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 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.


  1. 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?

  2. Amber: long answer, long enough that I'm going to reserve it for a BTP posting tomorrow. Short answer: not necessarily. At least from my perspective. More soon.

  3. For those of us hiring in Idaho, it's kinda handy to see why an applicant might want to be here. We have had many a recent hire flee the area within 1-3 years of being hired. I think Alaksa probably has a different take on the issue because of its romanticized locale.

  4. [caveat: Jenny & I are long-time friends and went to undergrad together in ID.] So my query to Jenny and anybody else who wants to see this would be: how much does the interest in location weigh into the hiring decision for you? Could it outweigh some skill set? Some experience? And the question I haven't asked any recruiter yet: how long do you reasonably expect an entry-level or early career person to stay?

    Part of what I'm arguing here for is that maybe the cover letter isn't the place for this discussion. It's something that could be elicited (and hopefully get a more honest answer) in an interview. And honestly, I wasn't sure I'd be able to take AK when I moved up here. Sure, pretty mountains and fjords, but 3 & 1/2 hrs by expensive plane ride to the nearest real city (currently over $500/roundtrip)? No one I knew that lived here or anywhere close? No Nordstrom Rack? Winters that generally last from Oct-Apr? The dark of winter? Not a winter sports fan? And let me tell you, the working space when I interviewed here? The single most depressing physical environment I've ever worked in. There was a 7.9 earthquake 3 days after I arrived. I've dealt with floods, volcanic eruptions, windstorms that knocked out electricity for 2 days when it was 18 below, a city that doesn't do road cleaning in winter, and drivers who have an affinity for hitting the gas pedal at red lights and smashing into the back of my car. I've been here for over 7 years now and looks like I'm going to be here a while longer (we have a gorgeous working space now, though). Nobody, me included, could have predicted that. But I love the job, I knew I wanted the job because I saw the potential in it and I think I'm doing pretty well in it.

    So for you, there's something to be said for hires that really want to live in the locale. But I think there's something to be said about hires that really want the job and will go for it, even if uneasy about the locale.

  5. Re "acronyms that are not initially spelled out," I figure if the position description includes acronyms it's OK to use them in the cover letter--stuff like EAD and DACS.

  6. I think that's OK too, if it's been used in the job ad. But I've seen a variety of others, and sometimes it's taken me a while to get them, much less translate them to my fellow committee members. RBMS. WAI. ACRL. WLN (that shows how old I am.) MAI. NWDA. And the regionals: spell 'em out, esp. if you're applying to something in a different region. SCA could mean the California regional, could mean the Society for Creative Anachronism. Seattle Area Archivists? Possible misread with the initials there?