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 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.


  1. I was an interviewee for a position in California, and I live in the midwest. We set up a Skype interview, which was the first that I had ever done. The interviewers were nice enough to test my connection beforehand, so that I wasn't so worried about a technical malfunction. In many ways, it did have advantages over a phone interview (seeing people react to your words, for instance). However, I did notice that there were some computer glitches, which garbled speech or froze the picture on their end, so I would have to ask them to repeat their questions. They never mentioned the same problems on the feed coming from me, so I don't know if that was an issue. Plus, I always had to remember to look at the webcam lens and not the screen, so it didn't look like I was staring off into the middle distance. I think I gave a strong interview, but I can't say whether I would have advanced, because I accepted a different position in Wisconsin a week later.

  2. Thanks Meredith! Glad to know that's working for people out there.

  3. I have also had a Skpe interview. They also tested my connection before the interview. Ths was also since I had not used Skype before. It was a bit strange because there were five interviewers and they would change places in front of the camera to ask questions. I used my office for that, but my boss knew I was looking for a job. At least I got to see the people I would be working with. I have also had interviews that stated that the phone interview would be the only interview.

  4. I apologize for going slightly OT again, but can you interpret the pentagonal (I think that's the right word - LOL) graph/figure you used a little more clearly. I'm gonna go out on a limb here, but I have never stats represented like that before. While I THINK I ALMOST understand it, I must admit, I am slightly mystified as to how to read/interpret it. It does look pretty nifty, just new to me - am I alone in this?

  5. Hi Mary! I love that goofy graph type though I'm not entirely using it right in this sample. You'll typically see it used for score ranges where people are trying to show how certain answers are skewing: in this case I've used it to show how the vast majority of the answers are skewing to a couple of them. With bar charts, each answer is handled separately, so sometimes a grouping of answers isn't as evident as it is with a chart like this. I'm trying to be somewhat select about using this visual since I know it can be confusing because not a lot of people have seen it before (and because I'm not using it entirely correctly) but I will use it occasionally when I want to show how answers are leaning and I think the individual answer numbers aren't quite as forceful as they are when grouped.

  6. And to be more specific, each of those radial arms are the exact number of answers given for that answer. The numbered circles going out from the center are how many people provided that answer. So for example, for the answer of "both phone and in person", between 30 and 35 people answered that.

  7. I have a question not relating to this topic, but on time gaps in resumes. I lost my project position in July 2008. Due to medical problems (which have been resolved), I had to take a year off. I also decided to relocate recently, which also required me to take some time off from the job search. How does this time gap affect my chances of finding employment as an archivist? I have remained active in professional organizations and do volunteer work. I also plan on going to graduate school in the fall. Should I explain the time gap on my cover letter? I believe you wrote in a previous post that I shouldn't, but I have had other people say the opposite.

  8. Megan: did I really say not to address time gaps in a cover letter? Anybody else: is it a time gap if somebody has remained active with volunteer work?

  9. I also plan to go to grad school in the fall and have been volunteering. I hope recruiters wouldn't see it as a gap, I wouldn't. It's really hard to find any job right now, so any experience has to be better than nothing.

  10. In a previous posting, you said that explanations of jobless circumstances in a cover letter is not advised. In previous cover letters, I wrote a short sentence basically saying I have not sought employment due to medical problems (and I clearly state it has been resolved) and my recent relocation. I also stress how I have remained active in the profession through professional development and volunteering.

    I only started volunteering at an archives this past January, because volunteering would affect me getting unemployment benefits (yes....I know that is horrible, but it is true in the state I used to live in). However, at this current time, I feel very professionally active - I am just not getting paid.

  11. Thanks for clarification, Megan. Yes, I did quote one of our survey respondents suggesting this was a bad idea. I'm--personally--torn on this one. On one hand, a nearly two-year gap in employment (even following a term position and during this past recession) does beg for a certain amount of explanation. But on the other hand, if you do explain it, you need to do so very delicately--you don't necessarily want to have it become the focus of a cover letter. Are you seeking a full-time permanent professional position on top of going to grad school in fall? Or just a short term one til grad school starts, or a part time one, or so forth?

  12. Ideally, I would like a full time professional position. However, I am also interested in part time work as well.

    After reading a couple articles about time gaps, I think I am going to write at the very end of my cover that "after my employment at (the name of the employer) ended, I had a medical problem that required my immediate attention. However, the issue has been resolved and I have remained active in the archives community through professional development and volunteer work." It addresses the gap, but is short enough that it isn't the focus of the cover letter.

  13. For the second sentence, how about: "Since its resolution I have remained..." Megan are you going back to grad school for an archives degree or do you have one already?

  14. Thanks again Arlene for your help. I really do appreciate it.

    I already have my MLS with an archives and records management concentration. I am planning on going for my second masters in U.S. History.