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 10, 2010

that overlooked little document: the reference list

You ready for this?

So again, Arlene the non-statistician really may not be providing good stats here. But the first question I asked was: Should reference lists contain only three names, no more, no less? Here's the answers.

I know, of limited utility. Bad question or rather, bad options for answers. But you can expect that you're probably going to have to come up with three names as references and it's not a bad idea to remember that some people don't want more.

On to who you pick. Sometimes the job will say: must include a supervisor or work references, if they say "professional references" you may have a little more leeway in heading for colleagues in the field than for co-workers. More about who in a moment but first I want to give you a peek at something I found interesting: here's the line-up on whether or not you should be stating the relationship of you and your reference.

Not a single respondent said "don't include this." I have to admit, I hadn't really thought about it. I've rarely done it with my own apps and I've even more rarely seen it done with apps I've read. But now that somebody brought it up, the lightbulb went on for me. This would be very useful indeed. I may just say "names of three references" and it may be that I have to ask them all the same questions, but this can tell me something about the candidate. For starters, if somebody provides more than three names (which is generally all I call) I can choose the names of individuals that I think can best address any concerns I might have for the job or for the candidate. Or if the references include instructors from an aged degree and no work references, I may have to follow up on that.

So on to who you should include. I provided four options as to type and four options as to importance. Type was supervisor, current supervisor, co-worker, and professional colleague. Importance was: must include, can include, doesn't matter, and don't include. Here's how that worked out.

Let's look at some of the specifics. 46% of respondents (nearly half) insist you include a supervisor. But only 14% insist it be a current supervisor. So for those of you who don't want to let your current place of employment know you're looking, you might be off the hook. I will point out though that even though I don't demand applicants include a current supervisor, if it does come down to a tie-breaker between two candidates or if I'm finding that the references provided aren't all that recent, I am going to ask for current supervisors.

I think the more useful numbers here are the "can include" bits which give you some idea of what the recruiters would like to see without coming right out and demanding it.

The other interesting piece is who they don't want to see. 4% don't want you to include professional colleagues and 8% don't want to see co-workers. I'll admit, I'm a little puzzled by that. I'm even more puzzled by the fact that the 4% who didn't want professional colleagues? They were half of the 8% of respondents who didn't want co-workers either. Note that they did insist on supervisors, but not current supervisors. So I'm trying to figure out who is left. 3 previous supervisors? Maybe, but that could result in having to put in supervisors for non-relevant work for those of you in the entry and early level years. Maybe that's okay with them. Or maybe I've just totally left out another category of potential references. College instructors, I guess, and that's the only guess I've been able to come up with in the month and a half since I started looking at this question and trying to suss out what I might have left out. Any other thoughts?

I suppose if all you had were professional colleagues or all you had were co-workers, I might want a better blend of references. But since I don't know where our respondents were going with that (and well aware it may be simply my bad question formatting), I'll leave it alone and hope we get some commentary on the topic.

Oh, and last on the contents of this list of references: 82% of respondents expect that you will provide full contact information for your references: name, address, email, and phone. Some will let you get away with email or phone only but none said don't provide full contact information. I'll let you draw your own conclusions and simply add that I like full contact information because sometimes people don't pick up phones and sometimes emails go astray. If I haven't heard back from a reference that I want to speak with, I need to be able to try alternate means of contact. Even with apparently perfect candidates I'm still a little suspicious and so I do make an effort to follow all possible information routes. If I can't get one of your references to respond I might wonder why, and again, my getting to wondering is not always the best outcome for a candidate.

And since this is getting long (again) I think I'll break here and leave the macro look at references for the next posting.


  1. Ok this is not related to this post, but I wanted people to see this link that ALA posted on Facebook today about a cover letter. I wanted to get some people's opinions on the format.

  2. Anybody? I haven't seen a lot of these but I could see why the initial screening would go quicker. I don't particularly like it but that's mainly because it seems so business-oriented and in my place I'm going to be looking for something that shows off your writing & academic skills, which I don't think this style really highlights. Same reason I don't like bullet point qualifications in the cover letter. But that's my take. I'd love to hear from a recruiter who likes this and why and from a job seeker who has used this and found that it really worked for them.

    I happen to know it works. It gets people interviews. And from my admittedly limited experience, it works really well for under or unqualified candidates who know how to play the game just long enough to get through the initial screens and rankings especially when the qualified candidates are failing to show how well-qualified they are. Which is a strong part of the reason I started this blog in the first place: so the qualified candidates wouldn't get wiped out in the initial screens & ranks by those who weren't as good but knew how to structure their stuff to best effect.

  3. Arlene: If you're asking for references from a candidate, ideally including a current supervisor, but the applicant can't list it because the job search is secret, AND it's the only job the applicant has had, how do you handle that? I've had internships but they were in years past and I fear those supervisors might not really remember me enough that I'd want to list them as a refernece. My current job is the only one I've had straight from graduation, so I don't even have another professional supervisor.

  4. Matt, I need help with this, further explanation, something. I'm having some difficulties with the whole "secret" thing. Shoot me an email and explain please? I'll keep your confidences but I'm not going to be able to help with my current level of confusion.

  5. Hmm, that's a good one Matt... I would be tempted to ask the same thing, except that I'm very lucky in that my current "job" (the former work study one) is now volunteer, and my bosses -want- me to get a job. Hahah.

    On that note -- does it look bad if I have two of my references from the same job? One is my direct boss (archivist), and the other is the cataloger (archivist's boss) who I've done work for as well. I hope that it wouldn't look too bad. As for my other reference, I use my advisor from grad school. I was in a few of her classes, too, which was nice.

    I'm in the same boat as Matt about former internships (will they remember me from a hole in the ground? I hope so!), but luckily my last internship supervisor remembers me and is willing to be my reference for a job at a local university... they require SIX professional references! Ugh. I know they're just trying to cut the pool, but... sigh.

  6. Jamie, I've used 2 people from the same position, and I've interviewed & hired others who have done it. If you're entry level, the recruiters don't expect you'll have a plethora of choices at your fingertips. They'll want solid people who can speak to at least a portion of your professional capabilities.

    I am finding the six thing a trifle amusing. Clearly somebody is trying to cut all the entry levels out of the pool! Or they have FAR too much time on their hands. I barely have time to call 3 per candidate--I can't imagine calling more! Wow. Let's hope somebody who can explain that one better than me chimes in. Because that's another one I don't understand.

  7. Oh good, that makes me feel much better!

  8. Matt: I'm chewing on this one still. I think this might be another btp posting... I'll tell you up front that from my perspective, secret usually isn't.