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 5, 2010

Resume part 5: what not to write

The direct advice from our distinguished panel of survey respondents.

First relevancy. I can see you're oh, so surprised. So why am I being so repetitive? This can't be enforced enough. If it's not relevant to the job ad, don't include it. They don't want to see it and they're making that very, very clear. They don't want to see irrelevant publications, irrelevant courses, irrelevant jobs. This is why you have a master cv/resume from which you are culling materials for when you submit an application. This is also why you have people with a strong interest in furthering your career--even if they don't understand thing one about your career--proof-reading your resume. Occasionally you might include things that to you are very relevant indeed. But that less-informed proofer is your guard against those items that aren't so clearly relevant. You will be asking them to point those out. And when they do, you'll need to do one of two things: remove the entries or clarify the relevance. Either in the cover letter or in the description of the item within the resume. Personally? I love having somebody who I know doesn't really get what I do as a proofer. Because I know when I've written it well enough for them to understand the connect, I've written it well enough for either a computer program or a person visually skimming my app at high speed to pick up the keywords that will get me through the initial requirements screening and potentially through the ranking screening level too. And then if the readers have a little more time to spend with my stuff, it'll still be easy for them to read. Not such a bad goal.

And on we go to the other things said by our panelists.

Under the heading of TMI: Personal information
  • marital status (3 counts)
  • age (2 counts)
  • children (2 counts)
  • ages of children
  • hobbies (9 counts)
  • religious affiliation
  • community affiliations (2 counts)
  • photograph
  • sexual orientation
  • life goals
  • family information
What's up with the hobbies? That's a pretty high rate of people mentioning this or as one respondent said: "Stupid unrelated hobbies, like knitting or kayaking (unless the archive's collection is related to these things, of course)." I didn't think I'd seen that many people mentioning these in resumes--a few, sure--but this kind of response would suggest that either a lot of people are including it (just not on mine) or it really, really irritates the reader. Note, though, that one respondent did clarify that to allow for the inclusion of related hobbies. i.e. if you have some strong photography skills that are related to the position in question, it could be mentioned.

Oh, and by the way you know that isn't me classifying knitting as a stupid hobby because I have a lot of friends and family who knit and as such I know better than to publicly insult individuals who have with them long sturdy skinny pointed objects that could be wielded in an offensive manner against my person. Plus they also make me things like shawls and I'm not about to cut off that pipeline.

And since I'm not in a classifying frame of mind today, let me just share some of the other things they said not to do. In order of appearance.
  • lengthy lists of publications and classes--can make it seem as if your interests are in yourself or in teaching, not in us or our job
  • lengthy descriptions of professional society involvement--can make it appear that you're too outward focused
  • institutional training done for compliance (sexual harassment, diversity) though these can be included if related to the job (i.e. HIPAA training if applying for a position with medical collections)
  • any mention of a religious affiliation unless volunteer experience that directly relates to the position
  • graduation dates
  • every single job (I'll get back to this one in a moment)
  • any reference to non-professional interests
  • listings of undergraduate activities
  • too much experience in things other than what the job requires
  • listings of basic computer programs and software with which you are familiar (again, unless it's been stated in the requirements)
  • slang
  • graphics
  • humor
  • huge blocks of text
Taking a closer look at the "every single job" thing. A lot of the recruiters specified that they didn't want to see your part-time retail jobs listed. I'd amend that with "unless relevant." In our last job search, I required customer service experience. For those applicants who had done archival reference, they could use that to meet the requirement, of course. But many of our applicants did not have that but might have had some jobs over the years whether as waitstaff, counterstaff, or other retail sales. I'm guessing that some of our candidates who were weeded out for not demonstrating this experience in their resumes may indeed have had the experience, but have heard this warning so many times that they automatically left it out in this application. It all gets back to the tailoring to fit the job description and requirements, doesn't it?

There's also a part 2 to that and that's how to deal with gaps in your resume. Sometimes those non-relevant jobs are the missing pieces. So where's the balance? Not sure I've got the answer, but hopefully our respondents can make some suggestions in comments. You could consider summing up the gaps in the experiential listings with a statement in the cover letter.

A few more things. Please don't get creative in naming the sections of your resume for which we have some expectations. Calling the experience section of your resume Experience, or Related Experience, or Professional Experience, or similar is okay. Calling it "Challenges" is not. If I saw that as a section title? Even if I was willing to accept that these were jobs you'd held, I'd be hypothesizing about your success in those positions, and that hypothesis would be that you hadn't met the challenge, or hadn't met it well. Again, you don't want my brain to go there because sometimes it doesn't come back.

And last but not least, a couple of respondents pointed this out and I not only agree, but I've heard it verbally from a lot of other people. Don't put in an objectives statement. As one respondent pointed out, these are either silly or obvious. If you have to submit a cover letter? That's effectively your objectives statement and it gives you the opportunity to say it well. Whether or not you've submitted a cover letter, the fact that you're applying for a specific job (and presumably somewhere on some piece of paper or online form the connect will be made), that fact tells us you're applying for the job. Don't repeat it in the resume. Honestly, if I can't tell from the contents of your resume that your objective is the job I've got on offer, you've got vast problems far beyond anything that can be cured by an objectives statement.

Next posting is the broader look--with a few specifics tossed in--at what our respondents think makes a resume good or bad.


  1. Re "Graduation dates" -- don't they want to know when you got your degree? (Or are you saying to put that and not the actual date?)

    Re "listing of basic computer programs" -- I always figured it can't hurt to say "proficient in HTML and EAD" even if the job posting doesn't mention them. But you think I should take them out?

    Looking at the SAA "good example" resume at

    it has "Computer and internet proficient" under "Skills" (also a few other similarly vague statements, like "Excellent communicator.") Do you advise not bothering with these kinds of phrases? They seem to run contrary to the advice to use solid examples.

  2. I'd, quite frankly, disagree with the good example up on the RM page (sorry RM colleagues) in the matters you present. Vague is bad in a resume. Frankly, even "proficient in HTML and EAD" is vague as a statement. Taken a course in either? Done websites or FAs in a job? Add that to your job description section--you can still sneak these things in if you find them useful. Honestly, that's the problem with those lists of computer skills when provided despite being unasked for--a) irrelevant according to many of our respondents and b) not connected to any proof. But is including the computer skills listing when unrequested a deal breaker for the recruiter? Why am I thinking the answer is no?

    Personally, I don't have a problem with the lists of computer skills being included in a resume but apparently some out there do. Like I've been trying to say throughout--I cannot give you exact advice. Every application is different. Every recruitment is different. Every recruiter wants something slightly different. So hopefully you'll forgive me when I occasionally bow out of the argument--like now--and say, look this is what the respondents say, use your best judgment to make it work for you.

  3. Back again with 2 completely seperate questions...

    1. My friend seems to think that I should not list memberships in professional organizations that are paid-for, such as SAA or AMIA (association of moving image archivists), that I should only list something that is invite-only or something more exclusive.

    2. While I love my current job, I am hoping to be able to move back to where I grew up, where the rest of my family lives, for a wide variety of reasons. Until I find the perfect job, however, I am very happy staying where I am and don't want to trouble the waters by letting my boss know. How do I go about handling this when applying for new jobs; is it OK not to have a Reference section? Should I mention this in my cover letter?

  4. 1. That's a new one on me. Are there invitation-only professional archives groups? And if so, how come I haven't been invited yet? I'm not sure who your friend is, but if you apply for a job with me, even though I don't ask for professional affiliations specifically, ours is a faculty position with service requirements and I want to know you're a member of SAA. But that's me. And I'm still chewing on the by-invite only professional archives group thing.
    2. If they don't ask for references, don't provide. By the way, I'll be getting into references at length on Weds & Fri of this week so I'm hoping you can hold on that answer for a few days.

  5. I have a question about relevant coursework. I fall under the entry level category. I don't have any graduate archival courses to put down as of yet, so I can only go off of my undergraduate history courses. Should I list any of those on my resume? Thanks in advance!

  6. If subject knowledge is asked for and your classes relate, you can list them (judiciously). If you have a history course that has an archival component (not research but practice) then you can list that too. But I'd say that there's enough anti-course listing sentiment out there that you only get to list what you can directly relate to the requireds and the preferreds. From my own perspective--albeit somewhat unrelated because I only hire people with graduate-level archival training--I'd be just as likely to hire somebody with an anthropology or psychology or any other undergrad major as I would a history major, especially if that history degree doesn't come with some sort of archives practice component.