This post is part of our “Transitions” Series, which highlights the experiences of recent graduates and early career archivists. If you are an early career archivist (0-5 years in the field) who would like to participate in this series, please contact us.
Guest author Stephanie Bennett
When I was approached to write about the transition from student to new professional, my first thought was “which transition?” In the not-quite three years since I graduated from Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, I have held three positions. That sounds more traumatic than the experiences have been, but at the same time – whew, y’all, I’m a little tired (of packing boxes).
A little bit of background on my transitions: when I graduated from Simmons, I was not ready to let go of Boston yet; still so many cannoli much to explore. I took a one-year position as an archives assistant at Boston College, processing personal manuscript and institutional collections related to Boston. As that position was ending, I took another project position – this time, as a two-year project archivist at Iowa State University. I was not on a specific project, per se, but helping to staff the department. It was a great opportunity to stretch my legs with tasks beyond processing. After nearly a year and a half in Ames, I accepted a full-time permanent position as Collections Archivist of Wake Forest University Special Collections and Archives.
I am not known for irrepressible optimism, but I do believe in learning from the opportunities that I am given. In the three job searches that I conducted and the jobs that I held, I learned about so many facets of the job hunt: for example, how to handle all-day interviews mentally, emotionally, and nutritionally; how to approach salary/position conversations that are hard and awkward (for me, anyway!); and the types of institutions, teams, and positions that I could succeed with. I am by no means an expert in any of these skills, but thanks to my searches and the work that I accomplished in my positions, I know more and now trust myself to figure out any situations that will come up in the future. I also have lists of job wants, job deal-breakers, and areas of personal development now that can inform future career moves, in concert with mentor advice and whatever life brings.
In addition to knowing more about my “career self,” I know a lot about – I’m not sure how to phrase this, but something like – being an adult, living life in sometimes-uncomfortable experiences, establishing living conditions that are palatable to me, or some combination of the above. My moves to Boston, and Iowa, and now NC were tough in their own ways. Like Steven, I needed time to adjust to my new locales (except in my case it takes a year to feel at home). In the meantime, I know how to find fun on my own and seek out new friends, even if I don’t always want to. Having lived in different types of housing situations, I know more about what I’ll look for in a home to purchase one day. Having criss-crossed a bit of the U.S., I know there are a million cool road trip destinations that I haven’t seen yet. I know how to keep myself entertained and I’ve learned how to befriend both Midwesterners and New Englanders.
The most comforting thing through all these transitions has been knowing that, even when I cannot see my next step coming, I know that is it coming. I’m not so naïve that I believe that every cat lands on her feet, but in my career hops, my life and career choices have built up into each subsequent role. These choices could have landed me somewhere else; in a Sliding Doors world, I’m a writing coach and researcher for Oprah. But for now, my choices and experiences have prepared me for my current role, and my current role is preparing me for what comes next. It is really really hard to believe this on the hard days, when job applications furnish zero responses. On those days, I recommend that you call your best friend so she can remind you that you are awesome, you have been working hard, and your next (proverbial or actual) move is coming even if it’s farther off than you’d like it to be.
I can’t say that my archivist certification (CA) did not help me earn my most recent position. I can’t say that it did. I got my jobs by applying to lots of places where I thought I could get valuable experience; by being willing to move out of my comfort zones; by believing in my abilities and/or listening to people I trusted who believed in my abilities; asking for help and input from people that were successful – including folks that I didn’t know all that well; giving myself breaks when I needed them; and pushing through when there were no alternatives. At some point this summer, I had a number of interviews on my calendar, some of which I figured were not going to work out. Keeping track of all the details was difficult, but I conducted all the interviews, because I learned in Post-Grad Job Hunt #1 that taking myself out of the running for jobs affects me worse than not being asked for a second interview.
I think there are two things that newer professionals, particularly people trying to break into full-time, permanent positions, can do for themselves that will not cost any money:
- Do everything you can to feed yourself positive messages. Loved ones are valuable supports, but also helpful are sticky notes with uplifting messages around your house, coffee mug designs that make you laugh, walks outside on beautiful days, the right YouTube videos. Every amazing person that I know has had moments on the job hunt where everything goes dark. Set yourself up to counteract those days in simple ways.
- We are humans; there will be mistakes. I can guarantee that every job will have its drawbacks slipped into the spoonful of sugar (I hope that there’s sugar). But you’re a smart, capable cookie who made it through school with at least two degrees in hand. It might take some time to adjust and recalibrate, but you overcome mistakes. Also, to live the life you want, you may one day decide to step back from archival work. It hurts me to type that, but we all know people who have made this decision – and lived to tell the tale! They even have rewarding careers in other fields! Trust the skills you have gained, the knowledge you possess, the valuable advice you seek out, the person that you are. Few things comfort me as much as a deep breath, a final decision, and the knowledge that whatever happens, I can handle it. Trust. Yo. Self.
Best of luck to all the transitioning archivists out there! You’ve got this. And if you’re feeling adrift, I am so sorry, but I know that there is a shoreline for you somewhere. Feel free to email me in the meantime.