Surviving and thriving and getting that professional archives position.

Welcome. If you're here, you're probably wondering how to get some job--maybe the perfect professional archives position or maybe just something you can use as a springboard--and you're seeking advice on how to do that. From searching for advertisements to writing a resume or cover letter to making it through the interview. And hopefully even beyond.

No guarantees, you probably already know a lot of this, but maybe some help from a lot of people who want to make sure that good candidates get good jobs. If you've got better advice? or need further explanation? Please share in the comments.

Monday, 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.

1 comment:

  1. thank you. this has been helpful in preparing for my phone interview tomorrow : )