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 5, 2010

Who's the competition and what are we competing for?

Okay: so what's this chart? You wisely ask. This is the results of what survey respondents said when asked "how many applicants do you typically get with recruitments?" A lot of number ranges were provided as well as discrete numbers, so I did a little gathering. And one respondent said something like "I get 25 but HR, who culls them, gets 200-400." (I logged that one under the number the archivist got, not HR). So in archival terms, inclusive span: 4-200, bulk span: 10-75. With 25-50 being most common. Oh, and by the way, most of the people who answered this question had been involved in recruitments within the last five years.

I'll get into what types of application materials are typically expected a few posts from now, but in the meantime, you've been through the process. You know that it's probably more than a couple of pages of application materials submitted per person. Unless the recruiter has a specific form where information goes in specific fields, generally we're not seeing a lot of consistency in the application documents. So figure multiple pages for the recruiter to read per applicant, where things don't always appear in the same place from application to application, well, you can start to see where I'm going with this argument. That's a lot of reading, that's a lot of time. So why am I saying this? I'm saying this so you'll know why I'll keep encouraging you to make your application materials as targeted and as organized as possible. We'll get into more specifics later (are you tired of me saying that yet?) but in the meantime, I just wanted you to see this. You're going to need your application to shine amongst all of these applications as much as you can make it shine. Because you have a lot of competition.

My next question was intended to refine this a little. I asked: how many did you get for your last recruitment? Here's the results. This range is skewing a little higher than the average recruitment numbers above.I'm not going to make any assumptions about why: could be the economy, fewer jobs, more archivists, whatever, I'll let somebody else figure out the whys of this. I'm showing this to reinforce my point about the competition: for those respondents who have engaged in more than one search over the past five years, the more recent searches have had a higher rate of return than their average search. So the competition is getting heavier. Now, that's not necessarily going to continue, but that's how it is at the moment.

However, here's some good news for those of you who are entry-level or early-career archivists. I asked, on that most recent recruitment set of questions, what level the position was aimed at.
The vast majority of searches are trending (isn't that an annoying word) toward entry or early-career positions. And one of the benefits to this is that while a mid-career archivist on the market is probably going to apply for mid-career, and occasionally an early to mid job, they're probably not going to be competing with you for the entry level spots. Recruiters may hire people with more qualifications when they can get them, but there are drawbacks to hiring people who are vastly overqualified for entry-level positions. Including the fact that the person will probably continue to search for something more appropriate and sometimes they're not so happy with the job in the meantime, either. But in general, on the searches I've been in on, when we advertise for an early to mid-career person, we get that and a lot of underqualified candidates. When we've advertised for entry-level? We get very few mid-career archivists applying for these positions. Even when we're paying at a rate comparable to mid-career wages.

And now for a different query. I asked: on that last recruitment what type of position was it? Processing, ref, so on, so forth. It's a little harder to come up with a chart with the exact answers that really gives you the feel here for the flow, so I apologize for that: this visual is just not quite as effective. But I think you may find the numbers helpful, depending on what type of position you're seeking.
oh, by the way, one explanation. Generally respondents who said something about cataloging included metadata. Lots of processing jobs, a little bump for reference and a little bump for digital projects.

For the next chart, I want to show you something of the breakdown on what types of positions correlated to what experience level. To do this and to make it anywhere near coherent, I had to group some of these job descriptions. So while the category of Processing below may indeed refer to, say, processing-only jobs, the processing category also includes processing-focused jobs. What you can take from this--insofar as this project is even remotely scientific, is that the processing jobs are probably not going to be advertised for much beyond early-career. In fact, none of our respondents were targeting anybody beyond early career archivists for processing positions. Now, that doesn't mean they weren't hiring people a little further along in their career, but the bumps for mid-career archivists really hit in reference (though lots of entry-level on that one too), management, cataloging, and the generalist positions which also seem to be scattered across all experience levels.

Quick semi-tangent: One other thing Dana Miller said in that SAA '09 session I mentioned in the intro posting: in her survey, a lot of the recruitments she was reading were grant positions. Temp, contract work, so forth. So feed that into the mix as you will.

Again, I don't want to get into your career choices in general and what you want to do, but just be aware that the hiring succession amongst the people who responded to this survey seems to be that processing-focused positions are for less-experienced archivists and if that's what you really want to do during your whole career, you may find that the recruitments are targeted a little below your experience level as you progress time-wise. I can't really make assessments for the other job foci since they seemed to be a little more blended. Something to think about, anyhow.

So are you tired of getting all this background and want some real advice on the search process itself? That's up next. Thanks for being patient with me.


  1. Apologies to anybody who looked at this prior to 9:50 am ADT today: I swapped out one of the charts that I decided just wasn't working for me. It's that last one that shows the progression of hiring levels for certain types of archives jobs. I decided I needed to swap out the axes to make it clearer. Unfortunately the processing lunge hides some of the entry level hits for other jobs behind it, but since there really weren't any and I talked about them anyhow, I figured that was okay. Not like the old chart was better! And this way you can see each job type by color.

  2. No wonder archivists hold onto their jobs until they die.

    Seriously, does anyone have any recommendations for second careers opportunities? I've been unemployed or underemployed in the archival field for the better part of four years and this constant job application frustration is frankly ridiculous

  3. I'm with you John. And it obviously doesn't get better over time: not a lot of mid-career jobs out there and job availability does slump, significantly, as you progress.

    I'll echo John's query: I know one of the standard answers is "records management" but are their hiring quotients much higher than ours at the moment?

  4. Hello,
    My name is Devon Kramer, I'm a third semester MLS student at the University at Buffalo, and I'm interested in becoming an archivist or special collections librarian working within a university, or museum setting. This semester I'm doing a practicum processing a collection for the University at Buffalo's Archiving
    Department. I've geared my course load toward a concentration in the archival profession, and I'm a member of SAA, as well as ALA, and SLA. With that being said, how much experience does someone need when applying for archivist
    positions? My expected graduation date will either be May 2011, or Dec 2011. Is more experience needed to obtain a position in the archival profession beyond taking archival coursework,and doing a practicum? As of today, I've put in an application to work in the University at Buffalo's Special Collections Library working with their Poetry or Archives collections over the summer. I hope to work
    in the Special Collections Library the rest of my time at The University at Buffalo. I am extremely interesting in working in an area outside of Buffalo once I graduate. However, doing a out of town internship is not financially feasible for me right now, even if it is a paying one. Is it imperative for a potential employee to be a resident of an area to be seriously considered for a job? Do employers consider out of town residents? For future reference, what are the best places to apply for archival/special collections positions?


    Devon Kramer)

  5. Devon: I think you'll find the answers to a lot of your questions scattered throughout the blog--be sure to read the comments too because some of what you're looking for are there. As for how much experience and education you need, you need to be looking at job ads. Get an idea of what those ads are requiring currently. And remember that having more than the requirements is generally a good thing, but that you'll need at least the minimum.

  6. some of what you're looking for is there. Sigh... making my tenses match is apparently beyond me today! Sorry.