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Help an archivist out

November 10, 2010

This post was not written by me, but by a colleague who asked that I post on his/her behalf. Since the post describes a hiring situation, my colleague asked that his/her identity be kept anonymous.



“Slow train coming.”


“Reform, Lamar.  Reform.”

–Brother Mouzone, The Wire

Not a lot of shaming in the post, but I think the following story fits in well with what I believe is the spirit of this blog–to make the archives profession a better place to work, one critique at a time.

While I am fortunate to have a relative sense of comfort and satisfaction from my current job, I am always looking for new and interesting professional challenges.  To this end, I once came across a job that looked like it would be worth applying for.  Nearly all of the stated responsibilities I had done (and then some), and the collections I would be working with looked great.  The one aspect of the job description that gave me pause was that it *required* twice the number of years of professional experience than what I have.  Nonetheless, I really thought I could do the job, so I applied anyway.  Within a day the hiring manager responded to set up a phone interview.  Two weeks later, I was scheduling my travel arrangements for an on-site interview.

At the end of the job interview, I withdrew my application for a variety of personal and professional reasons.  When pressed about the latter by the hiring manager, I gave the truth: I didn’t feel the job was going to challenge me enough to give up what I had.  Furthermore, I respectfully offered a comment about that job description: the year requirement was too high for the responsibilities of the position. I advised this person that, given the scope of the position as expressed to me at the on-site interview, this job would be the perfect opportunity to an archivist in an entry-level position looking to move up.  My advice appeared to be well-received, and I found the whole exchange very congenial.  I don’t think I burned any bridges by speaking my mind.

Many of us are fortunate enough not to be looking in desperation for that next job, but we’re still looking.  With the stakes this low, we can do our colleagues a service by suggesting changes to these job descriptions that not only may provide more opportunities for more archivists, but also hopefully will help match the best archivist with the open position.

I’m not advocating that we indiscriminately apply for positions we have no intention of taking just to “school” hiring managers whom we perceive to be misguided.  However, if a job prospect doesn’t pan out the way you hoped, and you have leverage in the situation, this could be a great opportunity for a teaching moment.  If you think a job description places unrealistic or exaggerated requirements on potential job candidates, say so.  If you think an institution’s administrators are not offering a salary range commensurate with the responsibilities of the position, let them know.  Your unemployed,underemployed, underpaid, and dissatisfied colleagues will thank you.  What have we got to lose?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Maureen Callahan permalink*
    November 12, 2010 4:09 pm

    The thing that I really like about this post (again, I didn’t write it, I’m not narcissistically complimenting myself), is that it shows that WE HAVE AGENCY. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to the “OWN YOUR AGENCY” blog.

  2. November 16, 2010 3:43 pm

    This is a great story, and I’m glad you took the initiative to make suggestions to the hiring manager about the nature of the job ad. A lot of hiring authorities don’t necessarily know what an archivist actually does, and are just borrowing requirements from other, similar institutions, or they’re going by the old job description (and an outdated salary), or they’re misguidedly trying to weed out “underqualified” applicants. I have seen a LOT of jobs that seem to be entry level have really lengthy prior experience requirements, and that causes freshly graduated archivists to despair of ever getting a job. I encourage those folks to apply anyway, even if they feel like they don’t have the relevant experience but think they could thrive in the position. I think that the experience requirement is often just tacked on at the end of a long list of stuff a good newbie archivist would be perfectly capable of doing, and it does the employer (and the applicants) a disservice to limit the pool in that way. (As for jobs that require a lot of managerial experience, well, they’re a different beast and may very well require a more seasoned hand.)

    Anyway, back to my original point. The way you handled that situation, anonymous archivist, was not only encouraging good hiring practices but also advocating at a systemic level for the profession. Kudos, and I hope others follow your fine example when it’s appropriate to do so.

    • UnemployedArchivist permalink
      November 16, 2010 11:22 pm

      As one of those entry level archivists, it was making me despair that I would ever been considered. As of yet, I have not been interviewed for many of the jobs I’ve applied for but your advice helps. I will apply to more of them in the future regardless.

      Now if someone could actually give me a coherent idea of whether there is a certain type of cover letter and resume set up that people want for an archivist job, that would be helpful.

      • November 17, 2010 12:00 am

        I really think it depends on the type of organization you’re applying to. An academic job? A CV would mostly likely be appropriate. A business archives or government job? Probably a resume. Definitely make sure that your cover letter covers your previous 2 years’ experience in archives, especially highlighting the parts of those 2 years that focused on things specified in the job ad.

        If you haven’t already done so, go forth to Arlene’s blog, She has a lot of really good advice about cover letters and application materials and such.

        Most of my colleagues just out of grad school in 2009 and 2010 have applied to dozens of jobs before landing them, and unfortunately some are still looking. A professor once gave me a piece of advice that worked for me: I set aside specific hours each day to search for and apply to jobs. That way, I didn’t get completely burned out during my 6 month job hunt, which I know has happened to friends of mine.

        Good luck!

    • UnemployedArchivist permalink
      November 17, 2010 12:53 am

      Thank you so much for the advice! All I’ve been getting are generic rejection letters and no one to turn to for advice that actually knows about the profession here because I went for my postgraduate education in Wales.

      I check for jobs everyday on multiple sites, but I have to be honest that I’ve shied away from ones with high experience requirements. I’m definitely going to be reading the blog you suggested and trying some different tactics in the future.

  3. UnemployedArchivist permalink
    November 16, 2010 11:18 pm

    First, I wanted to thank you for some of the posts I’ve read on this blog. I’m one of those desperate, just out of school archivists with little experience (Well I have two years experience, but that hasn’t exactly helped me get interviews.) that see those jobs and wondering if that’s the best I can expect.

    I’ve been home with my parents since June and as desperate as I am to accept even a part-time job, I can’t exactly move based on a part-time paycheck.

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