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 1, 2010

Resume part 3: that was the University of where?

Okay, time to get specific. Since education and experience are the two elements that everybody--or almost everybody anyhow--seem to agree should be included in whatever your application materials might be, let's take a closer look at what our respondents think about how those should be structured, what they should include, that kind of thing. You know, the information you've been hoping I'll provide as I've tortured you with the rest of the blog postings.

And of course, there's no spot-on perfect way that we all agree on. You knew that was coming, didn't you? But let's see if we can get something out of what our respondents provided.

I was going to do education and experience both in one posting. In fact my original intro to this section read: Let's do education first because that's the shortie. But as I started writing it, I realized that this wasn't short at all. I once read a novel's introduction where the author admitted that her characters had taken off on her at some point and she never managed to write the novel she originally intended. I'm beginning to understand how this could happen with surveys... So much for reaching the half-way point, guess we're not there quite yet.

On to the question. Here's what I asked: In the description of the candidate's educational background, do you prefer (check all that apply): degree initials only, full degree name, list of relevant courses, undergraduate degree, undergraduate degree major/minor. And I gave the respondents three options on each: prefer, prefer not, don't care. I also allowed for additional comments.

So first with the master's degree thing. 50% said initials are good, 11% said initials weren't good and 39% didn't care. So let's take a closer look at what they said about providing the full degree name: 30% said yes, spell it out, 20% said no, don't, and 50% said don't care. Not terribly helpful that, is it?

So playing with the numbers. Of the 50% who said they prefer initials, how did they feel about spelling out the whole version?
So what does this tell you? Only a small portion of the people who prefer initials also want full versions of the degree name. Almost half don't. And a good portion either don't care or didn't care enough to answer the other question.

And from the perspective of that 30% who wanted the full degree spelled out, here's how they came down on the side of the initials:
Okay, so I may not be a statistician, but I do know enough about math to realize that the graph I just gave you is of no use whatsoever. It doesn't help. So why did I include it? Because it made me laugh--looks like the international peace symbol to me. Which is vaguely ironic given how opinionated our survey respondents apparently are on this topic and the struggle I'm having trying to find generalized advice with their answers. So let me take a different tack and concentrate on the negative: for those 20% of respondents who distinctly did NOT want you to spell out the full degree names, most did want initials.

So generally? Looks like initials alone are going to be slightly more fine than spelling out the full degree name. Which gets me to wondering what's causing this little disagreement on something you would never expect would be a potential trap for the applicant. (I certainly didn't: in retrospect I'm a little surprised that I even came up with this question since I don't much care one way or another.) Could be because those of us who are doing the screening/ranking process need to confirm that you've got the required degree but don't necessarily give you a weighted score on that? So we want to see it and move on so why waste the space? I suppose that's as good a guess as any until some of the recruiters read this and comment with what they want and why. Now you could read that bit about seeing it and moving on and interpret it to mean that where you got the degree doesn't really matter so you don't need to say it. Bad idea: one commenter noted that a candidate who'd failed to list the degree-granting institution didn't get an interview for that very reason.

Since I'm not getting anywhere fast with that one and am hoping the commenters will take over with help, let's move on to the other elements of the education chunk of your resume. And one more unhelpful chart on whether or not you should include course listings.
Lots of non-conclusions to be drawn from that, isn't there? So I went back and factored in the type of repository represented by the respondent. Sorry, no help there. Well, except that the government archivists either said include the course list or we don't care if you do, none of them said no, don't do it. I got a little more help from the comments section for this question where respondents leaned toward including courses if you're closer to entry-level and one noted that you could put relevant courses in the cover letter too, though given the other responses on what people wanted in a cover letter, I'd say this may not be your best option.

Here's my thoughts on this one. I require an archives-specific masters degree. Sometimes that can be clear with the initials and the college name. Do you have an MAS from UBC? Obviously you have an archives-specific masters degree. (By the way, thanks to our UBC colleagues for creating and continuing to use that degree title. Wish I had it.) But sometimes it isn't that clear. I've seen applicants from a few schools that have an archives track and during the course of events I discover that maybe the candidate only took one or two courses in that track. For me, it's important to know that because that candidate does not have an archives-specific masters degree. S/he has graduate archival education, sure, but not an archives degree. Oh and related to that: I'm not just discriminating against candidates from archives schools who only have one or two archives courses, I'm discriminating against everybody from any school who has only one or two archives courses.

Let me explain: the degree is required by my institution's promotion and tenure criteria. I've gone to a huge amount of effort in my library to get a "terminal archives degree" statement into the criteria--to argue that such a creature even exists. Whether you agree with me on that, this means I really can't even hire you if you don't have it--I'd be breaking our own rules for faculty qualifications. But I also go the extra mile in my ads and emphasize the degree qualifications by mentioning that I expect graduate level archival education. If you see somebody that is that precise and redundant in their requirements listing for your education? You may want to pop the course listing somewhere in there. At least for entry or early-level positions. Or offer a transcript. Because at the ranking stage, the more grad-level archives courses you can demonstrate, the better ranking you'll get.

Until that blissful day when all our schools with an archives track come up with a specific name for the degree you get when you graduate so all of us recruiters are able to tell at a glance, I think we're stuck. In the meantime, when doing the "has degree" check on applications, I generally just factor in several hours of websearching to go off and look at various degree programs to see what I can tell about the degree held by the candidate. Here's a note to all my archival instruction colleagues out there: Shape Up Your Websites. For some of you, it's impossible to tell what courses you offer, how many you offer, what I can reasonably expect that graduate to have taken. That's assuming I can even find a section on what the degree/program is/offers. If you don't do this for your students, do this for the people who are expected to hire them. Come to think of it, that's doing it for your students. Okay? You have been told.

Some other things before I close this section out, since hey, it's been just so useful thus far. This bit is hopefully a little more conclusive. Undergrad. 85% want to see it, 15% don't care. No one said don't show it. As for undergrad major/minor, 75% want to see it, 21% don't care, 4% don't want to see it. So a clear preference there.

And next, what should those experience listings include and what should they look like? Not quite as contradictory as this section, thankfully.


  1. There is a thread going on in the Soceity of America Archivist list-serv the topic is what re-training should one receive from that is moving from the librarian to archival field. Arlene mentioned that if one was expanding their job opportunities archival work might be their best bet. While the archival profession is growing it's doing so slowly. I asked what sort training would be recommended to expand your opportunities. I would like to expand that conversation to this forum.
    Also since this thread I've also researched the online programs from university of Wisconsin along with their archive certificate program they have a digital libraries certificate. Would that be a direction one could look to make themselves more employable? Or prehaps certificates in the creation of websites?

  2. quick clarification: that's "archival work might NOT be their best bet." I asked Pearl to bring this discussion here because I think many of you, if you even read A&A, are pretty much only looking at it for the job ads. I'm going to do a BTP posting by Saturday on my take on that first bit, but I'm not sure how I feel about the rest. I haven't been reading the job ads y'all have lately. Are people advertising for archivists saying anything about digital libraries? Or certification in website creation? I can see how it might help, if those things are indeed mentioned in the job ads, but I don't know if they are! Help?

  3. I've been reading a lot of ads and haven't seen any interest in website creation (too bad, since I have that experience). A lot of ads are looking for familiarity with EAD, DACS, Dublin Core, and digitization -- but only a few of those have been entry-level ones.

    If I were going to take more courses, I would look for online digitization training, because when I got my MLS in 2001 the options available were limited. I'm hoping my years in special collections will preclude needing to do that.

  4. Daria: I asked for web development--I'm pretty sure it was a preferred in my last job ad this last summer. And it did very much work its way into the rankings. For my institution it matters because we're a relatively small shop (3 FTE) and while we do have a very supportive systems department, the day-to-day web upkeep is pretty much on us. Maybe in some of the bigger places that work ends up with a specific web person or with an outside systems dept?