Surviving and thriving and getting that professional archives position.

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

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

Friday, 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?


  1. Federal's New Hires forum recently had a thread about interview questions, including "what are your weaknesses?" Not directly related to archives jobs but some responses were very useful.

  2. Whew! Glad these were posted today, and I'm glad the next ones will be Monday! Just under the wire -- I actually have my very first interview on Monday afternoon. I'm doing a bunch of research this weekend, and thankfully these questions helped jump-start my brain on where to start looking. Thanks!