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 12, 2010

The paperwork

Question #8 on the survey: Does your standard recruitment follow the model:
a. Screen for requirements
b. Rank candidates
c. Interview (single or multiple interviews).
Yes or no, and if no, could you explain?

So why am I putting this in the paperwork post? Because it leads into the "what to expect" in terms of what paperwork you'll need to submit to apply.

93% (64 of 69 answers) said yes, it follows that path. The nos are either doing headhunting, internal recruitments or temp positions, so we'll ignore those for now. The point of this is that the vast majority of respondents are going to have some sort of a screening step, a ranking step, and an interview step. And the paperwork you turn in is what is going to get you through the first two.

Let me elaborate by explaining how the process works at my current institution. It may not be exact for where you're applying, but it's a common model.

The job description and ad have been approved on all levels and go out. Applications start rushing in (hopefully). Prior to looking at any of the apps, I create two screening documents. The first is a simple check-off list for whatever I've listed as the minimum requirements. Candidates who have all the requireds get put into a stack to go to the next screening document, candidates who don't have the requirements are set to "screened out" in the computer system and eventually get a note from the system telling them that.

For those candidates in the yes stack, the second screening document is a ranking/scoring document. We rank to decide who gets phone interviews. So I create a document that lists the various qualifications, required or preferred, and add a multiplier in so I can give preference to candidates who have a lot of the things I think are important. The more important, the bigger the multiplier, the less important, the lower the multiplier. Let me give you a for example, for those of you, who like me, don't do well with story problems and would rather see the actual math.

Say I'm advertising and it's important to me that the person have strong educational/training credentials, that they know something about webpages, have good reference skills, etc. Here's how the job ad might read in the requirements section:
  • Required qualifications: Degree in related field with graduate level archival training, knowledge of web authoring software, experience providing archival reference.
  • Preferred qualifications: Web authoring experience.
What my ranking sheet might look like:

Why haven't I repeated the masters degree? Because the candidate must have it to get here, and my ranking of the grad ed makes ranking of the degree unnecessary. And why not the web knowledge? Similar answer. Knowledge was required but I want to give some extra points to those who can demonstrate it and the more they can demonstrate, the more it's worth. But the web authoring experience isn't nearly as important to me as the amount/level/quality of the graduate education or the reference experience, so those two areas get a greater weighted multiplier. Somebody with limited ref experience who has some web experience might be able to make up some of the lost ref ground in their web scores, but they won't be able to outrank somebody with a ton of reference experience and no demonstrated web experience. And somebody who has both reference experience and the education will always outrank somebody who is missing one of them.

With that end score, the committee then decides about how many people we want to interview or what the scoring cutoff for an interview is. That's usually a balance: we decide we don't want to phone interview more than, say 12 people, and look: there's a clear point gap between person 9 and person 10! We also tend to create a second cutoff--a score below which we won't interview. The ones we will not interview are set to screened out in the computer system. And we then have two groups left--the ones we know we want to interview and the ones we might consider interviewing.

We as a committee are also discussing the rankings. If one committee member comes in with rankings that are completely upside-down from others, we'll have to work through that. Not only do our HR people tend to object to odd scores like that, it means that we don't all have the same understanding of what is needed for the position. We don't have to be in lockstep though. In fact, if one committee member is ranking a specific candidate much higher than the others do, we take some time to work through it, discuss individual candidates, and committee members can advocate for or against candidates and their rankings until we come to some sort of agreement. Often it's that one committee member whose score is completely off of the others that will have caught something everybody else missed.

So that's our basic process. On to the paperwork that's going to get you through those screening stages and in to an interview. So what do our respondents require?

A quick sidebar on that transcript one: a lot of academic institutions--especially if the position is faculty rank or equivalent--will require the eventual submission of transcripts. Proof of degree, that sort of thing. And related to that, three of the respondents said that they only ask finalists for FA or writing samples.

What's the outcome? I think you'll probably have to fill in an institutional application form. At my place, that's a pro forma kind of thing: name, contact info, have you worked for us before, have you ever been convicted of a felony. But in some places that application is pretty intense and may even take the place of the cover letter/resume/cv thing. Only 3 of the respondents, by the way, went with an app only format.

Since the majority of our respondents are requiring a cover letter and resume or CV, let's look a little more closely at those numbers. By the way, one of my proofreaders asked me to explain CV a little more thoroughly so let me do it for you too. A curriculum vita, for the purposes of this survey and for the purposes of my particular institution, is often a career-long listing of every professional activity (publication, presentation and so forth), even if it does not directly pertain to the position at hand. (for anybody who doesn't like that definition or would like to refine it as it applies to their institution, please do comment with an alternative definition!) Here's a visual for you to see how the whole resume/cv/resume or cv blend plays out.
So what's the point of the diagram? Most places are going to take a resume--only a small percentage require a CV. Of the few who require CVs? All academic institutions.

However, I'd argue for you to spend the time to create a CV anyway, even if it's only a master file that you never send out. If you've got one, you've got a listing of every professional or other activity that could possibly every relate to your career goals so if you do run across that one recruitment ad that has an odd little quirk in requirements or preferreds, you don't have to spend the time trying to remember what you have that could fit it: you've got that master cv sitting there that you can search and plug in the relevant piece.

Onto a quick look at the cover letter results. Only 8 respondents didn't require this. It was about half & half on those wanting either an application or a cv/resume. But that's 88% of the recruiters asking for a cover letter. So that's something else you should be thinking about. Same goes for the references list required by 85% of the respondents.

Part of the reason I'm giving you these numbers now is that I'm going to be spending a goodly chunk of time talking about the whole cover letter/cv/resume thing. Unless you're looking for federal jobs only, you're going to have to develop some of these documents. If you are looking solely for fed jobs, you're going to be able to skip past many of these posts coming up. Oh, and one last thought. Of those 5 respondents who said they didn't follow that standard recruitment model I told you about at the beginning of this post? All of them still required cover letters and resumes. Perhaps for those who were headhunting it was more of a legalities type of thing (gotta put something in those personnel files) but their successful candidates still had to do the paperwork.

Some last general advice in the next posting (Monday) and then Weds we're off to start assessing cover letters.


  1. Hi,
    I have been reading various resume-writing tutorials and most of them say not to include a list of references on the resume, just to say "references upon request." What do you think?

  2. Yes and no. I don't agree with that advice because I've never applied for a professional job that didn't require a references list. So if it's listed in the requirements, you're taking your chances of not getting past an early screening because you haven't submitted all the application materials. Does anybody know why the books advise this? Sounds seriously whacked to me and always has. It's not like the wages thing where there's a strong reason to leave that negotiation til later. As a recruiter, it would irritate me to have to keep going back to the candidates and requesting yet more information as we move along in the process.

    But here's where I agree: I would never include them on my resume unless the recruiter tells me to do so. As a recruiter I like having them on a separate stand-alone page so I don't have to wade through the resume yet another time. And as an occasional applicant, just like I've got a master cv and a few master cover letters, I've also got a master refs list with a bunch of people from whom I pick and choose depending on the position. I don't want that mixed up in my resume. Too much to keep track of in one doc.

    A few posts down the line will be on ref lists but I'll admit, it never occurred to me to say "do you think candidates should include them" on the survey and apparently it didn't occur to any of my respondents otherwise either, because none of them said "don't include this."

  3. I have recently seen two archivist applications that didn't specifically ask for references (one for a NARA position, one for a corporation). And the SAA Records Management Roundtable Resume Guide ( Guide Final.pdf) says, "Don't put references into the body of your resume. Have a separate list of references that you can provide on request or transfer into an application." It's the "provide on request" part that I'm concerned about. Should I not include them when I send in an application, unless a list is specifically asked for? Or should I just figure it can't hurt to include them?

  4. I guess if they don't ask for them, you don't need to include them. I can't imagine why it would hurt to include them (but not in the body of the resume) even if they're not required, so that's where I get stuck with this advice. Where's the harm in providing? That's where I get stuck--I've seen this advice a lot and seriously, I don't get the thinking behind it. I suppose if a place has specific requirements for the type of reference you can use (must be a past supervisor or similar) then giving them a list of people who don't meet that definition might be pointless... Let's see if anybody else wants to weigh in on this one.

  5. I'm also interested in more information on CVs. I thought the only difference between a resume and a CV was that a CV included your DOB, gender, and race. I never liked including that info so I usually just sent out my resume, which already contains all my professional experiene.

  6. Hi Pearl! Wow, that's almost scary that somebody told you a CV was that. I have to turn in a CV once a year for my job as a tenured faculty member and it distinctly does NOT include my DOB, gender, and race. Since those are illegal questions for any hiring agency to ask (nor should they be concerned with them) you should not include that information. Excellent question. Let me ponder this tonight--I think that's worth a longer posting.

  7. Another resume question ... my job as special collections librarian was half time for 7 years. Should I note that it was part time on the resume? On the cover letter? Should I bring it up in an interview? (I don't apply for jobs that require more than 3 1/2 years of archival experience.)

  8. Daria (& everybody else): I've got about 6 postings upcoming on the subject of how to handle your resume--and how to handle part-time/volunteer and so forth will be part of it. I promise!