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, April 7, 2010

Interview part 10: the public speaking thing

So you're headed off to an interview and when provided with the schedule for the day you're zooming down the list and you spot it. The Presentation. Usually scheduled for anywhere between a half-hour and hour, often with a Q&A time. Sometimes with a clue as to who the audience might be, sometimes not. Sometimes with a clue as to what the topic should be, sometimes not.

I made another giant mistake when doing the survey, I forgot to ask about the whole presentation thing. So I'm going to try and make it of a piece with the comments provided by survey respondents elsewhere.

Presentation wrongs:
  • Don't wing it. Prepare for this thing like you would prepare for a formal paper at a conference. 
  • Don't run over.
  • Don't read your paper. They've said "presentation." That means you need to engage with the audience, eye contact, verbal cues, movement.
Presentation rights:
  • Practice. In front of an audience, if you can get one. Several times. With all of the technology you expect to be using.
  • Time yourself. Get as close as you can to the suggested length. No more than a couple of minutes either way, if you can.
  • Consider the audience. Don't assume it will all be professional archivists unless you've been told that. So you may have to provide translations for jargon terms.
  • Find out what you'll have available when you present. Will you be expected to use a microphone? Will you have a computer and projector to use? Should you bring materials on disc, thumb drive, or other? Will you have net access?
Q&A wrongs:
  • Vague answers. 
  • Diverting questions. I recently listened to a rant on a job candidate who, when asked policy or procedural questions, would answer those with "well you'd know better than I regarding what works best at this particular institution." And stopped with that. You can maybe get away with it once, maybe, but the reason they're asking is because they want to know how you might handle the situation. If you're worried about sounding despotic, you could say "well of course the needs here might not allow this approach, but..."
  • Don't start answering the question before the speaker has finished asking it. (This is my single worst habit in these circumstances. I fight this one all the time. I fail, all the time.)
Q&A rights:
  • Keep smiling, keep the tension and fears inside. If you're shaking like a leaf, hold on to a lectern or clasp your hands.
  • Watch for reactions from other members of the audience.
  • Ask for clarification from the questioner when it will help you frame the answer better.
  • Expect questions that are totally unrelated to the presentation and perhaps even to the job. Some attendees want to know answers to questions that would more typically be asked in a formal interview, which they won't be attending. So if you have prepared for the interview questions well, you should be okay with most of these. As for the totally unrelated, hard to predict those, but take them in stride if you can.
  • If you can work in something you've learned about the institution that very day, bonus points.
So what should you expect? Chances are the presentation theme is going to be along the lines of "Current trends in X" where x=some major component of the position. Or if they leave it up to you, make sure you make it relevant to the position.

Expect inconsistent turnouts. Some places it seems like everybody in the org shows up for the presentation. Other places it may just be the search committee and what looks like a person who has wandered in off the street looking for a quiet place to sleep.

So what's the point of this anyhow? The presentation, I mean. It allows recruiters to assess candidates for public speaking skills. Writing/presenting/research/analysis/synthesis in ways that really can't be done in standard interviews or short meetings. Can write a coherent presentation? Probably can write a coherent FA or response to a research request.

So you have to be sure that when you present, you keep all the possible outcomes in mind. Why they're making you present. What they might want to learn from you under these circumstances.

And what you can learn from these experiences? Tons. How the people in the organization interact. See, they're watching you. Sometimes when they do that, they forget that you're watching them too, and this can be the best time to really observe how these people function together or if they do. It's amazing what I've picked up about internal politics from presentations and Q&A sessions as a candidate. Things that didn't come out in any of the other forums. Sometimes just in who comes in late, leaves early, and how they go about doing that. The questions are often good signposts as to the personality and concerns of the person doing the asking. And if people from inside the organization and outside the department attend, you can sometimes get an excellent view as to the relationship of the department with the larger organization. How supported the department is. How much people understand it.

So that's an initial take on the presentation. Any thoughts?

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