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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

off the rack or bespoke

You're going to get really, really tired of this topic by the time I end these blog posts. I'd rather stop nagging on it, but the truth is that even knowing this is tiresome to a lot of you, I also know that a lot of application materials I see still don't exhibit it. Tailoring.

Here's the concept. You're a clothing designer. You create a design for a suit/dress/whatever and hold it up to the next person who walks in the door and it probably doesn't fit. Or doesn't fit exactly. You can let the person walk out the door in that ill-fitting clothing or you can tailor it--take it in here, let it out there, lengthen it here, shorten it there, and they can walk out in something that looks like it was made to suit them exactly. Your recruiters? They want to find the candidate or candidates who suit them best. They're your clientele. You need to make sure that your application materials not only show off your skills but how well you can fit their position.

Obviously that's taking the metaphor too far. Sorry! Let's get back to reality.

Neither I nor the rest of the survey respondents nor anybody else of my recruiter correspondents and friends ever want to see general, all-purpose resumes and cover letters. If you can't spend a few hours--if that--cutting, pasting, rephrasing your master cover letter and resume to match up with my job description and stated job requirements, don't bother applying. You're probably going to get taken out of the pool on the first read because you don't fit. Or you don't appear to fit as well as the candidates who have spent the time to do the tailoring. Believe it or not, most of the time we can pick out the cookie-cutter resumes or cover letters.

Don't think I don't understand though. I do know that sometimes it seems like a huge commitment of time for you to be amending and rewriting and what the heck do those people mean by communication ability anyway? It's a pain, I get it. But if you do want that job (as opposed to a job) you're going to up your chances of getting to the interview level by presenting the best possible appearance that you can in those application materials. And don't think that many of us aren't doing the same from our end. We're writing and rewriting job descriptions, we're developing screening and ranking criteria dependent on not only the general job responsibilities but all those other little skills and details that will allow the hire to work well with us and with the position. It's frustrating to you to spend 4 hours writing a resume and cover letter that may only get 5-15 minutes of my time on first read. But that's also why you need to make that 5 minutes of my time count: you want to be sure that I'll pick your application up again for the next read. And when it comes time for interviews. Or reference calls. Or a hiring offer.

By the time a candidate makes it into our initial interview pool, I and the other committee members have probably spent about an hour each on that candidate's application materials. (I've probably spent more as the committee chair.) That's a minimum of five hours of our time dedicated to you.

But what if you don't fit? What if you're missing requirements? That can be a problem. Some places will accept missing pieces especially if they're not some of the more major things, some won't. I note that my own willingness to do so degrades in direct proportion to how many applications I have to read. Some might accept substitutions, some won't. If it's a major qualification (e.g. 4 years of professional experience) and you don't have one year, please don't apply for the position unless you've had personal word from somebody at the institution that they're willing to waive.

Why not take the chance and apply for jobs for which you're not yet qualified? As a positive person who wants to be encouraging, I want to tell you to try. As somebody who has read a lot of applications that don't have our requirements in them, I want to tell you to stop wasting my time because even at 5-15 minutes per application per committee member, that adds up. And it's probably higher than 15 minutes since when I find an app that is missing requirements, I do a few read-throughs in case I missed that sentence where you said you did have it.

So I'm torn. But I guess here's my bottom line and it has nothing to do with wasting my time: if you don't have the basic requirements that the institution has stated are necessary to be able to do the job, how are you ever going to do the job? Some places might make those requirements up out of the ether, but a lot of us don't. We create requirements that directly pertain to the needs of the position and the department and if we were to hire somebody without them, we would be setting them up to be unsuccessful in that position. That's not something I ever want to do. It shouldn't be something you want to do either. This isn't just about getting a job here, this is about getting a job that is right for you. Do you really want to be on the market again in six months to a year having to explain why you're considering leaving this position so soon?

And on with the show. Next a review of who took the survey so you can have a better idea of your audience for that job application. I promise I'll get to more specifics about how to write those various documents--but I've got a few other things to go through first.


  1. Writing cover letters is a pain, but have shown themselves to be extremely important in the interview process. The responses that I have received for coming in for an interview have come from more personalized letters. It encourages me to do the same for every one that I send.

  2. Bravo Sara! I really struggle over writing cover letters but it's comments like that that make me realize how important it is. Well that and having served on the other side of things now and in thinking about it, I'm almost certain that only a few of our recent candidates who have had cookie cutter cover letters and resumes have made it to the interview stage. A few have squeaked in, but not many.