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.


  1. Thanks so much for the response to my question Arlene. It seems to make sense for me, at least, to have 1 general heading for my current employer, and sub-head my 2 positions. Since I'm relatively young and only have had 1 employer, I'll definitely list the previous internship I had with them, besides showing that they liked me enough to hire me full time, it'll help flush out a resume that otherwise doesn't have a ton of other experience besides my job.

  2. Matt: glad this made sense to you. I realized after I had posted that I'd answered a lot of questions but I still wasn't sure I'd answered yours! I've done a lot of this grouping in my resume--I even have a third sample of it! In grad school I did a five month full-time internship with the University of Washington's Manuscripts and Archives and then the following summer came back for a month to put together an exhibit for them (not an internship). So that grouping looks pretty much like my current job listing, albeit with a lot less detail.

  3. I have a question on addressing job gaps. I read your advice on going back to a previous employer, but I'm not sure if I should take it because my situation is a little different.
    I left a certain employer when I graduated from undergrad because I was hoping to find a job in the field of my degree. My father became very ill soon after and I had to take non-relevant jobs to make ends meet. When I returned to the same university for my graduate degree, I hired back to that employer but with a different job title. (Basically the title I had when I began there but I had been promoted for a year into a subdivision of a department that was later eliminated after I left). I learned a few new things that year and I've been listing both jobs under one employer with the dates for each stint but combined duties and providing a footnote in my cover letter explaining the gap was due to "caring for an ill family member". And, as the first part of this job earned me a promotion into another subdivision before I left, I'm loath to remove it from my resume entirely. Is there a way I can clarify why I returned to this employer on my resume? Should I add something the disclaimer there in addition to my cover letter? I have excellent references from both bosses while I worked there and I did some large projects during those first three years while I was an undergrad. I just left during the second year of my graduate program to find archival experience, which they couldn't provide. Thanks for any advice!

  4. D: am confused, but that may be the headache talking. These aren't archival jobs? What is it about them that you feel you need to include them in your resume?