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 8, 2010

Resume part 6: Good or bad, what makes it so

Here we go. Some repetition from earlier sections, but also some different perspective and phrasing that I find useful. Some of our respondents just said this is good, others just said this is bad, or they just gave descriptions of what you should be aiming for. Part of the problem with many of these is that your success in achieving or avoiding them can be very subjective. I know what I consider a bad read (Tom Clancy and Charles Dickens are usually at the top of that list) but a lot of other readers may assess the quality of your work differently. And to make matters even more unpredictable, it may not be good/bad based on their own internal standards but good/bad based on how you compare to the competition. That, at least, is something you can probably do nothing about unless you happen to be functioning as a proofreader to somebody else applying for the same position in which case you have some moral and ethical choices to make.

And since I've just brought it up, again, proofreaders. They'll be very helpful in assisting you with providing some subjective judgments about how well you've achieved the good/bad thing. By the way, I'm not the only one harping about having proofreaders. Save me the complaining that you don't have time to get it to somebody else before you send it off for the application deadline. The reason that doesn't work with me? I'm one of those procrastinators who does this and I know from my own experience that when I claim that I don't have time to have it proofread, two things are going on. 1) I've not been as efficient as I might be about the whole procedure and 2) I know my docs are full of problems and I just don't want one of my friends to see how badly I can mess things up. Worse yet, from my experience two things are about to happen: 1) I'm not going to get to interview stage and 2) I've just showed how badly I can mess things up to somebody who might have been willing to pay me a lot of money to do a job I'd really like. At least my friends who serve as proofreaders are somewhat duty-bound to forgive me especially if my mistakes don't affect them, potential recruiters have no impetus whatsoever to do so. I've been there, I want to save you the pain of self-inflicted job application injuries.

But enough about my bad example. Let's go on to the bad examples of others.

This is bad:
  • includes too much minutia. Recruiters won't read the whole thing, and will miss the points where the candidate shines
  • too sketchy to know if the applicant actually can do the job we have
  • dates not specific enough to be able to add up time to meet minimum requirements of experience (including whether position was full time or part time and how many hours)
This is good:
  • gives me the sense that you can identify salient accomplishments/responsibilities and communicate them well
  • that you've researched the position and highlighted positions that are relevant
  • easy to read, not too long
  • describes the former positions in a way that makes me want to ask the candidate questions about the job
  • presentation that allows quick understanding and finding of needed skills and experience
  • clarity of presentation; easy to find the most important information like education and professional experience
  • good is organized, clear, easy to pick out connections to qualifications, standard fonts and layouts
  • clearly laid out and easy on the eye - reviewers are looking at mounds of paper. briefly but clearly lay out job duties, with numbers where appropriate, and exceptional achievements
  • clear, organized, and detailed yet succinct. Longer is generally better than too short and therefore missing critical information and relevant skills
  • organization. Find me a job that doesn't ask for organizational skills--here's your chance to shine!
  • Type large enough to be read by middle-aged middle-managers (I have to admit I'm charmed by this one. But I would suggest not heading for the 26 point type.)
  • comprehensive without being too wordy and is always proofread to the hilt (see? It's not just me)
  • well organized, brief/to the point, NO MISTAKES
More generic criteria:
  • how well it is written
  • credentials and experience match position being sought
  • easily readable, sufficient white space to be able to rest eyes, only as long as it needs to be
  • shows how the individual meets the criteria for the job - both minimums & preferred requirements
  • readable/scannable format
  • effectiveness in demonstrating a career and educational path leading to this position
  • I should be able to verify what you are telling me. Give me the necessary information to do so, please (i.e. if you say you're detail-oriented, give us something in your past experience that will prove it)
  • Organization, word choice, positive presentation of individual - what do you know about them from CV/resume
Note all those "clear, clear, clear" requests. I think clear may outnumber the relevant requests here! That's where the subjective can definitely creep in. Hint: Mostly I bribe my proofreaders with homemade chocolate chip cookies. If you're not a baker, I'm sure you can find something else to bribe them with that doesn't cost a fortune. Or you can make vague promises of payment in the future--I've fallen for that one a lot. Thus far I've copy-edited at least one published book, a few masters theses, and a couple of peer-reviewed journal articles and a ton of successful job applications on the strength of friendship and promises of undisclosed payments to be made at an undisclosed date. But I may be distinctly more gullible than your friends, so you can't count on that. And sorry all, I don't do it for anybody who isn't a close friend.

Oh, and an addition to that one about scannable formats. Some automated systems are set up so that the initial choices are made by an automated scanning system checking for specific keywords. These things are pretty sophisticated these days and can cope with a lot, but a few of them are running with old systems that still really only deal well with Times New Roman. Keep it simple. You won't confuse the automated systems and though I do have a certain aesthetic appreciation for interesting fonts, I'm more than happy to see TNR in job application materials. If I were interested in your desktop publishing experience or personal creativity, I'll be listing that in the KSAs.

Finally, the ones who said "this is good and this is bad" because I think the juxtaposition tells you a lot about where the lines are--what you need to do to reach a balance between these competing demands for structure and content.
  • A good cv is concise and descriptive, a bad one is just a list.
  • walks the fine line between too much and not enough information
  • good resume - highlighting especially relevant qualifications and down-playing weaknesses. I noticed quite a few resumes that did not highlight great experiences that would have been an asset in the position so it was difficult to separate out those qualified candidates Bad resumes - too many bells and whistles and not enough substance. A nice font color is not going to get you a job.
  • Good: concise, clear, organized, no weird funky fonts or bizarre layouts. Bad: typos, disorganized, attempts to be "clever," unless the job is one that requires that skill!
  • good is clear, concise, easy to read. A bad resume leaves you with questions. Why is there a gap in employment, why did someone leave a good job for a lesser job
  • Bad: Messy, typos, strange formatting, grammatical errors, lack of uniformity, irrelevant information Good: Resume or CV that is geared towards the position description
Wow! Overwhelmed yet? Two more postings on the application materials themselves--this the references--and we can move on to interviewing.


  1. Any chance you're going to post an example before and after resume when this series is done? I'm willing to submit my entry-level resume to the scrutiny of the world if it means I'll get help editing it! ;)

  2. Thank you for these posts, Arlene. They are truly helping me in my job search [which has, unfortunately, lasted since finishing my degree in May]. While I've thought that my cover letter is great, I get no responses and can't figure out why. This may seem like a simple question, but: How should the cover letter be formatted, design-wise? Should it be in the body of an e-mail or attached and designed to look like a formal business letter? As my grandmother always said, "There are no silly questions, only silly answers," but my frustration over a lack of response to my applications is starting to reach an overwhelming limit.

  3. @Amber: you read my mind. And if I'd had more than 3 minutes to myself these past 2 weeks, I would have already sent out the call. BTP posting on the subject on Tuesday, okay?

    @Sara: if they ask for a cover letter, it needs to be formatted as a formal business letter. That's what they'll be expecting. Ancient, ridiculous, outmoded, call it what you like, if nothing else, formatting it properly will show your attention to detail--and what archives recruiter isn't going to give you some brownie points for that?

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