purposes of job searching or moving on up the ranks. And gender, race and age should be irrelevant there, too. My CV? It's 11 pages right now after about 15 years in the biz, and that's actually low compared to some I've seen. If I'd do my job descriptions right, it would be longer. My average resume that I send out for professional jobs is between 2-4 pages.

What Pearl also said was that all her professional experience is listed on her resume. Fair point. Your professional employment history will probably be included, fully, in your resume. Again, I'll get into the basics of what a resume should have in it in extravagant levels of detail later. But the most important part you need to remember at this point is relevancy. Relevant experience, education, and so forth. But you might not include your full publication record, all of your continuing ed, and so forth. And that's the fundamental difference between a Curriculum Vita and a resume. The CV is/should be significantly more extensive and may contain information that is not directly relevant to the job for which you are applying. It's your entire professional history.

Would it help to have an example? I'm not going to subject you to the 11 page version of my master CV (only I get to see that one anyhow). Here's the sections my master CV contains:
  • Education and credentials (college, grad & CA, current faculty rank & tenure)
  • Professional experience (including descriptions of jobs and dates and internships which are labeled as such)
  • Consultancy work (paid and unpaid)
  • Workshops and instruction (all of the ones I've created and taught)
  • Papers/panels/presentations (all of the ones I've done)
  • Publications list (including this blog)
  • Exhibits curated
  • Grants obtained & completed
  • Continuing education (these are the classes & training I've taken)
  • Professional affiliations and service (every SAA post I've ever held, all my professional org memberships, etc)
  • University service (every committee I've ever served on)
It might help to know that CVs are generally required for academic institutions that are hiring archivists into a faculty rank system. Obviously I'm not going to include all of this in a resume if I were to apply for, say, a non-faculty position in another academic archives or in a state government post: they certainly wouldn't care about my publication or presentation record unless it pertained directly to the job at hand. They may not even care about the full job description--just the bits that are relevant (there's that word again) to the open position. And they probably are not going to care about my university service, unless the position has a lot of committee memberships associated and then they might want to see this as proof of my ability to serve on committees. Another academic position where it may be tenure track or equivalent, where there is an obligation for a service component in the job, these types of things might go in. They also might go in if I'm trying to get hired above the most basic rank, if I'm arguing that I need to be hired as a full professor based on my record rather than as an assistant. Or so on.

This all appears on my master cv because at my job I have to turn in my CV once a year to prove I'm still doing my responsibilities, and all of this relates directly to my workload and job description. Yes, even the grants, the consultancies, the exhibits. And I'll use the full version to justify my application for promotion when I go up for full professor in a few years (haven't decided exactly when, yet.)

I hope that helps define what a CV is, or is not. And I hope this helps justify why I'm suggesting you keep a master cv. You can increase, substantially, the speed at which you can respond to a job advert when you don't have to go looking through paperwork or pondering "when was that appraisal workshop?" for every different job advert you see. Copy/paste functions are a very nice thing. I'm even pondering creating a second master cv with every job I've ever had--even the non-professional. Maybe that two years I spent working part-time in Idaho transcribing the 1900 census records will come in handy in a job app some day.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Generic--yet still important--advice

When I originally mentioned that I was thinking about doing a workshop/something on this topic I heard from a few people who were interested in taking such a thing. And what almost all of them said was: "I'd do it, but don't give me the feel-good listen-to-yourself annoying pep talk stuff" that apparently was the primary content of previous career counseling sessions they'd had. I so get that--I'm not a real fan either. If you do need that kind of thing, let me know and I'll add a post down the line on--probably pointing you to places you can get that kind of help because I suspect I'm probably pretty bad at providing it.

But back to the theme here. Those potential audience members also said: "don't give me the stuff I can get out of generic job search manuals."

As a result, when I sent out my call for survey takers, one of the things I more or less said was that I was trying to target this toward professional archival positions specifically and as such I wasn't looking for more generic advice and I was going to assume that the audience for advice had done some of the basics like reading the job search manuals. And that they knew that every page of every document should be sequentially numbered and have contact info, and shouldn't have typos, etc.

Well. I won't soften it for you, or not much anyhow. What I'm hearing from the recruiters who responded to that? And tellingly, even though I hadn't asked them to respond to that? And from a few who didn't go on to fill out the survey? They think it needs to be said. They think that too many of their applicants haven't read the manuals, haven't proofread their application materials, haven't figured out the basics. Some of them? They're kind of unhappy about it. I don't want to say angry or insulted, because that's an overstatement, but maybe it could end up that way. Certainly that's not fair to you, the dedicated conscientious applicant who has done the full thing correctly, but for those of you who haven't, just, you know, fair warning.

I've hesitated about writing this post. I decided to include it for a couple of reasons. A portion of the audience who has bothered to search out this blog has most likely already taken care of all of these basics, so this is just annoying to you. Sorry, skip ahead if you like. But do so judiciously. Because there's two parts to this and 1 is that you do need to read those manuals but 2 is that sometimes the manuals are wrong or rather, inappropriate.

Let's get this over then. Yes, go to your local public library (they need the gate count) and take a look at two or three basic resume/cover letter guides. They should--I hope, it's been a while since I've read one--talk about things like not getting overly dramatic with the formats, not getting too many font types in, and so forth. And how to structure a formal cover letter. But there are some things you can blithely ignore and when I show you the results of the survey questions about structure & content of application materials, you'll see some of those right away. Because these manuals are often written for somebody other than you. So that whole nonsense about the resume never being longer than one page? You can probably ignore that one as I'll show you later. Do you have a favorite resume or cover letter guide? Toss up a comment and please, tell us specifically why you found that one helpful in your professional archival search.

And while you're at the library, be positive and take a look, not at the interview guides, but at the interview books written for the interviewers. Find out what to say, what you should never say, from the perspective of the interviewer. What you should prepare for. Again, I'll get into more details when I hit that section of the results, but in the meantime, use this as a starting point. Consider it homework. It may not be exact, but it's not a bad baseline.

Oh and those other things I mentioned when I was talking about assumptions? I'm not kidding. A lot of recruiters forgive typos. Some don't. If you write for one who doesn't forgive, you might just impress the ones who do forgive and make your application stand out amongst the competition who has failed to do so. Proofread. I won't speak for you, but I know it's easy for me to overlook typos (non-spellcheck-caught typos) in things I've written so what I do is hand it off to somebody who owes me money or similar favors (with a vague promise to forgive such debts) with a copy of the ad and have them proofread me too. I get a lot of cover letters that get the name of my institution wrong. Sometimes just a comma in the place that shouldn't have a comma but I've had a few name the locale as the University of Alabama Anchorage. Am I clearly coming down on the side of the unforgiving sorts? Yes, but one of my requirements--always--is demonstrated communication ability. That's my fail-safe requirement. If I've got a lot of applications to read? Placing my institution in a state that is several thousand miles away is probably going to get you screened out. Even if I don't catch it, one of the other search committee members will. If it doesn't get you screened out, it will make me wonder how much you really want this job, if you can't even be bothered to catch an error like that.

Okay, enough of my cranky opinionatedness. A typo isn't the end of the world for some recruiters. But if I achieve nothing else for those of you who don't leave themselves enough time for real and intent proofreading, maybe this gives you an idea about what a recruiter may be thinking when reading your app. Why take yourself out of the running with something so easily fixed?

One last point before I stop nagging on the generic advice (I'm tired of hearing myself channel my mother). Make absolutely sure every page of any document you submit has some sort of identifying information--the very least, your name. The big fail with this one is usually the references list and subsequent pages of a resume. Oh, and also make sure any multi-page document has page numbers on it too. Sometimes these get a little weird with the pdf conversions that a lot of online sites do to application materials, but it's a start. Why? Because I'm a klutz and I drop printouts all the time. I lose pages. Or I mix them up. Do you really want candidate X getting credit for all your experience because I shoved page 2 of your resume back in the file in the wrong order?

Next up: that singular challenge, the Cover Letter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The paperwork

Question #8 on the survey: Does your standard recruitment follow the model:
a. Screen for requirements
b. Rank candidates
c. Interview (single or multiple interviews).
Yes or no, and if no, could you explain?

So why am I putting this in the paperwork post? Because it leads into the "what to expect" in terms of what paperwork you'll need to submit to apply.

93% (64 of 69 answers) said yes, it follows that path. The nos are either doing headhunting, internal recruitments or temp positions, so we'll ignore those for now. The point of this is that the vast majority of respondents are going to have some sort of a screening step, a ranking step, and an interview step. And the paperwork you turn in is what is going to get you through the first two.

Let me elaborate by explaining how the process works at my current institution. It may not be exact for where you're applying, but it's a common model.

The job description and ad have been approved on all levels and go out. Applications start rushing in (hopefully). Prior to looking at any of the apps, I create two screening documents. The first is a simple check-off list for whatever I've listed as the minimum requirements. Candidates who have all the requireds get put into a stack to go to the next screening document, candidates who don't have the requirements are set to "screened out" in the computer system and eventually get a note from the system telling them that.

For those candidates in the yes stack, the second screening document is a ranking/scoring document. We rank to decide who gets phone interviews. So I create a document that lists the various qualifications, required or preferred, and add a multiplier in so I can give preference to candidates who have a lot of the things I think are important. The more important, the bigger the multiplier, the less important, the lower the multiplier. Let me give you a for example, for those of you, who like me, don't do well with story problems and would rather see the actual math.

Say I'm advertising and it's important to me that the person have strong educational/training credentials, that they know something about webpages, have good reference skills, etc. Here's how the job ad might read in the requirements section:
  • Required qualifications: Degree in related field with graduate level archival training, knowledge of web authoring software, experience providing archival reference.
  • Preferred qualifications: Web authoring experience.
What my ranking sheet might look like:

Why haven't I repeated the masters degree? Because the candidate must have it to get here, and my ranking of the grad ed makes ranking of the degree unnecessary. And why not the web knowledge? Similar answer. Knowledge was required but I want to give some extra points to those who can demonstrate it and the more they can demonstrate, the more it's worth. But the web authoring experience isn't nearly as important to me as the amount/level/quality of the graduate education or the reference experience, so those two areas get a greater weighted multiplier. Somebody with limited ref experience who has some web experience might be able to make up some of the lost ref ground in their web scores, but they won't be able to outrank somebody with a ton of reference experience and no demonstrated web experience. And somebody who has both reference experience and the education will always outrank somebody who is missing one of them.

With that end score, the committee then decides about how many people we want to interview or what the scoring cutoff for an interview is. That's usually a balance: we decide we don't want to phone interview more than, say 12 people, and look: there's a clear point gap between person 9 and person 10! We also tend to create a second cutoff--a score below which we won't interview. The ones we will not interview are set to screened out in the computer system. And we then have two groups left--the ones we know we want to interview and the ones we might consider interviewing.

We as a committee are also discussing the rankings. If one committee member comes in with rankings that are completely upside-down from others, we'll have to work through that. Not only do our HR people tend to object to odd scores like that, it means that we don't all have the same understanding of what is needed for the position. We don't have to be in lockstep though. In fact, if one committee member is ranking a specific candidate much higher than the others do, we take some time to work through it, discuss individual candidates, and committee members can advocate for or against candidates and their rankings until we come to some sort of agreement. Often it's that one committee member whose score is completely off of the others that will have caught something everybody else missed.

So that's our basic process. On to the paperwork that's going to get you through those screening stages and in to an interview. So what do our respondents require?

A quick sidebar on that transcript one: a lot of academic institutions--especially if the position is faculty rank or equivalent--will require the eventual submission of transcripts. Proof of degree, that sort of thing. And related to that, three of the respondents said that they only ask finalists for FA or writing samples.

What's the outcome? I think you'll probably have to fill in an institutional application form. At my place, that's a pro forma kind of thing: name, contact info, have you worked for us before, have you ever been convicted of a felony. But in some places that application is pretty intense and may even take the place of the cover letter/resume/cv thing. Only 3 of the respondents, by the way, went with an app only format.

Since the majority of our respondents are requiring a cover letter and resume or CV, let's look a little more closely at those numbers. By the way, one of my proofreaders asked me to explain CV a little more thoroughly so let me do it for you too. A curriculum vita, for the purposes of this survey and for the purposes of my particular institution, is often a career-long listing of every professional activity (publication, presentation and so forth), even if it does not directly pertain to the position at hand. (for anybody who doesn't like that definition or would like to refine it as it applies to their institution, please do comment with an alternative definition!) Here's a visual for you to see how the whole resume/cv/resume or cv blend plays out.
So what's the point of the diagram? Most places are going to take a resume--only a small percentage require a CV. Of the few who require CVs? All academic institutions.

However, I'd argue for you to spend the time to create a CV anyway, even if it's only a master file that you never send out. If you've got one, you've got a listing of every professional or other activity that could possibly every relate to your career goals so if you do run across that one recruitment ad that has an odd little quirk in requirements or preferreds, you don't have to spend the time trying to remember what you have that could fit it: you've got that master cv sitting there that you can search and plug in the relevant piece.

Onto a quick look at the cover letter results. Only 8 respondents didn't require this. It was about half & half on those wanting either an application or a cv/resume. But that's 88% of the recruiters asking for a cover letter. So that's something else you should be thinking about. Same goes for the references list required by 85% of the respondents.

Part of the reason I'm giving you these numbers now is that I'm going to be spending a goodly chunk of time talking about the whole cover letter/cv/resume thing. Unless you're looking for federal jobs only, you're going to have to develop some of these documents. If you are looking solely for fed jobs, you're going to be able to skip past many of these posts coming up. Oh, and one last thought. Of those 5 respondents who said they didn't follow that standard recruitment model I told you about at the beginning of this post? All of them still required cover letters and resumes. Perhaps for those who were headhunting it was more of a legalities type of thing (gotta put something in those personnel files) but their successful candidates still had to do the paperwork.

Some last general advice in the next posting (Monday) and then Weds we're off to start assessing cover letters.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

quick look at phrasing

Now, you've found some ads for positions that look attractive to you and it's time to start thinking about your application materials. So what do those listings in the job ad mean anyway?

"Knowledge of" means it's sufficient to show that you've taken a class on the subject or taken some training, though proving you've done it is always an extra little bump. Chances are, having read about it is probably not sufficient.

"Ability" or "Skills" mean you have to identify where you've actually done this particular thing.

"Demonstrated ability" means you will need to prove that you've done this thing, you can't just say that you've done it.

So that's fairly straightforward. But what, I can hear you say, do I do with the intangibles? "Demonstrated communication ability." What does that mean anyway? Here's where it gets interesting. A lot of different things to different people is what that means. For those applications that don't require writing samples, perhaps proof of a publication record or a link to an online writing sample of some sort, so forth. For me when I use it? I often make that assessment off of the quality of the cover letter and I'm not just talking about grammar and spelling here. (Yeah, I know, I'm occasionally really really mean.)

Computer literacy? Or web development ability? Or all those things that could mean a lot of different things to different people? Rely on context. Isn't it nice to be an archivist so you're used to looking for context? If the job is a digital archives specialist, the baseline for computer literacy or web development is likely to be a lot higher than a position that consists primarily of physical processing of textual records.

For more help with context: often, though not always, the elements that are more important to the recruiter will not only be listed earlier in the requirements, but the important stuff will be referenced in the job description as well. If digitization experience is listed in the requirements but isn't even hinted at in the job description, chances are you don't have to dedicate a huge amount of time to this topic. You'll still need to mention it, it's a requirement after all, but it's probably not as important as that "knowledge of web editing software" where the position description says "Will maintain departmental website." I'll get more into ranking matters in the next posting.

So that's some of the things you have to interpret in terms of you. What about the hidden things the advert is telling you about the job or the institution? The thing to keep in mind is reading a job advertisement is a lot like that old joke about reading real estate ads: "Handyman's dream" is likely to mean "Everybody else will want to raze it and start over." Chances are, there aren't going to be too many of these types of clues in the job ad because somebody along the way will have read those and edited them out, but occasionally you can still pick them out.

The job ads that look like somebody pulled the description off of a basic archives textbook? Could mean that the people doing the searching--and potentially the supervision--don't actually know much about the job or what an archivist does. Might be a great chance for you to do some education in a really supportive institution and build a great set-up from scratch or you might spend your time in the position battling for the basics. Like boxes and shelving and a place for people to do research that isn't your office desk. A huge laundry list of duties with no sense of what the priorities are? Again maybe written by somebody who doesn't understand the position or could be you're looking at a position that does nothing but put out fires as they come up. A low wage rate in comparison to expected credentials? Just avoid it. Sorry all, but if they're asking for three master's degrees and reading knowledge of two non-English European languages and five years of progressively responsible management experience, the pay for the position should recompense appropriately and not assume a second or third income in the household.

On that note, I know a few people who swear they will not apply for a position where the advertisement doesn't give any hint of pay. And I occasionally see those ads and wonder that if the people advertising truly understand that when they don't include a pay range, that a lot of otherwise excellent candidates are going to avoid applying just because they assume that an unstated pay = pathetic and embarrassing pay. I've applied for a few of those and with one exception, that was pretty much the case. I've heard the justification that this weeds out the people who aren't serious about the position, but honestly I'm not buying it. If you are paying a good salary, while it may weed out the timewasters or the money-hunting types, it also weeds out far too many excellent candidates. Perhaps some places aren't allowed to advertise their pay. If that's your institution: what is the background here? Do you find it affects the size or quality of your candidate pool? What are the regulations that prevent you from giving applicants an idea of what the compensation might be? Are you at an institution that doesn't advertise the pay for other reasons? Want to explain or defend your practices? I'll take out your name & institution and post an explanation on your behalf if you need to be anonymous. Send me an email.

For those that give pay ranges, you can generally assume that they're going to be hiring closer to the bottom end of it. In some cases that top number looks really nice, but that may not be a hiring range. At one place I knew, that was the top wage for the job scale: that is, that it would take you about 20 years to hit that number and then you were topped out, you'd never get a raise above that. Some will let you negotiate for a point in that range, some won't. I haven't yet figured out a way to tell which is which. If anybody out there reading this has, please share?

Got any other intangibles or not clearly defined requirements you've seen in an ad? Want me or the other blog readers to take a stab at them? Let's see them. Hit comment below and type away. And in that line, Jamie is still waiting for an answer from the Background posting comment that asked about the NARA presidential library requirement: "Knowledge of the recent history of the United States, the Presidency and the Federal Government, and the organization and functions of the White House staff and Executive branch." Anybody know what would meet this one? I guessed maybe modern US history or poli sci courses might cover it, but I really don't know. Anybody?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BTP: In Praise of Fairbanks

Since Anne introduced it in her comment on the last one, I'll pick up the flag. The geography thing. Like it or not, the more geographically flexible you are, the more likely you are to find a position. If nothing else, you have a much wider pool of positions from which to select.

Look, I spent the last hour writing and rewriting a very long post where I took each possible excuse for not being geographically flexible and hammered at them. And I realized that maybe that wasn't the right approach. (If you want individual abuse, contact me. I'll heap on you all you like.)

Here's the short summary. You may have valid reasons for why you're limiting your job search geographically. And only you can ever know how valid they are. But what I'll tell you is that if you want to build a career in a profession with far more trained professionals than there are jobs, you might have to let go of some of your own requirements. I don't think any of us should let go of the pay thing, so what else is left? Job duties, institution types, location.

Location, location, location. I had 75 applications for my last open position, 40 or so for the one before that. My colleagues at my sister institution in Fairbanks? They average less than 10 (not all of whom are always qualified.) What is up with that? They have a vibrant program, collections that make the rest of us drool, solid funding and academic support (which occasionally makes the rest of us drool too), a large user base, a significant donor base, and they pay pretty well. Plus, you know, excellent and supportive (and occasionally jealous) archival colleagues elsewhere in the state with a record of cooperation and collaboration. The town of Fairbanks has a strong focus on community and civic engagement so if you like being involved in local cultural events, this is the place. Heck, Elton John played there last year. (Probably the smallest venue he's played in years aside from his own living room). In terms of the career development opportunities you'll have, the jobs there will offer far more of that than most other places you can name. Why aren't people lining up in droves for these positions?

Winter? Piffle. If you can handle a winter along most of the northern tier of the contiguous states (excepting western Washington), you can handle Fairbanks. Trust me, I know. I lived in Winnipeg for 5 years, having moved there from Seattle in November (was that a temperature and culture shock) when I was about 14. I've been in North Dakota and Minnesota in January. I'd rather be in Fairbanks. Fairbanks doesn't get wind in winter--or only rarely. No windchill factor there. Been in Wyoming in winter lately? I--Arlene who doesn't like spending time outdoors in winter--was in Fairbanks last March for a vacation weekend and I walked about 4 miles in subzero temperatures and honestly? I had a great time. Never really felt the cold as it was a gorgeous sunny day and as I said, no wind. And the whole light/dark thing? Well, there's a few artificial ways around some of the effect but you either learn to deal or you don't. And the only way you can learn if you can deal is by trying it out for awhile.

Which brings me back around to where I was going with the whole Fairbanks thing. Nobody expects you to stay at any given position for all of your career anymore. (Though I note that Fairbanks tends to have more than the normal share of people who do that too, so take what you like from that.) When you take a position, you're not promising to stay forever. If you have the geographic flexibility, why not apply for some of these more far-flung or rural positions? Are you serious about career building? Some of them offer excellent opportunities with far less competition than the more popular or populous locales. Put in a few years. Build up that resume with some excellent experience and then write your own ticket out to that dream destination or institution. Odds are, you'll have a stronger record than the people who didn't have your geographic flexibility and who stayed and are now competing for the mid-career position with you.

Besides, you'll always have the perfect answer when the next interviewer says "why would you consider leaving this position?" You can pull out all those excuses you're currently using to justify not applying for jobs like these. Proximity to family. Weather. Unless your next interviewer is myself or another Alaskan ex-pat, chances are they'll believe you. Or you may just find that Fairbanks is that dream destination for you. A lot of people have. And in the meantime, you'll have a really interesting job at an institution that has a vibrant program, phenomenal collections, solid funding and academic support, a large user base, and that pays well too. Where's the down side?

Monday, February 8, 2010

The elusive advert

One of the first substantive questions--and by that I mean one of the questions I thought would directly correlate to advice for the jobseeker--was about where these recruiters are advertising the position.

Here's the results for the more commonly used--at least 2 mentions. I wasn't specific enough in my query between regional archival organization websites and regional archival organization listservs, so I've combined the two because not all respondents clearly differentiated either. Many did, bless them for outthinking me, and those that did were about evenly divided between websites and listservs. For the Archives school job centers, we're talking about Simmons or UM's or similar. I also note that in the past when I've sent advertisements myself to LibJobs, the University of Michigan's job center has always picked it up, so some (all?) of the LibJobs respondents may be considered to be advertising that way too, albeit unintentionally.

Of the 67 people who answered this question, only 5 provided only one option. Two of those advertised on their institutional site only, one said A&A only, 1 said local newspaper only, and one said word of mouth only. I think you can assume that the one that said A&A only, his/her institution is still trying to reach a national audience, but I'm guessing the rest are not. So if you are willing to move, you'd have to do a lot of research to find those and it may or may not be worth it. For clarification: the individual who said "word of mouth" was from an academic institution and said s/he does most of the recruiting in-house, looking for specific people for specific projects. So probably not something the avid job-seeker is going to either find or be hired for. I think that qualifies as an outlier--a response we can probably cut out of the mix.

Oh, and other stuff I'm not going to go into in-depth. 86% of respondents indicated that they advertise via their institutional website. I'm not sure how helpful this is in terms of targeting a search. Often this is simply a HR matter. Since many application processes these days require that you go through an online application form, this may just be a relic of that. Certainly some robots pick those up (I had one weird inhouse redo of a job status about a year ago that ended up being advertised nationally even though it was clearly not posted as such). Same for the 13% that use their departmental site or publications to advertise. (If you're reading this and one of those people who assume these will reach a wider audience than people who know to look for the job, will you please submit a comment clarifying how that works for you? Thanks.)

Back to the more popular answers--ones that are clearly aimed at getting an audience beyond local or internal candidates--and some more number crunching with them. Of the 61 respondents who are clearly trying to reach more than an in-house or very local audience, 93% are advertising on the Archives & Archivists listserv, or as one respondent put it, "the always loving and entertaining A&A." 44% are advertising on the SAA Career Center site and 31% are advertising on the LibJobs listserv. 97% are advertising on at least one of those three. 56% are advertising on 2 or 3 of those sites. So that's a pretty high return rate on keeping an eye on those distribution routes, if we can assume that the survey respondents are somewhat reflective of the broader world of archives recruiters.

Oh, and lastly, some of the one-hit wonders. These are sites--specific or otherwise--that only one respondent mentioned that they use. I'm providing them because you may find them useful or they may serve as a suggestion to search routes for you. Hotjobs, Monster, ALA, NEA, RecMgmt listserv, subject matter listservs, ARSC (Recorded Sound), and relevant SAA roundtable or section listservs.

And I'm going to close with one more point, something I failed to ask in my survey. See? I'm really not very good at this whole survey thing. I didn't ask whether or not recruiters held on to older applications or took in unsolicited applications to be held for future openings. I've had a few discussions about this and listened to a few others discuss this, and I'm not sure this is an overly reliable search mechanism, either sending in unsolicited or hoping they keep your previous app. I'm not saying "don't send unsolicited," it just seems to me that there's some pitfalls in this. Sure it's flattering to know somebody wants to work for me or at my institution, but I want to see resumes and cover letters that are targeted. If you don't know specifically what job I have open or might open up next, how can you possibly make sure you've hit all the high notes with whatever you send me? Then again, I have a small shop in a very big shop and the big shop has procedures for applications. And I can't do anything with cover letters and resumes sent directly to me even if I have an opening: apps have to be submitted in response to a specific position through our online application system.

So what I'd tell somebody taking this approach is not to send me application type materials, but maybe to shoot me a short email introducing themselves and telling me about their interest in my archives. I've had a few people do this. And while I may not have remembered to email them back when we had an opening, I have usually responded at the time and let the person know what advertisement routes I usually use so they can keep an eye on them. Then again, there are people who do like unsolicited applications but I'm betting they'd like them just as well--and probably will say yes--if you contacted them via email first and asked "can I send you my info?"

Oh, and yes, I'm suggesting contacting me/other potential recruiters via email if you're going to do the cold-call route. I probably shouldn't be speaking for the rest of those people out there, but in my case? About the only unsolicited phone calls I like to get anymore are from donors, co-workers, friends. The call from the person who may want to work for me and who I've never heard of? Not so much. At a conference sure, but when I'm at work? You're probably interrupting something else, even if I'm too polite to tell you that. With email I can respond at my own leisure and if it is important to have voice conversation, I have more control over scheduling. Or possibly saying no. But again, that may be just me. Maybe people who feel otherwise will add a comment or two. (hint, hint.)

Next up, a look at the ad itself. What to watch out for, what common terms mean, and so on.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

BTP: Certified Archivist

Okay. This is in response to Daria's query about the role of the CA in the job search process on an earlier posting. For those of you who haven't been following the comments, I strongly suggest you do so. I've been getting some excellent advice out of them and they will help drive some of the future postings. So not only read, add to the discussion please!

Heads-up, I really, really don't like to talk about the CA. I have the CA credential and will be reupping by petition this year (I probably should have sent that off before I wrote this paragraph). I have many friends (or did until I wrote this) who are strong proponents of the CA. I'm not such a proponent, and no, I'm not going to tell you why. But since I know mine is an unpopular viewpoint, I feel it's only fair to you to let you know it up front. There you go. Wow. Is that the longest caveat I've written yet? Well, except the introduction posting.

Well, now that I've said all that, what's my take on Daria's question? I've read some of what the Academy of Certified Archivists says about the value of the credential and their website contains a lot of information along those lines. Go look at it--it's interesting. I've heard lots of testimonials as to the value of the credential (some of which are on the site). Some institutions require it. So in that sense, it may be worthwhile because some of the jobs you might be interested in applying for may have it as a requirement and if you don't have it, you can't even apply. Do you want to cut those positions out of your search up front? Can you afford to cut those positions out of your search up front?

What I haven't seen is an empirical study as to the value of the CA in terms of your hireability and/or a resultant increase in wage potential. I figured that if such a study existed, it would be on or linked through the ACA site and I only spent about 10 minutes today skimming over possible options and didn't see it. (If such a study exists, please share where we can all see it?) But let me make very clear that I am NOT saying that the hypothesis CA=Hires+$ is wrong. It could well be that the CA will not only increase your likelihood of getting a job, that it will also improve your earnings potential. I'm not saying it does, I'm not saying it doesn't. I don't know.

Studying for the CA will take some time--the process of the CA, studying aside, takes some time. I think it was May/June (application) to Sept/Oct (notification) when I did it and there's no way to shorten that time frame. Paying for the exam, perhaps getting to an exam location, and the certification costs will take some money. Is it worth it to you? What I would suggest is that if you find getting the CA is burdensome for you, then you need to do a cost/benefit analysis as it applies to your search specifically. Go look through the postings of the A&A listserv (since so many of us advertise jobs there as you'll see in Monday's posting) for whatever period of time you think would be helpful, and look at the ads for institutions or jobs that you would want if they came open now. Figure out what the cut-off would be (10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, ?% requiring the CA) for you to decide the CA would be something that would assist you in your search. You may very well discover that it's worth it for you.

Again, I don't know of any circumstances under which having the CA would hamper you in getting a job unless you were applying for something that was not a professional position with an institution and interviewers who knew nothing about archives as a profession. Then this might take you out of the pool as overqualified (and in that case I'd just advise leaving it off your resume, just like you might fail to include your graduate degree though leaving off an educational credential may result in a time gap that has to be explained lest somebody assume you were serving time). Are you likely to be looking at those types of jobs? Possibly and I totally understand it since I've been there, done that too. Got the "you can get a degree in this?" query from the interviewer for that job that paid $2/hr over minimum. But the job was the right one for me at the time although maybe not the best power source for my career trajectory.

That last bit is mostly unhelpful, I realize. Let me get back on the track of seeking a professional archives position, which is what this blog is supposed to be about. I'm hoping that my failure to provide a resounding "Yes! Get the CA" is still a fairly even-handed treatment of the subject. I know that at best this is coming across as damned with faint praise for CA advocates. And even knowing I could be setting myself up for a fair bit of unhappiness, I'll remind you that the comments option is open here and the reason I set up the blog that way is because I'm well aware that I am not a spokesman for the majority of the profession on any topic covered here. So was the CA worth it for you in your job search? Share. Found--or done yourself--a study on the value of the CA in the job market? Let's hear the results. Oh, and I'm also willing to give equal time. Are you a recruiter who requires or prefers it of applicants? Send me an email and I'll be glad to give you a BTP posting on what it does for your institution and for your applicants sometime in the next week (first email gets first shot at the posting so make it quick).

And Monday, we'll take a look at where to find the job adverts. Something I'm much more comfortable with discussing. And by the way, where my survey respondents have indeed mentioned the CA, I will tell you along the way.