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.

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?


  1. Thanks Arlene! Heads up folks--we'll be advertising for a project archivist shortly--and I hope many of you will seriously consider applying.

  2. If you are referring to the entry-level library technician position, I plan on applying after I type this comment. I've been underemployed (freelance writer) since graduating with my MLS in May and am looking to relocate and expand my horizons; literally, since I currently live in New York.

  3. Glad to be of service, Anne. Sara: I didn't know they had a tech position open! I knew the project archivist position was coming open soon but really my comments are based on what I've seen of the job recruitments they've conducted over the last several years. And it isn't just Fairbanks. We used to have bad rates of return on apps at the Utah State Archives, too, and I never understood that either. Good jobs, livable pay, interesting collections, and they hire entry level. Again, why aren't they inundated?