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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Resume part 1: volume and arrangement notes

Okay, let's get this one thing out of the way before we go anywhere else. This is where we really seem to disagree with the standard resume manuals. I said: "how long should a resume be?" And provided the options of 1 page, 1-2 pages, 3 pages or less, 3-5 pages, doesn't matter as long as it's all relevant, shorter is better, and other. Respondents could choose more than one response. Not a single one of them--not one!--chose 1 page. Okay, so a lot of them went for the shorter options (not so many on the 3-5 page option) and a lot also noted that shorter is better, but a large percentage (58%) also said that it doesn't matter, as long as it's all relevant.

I think we can conclude a few things. Like cover letters, don't include the extraneous (unless it isn't extraneous and you're about to explain why in your cover letter.) Keep it as short as possible. The resume length should probably be proportional to the job level: i.e. entry-level is closer to one page, higher up proceeds accordingly. Corporate types didn't lean toward shorter. The 1-2 page types were evenly divided between state/local government and academic institutions, with a couple of private/non-profits thrown in. Take what you will from that.

Now that we've got that taken care of, on to the arrangement. Now this is a little hard to do since--hey, I'm not a statistician--I really didn't do a good job on structuring the options. I basically listed a bunch of typical elements of a resume and asked respondents to put them in order. It's not that I came up with unusable data, it's more that I have to do some more work in interpreting it. But I'll try and keep that invisible to you.

First? 72% of respondents wanted to see your degree and credentials first. I found this one kind of interesting, myself, because prior to this I would have assumed that if the job were above entry level, the readers would be more interested in my experience than in my degree. But that's because I wasn't thinking of the first few reads being in the nature of check-off lists. But now that I'm doing the reading? I want to see the degree (which I require) and check it off so I can move on and start with the assessment/ranking of the resume. Oh, and those that didn't put it first? Another 12% put it in second place and 10% put it in third place. That's 95% (including rounding of a few decimals) of respondents wanting it somewhere very close to the beginning.

Let's take a moment out to consider what else might go in first place. The vast majority of those who didn't put the degree/credentials first? They put professional experience in first place. Some respondents put both interchangeably.

As you've probably noticed, I generally don't pay a lot of attention to survey results that get only one response. Unless I happen to agree with them. However, I'd like to take a closer look at one person's "other" response because I think it bears some investigation. What that person asked for was a summary list of skills/experience as extracted from the positions list and that individual wanted that first thing. I also know that a "relevant skills" listing is what a lot of resume manuals and career guidance types are advising these days. But I've talked to a lot of archival hiring types (myself included--yes, I talk to myself all the time) who detest this practice. It takes up a lot of valuable real estate on the front page of the resume and, more to the point, isn't attached to any sort of proof. When I'm past the initial check off list and on to the scoring piece? It doesn't help me to see a "relevant skills" list that doesn't tell me how long you did this task, how often, at what level.

Balancing act, again, and I really do appreciate the way our anonymous respondent phrased this because s/he nailed it. Anon said: "as extracted from." Read this to mean that this is not living out on its own without any connect to the experiential section of the resume. And I think that's probably why those of us who hate these feel that way--sure, you say you've got digitization experience but unless it's attached to Job A from Date A to Date B (or Course B or so forth) I'm not going to give you credit for it. I've seen a lot of these lists. And with few exceptions, I've not seen anything else in the resume to substantiate the contents of these lists. If you're going to follow this route, you must, sadly, get repetitive. The skills will be effectively listed in two place: in the summary, and in the appropriate section of the resume that documents the experience with job or course titles, date spans, job or course content descriptions. If you're going to spend the extraction time, make it good, make it connect. And consider doing it in the cover letter since a lot of you will be doing it there anyhow. If you don't submit a cover letter, then maybe doing it in the resume isn't such a bad idea.

Since I structured my question badly, let me list the elements I provided and give you some views of where people wanted them more generally in the arrangement. Not everybody wanted them in these orders, so I'll provide the percentages to help where I can.

  • Degrees and credentials: beginning--1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. 95%.
  • Professional experience: beginning--1st or 2nd place: 95%.
  • Professional development/continuing ed: a semi-bell curve there. I'll give you the diagram on this one so you can see what I mean. That column to the left is the number of respondents who gave that answer.
  • Publication record: looks similar to the professional development/continuing ed on, skewing more heavily to the back of resume. Only 12% wanted it toward the beginning.
  • Presentation/teaching record: about the same as publication record, but picking up one more person who didn't care to see it (10%). Oh, and by the way, for the individuals who wanted to see it toward the beginning? Not so many academic types: this skewed more to the private non-profit or corporate types. Same for the publication record, by the way. I'm not sure what that means, but I do find it intriguing. If anybody has an explanation, let's hear it.
  • Professional affiliations: 96% included it, but none in the first or second slot. 9% put it in slot 3 and a full 1/3 wanted it toward the end. 7% didn't care about it.
  • Related experience (professional or otherwise): 74% wanted it in the beginning, the vast majority of those wanted it at the end of the beginning (secondary to direct professional experience).
  • Grants obtained: toward the end. Here's the visual.
    I'd also like to note that one respondent clarified that simply working on a grant project didn't count: you had to be the author, manager, or director of the grant. That could probably be clarified by entitling that section something like "grants obtained" or "grants managed" or similar.
  • Other: no real numbers to play with here, but some comments that may prove useful. Computer skills (though many as you'll see in later posts do not agree), languages along with degree of facility, and standards. Again, adding in the caveat: if relevant. Don't list elements if they're not requested and you're not absolutely certain they're relevant. For example, I receive a lot of resumes that list language skills. I haven't asked for it and in our case, I'm going to assume--perhaps mistakenly and that's a reasonable objection--that it means you didn't do your homework and/or you didn't tailor your application because if you've looked at our collections list at all, it should be obvious that most of the materials we have are in English. I'm a little more willing to forgive people who list languages that could reasonably be assumed to be relevant to my part of the globe since I'm not totally insane and don't expect homework at the application level to include reading 3/4 of our finding aids which often don't mention language anyhow, but it's something to keep in mind. You're understandably proud of your reading knowledge of obscure Portuguese dialects, but best case scenario is that I ignore it, worst case scenario is that I start wondering why you're applying for my job since it's obviously not something matched to your interests or skills.
Next step, what should a resume include?

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