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 3, 2010

Resume part 4: Experienced archivist wanted

What should those experience listings include? What should they look like?

I don't have a huge amount of "write it this way" type of advice but I do have some intriguing little bits that I think you'll like to see. Let's start with the things where survey respondents had a decided preference.

First: never, ever list your previous salaries/pay scales. Not a one of the recruiters wanted to see it. One of them noted "salary is always a mistake!" For the very few times I've seen it in an application, I've noticed that it was substantially less than we were planning to pay which simply gets me wondering if we could get you more cheaply. Okay, so we have union pay scales around here that won't allow me to offer you less than a certain amount, but I could see others without that restriction going for it. Do you really want us thinking that way? (Note: that's a rhetorical question.)

And now on with the strong preferences.

70% want you to define what is volunteer and what was paid. Now, not all. One respondent noted that experience is experience, paid or not. I think what we may be looking at here is an assumption--fair or not--that volunteer experience is not of the same level as paid professional experience. Okay, okay, I can hear all of those of you who have been nearly killing yourself taking on volunteer opportunities so you can build your resume, I do understand that this isn't necessarily fair. (Though it might tell you something about the types of projects some of these recruiters assign to their volunteers...) For some, I suppose it's possible that their own hiring guidelines rank volunteer experience as different from paid. If I'm paying somebody for a job, they have deliverables. If I'm not paying them, I'm less likely to get fussed at non-completed projects. How about this for a compromise: if you do list a volunteer job, do those things that were mentioned in the posting about what to include in a resume: provide quantifiable outcomes like "processed x collections of y cubic feet, here's the URLs for the finding aids". I haven't often see that sort of description on the many resumes from applicants with volunteer experience, so that may be why I sometimes wonder if volunteer posts are equivalent to paid.

Let me switch over quickly to that other kind of experience: part-time. 63% of respondents want to see if that job was full-time or part-time. It's not that they necessarily care, but, let's face it, a year's worth of part-time work is not, nor should it be comparable to a year's worth of full-time work. This matters in two ways: first is in direct comparisons between candidates. If quantity of experience is that important to the recruiter, somebody with the full-time job will get ranked over somebody with a part-time job of the same duration. The second way in which it may matter: at my institution? Technically we're not supposed to hired people in at assistant professor level without two years of full-time experience and internships or pre-degree experience doesn't count. So if you claim you've worked for a place for two years, I do need to know if that was full-time or not because it could affect my ability to hire you if an auditor got to looking.

I think one respondent phrased it nicely: "Full-time paid assumed. Indicate if otherwise."

Keep in mind that though it looks like you may be taking a hit to fessing up to a job being part-time or volunteer, that's not necessarily the case. A lot of recruiters relish seeing volunteer experience on a resume. It tells us that you have such a passion for the profession and for the work that you're willing to keep your hands in even when it may have been easier and more profitable to pick up a job waiting tables. And we get that sometimes this is the only way to accumulate experience. Some of us have had to go this route too. Plus, you've probably forgotten this point already (I don't even recall in which early post I wrote it) but if you're applying for a position appropriate to your level of experience, you're not necessarily going to lose the chance at it to candidates who are over-qualified. Some recruiters are going to be taking a closer look at the super-duper-overqualified candidates and asking some hard questions about why they'd be considering such a step career-wise.

Tied at 66% each (that's 2/3 for those of you who prefer fractions) are the styling comments of wanting bulleted lists and wanting textual descriptions. Yeah, I'm not sure what to do with that either but that's a fault in the question as I wrote it. I think more useful is a direct comparison between the 66% who wanted bulleted lists and the 27% who wanted paragraphs. I think we all like the easy to read organizational style of bulleted lists but since job titles are so rarely effective descriptors, we need some explanation, which means some heavier description. See what you can balance. Shorten what you can, use the bullets as a stylistic mechanism to provide order and arrangement to the structure of your resume. And that may be where the 66% who want textual description come in: whether you use bullets to organize the experience section of your resume or whether you use paragraphs or some sort of combination of the two, you do need to provide detail. I've seen a few resumes where the person did just list job titles and honestly, some of them told me nothing about what the person did. In some cases, I suspected they were even misleading. The short of it was that the candidate may have had some experience relevant to the job requirements, but since they didn't spell it out and I wasn't willing to assume, they didn't get credit for it. Out of the pool.

By the way, 24% said they wanted job titles or similar only. I think I really messed up on the question here but I'm still not certain how the respondents read it, because 3/4 of those people also wanted textual description. Which would seem to be contradictory to me. If one of my survey takers is willing to fill me in on this, will you? The comments button is somewhere around here.

And before I mention some closing comments provided by respondents, I'd like to look at one last preference. Not a big preference, only 44% said they prefer it, but it is something to consider. More than just year spans. It feeds into the same kind of ranking thing that the part-time/full-time thing does above. If you tell me you held the Archivist Sine Qua Non position from 2008-2009, you're essentially telling me you had that job for two full years or near to it. If I find out that you held that job from November 2008 to January 2009, I'm going to regard it as misleading on your part and I'm going to get very very skeptical about a lot of the other details in your resume which is exactly what you don't want me to do. I don't think respondents are looking for exact dates (I'd be in real trouble because I'm certain I don't know those for my own career history) but month would be nice--especially for your shorter term jobs, and by that, I mean 2 years or less. One respondent said 1 year or less. If you've had something for 8 years I'm thinking a month or two in the large scheme of things is probably not going to matter to most of us.

Some last closing comments. One respondent pointed out that style (bullets, paragraphs, whatever) preferences can differ even across a committee. This is a really good point because what it tells me and should remind you is that there's no such thing as the perfect resume. Any given resume will result in different responses, depending on who is reading it. You can try and spend tons of time trying to play the "guess the style they like" game or you can spend your time on making sure you're targeting the content they want and presenting it in a clear fashion, no matter what fashion you choose. I suspect even the people who really really want paragraph descriptions of your experience are going to like your clear, concise, succinct and informative bullet points over a candidate who has provided long paragraphs about how their summer project in rural Alaska really taught them so many things about themselves and how what they really want to do is bring meaning to people's lives and that archives can do that. (Don't smirk too hard, I've obfuscated all the details but I've seen more than a few that follow those content lines.)

One last really helpful comment from one of our respondents. Use specific, clear verbs such as: produced, managed, wrote, published, programmed, taught, etc. I'm still not sure on the past/present tense divide in describing experience--I tend to go with present for any job I still have and past for the ones I don't--but I failed to ask that of our respondents. So if you're reading this and are a recruiter and have a preference (unlike me, who doesn't care one way or another) please tell us in the comments and explain why. Thanks!

Next up, what not to include in your resume. I doubt this will be as fun as the what not to include in your cover letter, but no doubt just as opinionated. Our survey respondents are a great bunch, aren't they? I'm just overwhelmed with how responsive and sharing they were with their opinions. If you're one of those people, thank you, so much!


  1. In defense of part-timers, I have found as a supervisor that many part-timers work harder than full-timers. They mess around a lot less, chit-chat less, because they feel pressure to get more done in the shorter time period. But I doubt people recruiting for jobs consider that.

    I'm guessing you should mention how many hours a week you worked, as well.

  2. So how do you suggest we indicate the job was part-time?

  3. I have a several thoughts reading this post.
    I found the salary history part ironic I just applied to a job which specifically asked for a pay history, it's also not the first time I've seen this. In a previous entry you stressed the importance of including all required items in the application. So I'm assuming a possible exception to never would be only if it's requested by the job.
    I do like what you mentioned about including how much you processed in your experience. I'm going to tweak my resume once more to include an estimate of that. You know now it seems obvious I should have included it from the get go. I guess sometimes the simple things.
    On a personal note I'm currently volunteering at an archives processing the same type of work I did for pay. It's nice that you mentioned some people will like that. It's a shame some institutions will still pass on me just because it's not full time.
    In opinion though, I do think that's a huge problem with the archival profession as a whole. Students graduate with a archive or library degree in a archive track,with internships, with maybe some pre-degree job experience. But we are still asked to volunteer in the career further after graduation when we are going to need to pay back student loans. And as you stated here some institutions want full time work before they hire you anyway. To me this sounds like that the profession wants experienced professionals but don't really want to hire them to provide that experience. The only standardization of professionalism I've seen is the ACA certification exam and even that the profession is divided upon.
    Sorry if the last statement comes off as a bit caustic, it's not my intention and it is by no means a criticism of your institution. Just a fault I'm finding with the profession.
    Thanks again for the pointers going to retweak my resume.

  4. Pearl: if it's required, yes, mention it. I'd assume our survey respondents don't ask for it and hence don't want it. Daria: My experience hasn't borne out the part-timers putting in a higher proportion of work, but you could very well be right. However there's still the HR side: a year of 1/2 time does not equal a year of full time unless the full-timer is totally slacking off and in that case, as a recruiter you're hopefully going to figure that out through different means.

  5. "To me this sounds like that the profession wants experienced professionals but don't really want to hire them to provide that experience." That isn't a criticism of my institution. I hired somebody fresh out of grad school 2 years ago. I deliberately created a job description and hiring process that would allow me to do so. Loads of grant jobs are willing to hire straight out of grad school. People, what we're coming up against here is NOT the lack of employers willing to hire entry level, we're coming up on a lack of employers available to hire the sheer amount of archivists being produced by the schools. But since I have a gargantuan rant on that topic, I'm leaving it now. I'll post it tomorrow or this weekend.

  6. Thanks for the suggestion of describing volunteer experience in the same way (5 collections of 4 feet each, etc) as paid experience! That makes a lot of sense after thinking about it (of course, haha), and I hope that it looks better that way to someone reading my resume.

    I had a question, though. I had a work-study job processing collections while in grad school, starting January '09 -- I worked about 15 hours per week. I graduated in June '09, and was lucky enough to be taken on full time for the summer (35 hours per week), but then they couldn't keep paying me come September 1 because I wasn't a student anymore. Since then, I've been a volunteer, working about 10 hours per week.

    What would you suggest saying about how much time I've worked for them? Part time overall? Half volunteer? Briefly full time? On canned online applications that ask how long you've worked there and your salary (grrr) I tend to put the original work study amount, and then in the job description box I put "unpaid volunteer as of September 2009." Is that a good idea? =\

    Ahh, the joys of volunteering... that place I just mentioned, I feel like I'm doing paraprofessional to professional work. Unfortunately, I'm bad at saying no and now I have FOUR places I'm volunteering per week. I think that's a little ridiculous, and hope to pare away one or two of the places soon.

    Um. Ramble. Anyhow. I haven't commented on the posts in a while, but I really appreciate seeing all these details! It makes me feel better. :D

  7. Hi Jamie! On a previous post I had a suggestion about how to possibly handle jobs that change over time, like this one where you went from work study to full time student worker to volunteer. Take a look at the BTP posting labeled "the serial archivist" and see if that type of a format might work for you in this case. That way you can get full credit for each sector and mention the deliverables separately. I don't know if this would help with the canned apps since I've not done that.

    And I hope you can dump some of those volunteer jobs soon too. 4 is wild! How do you function?

  8. Whoops. I -did- read that... this is the state of my brain! Thanks for the heads up. I'll need to jog my brain to decide if it's better to split up the tasks by employment period or not. I liked your examples, they're useful!

    As for the 4 volunteer jobs -- they're not as scary as they sound, heh. Mondays are 3 hours of "collection development" at a public library (basically shelf reading and assessing the travel collection... pretty mindless). I wanted public library experience, so it's good in that respect. Tuesdays are 3 hours of helping at a historical society, which is a struggle. I feel like I could help them, but they're not open to even basic technology. They have no inventory of any books, items, or archive "collections". I'm trying to give them their first finding aid, but as it's taken over three months to merely order boxes... I feel very frustrated. Wednesdays and Thursdays are my former work study job. I love it there! Saturdays are 3 hours of a tiny local museum helping process postcards (currently). I just started a few weeks ago, and am actually really enjoying helping at a place where someone KNOWS what they want to do and can actually put volunteers to work -drawing- on their strengths. *cough*

    So, it's not too crazy, hours-wise. I'm just spread thin and need to pick an area to focus on. (The up side is that I'm adding to my list of "what I like in a place to work" and "employer red flags". Extremely useful!)

  9. Jamie: on volunteering. I don't want to tell you to dump any of these if you're doing them because you want to do them. If you're doing them because you think they'll get you jobs as a professional archivist? I see two of them I'd lose immediately. But before I paint myself into a corner because I don't have all the facts, I'm curious to see what anybody else thinks. Which of these volunteer things would you advise Jamie to dump? And why? And which would you encourage Jamie to do more of? And why?

  10. I have another one for you Arlene... How do should handle a volunteer job that was forty plus hours a week? I did that for three months and my resume says it was volunteer,but I want them to know that it was full-time.

  11. Um, say so? I think maybe I don't understand the question. Note the statement above from the one respondent who said "full-time paid assumed. Say if otherwise." This is otherwise. Full-time volunteer. If I'm missing it, please let me know--I've been putting in some really long days and am apparently not tracking well!

  12. Apparently my brain isn't working either should of thought of full-time volunteer myself! Thanks!

  13. Wow! So many helpful tips. I too volunteer weekly at a couple of libraries. I've been a volunteer over a year at both of them, but I probably average between 4-7 hours a week, which is not that impressive. I've considered counting the total hours rather than the weekly hours? I can only put 2-3 hours a week for each library and it I don't think it helps my resume out much.

  14. Laurian: Thanks! And note to all of you volunteering: remember, if the hours don't add up to much you can still talk about the deliverables. Processing collections? Handling X amount of reference questions? Writing funded grants? Digitizing or writing metadata for Y amount of docs or photos? If you're not getting something like that out of your volunteering, why are you volunteering? That is--if your main goal for volunteering is to add to your experience list. If not, ignore the previous...