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, March 31, 2010

Interview part 7: canned answers, not so canned questions

The follow-up to the previous set of seven questions was this: "If you use any of those questions, do you expect the candidate will have prepared or semi-prepared answers for them?"

31% said "Yes, all." 60% said "Yes to some." 9% said no. In other words? You probably should have prepared answers to them. As I noted in the BTP posting on phone interviews, you don't want to sound too glib or over-prepared, but when the first question off the stump is "Why do you want this job?" it shouldn't sound like it's taken you by surprise. An outline is better than a script because you will sound more involved and thoughtful plus you can work in anything you've learned from the interview so far. If you're the very nervous type, it might be nice for you to have a script, just remember that you shouldn't sound like you're reading a pre-prepared statement. For those interviewers who want to see how well you can talk without preparation, trust me, they'll have some other questions throughout the interview to test that. These aren't those questions.

The next question I asked was if the interviewers had any questions with a definite right/wrong answer which they used specifically for a right/wrong answer. About half the respondents said no, a few of them pointing out that they prefer more open-ended questions. I tend to go with open-ended questions myself, but I do have a few where there's still a wrong answer and since I occasionally hear that wrong answer, I continue to use that question as a weeding mechanism. Usually you can spot these questions: they're the non-open-ended ones. "Do you work well in teams?" Or the open-ended where you should know by the very fact that they're being asked that there's a wrong answer. "Tell us about a time when you worked in a collaborative environment." (Strong hint: if they're asking? It's because it matters. "I don't like working in collaborative environments and here's why" is the wrong answer.) The questions about being flexible as to work schedules or environments, the teamwork questions, the questions as to how you take direction, correction, how you might go about correcting others, all have potential to be one of these right/wrong answers. They don't have to be, if you answer them correctly. You can turn these into real and informative answers for the interviewers.

One of my previous places of work had one of these questions on the interview list. I was asked it when I interviewed there and I thought "well, that's a dumb question. Anybody with half a brain is going to answer this way." And after I got the job, I mentioned that to my new boss, about how I was so surprised at that dumb question, it was obvious what the right answer should be and nobody would say otherwise. Her response to me was "the crazies will be candid and give you the wrong answer because they aren't able to figure that out." I later sat in on an interview and one of the candidates gave the wrong answer. And as this candidate explained his/her point of view, I realized that yes, this person was never going to be able to work with others, was never going to take direction. This person couldn't listen to a simple yes/no question and step back and think: if they're asking a question this dumb, it's because this has been a problem in the past for them, and thus if I want this job, I need to answer a certain way. And no, I'm not going to tell you what the question is because I still use it and it still weeds out candidates effectively. Even though I know the candidate with the right answer may be lying because they've picked up on the subtext, I'm still better off with them, with this person who gets the value of being politic or tactful occasionally, than I am with the person who doesn't clue in at all.

For the last section on this posting, I'd like to go over the survey responses to the question "What interview questions do you find most helpful and why?" The answers fell into two categories: general areas of inquiry and then specific questions. Let me go with the general ones first.
  • questions that encourage candidates to talk about previous accomplishments and challenges
  • anything that gets the candidate to talk and talk freely and confidently
  • scenario/situational questions "what if" not for a specific answer, but to see thought processes and how you do with sudden sticky situations
  • questions that elicit the candidate's intent, goals, interests
  • questions that elicit work attitude, style, ethic
More specific questions. Several respondents reiterated some of those basic questions and helped explain why they're so important.
  • What are your weaknesses? That offers the interviewers insight into your thought processes, your self-evaluation, what roadblocks you might see and how you intend to overcome them.
  • Why do you want this job? It allows the interviewer to see if you have enthusiasm for this specific job, allows you to demonstrate that you've thought through how well you and the job match up, and sometimes it's clear from the candidate's answer that they really just want a job, not this one (that wouldn't be a good answer.)
  • What strengths do you bring to this position? This allows the interviewer to assess if you really understand the position and sometimes the candidate will bring something to the discussion that wasn't in or wasn't evident from the cover letter or resume.
  • Why do you feel you are qualified/a good fit? Allows you to match your abilities with job requirements, and as one respondent said: it allows the candidate to make a case for hiring him/her, and if the candidate can't make that case, they're not our ideal.
And some others:
  • What environment suits you best (managerial, physical, duties, etc)? Sometimes that tells us if you'll fit into our odd place.
  • Previous experience? Sometimes it's a spot check to see if you match up with your resume (see why I wanted you to have your resume sitting there?) Sometimes it's just another opportunity to sell yourself and match yourself up to the position.
  • The scenario: stressful, unpredictable, or conflict situations? Those are how well you'll fit questions, how you handle yourself, how you work with people, how you'll treat clientele, your values.
Then there's the one-offs. Maybe not so common, but perhaps after I post them here and recruiters start reading some of these, they may start using them too. I'm already pondering the adoption of some of these.
  • Provide a scenario in your previous work experience that required you to think fast or demonstrate creativity.
  • Why you want to be an archivist? (I'm really liking this one.) As the respondent noted, it gives the interviewers a better view of the attributes you bring (or don't) to the position.
  • A question about current archival literature. Allows them to see if you're keeping up on your reading. Since I'm a little behind, I'm not likely to ask this one, but then again, I might get some good ideas from candidates without having to catch up myself.
  • How would you organize X collection? Demonstrates your organizational abilities, how you organize and structure your work, and can help demonstrate how much of a self-starter you are.
And in the next posting, that question that always seems to come at the end of the interview. "Do you have any questions for us?" What to do with it, what not to do with it. Coming up soon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Interview part 6: some more old questions

As promised, the last two typicals.

#2 at 91% of institutions asking it: Why do you feel you are qualified for this position? Are these questions all sounding rather familiar? Do they all sound like variants on the same question? They are. Have you noticed that despite sounding like variants on the same question, the percentages in those asking them mean that most places are asking most of them? Not just one and calling it good? The interviewers are giving you every possible opportunity to sell yourself to them.

What I find interesting (bizarre, strange, whatever) is that in my experience there's two groups of people who usually do badly with this question and all of its previous variants. The first group are the nervous or relatively inexperienced interviewees. That's more a matter of blanking or not having thought through the possible questions.

If you're one of those, here's some cold comfort. The other group that tends to do a bad job at these "sell yourself" questions? The known quantities. The internal candidates, the candidates who know the search committee and who know the search committee knows them. Not always, but most times I find it's the candidates who know me personally (or think they do) that do not give complete answers to these questions. They speak in shortcuts, assume we know everything they do already. Even if I do? I've probably got somebody on the search committee that doesn't know you or doesn't really understand archives. Remember, you're not just selling yourself the the archivists on the committee but to all the other allied professionals and colleagues and HR types that don't get it. And even if they're willing to assume knowledge on your part, you probably just lost some serious points for your communication ability. If the committee keeps asking you to elucidate? That's a giant hint that you've not hit the mark. And you'll get that if you're lucky. Most committees don't bother to follow up on missing pieces. If you didn't say it the first time, you may not get another chance.

Okay, and the single most popular question at a whopping 98%: What strengths do you bring to this position? Wow. Yet another sales opportunity. Remember back in the cover letter section where I said "Look over the job duties and requirements again. Do you have a special ability in one of them? A combination of some of them that would make you stand out from the crowd in some way? Some sort of compliment you received on a review that you could quote?" This is it. This is not only your chance to sell your abilities, but to prove that you really understand the job on offer. That you have a basic understanding of the needs of the position, the needs of the institution.

So how do you figure that out? Homework is the first part. You should have, by now, taken a look at their webpage. Mission statements, collection policies, collections lists, what types of guides they provide, what they highlight. The second part is the interview questions they've asked thus far. This will be hard if this is the first one coming out of the committee, but if you've already been asked a few (or for in-person have been around for a part of the day) you should be catching the subtext. Are they asking a lot of personality questions? Or questions about your ability to deal with problem patrons? Chances are, they have problem patrons or coworkers and if you're good at talking people off the ledge or teambuilding, emphasize those skills. That's, I think, one of the best reasons why you should always write down the interview questions as they ask them. Not just so you can steal them when you do interviews eventually, not just so you can make sure you're answering all of the question and all of its bits, but also so you can assess as you go for subtext and repetition. If they've asked you a lot of specific questions about task-oriented skills or your detail orientation, then you know to emphasize that in this.

Related to that, it's sometimes hard to catch the search committee names and titles as they go by at the beginning of a phone interview, but if you can note that as well, it can be helpful. The composition of the committee might (might not) tell you something about the hiring priorities. Preponderance of ref types? Probably they're seeking somebody who is more outgoing, does well with the public, and so forth. A few people from outside the immediate department or even the larger department? Probably looking for somebody who can work well in a larger environment and build connections. And that's also a hint that you should avoid overly jargon terms and not make assumptions about archival comprehension when answering the other queries.

Oh, and on that strengths question? I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that while 98% of interviewers are asking it, only about 60% are asking what your weaknesses may be. I think it's fair to say that this is another piece of the tendency to give you every available opportunity to sell yourself. They're not just trying to trip you up on the negative. Having said that, I've had candidates give me bad answers to the strengths too. Traits and skills that didn't matter much to me. What that told me was that they didn't do enough research or maybe they don't really understand the job.

To close off this entry, a look at some of the other "typical" questions that our survey respondents added. "Tell us about your experience relevant to this position." A little more specific there: not so much "I'm detail oriented" or a "quick study" but jobs and duties. This is a really good time to have your full cv sitting in front of you so you can reference it. If you mention something that you didn't include in your resume, you can always explain that. And don't just mention the experience, be sure to tie it in to how it will help you do this job successfully.

Other typicals. "Describe a difficult work situation and how you handled it." Many variants on this one. A loaded personality question, that. They're looking for descriptions of your professional judgment, your ability to work with others, that you can defuse bad situations instead of making them worse. This isn't necessarily one of those "never say die" questions--I've had one candidate describe a situation so bad that walking away from it really showed the best professional judgment. But be careful that your description of this bad situation doesn't come across as whining, blame-placing, or anything that could possibly sound like you have any tendency to complain about your job or co-workers because if that's what the interviewers hear, they're going to think that maybe you'll do the same to them if hired. This is one of those queries where it's extremely important to think about your answer before you provide it.

"Time management ability." This a professional judgment query. How you juggle, what you use to determine what has the highest priority, what gets your attention first.

Oh, and one of my personal favorites. "What would you need to learn, and how, to do this job?" I think there's two possible wrong answers to this question. The first wrong answer is "Everything." The second wrong answer is "Nothing." That's one of the benefits to an archives job: since every institution has unique collections, if you're blanking on other specifics, you can always talk about learning the collections. Or the procedures and policies. This question still gives you the chance to show off your homework such as the collections you've read about or to talk knowledgeably about how their workflows might differ (depending on what projects they're engaged in) from what you're currently doing, and so forth.

Next posting: some of the maybe not so typical questions. The questions used for specific purposes, the questions that our survey respondents really like, and how much prep work are you supposed to do anyhow?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview part 5: oh, that old question

Now that we're through the personality-specific stuff, let me back out a little and take a look at the typical questions you might be asked and how many people were asking them. I came up with a base set of seven, you probably know them, you've probably heard them before. If anybody reading this has another take on the value of one of these questions, will you please chime in on comments? I'll take them in reverse order of popularity:

#7 coming in at 21%: Why would you consider leaving your current position to take this one? Okay, I'll admit, this result has me stumped. I think I've been asked this at every job interview I've ever had. Only one out of five people ask it? I really did assume it was one of the typicals. So why does it get asked? And, apparently, mainly of me? Sometimes it may get asked out of fear: if the candidate dumps everything they hate about their current boss/job/whatever the interviewer can hear the giant screaming alarm bells that say "do not hire this malcontent." But I think it may get asked out of hope too: it's a chance for the candidate to reiterate or explain why they really want this job and why they're suited for it. If it helps, I've given some really stupid answers to this question. "Getting out of SLC prior to the Winter Olympics" was probably not my best option for an answer in late 2001. (Though it did get a laugh and I did go on to answer the question more seriously. I probably should have foregone saying it at all, though. I won't identify my interviewers who were smart enough not to hire me, but I'll take this opportunity to apologize. I am sorry.)

#6 in a giant response leap up to 51%: Why do you want this location/institution? Seems an obvious question and an obvious answer. I use this one, threw it in on the first set of interview questions I ever had to devise, mostly as a time-waster and a chance to put the candidate at ease at the beginning of the interview: something obvious to answer, right? And then the answers started rolling in. And I realized this not only was not a time-waster, it was enlightening. A huge portion of applicants answer this question very badly indeed. They focus on one piece of the job ad, demonstrate how little research they've actually done on our institution by telling us something wonderful about our institution that simply isn't true, tell us they like the location, tell us they want a job (and nothing else), and so forth. I've had several take this as an opportunity to deliver a diatribe on how much they hate their current job. Nobody yet has come out and told me that they're applying because of the salary we're offering but it's probably just a matter of time.

So what are you supposed to say? The interview guides will give you help with this one. Since I'm sure most of you aren't running off to the guides at this very second, I'll give you my take on it and then you can go running off. My best advice on this one would be two part: a) remembering that this question isn't really about your wants and needs and b) balance. To do that, take your opportunity to talk about what elements (include as much as you can) appeal to you, couched in terms of why you think you'd suit the position, and make sure you don't focus too much on any one piece of it. Show that you've not only read the job ad, that you've read it recently and that you have done some research on the institution--mentioning things that weren't listed in the job ad but are still clearly important to the institution and then demonstrate why and how you match up.

#5 at 58%: What are your 5 or 10 year career goals? This one, like the first one, could be a question places use out of a certain amount of fear. If the candidate tells us they want a job that's diametrically opposed to the one we have on offer and there's no connect that would let us see how we're anywhere on that line from point A to point B, well, maybe this should be a warning to us. The books will generally tell you that you want to show some ambition but not so much that the interviewers will come to the conclusion that you'll leave again six months later. On the other hand, a colleague of mine once impressed her interview committee by telling them that she wanted to remain the rest of her career in the job they had on offer, but they were specifically looking for somebody who would stick, be stable, and not going to jump ship on a whim. It was a chance she took, one that worked out for her. I wouldn't necessarily advise it unless a) you really do want to stay there til you retire and b) you're reasonably certain that they want somebody like that too. Mostly I don't find this one helpful--or not helpful enough to use when I could use other questions that would elicit more--so it'll probably be on its way out of my rotation. Don't worry, I'll find something heinous to replace it.

#4 at 60% of respondents using it: In terms of the position requirements, what are your weaknesses? Usually they allow you to talk about strengths too, but if they do, and you don't talk about the weaknesses, they're going to catch that. Hit the books on this one. Look for the advice on how to turn a weakness into a strength but remember not to make it glib. "Sometimes I get so caught up in a project that I lose track of time and I end up putting a lot of my own time in on projects!" Most interviewers (I hope) are going to see that answer for what it's worth. (If you're still wondering what's wrong with that because we should like free labor, I'll give you a hint: burnout is just the start of it. That kind of behavior can also seem as if you're showing up co-workers which doesn't help much in the workflow, either. Oh and the worst possible reason is because there's a chance that the candidate may just be flat-out lying to us.)

#3 90% of respondents say they use this: Why do you want this job? Again, a question that asks you what you want when maybe that's not all they want to hear. As I've said countless times, we'd prefer people who want our job specifically since it makes so many things so much easier for us. But I've had people answer it only on the surface: I really want to work in an academic environment. I really want to do reference. I enjoy processing. Fine answers, but terribly incomplete and if you don't complete them, it may work against you. You can answer it in the spirit of the question itself, telling the interviewers what about the job appeals to you, but like question #6, make sure you provide evidence of why you're suited to it and make sure you don't get caught up on one element of the job only and fail to address others. It's another easy way for you to remind the interviewer what is so special about you, your experience, and your skills and why you're the match they want.

And I know I was trying to get through these and it's not fair to you all to keep you hanging, but I just can't write more in this entry today. It's already way too long. So hang in with me please, I'll give you the first runner up and the pageant winner next time. Along with some other typical questions that the survey respondents reminded me about when they took the option to fill in the blank line. Besides, don't you want a little time to digest this?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Interview part 4: So why do I matter anyway?

The personality questions. I threw a few queries about this in on the survey because I'd recently been chastised by somebody (not one of my candidates) who thought they shouldn't matter. All that should matter was their ability to do the work. And I'm going to try and keep my opinions out of this--as much as I'm able to anyhow, which probably won't be much--but you will see them creep in so let me get my bias out there and get on to what the survey respondents said.

I ask the hated personality questions though I will admit, they're sometimes cleverly disguised as experiential questions, and my ones that are clearly personality (if you had one word to describe yourself) aren't often so much about personality as they are about whether you can keep your answer short or how you react to weird things out of left field. At any rate, whether you can tell if I'm asking a personality question or not, I listen just as closely to the personality subtext as I do to all the information you're providing me in your answer. I've worked in more than one place that had long-time baggage of employees having gone postal. Suicides, violence against co-workers, restraining orders, involuntary commitment to treatment centers, harassment lawsuits. (I wasn't involved, okay? In fact, most of it happened before I came there.) It's not just a matter of working with the public, it's a matter of working with colleagues and supervisors. Even the little problems and disagreements that we all have sooner or later, those put huge dents in productivity, not just of the people involved in the dispute, but amongst everybody else who witnesses it. And it sticks around, affecting morale, for years. To sum up: the job is never just about the work. There are very, very few archives jobs that isolate a worker to the extent that you will not have contact with others regularly.

Okay, enough of Arlene. Let's go on to what others had to say.

First question was: In an interview, do you ask questions that are intended to assess the personality of the candidate? 82.5% said yes. Chances are? You're going to be asked the personality questions. 8 of the 10 people who said no were from academic institutions, 1 from corporate, one from federal governments, so pretty much a representative sample from most of the types of people who filled out the survey.

So for the ten people who said no, why not? The options were: it's irrelevant, it's unnecessary, it's unfair, and then a fill in the blank. They could choose multiple responses. Nine of them answered the question. One said it's irrelevant, and left it there. One said it's irrelevant and unnecessary, and left it there. Three just said it's unnecessary. One said it was unnecessary and explained that it was so because the all-day interview process provided plenty of observation opportunities. More on the others in a moment, but I'd like to point out that if you read the answer to the previous question, 17.5% of respondents not asking personality questions, to mean that 17.5% of respondents don't attempt to assess personality, you'd be a little off. The two that said irrelevant? Probably they don't assess, but that's only 3.5% of our respondents. The three that said it's unnecessary with no other explanation? They could go either way. Either they don't feel it applies to the job or they agree with the one who said it was unnecessary because they could assess personality through other routes. For the remaining three, one noted that s/he does try to gauge personality somewhat but tries not to let it influence decision-making much since that could be unfair, one said they were watching out for legal restrictions, and the last said that they assess, but not by direct questioning and talked about the other types of questions in the interview that can provide this information like problem-solving experiences and so forth.

Not a one of our respondents--even the one that said in the comment that s/he felt it might be unfair--took the opportunity to check the survey response of "it's unfair." Bottom line? Your recruiters don't think it's unfair to assess personality. Even if you do, you're probably stuck here. Best to accept that you're going to have to deal with questions like this, no matter what your opinion of them, and figure out how to deal with them instead of letting yourself be surprised by them.

But let's look quickly at those that said they do ask personality questions. Here's the options I provided:
  • To ensure the candidate can work with the public, donors, or others outside the immediate department.
  • To ensure the candidate will fit in well with co-workers in the department.
  • To ensure candidate responds well to supervision.
  • Other
Respondents could select as many as they liked. And boy, did they ever. 86% of them said it was to ensure the candidate can work with people outside the department. A slightly different 86% of them said it was to ensure the candidate can work with co-workers (and one of those stressed the value of teamwork), and 76% said it was to ensure the candidate responds well to supervision. Most people chose more than one answer, and the vast majority chose all three. Three of those that chose all three decided to add some more information as to why else they might ask such questions: to see if the candidate can handle criticism and face complexity, to see how the candidate might fit with the institution, and last, to see if the candidate is passionate about the subject focus of the institution.

One respondent added a comment which I'd like to follow up on. "I don't think questions targeting personality are successful. Better to catch demeanor, ask for experiences with donors, coworkers, etc." Honestly, that's why when I ask the "use one word to describe yourself" question I'm not actually looking for the answer. Unless the person describes himself/herself as rude, or obnoxious, and then I might actually pay attention to the content of the answer. That's why I ask questions like "tell us about a time when you worked on a collaborative project" which is, essentially, a question about experience and I do want to know the experience, but I also want to know how you did with that kind of experience: how do you do in teams? What role do you play? And so forth.

So chances are, that your interviewers are going to be looking for personality information. How much this will figure into their decision-making is going to vary.

So what role does personality play in the hiring process? Obviously, it matters to our recruiters. But how much? Tough to say, not just because I failed to ask. I won't hire somebody just because they've got a great personality. But if I have two semi-equal candidates and it's clear that one is going to fit in really well in the institution and the other isn't, it may very well work its way into the hiring decision. And if I have somebody who isn't going to get along with anybody else, isn't going to take direction or isn't going to be able to work with others, no matter how good their experience and credentials, I'm probably not going to hire them. I have the ability to bring that into the search because of the nature of the positions I have. All of mine are faculty and to be faculty means you have to participate in the university and community, usually via committees, and if you can't deal with others you can't function well on committees. If you can't meet the service obligation of your workload, you're not going to make tenure or past the reviews along the way to tenure.

And again, if these things are important to the job: working well with colleagues, a service mentality, the ability to take direction, if these things matter to the job and they're not things you want to deal with, this is your opportunity as a candidate to assess whether or not this is the right job for you. If they're asking a string of questions that you don't feel are at all relevant to the position and are maybe indicating that these people are a little weird? Perhaps it's time for you to pull out of the search.

I'd also like to point out that a lot of the personality I'm evaluating for--and apparently so are our survey respondents--is based around how well you function with others. Other personality traits? Not so important. I don't care if you're shy, if you have an obsession with Lost (though please, don't subject me to the blow-by-blow plot descriptions: you know who you are), if your sense of humor runs toward Little Britain instead of Jeff Foxworthy. Not so important. Are your co-workers going to feel comfortable working with you? Are they going to be able to rely on you to be fair, to hold up your end of a joint project, to ask the right questions because they're the right questions not just because you enjoy being contrary? Can they rely on you to be flexible and maybe cover a ref desk hour or two that wasn't on your schedule because they've just had a family emergency? It's little stuff, often heading toward intangible, but it matters in the workplace.

And although it's impossible to predict exactly how somebody will fit within an institution--personality-wise--the recruiters still assess this because sometimes it is possible to see how a person won't fit within the institution. And then the recruiter has to figure out if that matters and if it does, how much.

Next up: something a little more straightforward. The standard interview questions (or what I thought were the standard, anyhow.) What are the questions you can expect to be asked?

Monday, March 22, 2010

BTP: phone interview tips

I'd originally had this buried in another posting but one of our faithful readers (mid-career: bless you, good to know this all is applicable on up the line!) emailed me and asked for something specific.  So here goes.

Have a phone interview?  Want to do it absolutely right? Or as right as possible, anyhow? When you pick up that phone, this is what you are going to have in front of you.
  • Something to write on (like a notepad, whatever). 
  • Plenty of writing implements--even a few extra in different colors.  
  • Your full cv.
  • The job ad.
  • Copies of all of the application materials you submitted.
  • A stack of papers that will be comprised of answers to questions (more in a moment)
This is what you're going to have done at least a day in advance:
  • Reviewed the job ad
  • Reviewed the institution's website paying close attention to: 
    • mission statement
    • collection policy
    • functions
    • survey of collections list
    • structure of site (which may tell you something about their users)
    • any departmental reports that may be posted
    • employee list
    • placement of the archives within the larger organization (is it in the business wing? the admin wing? in with the RM program?)
  • Re-read your application materials
  • Written the info on the stack of papers that I'll be talking more about in a moment
Okay, so that stack of papers.  What does it have?  Postings over the next two weeks will have a list of the standard and not-so-standard questions you may or may not be asked.  You already know a bunch of these because you've already been asked them.  Take one piece of paper for each of those questions (and others of your personal favorites), headline the paper with the question, and then write down the answer, either in outline, bullet point, or full script form.

Why? Because it's unbelievably useful.  I'll get more into some of the justifying stats later but in the meantime I'll tell you this.  It reduces the nervous quotient.  It means you're not as likely to forget important points (really important for those of  us who aren't so good at speaking extemporaneously). If you're an internal candidate, it will help you avoid the sinkhole of incomplete answers (the single classic mistake for internal candidates). It allows you to present a more audibly polished performance which will usually translate to your audience as professionalism as you use less ums and ers and likes--but avoid the opposite extreme of sounding too rote! And even if that exact question doesn't get asked, you may still get asked something related and then guess what: you have some talking points already written!  How great is that?

Giant disclaimer: You ARE going to be doing this every time for every different interview.  Remember all my nagging about tailoring your cover letter and cv? Did you really think I was going to stop just because we'd moved on to interviews?  Seriously?  Well, aside from the whole "tailor because no two jobs are the same" reason, here's the other reason you tailor: those answers you had written from the previous phone interview two months ago? Obviously didn't get you the job.  You need to do something else.

I've done this answer-writing procedure once, mainly because I was an internal candidate and didn't want to make that classic mistake of not talking enough.  (Talking too much is another problem, but it's a little less common).  In review? I'm going to do it for every job interview I have for here on out.  It was so absolutely worth my time. I was astounded at how helpful it was.  And it really didn't take that much time to do.  This particular interview was full of hidden traps for me because I was an internal candidate and because I had to be extraordinarily diplomatic in some of my answers and there was no way to predict those problem questions ahead of time.  The canned answers gave me the luxury of paying attention to context, subtext, phrasing during the interview, moreso than I would have had I not had some of it pre-written. I didn't really use much of it verbatim--the subtext and the traps inherent in the question might only become apparent as the question was being asked--but at least I had the content piece of it answered so I could concentrate on the presentation end of things. 

Now so what're the blank paper and writing implements for? First, for catching as many of the names and positions of the search committee as you can.  Writing down the questions.  Making notes about your answers to them. Sometimes before I tell the committee that I'm done answering, I'll take a quick glance over my notes about what I've already said to make sure I've covered everything I intended to cover. Not for doodling.  (If you have a tendency to doodle, just be aware of why you do it and what the outcome might be: there's a vast difference between doodling on lecture notes and doodling while being the person who is talking. If you're a doodler, maybe consider a laptop--not hooked up to the net--instead of paper and pen.)  The multi-color writing implements are for highlighting important points, maybe crossing out stuff you've already said (do you really want to repeat that story about the discovery of the Lincoln signature three times?)

And why the cv? And app paperwork? You're probably still going to get that question or two out of the blue that none of the above helps with, but if you're at all nervous, sometimes just having the paperwork in front of you will help. So if your memory deserts you and you don't recall how long you had that job at the pickle factory, you can flip open the cv and check.  And you won't tell them 3 years when your resume said 2.

And remember, always remember, that your audience is relying on verbal cues to figure you out during a phone interview.  If you're not sure how you'll do on that, practice.  Don't practice in-person, practice over a phone call.  Give your victim some questions, let him or her make up some more, and let him or her know what s/he should be listening for.  Besides, if nothing else, it's a good test for the location and the phone you plan to use in the phone interview.  I just realized as I typed this that I'll never be able to do a phone interview from my current place of residence.  One of my neighbors has a badly-trained Jack Russell terrier named Stella.  Not only does Stella bark incessantly when outside, she also doesn't respond well to voice commands and her owners don't keep her on leash.  And though I find it absurdly amusing, I can't count on interviewers to have my warped sense of humor at background noises such as the dog's adult male owner leaning over his balcony railing screaming "Stella!"  So use that test run with a friend to test out all the variables: how you perform, vocal intonation, background noises, interference, static, phone quality, and so forth.  Probably you can't do anything about mid-interview earthquakes, tsunami or tornado alert sirens, fire alarms, or other unpredictable acts of nature, but get what you can under your control.  And then you can stop worrying about that, too, and pay closer attention to what the interviewers are asking you.

Interview part 3: what to wear, what to wear

I threw this in as a gimme. I really had no idea what to expect. And since I didn't have any idea of what to expect, I just did a fill-in-the-blank question. And let respondents have at it. The majority of answers fell along the lines of business or business professional. I'm not certain if that means something specific to you. Business professional would mean suits to me but apparently it didn't to some of our respondents. 53 people answered this question. I was going to try and define this in numbers and what I quickly realized is that almost none of these people who provide definitions are using professional or business professional or business casual mean the same thing by it. So maybe this is a more anecdotal type of answer rather than a statistics type.

So for those who mentioned professional somewhere in their answer, here's description where provided:
  • Professional (with no further explanation): 5 counts
  • Professional and neat: 2 counts
  • Neat and professional, but business suits not expected/required.
  • Professional attire-doesn't have to overdress but neat and professional. To me a tie or business suit is overdressing.
  • I assume professional attire and demeanor. (This isn't entirely about clothes, is it?)
  • Professional, even if the job only requires business casual on a daily basis, the person should put their best foot forward and show that they are taking the interview seriously
  • Professional. Need not be formal business attire i.e. men do not necessarily have to wear ties, and women certainly do not have to wear skirts, but the attire worn should be businesslike as well as neat, clean, and otherwise presentable.
  • Professional, it does not have to be overly formal but it should look as if they care about their appearance and making a good impression
  • Professional. Men: suit or at least slacks and nice sweater. Women: ladies suit or nice slacks/skirt and sweater. Personally I like to see a little personal pizazz in there--tie reflective of his personal style or a fun scarf for her--but that's just because I want to see their personality and that they can be both professional and individual. Certainly not a deal breaker though.
  • Professional, better than what you usually wear to work, if you're hands-on
  • Professional, but does not need to be too dressy
  • Professional, but logical for the weather, length of interview, and location.
The professional/business combination:
  • Business professional (with no further explanation): 4 counts
  • our professional business attire which includes shirt and tie, jacket optional. I expect the candidate to find this information out for themselves. That lets me know something about them if they take the time to find out that info on their own.
  • Business/professional - we are in a corporate setting.
  • business professional - suits for men and women
  • Professional business attire, no exceptions
Business without professional or casual mentioned (that's coming in a moment):
  • Business (with no further explanation): 5 counts
  • business attire (tie & button down shirt for men, suit-coat optional).
  • Businessy but can be more creative than corporate.
  • Business attire. While the workplace is fairly casual dress, the interviewee should be their best dressed.
  • Business attire for women. Jacket and tie for men.
  • Business attire. Jacket, not necessarily suit.
Okay, can you see why I'm having a tough time doing counts? Looks like some of the ones who want professional attire consider suits to be business attire and some of the ones who want business attire consider suits to be professional attire. I swear, if I ever do this again, I'm going to find drawings of people in several different modes of dress and ask respondents to click on the ones they'd accept.

And on we go. For the ones who mentioned casual in some fashion as okay:
  • Business casual (with no explanation): 2 counts
  • At the minimum, business casual
  • As all of our hires have been graduate level students, I expect the candidates to wear, at the very least, business casual attire.
  • Business casual - as they would wear to the position on a meeting day. Formal suit/dress not required, but should be well groomed and neatly dressed.
  • professional casual. for a woman, pants are fine. for a man, khakis and tie are fine.
  • business attire to high-level business casual
  • We have a casual atmosphere so attire is less important but we would expect the person to be dressed in nicer clothes rather than street clothes but casual dress clothes are ok. I think this is highly dependent on the institution, work environment and the position. I wouldn't recommend casual to job seekers.
And last but not least, the very few that didn't mention business, professional or casual specifically:
  • dress respectfully. don't show a lot of skin. cover tattoos. remove facial hardware from piercings.
  • Smart, clean. Tie not required for men, but makes a better impression. No jeans.
  • We assume the candidate will never look better than on interview day.
  • Dressed in a suit or jacket.
With the exception of the third line in that last section (never look better than on interview day? Yikes. That was coming out of a private non-profit, by the way) and a few who were willing to accept casual, looks like most are aiming for you to be fairly well dressed and nobody is going to ding you too badly for being overdressed. The person who said a tie or suit was overdressing was one of our respondents from an academic institution, but then so were all the ones who wanted men to wear a tie. I don't know that we had any respondents from couture houses or fashion magazines: all bets could be off in a situation like that.

I typically wear a suit to interviews, or a jacket/skirt combo that can pass for one usually in fairly moderate colors. I have a terrific chartreuse suit that I will never wear to a job interview (though I have worn it to SAA a couple of times.) I'm more comfortable in skirts--which for me translates to greater psychological security during the interview--but I don't assume that candidates will wear skirts. Especially since it seems as if we've been doing our recruiting and interviews in winter and pants really are much more suitable to the climate. I've worn high-heeled pumps (no open toes or sandals ever, no matter how terrific the pedicure) to less than temperate locations, but I got more than a few strange looks and I ended up having to explain my rather peculiar coordination issues (I'm safer in heels than flats) which was probably more work than it was worth. I'm somewhat amused by the fact that I usually have to explain my tendency to wear heels--somebody eventually says something or worries aloud about the distances we're covering--when there was a time that the assumption was made that female candidates would be wearing such footwear. I'll also note that I too tend to assume that candidates will wear flats or low heels for the comfort and longevity factor but I'm not going to assume heels are overdressing. I suspect most of the rest of our respondents would disagree with me on that.

Whatever you decide on your shoes, they should probably be of a piece with the rest of your outfit (no trainers with suits, please) and in good condition. Sandals for men or women probably aren't sufficient. Same for any other accessories you might be bringing such as a laptop bag or such: the hot pink backpack that's so nice for the plane ride probably isn't the best option for hauling around at an interview. Is it going to matter much? Probably not, and from my perspective, any place that decides not to hire you because your attache wasn't leather probably isn't a place that you--the non-leather-attache-owning-candidate--would be comfortable working at.

Conclusions? I'm not sure I have many. Dress well, dress neatly. Only take chances with your attire if you're fairly certain it will be accepted or if you're certain you don't want to work at a place that couldn't deal with your fashion sense. Any of our recruiters who are doing the voyeur thing want to add anything? Any applicants have a specific outfit they want an opinion on?

Next up, heading into the interview questions section. And the next one is the entry for which writing it scares me more than any other single topic in this blog: the personality questions. Let's see how many people I can offend, hmm?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Interview part 2: what to expect

What to expect. This was really more of a meta question. Maybe not so advice-oriented, but I was curious. If people conducted in-person interviews, were they willing to bring people in from a distance? What costs would they cover? How long would that in-person interview be? Would they have informal meetings during the course of it? Is having to do a presentation of some sort a given?

At my place we are generally willing to bring in distance candidates, we cover air fare and room and board, and these are all-day interviews which translates to a certain commitment of personnel hours for the search committee and other colleagues. In other words, kind of expensive. So I didn't want to assume that others would always go to that extent. So I asked.

2/3 of respondents were willing to bring in candidates from distant locations. So if they're willing to do this, are they willing to pay? For the most part, yes.

Personal note: I once went on an interview--for a position with a corporation that was not having money problems--and paid my own way. Post interview I did a thank you note, sent in a requested writing sample, and never heard from them again. It taught me a lesson--one I distinctly couldn't afford at the time--and I will never again interview with a place that expects me to spend serious money for an interview. Doing interviews at a conference where the candidate was planning to attend anyhow, that's a different matter. If the candidate offers, that's a different matter. Candidates: Unless you've got a contract in hand that says they'll hire you regardless of the outcome of the visit, think this over, and over again before paying your own way to an interview. A recruiter that parsimonious is either very close to the edge financially (i.e. you may want to keep searching because they're about to go insolvent) or they may not be the most employee-friendly institution to work for. And no, I'm not going to tell you who that corporation is because a) they are still around and still very solvent and can afford very expensive lawyers and b) it was over a decade ago and maybe they've learned their lesson.

Okay, I'm sorry. I've just attacked two of my respondents (non-corporate, by the way) and I'm willing to admit that maybe there's extenuating circumstances and that I'm just a little judgmental because of my own previous experience. One respondent does interviews that are two hours or less which does negate the need for overnights or food, maybe, but how do you justify asking the applicant to cover airfare? So if you're reading this and maybe you're not a respondent but you are from an institution that brings interviewees in from a distance and doesn't help out with the costs of that, help us out. If this investment is going to work out in the candidate's favor in the long-term, please explain it because I'm at a loss here. Is it simply that your definition of "from distant locations" means only a few hours by car? I'm willing to allow that my definition of distant, being in a place that's about 1500 miles by air to the next state, is probably different from that of a Bostonian who probably considers Vermont to be distant. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Several of the places that don't interview distance candidates still spring for food and such, so kudos to them. I'd also like to add that some of the respondents indicated that they didn't hold in-person interviews for distance candidates precisely because their institution wouldn't pay for travel. And on the paying for distance thing: don't be surprised if the interviewing institution works on a reimbursement basis, at least for the airfare. When I interviewed here over seven years ago, they were still arranging flights for candidates. At some point this policy switched (I keep hearing rumors of an expensive flight that wasn't refundable when the candidate canceled out, but nobody has confirmed) and we do generally ask that candidates make their own flight arrangements and then we reimburse later. This isn't all that unusual. In fact I suspect it's fairly common for people traveling by car since most places I've interviewed at usually pay on a mileage reimbursement basis.

And this is what the interview lengths look like. I didn't do this one as a pie chart, because some institutions conduct more than one type of interview. Of those that conduct multiple day interviews, all were academic. I'd assumed that maybe those were headed for management types of jobs, but they seemed a blend of the options. What was even more interesting to me was the level of position they were hiring into. Again, my assumption would be later career. I have no idea why I'd assume that, and I'm clearly wrong. They're also mixed, leaning toward entry level/early career. (and this is why Arlene is not egotistical enough to assume she speaks for the profession.)

On the other side of things, the shortie interviews, the two-hour-or-less types, are an even mix of job types, mix of institutions, mix of levels. So I guess there's no predicting what you're in for until you get that call arranging the interview. Keep flexible.

The last bits I asked on this question were whether or not candidates were expected to do a presentation and if any of their meetings during the course of the interview were informal. About 30% said they expect a presentation and 43% said they do informal meetings. Both can be things to watch for. Those who hold informal meetings? Heavy on the academic respondents, more so than the general survey population. Those who require presentations? All academic with a couple of them representing both academic and state/local government. Looks like if you're going to be interviewing with a private non-profit or corporate, you're probably going to be doing a more focused q&a type interview rather than the alternatives.

Why watch out for informal meetings? I tend to put them in, mixed throughout the course of the day, partly because I'm going to need a break and I know the candidate will. But I do still watch what happens and I suspect some recruiters may be watching these very closely indeed. In my case, I do want to see if the candidate can handle the more casual moments with a certain amount of professional aplomb while still remaining approachable and casual, but I suspect other recruiters are simply looking to see if you're able to retain your professional mien.  So while you might not be "on" at quite the same level as you would be for a panel interview or presentation, you'll want to be careful not to relax too much.

And I was hoping to cover the clothing thing in this one, but this is already a little long. So next posting, hopefully, will be a short one, just on that topic. Up in a couple of days.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview part 1: the basics

Okay! You've done everything right with your cover letter and resume and you've won that coveted spot on the next level up: an interview. Judging by the survey results, that's probably going to be a phone interview, at least at first. They may go straight to in-persons. I didn't spend a lot of time asking survey respondents specifically about how the differences between phone and in-person interviews may play out for them so I'm not always going to differentiate in the upcoming posts between the two types.

But let's take a quick look at some of the requirements of a phone interview. With the phone type, they can't see you, you can't see them. Body language is going to be invisible. So you don't know if that funny comment you just made irritated them or made them smile. Difficult, no? Hard to know if you're on the right page with the committee when you can't see their responses. So how do you get around those types of things when you don't have all the visual clues you're accustomed to seeing? Communication is one. If you're taking a moment to write down the questions so you make sure you answer them completely, let the interviewer(s) know that. And hopefully in return they'll also assure you of the same thing--that when it goes dead silent on their end the phone connect hasn't necessarily stopped, but they're just madly writing down all the brilliant information you just provided.

Oh, and about the whole phone thing from a more logistical view. Aim for using the most reliable phone you can find in a quiet space. If your cell connect is less than pristine, go find a landline. If your dog barks or your cat meows maniacally when you're home? (been there) see if you can borrow a friend's place. If you're currently employed? Don't use your office line, borrow a good cell and go sit in your car in a quiet parking lot somewhere. Not a lot of interviewers seem to care so much about this anymore, but it does keep you from making the suspicious types like me from wondering if you might--if hired--use their institutional resources for other personal projects.

And you know how you can't tell what they're thinking since you can't see their faces? Same goes for them. What is your voice telling them about you? Nerves aside (more on that later) do you tend to go monotone when speaking? Find a friend who is willing to be very honest, assure them that you won't hold their answer against them (and keep that promise), and get them to assess your vocal performance in public speaking engagements. Find out if you tend toward a quavery voice, monotone, emphasis in weird places, sounding like you're not taking anything seriously. Practice, possibly with the same friend, to counteract. You want to sound serious, professional, warm, and engaged. Come to think of it, that's probably something you should do for the in-person one, too.

I'm going to wait for the comments to see how much we need to develop the above, but let's dive into the basics. What kind of interview can you expect?

Apparently you can expect an interview because nobody answered none. I did some number crunching on the type of institution and that didn't help with predicting whether you're going to have phone, in-person, or both, sorry. So I did some number crunching on type of job and same thing. Which I find a little odd. I figured there would perhaps be some correlation between perhaps back-of-the-house oriented positions like cataloging or sole processing and maybe not a focus on in-person interviews, but not so much.

What was interesting, albeit not particularly scientific, were the comments. For those that did in-persons only? Four respondents clarified. One respondent clearly hates phone interviews as much as most candidates do: s/he said: "Phone interviews are very difficult and tend not to benefit either the candidate or the committee." One said that s/he does some "screening calls" and then in-person interviews the finalists. One said that if an in-person proved a hardship for the candidate, they would do a phone or web interview (more in a second) instead of in-person, and the last clearly leaned toward hiring locals because s/he said they would do a phone interview only for an exceptional candidate.

On that web thing. One of the respondents said that they'd done a Skype interview with a distance candidate recently. I'm starting to really ponder that as an option, not to replace the in-person interviews, but to replace the phone interviews. It saves us from some of those non-verbal communication miscues. In fact, for my last set of in-person interviews, I brought in a project processing archivist we have working for us who resides in Stuttgart (yes, this is a very bizarre experiment) via Skype since she is part of the crew here and we wanted to have her interact with the candidates as well. What I noticed was that the person on the other end of the Skype connection became the focus which wasn't my aim in this case, but I could definitely see how that would work as a replacement for a phone interview with the candidate on the other end of a webcam from the committee. So I suspect that candidates may see some growth in this type of initial interview, presuming we all can afford all the technology. I assume that an interviewee will have access to a phone, I don't yet assume they'll have access to a webcam and broadband. If all potential phone interviewees were able to support that, I would definitely switch over (assuming we had HR permission, of course) for the phone interview.

Other generic comments from people who didn't select any particular type of interview: those comments tended to fall along more practical lines. Like if all the candidates are local, we may skip the phone interviews. That sort of thing. Presumably if you're one of the candidates on the interview list, the recruiter will be clear about that. And if you do get a phone interview but aren't sure what happens after that, most interviews give you a chance for asking questions and it's totally fair to ask what form the process will take from there on out.

And one last thing on nerves. For the most part, interviewers will expect you to be nervous. But most will only accept that to a point and for some, it's a way of judging how well you handle yourself under pressure. Many will do what they can to put you at your ease but in the end, you do need to handle this. They will expect that shows of nerves will decrease over the course of the interview--whether that's a half-hour phone or a two-day in-person. (and in the case of the latter it's often more a matter of exhaustion than the actual nerves disappearing.) If nerves are an issue for you, if you giggle incessantly, go wooden, flop sweat, go blank, you're going to have to figure this out. Most of you who have met me probably wouldn't tag me as shy. But I am. And I get stage fright, especially when the outcome of the event is really important to me like, say, at a job interview. I'm not 100% successful, but my coping mechanism is this public persona I put on--it's almost like an acting job. It's not a severe change in my personality, it's just me, only more out-going. Other people find practice makes it better. So if you're reading this and you've got some advice for what works for you, let's hear it. Comments, please.

All right. Once again I've gotten way more wordy than I'd intended so I'm going to close off this entry. The next one we'll go into two things specific to in-person interviews: what you can expect and what appearance (you knew I'd get back to fashion eventually, didn't you?) you should present. Any thoughts on the above? I look forward to your comments.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Okay, I'm hoping at this point we're over half-way through. Okay, more precisely, I hope I'm over halfway through because you would not believe how much time I've spent writing these entries. I promised myself I would start posting the blog entries once I'd written at least half of them so that I could be sure they'd be released on a regular basis and still give myself some ability to walk away from the project for a while if other professional duties got in the way.  [ed. note: And did other duties really get in the way! I feel like I'm time-traveling.  I think I wrote the first draft of this posting in early Feb. Now I find I'm writing nearly daily just to keep on schedule!  Good thing I got that head start.]

Here's my plans for the remaining: a bunch of entries on interviewing and a bunch of entries on more macro topics like how long does a job recruitment typically take and so forth.

Since I am topically at the halfway point I'm going to take a break and reiterate a few things. If none of the specifics I've provided stick with you, I ask that you grasp onto the tailoring and proofreading parts. The odds/statistics/what-have-you on any specific piece of advice are not guaranteed, of course. We're seeing too much discrepancy, perhaps too much individuality? among our respondents. Nobody will conduct a search exactly the same way and you simply cannot be expected to predict every possible ingredient the recruiter might add to the mix.

Having said that, that doesn't mean that you can stop trying to predict, stop tailoring, stop proofreading. Even if you might find the one recruiter who cares nothing about the information you provide so carefully and spend so much time crafting (I think I worked for that guy once) I don't think there's many of that type out there. And if they don't care about you or the information you provide, sure, you might still get the job, but is it a job you're going to want? Perhaps so. I'm--if you haven't figured it out yet--really goal-oriented when it comes to my career. I know what I want to be doing, I know where I want to be doing it, and every move I've made job-wise thus far is working me toward that eventual goal.  Even if a few of them have been lateral passes. You might not feel the same way about a job. You may just be looking for job security and have no particular interest in what the job is.  Here's my thoughts about that: while passion for and interest in the work isn't sufficient for me to hire you, if you don't exhibit it, there's a good chance that lack could take you out of the running especially if I have other equally qualified candidates who are able to express their interest in this exact job. Again, I want somebody who wants the job I have on offer, not just any job. Not all employers will feel the same.

I'll also take this opportunity to thank all of you who have jumped into the discussions.  I'm clearly not omniscient here and so I really appreciate the follow-up questions.  I've only seen a couple of commenters who I'd classify as recruiters so far but a few of them are paying attention and adding their thoughts which I also appreciate (cf. the "not omniscient" thing mentioned earlier.)

On with the show. Ready for interviews?  That's up next.  In the meantime, don't forget to take a look at Amber's resume and provide commentary attached to the post about Amber here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

BTP: Your chance to edit

**Update: Weds 3/24/10. Here's Amber's cover letter too.  Start in with the comments please!**

Just as I requested, Amber sent me her resume.  Below is the job ad.  Probably not redacted enough since I can't imagine there's too many of this type of organization out there, but since to redact it further would wipe out all the solid information you'll need to provide edits to Amber, so be it.  It's not like it wasn't a public ad in the first place.

As you might recall, when I agreed to post this I told Amber she was going to have to do some self-editing too.  No free ride!  So here's her comments about the resume she submitted.

The section of my resume that I believe needs the most work is the first section, which is my archival experience. I have 3 different positions at the same institution listed separately, and I don't list whether any positions are full or part time. I'll lay out that info below for you. There's probably also a few jobs I could completely eliminate from the resume, but I'm not sure how to do that without leaving obvious gaps. The 'Leadership, Recognition, and Awards' section is probably unnecessary at this point, since I'm no longer fresh out of school. And overall, I am a little uncomfortable with the length of my resume. I think 2 and a half pages might be seen as too long for someone who is still entry-level.

Now all of that's fair game. Amber also noted that she thought applying for the position was also a stretch but since I haven't read either in-depth yet, I can't comment on that.  Here's what I'm looking for from you.  Please provide any edits you think would improve her resume WITH an explanation of them.  Feel free to tackle the topics Amber has already suggested. If you want to do a edit/reformat of the whole document, email me and let me know and I'll arrange to add your version online in the GoogleDocs area where I'm currently hosting Amber's resume.  I've put Amber's resume here.

I will note a couple of quick things--first, I converted Amber's word doc to a pdf since for some bizarre reason, GoogleDocs did more damage to the doc view than it did to the pdf view. So the pdf is closer to the original, though not exact.  Second, in messing about with it (sorry Amber) I removed her header from the first page of the resume.  It's on all the rest though, so that's okay. So Amber, that would actually be my first suggestion.  All your contact info is already on the first page of your resume so you don't need the header on that one.  Having said that, I'll give you two more quickies that I picked up at a glance.  My second suggestion? Rid yourself of the GPAs.  Nothing makes you look like you're fresh out of college than having a GPA after your degree.  You're justifiably proud of them, but pretty much the only people who care about that would be anybody at the grad school where you're applying for a doctoral program.  Employers at the grad level, not so much. Third: Put page numbers in the header while you're at it.

Okay, that's it for me on this one for the moment.  The field is open for the rest of you.  Next weekend I'll post her cover letter.   And the blog will continue on with its regularly scheduled programming...

The Job Ad:

[Music-Related Institution]
Assistant Archivist

[Music-Related Institution] is currently considering applicants for the position of Assistant Archivist. The Assistant Archivist reports to the Archivist and is responsible for assisting in the archival activities of the Library and Archives, including appraisal, arrangement, description, preservation, reference, and digitization. He/she assists the Archivist with determining departmental needs and advocates for issues relating to or affecting the archival collections; works with the Archivist to set priorities for collection processing and for digitization; participates in the implementation of EAD for encoded finding aids; identifies and refers items as necessary for conservation treatment; submits regular reports on archival processing; and assists with reference and reproduction requests. In the absence of the Archivist, he/she supervises the activities of certain student employees, interns, and volunteers.

Master's degree in library science, archival studies, or related field; minimum of two years processing archival materials in an academic or research library setting; background in archival appraisal, arrangement, and description; experience working with various physical formats, including paper, sound recordings, video materials, and photographs; working knowledge of current metadata and descriptive standards, including DACS, EAD, and MARC 21.

Additional degree in music or related discipline; knowledge of rock and roll and related popular music genres; conservation experience; supervisory experience.

[Music-Related Institution] is a nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans, and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. It carries out this mission both through its operation of a world-class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits, and interprets this art form and through its Library and Archives as well as its educational programs. The Library and Archives of [Music-Related Institution] will be the most comprehensive repository of written and audiovisual materials relating to the history of rock and roll. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and provide access to these materials for scholars, educators, students, journalists, and the general public in order to further their understanding of rock and roll, its roots, and its impact on our society.

For consideration, send resume and cover letter detailing your qualifications along with salary history to: [Music-Related Institution]

BTP: Education and secrecy

Okay. I've had a couple of things percolating around in my head this week and one of them I've already promised to write about. So here goes. You all should have figured out by now that I'm doing my best to support your job searches. So I usually try to come in on the side of giving all of you the benefit of the doubt. Here's where that ends.

First. For those of you who are reading this because you want to be a professional archivist but you don't have a masters degree. Please. Stop reading this now and go get your master's degree from a school with an archives track or accept the fact that it's only going to get harder if it isn't already impossible to get professional-level jobs as an archivist. If you're enjoying that job you have that just asks for your bachelor's level and it pays you enough to live on? You'd better hold on to it. Mostly what you're looking at are archival tech positions and your ability to move on to higher jobs in future is going to be severely limited without that masters. Maybe grad ed isn't an option for you, or not right now. I understand that. But when I see multitudes of people with graduate archival ed applying for any given professional position, you have to realize that your search is going to have some serious limitations. And like it or not, there's a lot of recruiters out there just like me who will continue to insist our hires have the Masters level degree. We're not going to back off of that. The graduate schools are hardly likely to start producing fewer archivists. We don't need to back off of that and pretty soon, nobody else will either. At least for the higher-paying jobs or the ones that have some sort of official professional rank.

Yes, there's plenty of archival work out there that doesn't require somebody with a masters to do (or doesn't pay enough for somebody with a masters to do.) I suspect mostly in small, local institutions. If that's your dream, great. Go for it. Those institutions need you, and from my vantage point, they need you badly. Please go attend some workshops and take a look at the SAA publications list and start reading the basics manuals. As much as they need you, they need you more with a solid background in the theory and practice of archives. And good luck with that job. I've worked for that place. It paid $1.50/hr over minimum wage and took every bit of archival education and experience I had. I was the only professional (all but thesis) they've ever had working for them, the only one they probably ever will have. But going into credit card debt just to survive wasn't my idea of a fun time. And so I had some strong motivations to polish off that thesis and get something ranked and paid as a professional job. If you can afford to take that job, do it well, and to stay there, more power to you.

On to subject 2. Secrecy. I'm just going to be Ms. Popular today, I can just tell. Deep breath.

For those of you who don't want to tell your current employer that you're job seeking? Get over it. If you're lucky enough to have other recent supervisors who can act as references, that's fine. If in avoiding people from your current place of employment you're left with a references list of only professors or people who supervised you over two years ago? With nobody who can address your recent experience and skill levels? Good luck with that. You may be fine. You wouldn't be fine in my pool. Nor would you have made it to a job offer in any of the other searches I've served on in the past 10 years (and hey: not an Arlene-only-bias: in many of those searches, that standard was set by somebody other than me).

Here's some alternatives. Do you have a volunteer job? Can you use somebody from there? Do you have a current co-worker you can use? Unless you're in a two-person shop (you and your supervisor) somebody must be around who can do this. While I'm willing to say okay, maybe you can keep it from your supervisor, but keeping it from everybody? You're going to tie yourself into knots keeping this one secret. If you don't have a coworker you can use? If you've got an insane supervisor? A loose cannon? Somebody who will punish you for your disloyalty? You're taking some pretty severe chances by using this person or even telling them you're searching? Guess what? It's not going to get better. It's not going to get easier to tell this person. They're not going to become any less of a loose cannon. And your other references are getting older, and farther away, and less and less relevant.

I've forced a few of those reference names from applicants. Want to know what I heard when I called? "Well, we were pretty sure s/he was searching. We knew we wouldn't be able to keep him/her forever. But s/he deserves a much better job than this one and if we were you, we'd hire him/her." And a few of them I didn't hire and I have kept in touch with some of them and maybe a few lingering aftereffects, but nowhere near what they were worried about. Guess what? The sheer relief of how easy so many things become once you've fessed up to searching can often outweigh the stress of anticipated retribution. No more hiding, no more coming up with fake excuses about why you're going on a three-day vacation to Thief River Falls in January.

Okay, so if I do give you the benefit of the doubt and you do have that insane boss who will fire you or start to harass you the second this person gets a glimmer of the fact that you might be jobsearching and make your life so awful you'd be committing career suicide to tell them, you'd better find an alternative. Start volunteering. Or developing close professional relationships with others in the field. Start collaborative projects with people from other institutions. Or just take your chances and provide a references list without anybody from your current job. And hope that you aren't up against a tie-breaker with somebody who did provide current references. Because while I'd call you up and give you the opportunity to provide that current name, not everybody will.

Friday, March 12, 2010

what do they do with those references anyhow?

I decided to ask if recruiters followed up on references you don't provide. Or more precisely, what I asked was: might you check references other than those provided by the candidate? One quarter of respondents said yes. One of those respondents explained that they do a full security check before hiring (and presumably you as a candidate would be aware of that) and another said that if they knew somebody who'd worked with the candidate before, they might call that person. Aside from the security check person, that means that nearly a quarter of these recruiters are willing to call people other than those you have provided and I start to wonder if they're necessarily going to let you know that ahead of time. I know our HR rules wouldn't allow me to do this formally and I would never take a chance of creating a grievable situation by straying from the formalities, but I still think that there's enough respondents saying this that you should be made aware it's a possibility.

So when do they check references anyhow? How soon do you need to provide a heads-up to the people on your list? Obviously, the sooner the better. You should really be asking the people you're using as references if you can do so. I've worked with one individual who has twice used me as a reference for positions and I've known nothing about it until the phone call came from the chair of the search committee. This is really NOT a good idea. I don't intentionally do it, but I do occasionally say really stupid things when caught off guard (anybody who's ever heard me do a Q&A at a conference session can attest to this) and that's probably not going to work in your favor.

On the flip side, 8% of respondents noted that they only check references when they have a concern about a candidate. I find that a little high, but maybe their other recruitment policies are so strict as to not make references matter much.

Do references matter much? Obviously for some they do, some they don't. Most of the people I've talked to regard them as being of limited utility. Depending on state labor law, the reference may not be able to provide you with anything beyond dates of employ. I think it's a fair assumption that candidates are probably only going to list references that they're sure will be positive about them so that can result in limited utility too. However, I've had references come clean about a candidate in ways I never expected and so I'm willing to give it a shot. I vividly recall speaking with a friend/colleague/candidate-approved reference quite a long time ago about a potential candidate of whom the reference said "not ready for the adult world yet." Not only "ouch," but very, very accurate as it transpired. We were pretty much aware of it already, but having a reference confirm it forced us not to ignore it as a possible misperception and also allowed us to include it in the justification to hire another candidate.

Alaska state law actually protects the supervisor as long as the candidate has signed the appropriate form and thus allows me to be completely forthright about employees who have worked for me. I'm told that's not typical and even when state law may allow, HR policies may not, so if you're concerned as to what a supervisor can or cannot say about you, a quick bit of research into state law and your institution's HR policies might be in order. That is, if you've got something to worry about whether it be something in your own record or a previous supervisor who is, shall we say, less than stable. At any rate, a bad reference can wipe you out of the pool but I don't hear many of those. Mostly I'm watching for the answers to a few specific factual questions and a different perspective on the candidate. Sometimes with otherwise equal candidates these might feed into the mix more strongly.

And do give your recruiters a little credit. They can often recognize a crazy person or somebody with vengeance issues when they talk to them. Let me tell you, over the past few years I've grown a lot less worried about the crazies I might use as references than I am about the sane-appearing ones. As both candidate and recruiter, I've found that the perfectly stable supervisors or colleagues are the ones who usually end up being loose cannons. Who--because of their good relationship with you--often relax a little too much into the reference call. I wouldn't call it common--most people understand what they should and shouldn't be saying here. As a recruiter, when I hear something off from an otherwise excellent reference, I'm going to pay far more attention to it than when I hear a bunch of things off from somebody who is clearly a loon. And even better, when the loon gives me a solid reference for the candidate, I'm likely to think "wow, this person even won over a crazy person. S/He'll do great on the ref desk!"

Back to when they call references.

20% call before they do any interviews, 25% between phone and in-person interviews, and over half will call just before they hire. Now the interesting part about that half who wait, that suggests to me that the reference check is really a pro forma thing more than something that could affect your decision-making between candidates. Should you bet on that? Probably not (that's just barely over half which does leave the remaining nearly half who don't wait.) But if you're keeping in touch with your references--like I argue you should--if you find out they've been called it can give you some idea of where you are in the process and how serious they are about you. That can be really reassuring at times. Given how long job recruitments can take, I've had a few that were suddenly resurrected for me when one of my references let me know that they'd been called: I'd pretty much written off the job since it had been so long since I'd heard anything.

On a related matter. I think it's safe to assume that unless they specifically ask for letters of recommendation, you probably shouldn't include them. I know this isn't necessarily fair: one of my good friends was jobhunting a few years back and her best reference/immediate past supervisor died shortly after she'd submitted her application for a position. If I remember right, she had a more general letter of recommendation from him and the recruiters weren't willing to accept that. But that's extreme.

The problem with letters of recommendation are all the same problems you have with any other application document: if it's not tailored to the job at hand, it's not going to do much good. I have a set of questions that I ask references and while some of them are pretty basic, at least one is not typical and given the response I get on the phone when I ask it--dead silence--I'm fairly certain that no letter of recommendation would typically include that piece of information, and I can promise you that I really do care about it. And since you're curious, I'll tell you. I ask if the candidate has ever had any disciplinary problems. This comes from an ancient place of work that had more than its share of workers who went postal. Trust me, it matters to me. Most people don't ask that one judging by the look on my HR consultant's face when I told her I wanted to ask about potential for violence. I suspect that question went all the way up to the University Counsel for approval and wordsmithing.

Last on this before we get to move on to the interviewing thing. Remember how I suggested you give your references a heads-up? I also asked to see how many recruiters cared/noticed/whatever if the reference knew about the job description when the reference call was placed. Since I do--well, not so much care as think it sends a good signal about how interested the candidate is--I was curious to see if anybody else had this preference as well. For the most part, not so much. 16% expect that your reference will be familiar with the job description, 28% say no, they don't expect that. 9% go so far as to send the reference the job description ahead of time (saving you the work). Here's the graphical interpretation for those of you who work better that way:

My conclusion? Well, since I've already revealed my own personal bias I may as well take the chance to advocate for it and suggest that you consider sharing the job description with your references before they get the phone call. Can't hurt. But if you've got limited time and ability to do all this, this is probably one of the steps you could skip and have it hurt you the least.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

BTP: the candidates speak out!

Okay, so last week some time I promised my rant on the current ratio of jobs to job seekers. Well, I just can't do it. I just can't subject you to it. I don't think I'm wrong about a lot of it, but I do know it's the written equivalent of spitting into the wind. So here's my compromise decision. You get to do it. Well, at least partially, anyway. I'm not really going to allow rants since mostly people stop listening to them. Let's get them with numbers instead. In lieu of unheard rants, what I have done is created a survey for those of you who are job seeking for that first archival professional job or are have gotten it (within the last 10 years) or who have given up on it. Know anybody who fits that category? Strongly encourage them to fill out this survey so we can get a semi-current look on the state of archival job searching today and in recent past.

Click here to take survey **Survey is closed.  Details upcoming in a later post.

I'll tell you up front, I am working from one giant bias in this and that is the archival education thing. (okay, I'll do a little rant). Graduate archival education is available and I'm most interested in hearing from the people who have sought it out and obtained it, no matter what the programmatic context for it is. Primarily because you're mostly likely the folks who are archives career-oriented and who have presumably paid a lot of money to prepare yourself specifically for an archives career. At the moment, you're the ones I want to hear from.

I'm leaving the survey open til the end of April because I'm fairly sure that's about how long it will take me to get through the rest of the basic postings and things I want to cover on the job search process. And hey, if there's a slight gap? Trust me, I could use the vacation. And then we'll switch gears to what you think about this all. So that's your deadline to fill it out. 4/30/10.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

that overlooked little document: the reference list

You ready for this?

So again, Arlene the non-statistician really may not be providing good stats here. But the first question I asked was: Should reference lists contain only three names, no more, no less? Here's the answers.

I know, of limited utility. Bad question or rather, bad options for answers. But you can expect that you're probably going to have to come up with three names as references and it's not a bad idea to remember that some people don't want more.

On to who you pick. Sometimes the job will say: must include a supervisor or work references, if they say "professional references" you may have a little more leeway in heading for colleagues in the field than for co-workers. More about who in a moment but first I want to give you a peek at something I found interesting: here's the line-up on whether or not you should be stating the relationship of you and your reference.

Not a single respondent said "don't include this." I have to admit, I hadn't really thought about it. I've rarely done it with my own apps and I've even more rarely seen it done with apps I've read. But now that somebody brought it up, the lightbulb went on for me. This would be very useful indeed. I may just say "names of three references" and it may be that I have to ask them all the same questions, but this can tell me something about the candidate. For starters, if somebody provides more than three names (which is generally all I call) I can choose the names of individuals that I think can best address any concerns I might have for the job or for the candidate. Or if the references include instructors from an aged degree and no work references, I may have to follow up on that.

So on to who you should include. I provided four options as to type and four options as to importance. Type was supervisor, current supervisor, co-worker, and professional colleague. Importance was: must include, can include, doesn't matter, and don't include. Here's how that worked out.

Let's look at some of the specifics. 46% of respondents (nearly half) insist you include a supervisor. But only 14% insist it be a current supervisor. So for those of you who don't want to let your current place of employment know you're looking, you might be off the hook. I will point out though that even though I don't demand applicants include a current supervisor, if it does come down to a tie-breaker between two candidates or if I'm finding that the references provided aren't all that recent, I am going to ask for current supervisors.

I think the more useful numbers here are the "can include" bits which give you some idea of what the recruiters would like to see without coming right out and demanding it.

The other interesting piece is who they don't want to see. 4% don't want you to include professional colleagues and 8% don't want to see co-workers. I'll admit, I'm a little puzzled by that. I'm even more puzzled by the fact that the 4% who didn't want professional colleagues? They were half of the 8% of respondents who didn't want co-workers either. Note that they did insist on supervisors, but not current supervisors. So I'm trying to figure out who is left. 3 previous supervisors? Maybe, but that could result in having to put in supervisors for non-relevant work for those of you in the entry and early level years. Maybe that's okay with them. Or maybe I've just totally left out another category of potential references. College instructors, I guess, and that's the only guess I've been able to come up with in the month and a half since I started looking at this question and trying to suss out what I might have left out. Any other thoughts?

I suppose if all you had were professional colleagues or all you had were co-workers, I might want a better blend of references. But since I don't know where our respondents were going with that (and well aware it may be simply my bad question formatting), I'll leave it alone and hope we get some commentary on the topic.

Oh, and last on the contents of this list of references: 82% of respondents expect that you will provide full contact information for your references: name, address, email, and phone. Some will let you get away with email or phone only but none said don't provide full contact information. I'll let you draw your own conclusions and simply add that I like full contact information because sometimes people don't pick up phones and sometimes emails go astray. If I haven't heard back from a reference that I want to speak with, I need to be able to try alternate means of contact. Even with apparently perfect candidates I'm still a little suspicious and so I do make an effort to follow all possible information routes. If I can't get one of your references to respond I might wonder why, and again, my getting to wondering is not always the best outcome for a candidate.

And since this is getting long (again) I think I'll break here and leave the macro look at references for the next posting.