First, let me tell you what networking is not. At least amongst the archivists who have been talking to me. I recently received an email from a jobseeker who explained networking as approaching archival management types, providing a copy of a resume or telling the person about his/her skills, and then following that off with a "if you hear of anything, will you let me know?" I'm told that's what a lot of the job seeking guides advise. I've had people (non-archivists) say it to me, too, as part of their job-seeking advice. I've run it by a few archivists and they're saying "not so much." I'm not saying no, but as the jobseeker in question noted to me, it doesn't seem to be working anyhow.
So let me give you another view of what networking might be. Networking is about building relationships.
But, you might say, if that's networking, why should I bother? It's not a direct line to a job and apparently not even a crooked one.
Fair enough. But consider it anyhow. If you build relationships with co-professionals (or soon-to-be-co-professionals) that network you're building here gains you things you can use in the job search. Co-professionals you can use as references. People who--because they're your friends--might remember that you're searching when they see job ads (and sometimes they'll forward them even when you aren't searching). And when you're writing up your job app materials or your interview answers, wouldn't it be nice to have somebody you can call who may work in a similar type of institution so you can tailor?
The archival colleagues I've talked to about networking suggest this: go to conferences. If you can't afford national, go to local or regional. Attend sessions. Propose sessions. Go to social events. Attend business meetings. Volunteer to serve on committees or task forces. If you don't have any conferences upcoming, figure out alternative ways to meet people in the biz. Like volunteering in repositories.
Okay, I was going to provide a long rant on volunteering but since that was only unhelpful, I won't. I'll just sum it up with this. If you're volunteering as a professional development mechanism, at some point take a look at your volunteer work and honestly assess the value of it to your career. If you're doing it for love of the work, good for you, keep it up. And when it comes time to write up your resume for the job, you'll still need to present it as you would any other job experience if you intend to include it.
If you're new to the profession, don't make the mistake I did and not jump on networking opportunities when you can find them while still in grad school or shortly thereafter, just like that survey respondent said in that last entry in the last posting. Your archives profs? Chances are they know working archivists. In my grad program? We took field trips. We had guest lecturers. Some of the biggest names in the biz showed up in our tiny classrooms or we showed up in their offices because, well, I'm still not entirely clear on that, I think Bert Rhoads may have been blackmailing some of them. (That's not a networking technique I'd advise, by the way.) Do I remember any of their names? More to the point, do any of them remember mine? Nope. I wasted some opportunities there. Perhaps it wouldn't have done me any good in the job search. But I'll never know now, will I?
Let's use me as your cautionary tale. Mine takes a different bent from many of you since I didn't finish my thesis for five years after I'd finished my grad school courses, so I didn't have the M following my name for several years. Which limited my search far more than whatever the second initial might be. But the first year I was in grad school, the SAA conference was in a city two hours away. Did I go? No. The first SAA conference (1998) I attended was a full five years after I finished my coursework and put myself on the job market. The first regional? About the same time. So all those years I was trying to get an entry level job? A professional-level job? I wasn't networking. At all. I was working as an archivist in a local county court system and sure, great experience and I made some good friends, but no professional connects.
And when I finally attended, I hated going to those conferences. I went to the first SAA as a presenter--an add-on to a "lite" session where I was supposed to represent the academic side of things. (Yes, I can hardly believe it either.) I knew enough to know that the other people in my session were "names" but that just made me more nervous. And the next year when I went, I didn't attempt to build on those ties, but did the alone thing again. By this point I knew a few people from my home city so I had an occasional person to talk with, but again, not so much.
It wasn't til the third time I attended a SAA conference that I started to finally get the hang of it. Helped along stupendously by one of those co-presenters from that first one deciding that I needed to be shoved out of the nest. To do so, she volunteered me to run for a steering committee for one of the sections. During the election, as a write-in candidate on the ballot. Without telling me first. And either they were short of candidates or her reputation preceded her, but I was elected. By the fourth time I attended, I was getting involved. This is one thing I learned: serving on volunteer committees? It's a great way to meet people with the social pressure off.
But what you should be asking yourself now is what trajectory would my career have taken if I had taken that leap out of the nest either in or shortly after grad school? Again, I'll never know. I lucked out when I eventually entered the networking fray. Somehow I ended up on a session with Danna (don't ever give Arlene a choice) Bell-Russel and Frank Boles. Not sure that Frank really saw anything there, but something made Danna take me under her wing and start introducing me around. And eventually Frank did too, as did Rand Jimerson, who ended up as one of my connects by virtue of being the one who forced me to finish my thesis so I could be awarded the degree.
What I kept telling myself was that it was all financial. I couldn't afford to go to national conferences. When the degree was done, I managed to get a position with the Utah State Archives and they at least were able to help defray some of the travel costs. So a bit of luck there. Not all employers can do that. But money shouldn't have been quite the issue with the regional ones. So what held me back? Not sure. Fear maybe a little, finances a little. Does it matter? Not really other than to lead me into saying this: don't let this be you. Don't rely on serendipity to get you places. It's not all that reliable. And it's really not very fast, either.
Did any of that eventual network get me my job now? Well, probably not, or not directly. Rand did serve as one of my external reviewers when I went up for tenure two years ago. (Thanks, Rand). But because of the efforts of those people, because of the relationships I developed--and continue to develop--with them, I became a better archivist. For me, that's the most important potential of networking. Better-read, better-rounded, better able to figure out the needs of an academic repository within a university library when almost all of my experience had taken place within government archives. My presentation for my original interview here for the reference archivist position in '02? I re-used the paper I'd delivered at SAA the month before. A paper I'd delivered because Danna once again had called me up and said she was putting a session together and I'd better start writing. It was the single most organized and polished interview presentation I've ever delivered. Even if I did start out with a slide of my dog.
But I'm getting off track again, you've probably noticed I do that a lot. What I'll close with is this: even though I can't draw the direct lines between the networks I've built with archival colleagues and any job I've been offered, I still know those lines are there. Even if they're only in my psyche? That's okay. If it settles my nerves, gives me the impetus to spend the time it takes to apply for positions and prepare for interviews and then to sit in interviews thinking "I can do this", I'll go with a perceived effect any day. And even if you don't end up with a Danna in your life who decides to mentor (or shove) you in a non-official capacity, you might just end up with a support network of friends who are dealing with all the same job-hunting and career development issues at the same time as you are. And that's invaluable too. Just do it faster than I did, okay?