Advice from a Seasoned Archivist, Pt. 3

In this final post in our series from Mark Greene, he addresses some common job hunting woes in a straightforward manner. 

In addition to the poster who was piqued because it seemed entry level positions required experience not offered in internships or practica, during recent discussions on the SNAP list, several members of the roundtable expressed frustration over the present hiring situation:

  • “If organizations are willing to hire non-traditional employees with little or no archival knowledge and then require them to gain that training while on the job, why are organizations not willing to hire graduates of MLIS and/or Archives programs who have the educational knowledge & technical skills while allowing them to gain experience on the job?…”
  • “The new digital world will eventually give young archivists opportunities to use these skills without having to have a background in a given field, but research archives (as opposed to corporate or purely institutional) will probably always seek employees with a background in research or a specialized field.”
  • “Although I hope at sometime in the future to get a job in archives, at this point I doubt if it will happen. I have applied for archival type positions but there is always someone with an inside advantage even if they have less education than you” [emphasis added].
  • “I’ve applied to projects that I literally just did the exact same thing as, talked at length about it in the letter, had a fantastic reference from it – and didn’t even get a rejection back….”

Let me first respond briefly to the specific bulleted statements and then offer some thoughts on the broader context of job hunting exasperation:

  • I know of few repositories who hire applicants without graduate archival education and train them into professional archivists.  That is simply no longer the path into our profession, though it certainly used to be.  And while entry level positions for MLS/archives graduates may not exist in the same quantity as the graduates themselves (an issue beyond my purpose in these posts), entry level positions with no experience required are available.  To take but one example, in the past seven years my repository has hired six entry-level positions, filling all six with MLS grads with a year or less of experience.  Reviewing the jobs posted on the SAA site not long ago there were two positions requiring no experience.
  • I’m not sure where this impression comes from.  At the same time I perused the SAA jobs list there were three positions open for digital specialists, all at research archives.  As a combination research archives and institutional archives, I can say for certain our research side requires e-records expertise just as desperately as the university archives side, and we’re doing our best to acquire it.
  • I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to have even one position filled by an insider with less education, but to even imply that this is “always” or even widely the case is simply incorrect, at least at professionally run repositories.
  • As maddening as it is to not even get an interview for a project you are clearly qualified for, it happens all the time.  Why?  Because there are many individuals equally well qualified—even over qualified—for posted positions.  That’s one reason. Another is that despite an individual’s perfect qualifications, his/her resume or cover letter may stand improvement.  I speak from a great deal of experience reviewing cover letters and resumes for a variety of positions over nearly 25 years.  There are plenty of senior archivists more than willing to give career advice and advice on resumes and cover letters, either as part of an informational interview in your area or as part of SAA’s annual meeting career fair, where experienced hiring managers staff tables specifically to review application materials and give what career advice they can.  I can say from experience that this service is quite underutilized.

My general advice to all potential job candidates, at the beginning or the middle of their careers, is that it never hurts to apply, and that as long as you apply only to jobs you actually would accept you’re better off applying to more rather than to less.  In the wide majority of cases job postings are what they purport to be—no shoe-in internal candidate (particularly not for entry-level positions), no requirements for experience for a first-rung position, and rational explanations why what seems like a slam-dunk to the applicant is much less obvious to the hiring committee.  Stick-to-it-iveness is the watchword here, I believe, as vexing as that may be while student loans begin to come due.

For my part, I’m more than willing to respond to questions or receive comments.  The best way to reach me is through email.  And to those of you currently seeking employment, sincere best wishes and best of luck.

Thanks, Mark! We appreciate this series and your willingness to discuss these issues from the perspective of an experienced archivist. 

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About Lisa H

Lisa is the archivist/librarian at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College. She stumbled into archival work by way of the museum world and is always seeking ways to break down the silos of these professions. Lisa has worked in museums, libraries, and archives in Illinois, New York, and Alaska. While not at work, Lisa spends her free time biking, working on art projects, and putting her useless knowledge to good use on bar trivia teams. You can find her on Twitter @lisahuntsha.

2 thoughts on “Advice from a Seasoned Archivist, Pt. 3

  1. Pingback: Q: How can I get more from my mentor? | SNAP roundtable

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