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.

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]


  1. Under "Archival Intern, Executive Support Facility" what does "Supported in Research" mean?

  2. As above, it seems like you could be more descriptive with your past experience. This doesn't seem tailored to the job you're applying for at all. It seems like you do have the requisite two years' processing experience, so let's focus on that. I would consider condensing unrelated job descriptions to a single line (do you want to devote a whole line to editing an issue of a newsletter? If you think that would be good for this job, you can mention it in your cover). Also, in your Skills section, let's assume every library-type at any age has a mastery of MS Suite and Windows, and list some other competencies here that are, again, more tailored for the job.

    Thanks for posting this, and I wish you luck.

  3. Also, it seems like this job at [music-related institution] is in a place where you've lived for a considerable period of time. Are you utilizing any contacts you have there?

  4. Hmm. A little disappointed more folks haven't responded, since Amber was pretty brave to do this. If you need others to volunteer a resume/cover letter, I'd be happy to.

    Any others willing to chime in here and help Amber out?

  5. You and me both Mark. I'm not so willing to post more unless I see that people are actually going to provide assistance.

  6. Hi Amber,

    I commend you for putting your cover letter and resume up for others to view, comment on and hopefully learn from.

    I agree that your cover letter is not tailored enough to the position description. The job ad does not indicate that you will be responsible for establishing order, policies or precedents but you have those tasks listed as your primary work as a Temporary Archivist. If ‘order’ included any type of appraisal, arrangement, description, or preservation assessment you should say so. The job is not asking for someone with leadership and management skills so mentioning these, especially without providing specific examples of how these skills are directly relevant to the posted position, is not really useful. It does mention supervisory experience. Is that what you meant by management? If so, state it clearly and give a specific, relevant example. Finally, the job description does not indicate that having experience in multiple types of repositories would be of benefit, so rather than mentioning that (which will be obvious from your resume) stay focused on what skills and experience you have that they mentioned would be needed in the job. What experience do you have setting priorities? What experience do you have assessing materials for conservation needs? What experience do you have with EAD? What experience do you have advocating for archives? If not archives, what about advocacy in another role (maybe as an Intern or Co-President with the Feminist Majority?) You indicate you have experience with reference and digitization – say more about this, but do so in a way that is directly related to the position description.

    On to your resume. I’m nitpicky, and the fact that entries do not match catches my eye and causes me to question your attention to detail. For example, in several places you have month year-month year (Febr. 2009-Dec. 2009) but in others you have month-month, year (May-Dec. 2007). Also, the way you list the title and repository in your most recent job does not match the way you have done it for other jobs.

    I'd recommend listing ‘Other’ jobs only when skills or knowledge are directly relevant. Someone else mentioned this, I think, but under Education I wouldn’t list dates other than graduation dates and I wouldn’t list GPA.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with your job search.

  7. I'm going to preface this with I am a MLIS student who has never been hired by an archive... so take what I say with a grain of salt.

    Besides the lack of tailoring and formatting issues already mentioned, I have a couple of additional comments.

    First, verb usage in job description. My understanding of resumes is that the verbs should be as meaningful as possible. In almost every description you have the verb 'assisted,' in some you use it twice. Maybe its my literature background but I feel that not only is that not very descriptive of what responsibilities you actually had (i.e. "assisted patrons with research" Does this mean you directed them to finding aids, explained the organization of a collection, helped them search a catalog, pointed vaguely in the direction of resource... to me the phrase assisted patrons could means a huge variety of things)

    Second, I agree that the leadership/awards section seems unnecessary at this point. If it was directly applicable to a job (i.e. applying to a feminism archive? include those things) I would include it. Otherwise, its all from 4+years ago and essentially means nothing to those outside your undergraduate institution.

    Finally: the skills list. Not only do I agree with above about microsoft office and windows, but I think even your other skills are redundant or unrelated. In your most recent job the first description involves creating DAC records and then you say you have familiarity with DAC standards. Seems unnecessary if you ask me. The rest of them? Irrelevant to the job posting. Maybe something to mention if you get an interview, but there is absolutely no indication that you will be asked to use any of these. While I personally think its is important to know something about web design and databases as an information professional, your 'basic understanding' probably means nothing to an institution that sounds like its large enough to have at least have a dedicated IT person, if not an independent department.

    Overall, it seems like you have a decent amount of experience and could be a strong candidate for the position. I just think that your resume reads more like a CV than the well tailored document we have been hearing so much about in these posts. I think a bit of cutting the fat would make the relevant skills and experience much clearer to the reader(s).

  8. I would add, also, that in the first two major paragraphs of your cover you really don't say anything that isn't in your resume. Rule #1 of cover letters (and in this case the conventional wisdom makes sense) is that your cover letter shouldn't merely be a discursive version of your resume. I get the feeling reading it that you're not telling me anything new until I get to the part about music courses (which is finally something new and obviously tailored to this specific position; do more of this!)