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.