Surviving and thriving and getting that professional archives position.

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

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

Saturday, 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.

1 comment:

  1. Since Fairbanks is a love it or hate it sort of place, our reviewers do like to see some kind of affinity mentioned. But, I agree with you, in the cover letter it needs to be tied to the professional role: worked with similar collections, studied history of the West, etc. The interview--or maybe even the "informal" lunch/coffee/tour--is the place to subtly slip in your longtime hobby of dog mushing or knowledge of intercollegiate hockey or anything else that indicates you won't flee at the first -50 day!