[Ask an Archivist] Q: What questions do employers in this profession usually ask?

Ask an Archivist Question:

I am applying for an archivist job this week. I am trying to do research to prepare myself. What questions do employers in this profession usually ask? Do they dwell on the different systems that use such as XML and markup language? I can use any and all advice in this matter!


Ask an Archivist Answers:

This is likely to vary among institutions, but I would focus on learning about the organization itself and consider how you as a person and professional would fit into the mission and direction of the archival organization itself. Consider bringing a portfolio of examples of work that demonstrates how you have employed various technical skills. We can help someone with documented skills to fit into our technical environment and learn the particulars of “the way we do the things we do”.

More important to us in an interview is whether a candidate has really taken time to find out what our organization is about, what kinds of records we have, what services we provide, and what our institutional direction and values are–and can talk about how he/she would fit into that. Why do you want to work in the type of repository we are (whether it is a university, historical society, government, etc)? Why do you want to work with us in particular? Conversely, why would we want you to work with us? What excites you about what we do? How can you be a positive and productive part of helping us to serve our constituents?

Lots of people have the training and technical framework for doing a job–what sets a candidate apart for me is when they have learned enough about our institution to know that it is a place where he/she can fit in and contribute and it is a positive choice, not just a chance to get some job, any job.

– Kathleen Roe

Here are some sample questions from a long-ago interview:

1. What interests you most about this job?
2. Describe your collection processing experience.
3. What is the most interesting special collections project you have worked on?
4. What experience do you have with creating webpages?
5. What experience do you have working with digital collections?
6. Can you describe your familiarity with cataloging standards, such as MARC/EAD/DACS?
7. Technology background and experience?
8. What experience do you have supervising others?
9. What aspect of supervision do you find most difficult?
10. What classes did you find most interesting in graduate school?
11. What do you consider to be your strengths for this position? Your weaknesses?

– Tanya Zanish-Belcher

In a job interview the potential employer will ask you a variety of questions related to your stated qualifications (from your cover letter and resume), and to the expectations of the job. One question might pertain to your knowledge of systems (the OPAC, the scanner software, or databases) used in that particular job setting.  They will probably ask situational questions too …. Like “what would you do if…” or “tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult patron.”  Also, be prepared for “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

– Gerrianne Schaad

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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.

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