Advice for The New Archivist: Veterans In The Field Explain How To Survive

Jump me to the good part, where I can see veteran Archivists giving good advice!

Recently I have become concerned about my economic survival.

At age 24, and having finished grad school in the end of December, I took two months off before seriously starting a job search. In this time off I cleared my head from the intense schedule I had gamed in the two  years before. Not only had I taken a full time courseload (something I actually regret now, not due to the difficulty but because it meant less time to get practicum experience) but I also was involved in a number of internships, and it was time for a break. I also wanted to try to establish a revenue stream by other means, namely by starting a new business.

I applied to a few jobs here and there during that time, but mostly just relaxed and tried to reflect on my vocation to be. A bit over two months ago I began a focused search and began to apply to dozens of jobs, mostly informed by the immensely invaluable  I Need a Library Job. The result of the search thus far has been fruitless. Not only did I recently realize that the dozens of federal jobs I had been applying to were being rejected because I was not following an unrequested Federal Resume Format, but I also encountered a complete wall of silence from other private and academic listings I applied to. What came to mind after over a month of this perpetual failure was: I am obviously going up against hundreds of over-qualified applicants per job and I am probably doing something horribly wrong. Perhaps, just as I had made a major misstep in using the wrong resume format for Federal jobs, I was also failing in some other unknown capacity in my application process to other types of listings.

This quest takes a lot out of you and is extremely stressful. The worst part is writing the actual cover letters. If you write a good one, it takes at least a half hour, and many listings have redundant, proprietary application forms which take at least as long to fill out. I applied to all sorts of jobs: librarian positions, archivists, technicians, assistants, analysts, researchers, museum techs, museum curators, directors, writers, copy-editors etc etc while keeping in mind I would really prefer to work with special collections or history. Not hearing back from any of these people, I began to look into teaching English overseas. For those who might be interested, I recommend it: there is an insane abundance of jobs and you will have a job within a week. It’s still my backup plan if my business or library career doesn’t take off.

With my failure in mind, my first student loan payments coming due, seeing my savings dwindle, the threat of being kicked out of my house looming overhead – and in a state of desperation/despondency I decided to email the Society of American Archivists “Archives” listserv for guidance. What follows is that correspondence.

My objective in mailing the listserv was:

  • Be told what I am doing wrong in general
  • Have people look at my resume/cover letters and point out what idiotic things I was probably doing
  • Figure out if my assumption about being vastly outnumbered/outgunned is sound so that I can resolve the feelings of disappointment resulting from lack of response.

I expected *maybe* 2 or 3 people to respond if I was lucky and to get some measured, even pedantic advice. Well that’s not what happened: instead my post went viral, caused a huge amount of drama and resulted in at least 1 newbie like me leaving the listserv after being consumed by the sharks.

Unto the Breach

My first post was:

Hey folks,

Would any experienced archivists, especially those in hiring positions, give me some serious, no nonsense advice on how to get into the field? I have spent the past two months applying to jobs fruitlessly and I am seriously considering “rage quitting” the profession and just moving on elsewhere – either I am incompetent at applying or I am being outclassed/outnumbered by gigantic and unseen pools. The idea of writing another cover letter is insanely unpalatable. I know I can do anything – because I have always had the highest GPA/academic accolades and received the largest praise/pseudo-leadership positions in all of my internships. I just.. don’t know what’s wrong and I am getting really despondent.

What do you get out of this? No idea – you’d have to be a real standup citizen of the world to answer this call.

If interested – please respond to my personal email. Much thanks.
Cheers,
Chris

I made a point not to monitor the listserv because I figured the most specific information would be communicated personally. Then the huge influx of emails began. Incredibly long, incredible valuable discourses on the history of the archival job community, their own experiences in job searching, their career histories, suggestions on what to do and a few offers to look at my resume/cover letters. I was amazed by the length and complexity of the replies, as well as the breadth of topics. One fellow even called me up and we chatted for nearly a half hour.

As time went on I also received a few emails to ignore the hostile and demeaning posts on the list. I was not aware of these posts, as I have my list in digest mode, and as I indicated before, was making an effort to focus on personal correspondence. The valuable emails continued to come, with a few emails scattered about warning me to ignore the list. Out of complete curiosity, I checked it out before going to bed. Apparently while I was exchanging personal correspondence and receiving a wealth of knowledge another newbie on the list was involved in an epic flame war, being attacked by older professionals, as my own post was being declared self-entitled whining, disrespectful posturing and outrageous. Apparently because I had mentioned 2 months the impression was to some that I was somehow expecting a job on a silver platter, and that I acted like a spoiled brat. I responded with a magnanimous email, attempting to humbly explain that these assumptions were mistaken (that any information I provided was under duress, in a state of ignorance, in brief and for context) and thanking the list for the invaluable advice I had received. Sealed it with a nice little saying of Gotama Buddha:

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

The point of this blog post is to chronicle the best advice I received from personal correspondence in the list, as requested by a number of students and recent graduates. I believe it will be very helpful for those entering the field. All the following have been made anonymous and identifying information has been removed. I apologize for the walls of text, but here goes:

Correspondence

1

I sense your frustration and have lived it…and continue to live it. After earning an MLS and MA history with highest honors, coupled with internships and constant volunteering, I spent over 4 years before getting my first and only job offer at a graduate school. The position I took is professional, but the salary hardly covers my basic living expenses; and I graduated with no student debt, no car loan, and no credit card debt. I have been here 5 years, and have had no raise or cost of living adjustments, and the retirement plan was stopped after my first year. There were layoffs and cut backs, and I now spend all my time in public services and not the archives. I am thankful to have a job though.

Due to my disappointment in my current situation, I have applied to 84 positions and have had 12 interviews in the past 5 years. These are positions which I meet or exceed all basic and preferred requirements. Many jobs I never hear back from, not even a thank you for applying. At those interviews, I have been told that I was selected from 100 – 200 applications for one position. I made it through several levels of interviews on several of these positions but never received a job offer. Many institutions have scaled back their work force. Many never replace retiring workers. With 100 – 200 applications for each position, those hiring have their pick from the cream-of-the-crop. Many institutions can and do hire folk who are overqualified for entry-level positions. Many PhDs are being hired, since they are looking for positions because they are not being hired for tenure track academic positions. As academic institutions are hiring more and more adjuncts and never replacing their tenure track professors when they retire; some of these folk are turning to librarianship and archives.

They do not, nor will not, share this stuff with you when you considering an MLS. It is learned in the trenches of job search after graduation. Higher education is nothing more than a business which keeps churning out more and more graduates for $40,000. They do not care about your prospects after graduation; their job is to fill their classes and take your money.Please do not be fooled by those spouting promises of a better tomorrow; tomorrow is now, and the picture is bleak. I have started looking at other career paths, but cannot manage to save money for more education on my meager salary. Its like a catch-22, and not very enjoyable.

Good luck with your search!

2

I completely understand your frustration. I have been in the field now for about 5 years. After graduating with my MS in library science, it took me about 3 months to find my first job. After being in that job for about 2 years, I got married and moved to Delaware where it took nine months of searching to find a job in the field, so believe me, I understand how disheartening the lengthy job search can be.

The best advice I can give you is that you have to continue to be persistent. I’m also not sure about your situation, but being geographically flexible can really come in handy since narrowing yourself to a specific location can really limit you. If you are unable to move to another location, your best shot is to find an institution or two where you would most like to work and begin volunteering. The importance of networking in such a small profession can’t be overlooked. From experience, often opportunities will be posted with internal candidates in mind, so often your best chance is to become one of those inside candidates. I don’t claim to be the expert, but I have landed jobs successfully and done some hiring, I’m happy to look over your resume and a sample cover letter if you like.

3

I just saw your message on the Archives listserv about your difficulty landing an archives job. The job market is really quite bad now. I was unemployed for 2 1/2 years and applied to 40-50 archives jobs, many of which I was interviewed for, so two months of looking is not long even in a good job market but especially in the worst economy in 80 years. You might find Arlene Schmuland’s blog, That Elusive Archives Job, from a couple of year ago helpful: http://elusivearchives.blogspot.com/  It might be useful to have an archivist in a hiring position look at your resume and cover letter to be sure they’re as strong as they can be. If you’re in New York State, you should join MARAC. The regional archival associations provide wonderful networking and learning opportunities.  New England Archivists, for instance, offer a resume review table at its two meetings.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

4

With all due respect, I can’t believe you are making these comments after only 2 months of job searching.  As we are all aware, the economy is not in great shape right now, and libraries and archives do not get priority when it comes to funding…thus make job availability that much more diminished.  But there are jobs out there.  I am a recent graduate and consider myself lucky to have been hired for a full time benefits-earning position about 5 months after completing my MSIS.  (This was after beginning to apply for positions several months before actually graduating.)  Another archivist that started about 5 months before me had been searching over a year (although she had been working 2 part time jobs in the field during her search).

While this may sound bleak, the forecast for archives jobs is looking up and, needless to say, 2 months of fruitless job searching is nothing!  There was actually a fairly recent article regarding  job/salary forecasts for archives positions and it was quite positive – I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to find the link.  While this is not where I have ended up yet, I would definitely recommend getting into digital archives, as this is undoubtedly a growing branch and many positions are looking for this type of knowledge and experience.  I would say don’t give up if it is really what you want to do.  It will require a bit of patience, but the search is not futile. After my first useless masters degree, I am very glad that I went on to get my MSIS and do see it as a practical choice as far as employment goes.  Most people are having a tough time these days, regardless of what field they are in.  The application process is nearly a full time job on its own and can be very frustrating.  However, I strongly believe that if you stick it out something will come through – and once you start gaining professional experience, more doors will open for you.

5

As someone who not so long ago was hunting for a job just out of school it took months to finally land a job. I applied to what seemed like a 100 jobs and then only seemed to get called for very few interviews which I had 2 or 3 before I got my job. Our field is tough because archives are one of the first places including libraries where funding gets cut when the economy sucks. Are you looking out of state? Or just in your area if you are willing to move you have a much higher chance of landing a job. I also recommend, since its where I found a job is looking at corporate archives. Get creative on your job hunt try different companies who may have archives. If you haven’t already have a friend or maybe someone from your past internships look over your resume and cover letter just to make sure you aren’t missing something. You say you did well in your internships perhaps your past supervisor or professors could offer you some advice as well. Also if you can try volunteering or taking part time work. Even if you don’t land an archival job keep trying to build of archival skills. Adapting is a huge skill to have as an archivist. Any ways I wouldn’t give up hope after two months

Good Luck

6

 (I’m responding from the listserv) I can certainly empathize, since I was in the same situation just a few months ago.  Allow me to share just a few pieces of advice.  First, two months is a drop in the bucket in terms of procuring a job after grad school.  In my experience and those of my friends who also recently got MLS degrees it takes an average of 4-6 months to land a job in the field, and that’s for the good students.  If you were close with any of your professors I would keep in touch with them, as they are often good resources for jobs coming from unusual sources.  Second, is there a particular area of archives you are most interested in?  I can tell you that some areas bode better for young archivists entering the field than others.  Electronic records is an area where there is a great need throughout the profession- I never thought I’d end up in that field when I started, but it has offered me a chance to make a mark.  This is one area where recent education in the topic can overcome your general lack of experience, I have found.  Also consider looking into records manager positions- they deal with a lot of the same problems and the two fields are becoming ever-closer.  It may not sound exciting, but it’s a foot in the door.
Finally, and please don’t take this as patronizing, but I can totally understand the frustration and even resentment that can build up after getting so many rejections (especially those automated ones where you don’t even make it past the pre-screening).  That said, you have to try to take the emotion out of it.  Understand that it’s a nasty market to enter in virtually any field, and it may take a while to get where you want to go.  Quitting would just throw away your work.

-Oh, and I presume you have seen http://elusivearchives.blogspot.com/? There’s some really great advice on what sort of resume structure archivists are looking for in general. In summary- don’t over-think it.

Let me know if I can help in any way,

7

From my personal experience, it can take 3 months or more to get an administrative assistant type job, let alone a “professional” position. Don’t give up. If you need an income soon, take some other job while you keep applying for the type of job you want. You may actually learn a few skills which will help you when you obtain and archives job. I started in archival work, stopped to have a child. When I went back to work I found a library assistant job, then after a move a bookkeeping job. After several years I finally made it back to archival work. I’m not suggesting you follow my example, but many of my past jobs have helped me have a better understanding of the archival material and books I work with in special collections. Best wishes finding the job you want.

8

I am not who you were looking for answers from, but I am, like you, a recent grad who is trying to make it in archives. I do expect you’re going to get a lot of advice – many of it pretty standard and also pretty annoyed at the way you phrased this request – in response to your post. Here’s my biggest points for this situation:

  • average job search time right now for recent grads in archives and libraries is about 4-6 months. I’ve been applying since November – which retrospectively was probably too early – and do not have a job acquired yet, but I think I am getting close since I’ve had a few in-person interviews recently. Like you, I’m a high achieving student and have practical experience to draw on.
  • If you’re applying to archives at universities, hiring is notoriously slow in that area, sometimes even taking 6 months from application deadline to hire for a single position.
  • On a related note, many universities have their new fiscal year beginning in July, meaning that more positions will be posted and/or hired between now and then.
  • The applicant pools ARE huge. The search committee at the most recent interview I had, for a one year project position, said they hundreds of applicants.
  • If you have flexibility in where your job location is, use it. Being able to relocate will increase your options immensely.

I’d highly recommend the blog That Elusive Archives Job, which is a few years old now but has the type of information from archivists that do hiring that you’re looking for. I’d also recommend you check out the SNAP (Students and New Archives Professionals) Roundtable listserv, as there are a number of sympathetic folks on there in the same situation as you!

Don’t give up hope at 2 months. It is a difficult and lengthy process. Applying for jobs that you don’t get isn’t necessarily fruitless, either. Every application is an opportunity for you to learn more about the positions that are available and to hone your application skills/process. Be sure to also take care of yourself – taking a break from applying for jobs to do other things is good in the long run and will help to avoid burn-out.

Feel free to be in touch if you’re looking for any other info.

9

I can honestly say I don’t know *anyone* in this field (or any other history related field for that matter) who has gotten a job in two months. This is relatively a small field so there is a good bit of competition. While a high GPA is very nice, landing a job in small field in a bad economy takes persistence, if nothing else.

If you decide you can handle the rejection until you can land an archives job, you may want to think about how to help yourself out in the meantime–are you certified? Do you have time to volunteer somewhere? Is there any skill that you are lacking that you can take a class for in the meantime?

Best of luck in your search!

10

Two months is not a job search; it is beginning to get started with a job search. I’m not suggesting there may not be other problems, but two months alone doesn’t indicate that anything is wrong, odd, or unusual.

11

Dear Chris – [name] is right. You are not being realistic. I checked out your blog and resume, and if I were hiring I would be asking: what archival skills does this person bring to the position? It’s great that you have an MLIS degree from San Jose. That’s a good start. As for archival work experience I see this:

<<Archives Intern Stanford University
Educational Institution; 5001-10,000 employees; Higher Education industry

August 2011 – December 2011 (5 months)

Managing OCR finding aids, converting them to EAD instances, Archivist’s Toolkit, digital object management >>

That’s a good start, but it’s only 5 months at an internship level. Most of your work experience is in the IT field, and would not move you in the direction of archival work. Note the word ARCHIVAL. Yes, you have computer skills, but now you have to apply them in actual archives working with actual collections and with automated tools that actual archives use. You’ve done a little of that at Stanford. You need to do a lot more of it.

I’ve been a professional archivist for 22 years, certified for 20. I’ve applied for many jobs – actually gotten two of them. GPA means nothing -I’ve never seen an employer ask for a specific GPA. Most jobs I’ve applied for have never even asked to see a transcript. Academic accolades and (to use your word) “praise/pseudo leadership” mean little to nothing. My experience is somewhat the opposite of yours – I have an M.A. in history and got into the field when a history M.A. and experience were enough. It is no longer enough – an MLS is now absolutely essential. So now I’m now in the program at San Jose. Why? To stay employable in the field. Unfair, perhaps, but that’s the way it is. You have the library degree – good. Now build on it, with experience that gives you the skills that are required by today’s employers. You have to have *both* the degree and the experience. 5 months of internship experience is okay, but it won’t hold up against people who have much more than that. There are lots of smart, experienced people out there and you’re competing against all of them.

12

It’s tough, and I was in the same boat you are in when I was looking for a job.  It took me about 6 months to get a permanent full time position.   I won my MA in Public History from the [College] and as part of our curriculum we had to do internships.  I was able to work at the State Archives and did an internship at a small university.  After I graduated I was hired for 2 years as the interim University Archivist.  This gave me a lot of experience and put me in the “middle” of the hiring pool.   While I was working at the university and when I was actively looking for full time employment I volunteered at a local Historical Society, this too added to my work experience.  I graduated with my MA in [someone in early 2000] and by Jan of [someone in early 2000] I had a full time permanent job.

Archives, libraries, and museums always need volunteers and it is a great way to get work experience, and it always qualifies as work experience on applications.   If you do volunteer get involved in all that you can.   Once you have established a relationship at an institution ask to help with outreach, reference, processing, appraising, and preservation.  It will give you a lot of experience.  I got involved in a lot at the California State Archives and I left with tons of knowledge and hands on experience.   I also went back to my university and asked one of my professor’s if he needed help grading papers or doing research, I offered to do it for free but he paid me, and I helped him do some research on a book he was writing and lectured in one of his classes.  I put this on my resume and it seemed to impress those reviewing my applications.   I also joined the Society of American Archivists, there is a onetime reduced rate for persons in your situation, and other local and state archival organizations, and historical organizations, it demonstrates that you are interested in your field.

I hate to write, and if you like to write and do it well, look into doing reviews for archival publications or help with the editing/publishing of a local archival publication.   Or if a local group does not have a publication ask to help get one started.

I probably applied for 40-50 positions and about 1/3 called me back for phone or in person interviews. I looked on a lot city, county, university, and corporate websites and applied for archivists or archivist related positions.  I also looked at government jobs too, USAJOBS.gov  If I qualified I applied for it.  I worked hard at it and it paid off.

There is a job for you out there and it will happen, trust me it will.   I think you are a smart and determined person and things will fall in place.  It just takes time.

I wish you the best in your job search,

Good Luck!

13

I’m sure by the time the dust settles on this subject, you will hear from many more folks who are much more experienced than I am. I don’t know what your undergrad degree is in, but mine is History … so is my MA. I happened into a very nice internship at our local government – and was hired perm seven months after my internship ended. My advice is to look into not just archives, but other jobs that have an archival component. The problem is not enough jobs, lots of new graduates, many in the field with years of experience and institutional knowledge, and timing. I really didn’t want to make records management my field of choice, but it ended up that was the job I found. I get to do a lot of really great things in my job besides the grunt work – we have an exhibit case in the courthouse lobby that my student assistant (yes, now it’s “my” student) researches a topic and installs a new exhibit on county history every six months. We do have a small, but important archive and offer our partners (actually county departments) advice and consultation services on a myriad of issues including data storage and preservation as well as being a full service records center.

Networking is key – if you’re not on Linked In, do it now. Hook up with other professionals if you can. Someone mentioned SAA’s mentoring program – which is great IF you get a good mentor. I say this only because at the county I work for we also have a mentoring program. I went through it several years ago and was really disappointed with my mentor, but that doesn’t mean the ones through SAA would disappoint – I know that they try to match well and it IS a great program. You don’t mention any areas of interest … Like I said, my degrees are in History so I applied for, and got, an adjunct position at a local community college. I teach two U.S. History survey classes and love it. I also enjoy genealogy and research, so I try to stay connected in that field as well.

One big problem today is that many agencies are simply struggling financially and either not filling positions, or eliminating them altogether. It’s a very tough job market out there, but do NOT get discouraged. Everyone has to bring in a paycheck, so you might have to work in a job that isn’t necessarily what you hoped for right off. Being employed is a good thing right now. Look at other careers like I did; records management is joined at the hip with archival services, and they say it pays better! Never quit learning and training – if you haven’t already (and the deadline just passed for this year’s exam – but there is always next year) study for and take the Certified Archivist exam. Many agencies are looking for certifications like that now. I know my employer will bump up my pay once I receive that certification – which I hope to in August. Also, I went through some pretty rigorous electronic records management training through AIIM. They offer some very good certificate programs as well.

Bottom line – don’t get discouraged. I know it’s hard not to, but many good people are in the same boat. Surviving comes first, but the dream job is out there. Stay current on trends and training and eventually you will get the job! Best of luck to you in all your endeavors.

14

2 months of applying for archival jobs is not that long. Right after I graduated (2009), I applied to about 30 jobs (over a period of 4 months) before I got even a phone interview. I think it took that many revisions of my cover letter to get it just right. Have you had other archivists or librarians review your cover letters and resume?

My best advice at getting into the field is to be willing to relocate for a job. In this economy, you might have to bounce from one grant-funded position to another until you land a permanent position (I did).

If you are truly serious about this career, don’t “rage quit”. Pick up a job that pays the bills, but make some time for volunteering at a local historical society or museum (easier said than done, I know). When reviewing resumes, it often doesn’t matter if your positions were paid or not, as long as you have experience.

15

I am little surprised at the impatience displayed here.  Back in 1982 when I graduated from library school, I expected to take at least six months to find a position in an academic library.  It was more like 9 months. With the increasing litigiousness of the personnel process, the situation has gotten worse over the years.

When we are looking to fill a faculty librarian/archivist position here, the process can take almost an entire academic year from formation of a search committee in the fall to posting the job announcement later in the fall, giving time for applications to come in in early spring, vetting the applications and checking references, interviewing mid-spring, doing more reference checks if deemed necessary, making a decision, getting permission to offer from the University personnel folks, etc.  If we are lucky, we have a decision by the end of the spring semester.  From the applicants’ point of view, the process will seem to have taken 6 or 7 months.  So do not despair.

Also match your resume to the job qualifications.  It is amazing how many applicants send in letters with resumes that clearly indicate the person is not qualified for the position.  Such applicants make themselves look foolish.  If you are continually not interviewed for positions for which you are clearly qualified, you might consider changing your list of references.  In this day and age, you might also take a look at information that is available about you on the web.

Good luck.

16

I’m replying privately. I am now the director of an [academic library] after working most of my career in archives and special collections. I got my Master’s in [sometime in early 2000s], I’m [mid 30s], and have lived all over the country.

I lurk on this list and usually merrily delete-delete-delete nearly all the messages without reading them. But yours really struck me and I hope that my comments will be helpful.

I do a LOT of hiring – sadly, usually not for my library these days – and just finishing chairing 2 search committees for IT positions at my university, one of which we received 148 applications for. So I’ve seen a lot of cover letters and resumes. If you send me your resume and cover letter, I will be happy to critique them and tell you, in my mind, what employers want and need to see in them. I’d seriously love to do it, so if it would help please send them along to this email address or [someone@something.com].

Some thoughts:

  • Two months is not long to look for a job, unfortunately, in libraries/archives or in most other fields these days. Keep at it, and don’t give up. Echoing what a lot of other people have said – my first job after grad school was a full time position in a library, making $20,000/year salaried. I had two other part-time jobs and it absolutely sucked. But you will move through and out of that quickly if you keep pushing.
  • Sounds like you have done internships and other volunteer gigs. Keep doing that. If you were near [my city] I’d offer you an internship.
  • Be willing to move for the job. Your area code suggests you’re in New York, which is good since there are a lot of jobs there, but there are also a lot of job seekers there. Be willing to move. If you have family nearby and a partner or kids, you are going to have to make some tough decisions. I just can’t tell you how important it is to be willing to move for the gig you want. In this field, in this employment climate, you almost have to be. I moved [all over the place], just in the past 11 years.
  • Don’t expect much from SAA. I’ve been a dues-paying member of SAA for a long time and I don’t think I’ve gotten anything out of it that you couldn’t get yourself by reading some book covers and keeping up on listservs and blogs. It’s good to be able to put on your resume that you are a member, but man, they don’t do much for the field.
  • Do try to get certified as a CA. This is a STUPID thing to have to do. You won’t learn much, and being certified won’t mean that you are a better archivist than anybody else. I got certified in [early 2000s] or so – the test is dumb, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s a bullshit hoop that is worth jumping through, because many employers see it as a sign of dedication. Go get it. It helps. It shouldn’t but it does.
  • Become involved in local archives stuff. New York’s local archives group – NYART – does a lot of events and programs – go to them, drink a glass of wine and schmooze. Get on with NYART or some other local group as not just a member but an officer. Much as I hate networking – I hate even the thought that one has to network, let alone actually DOING it – it is the only way. Knowing people and having them have positive associations with you is important. Get on LinkedIn if you’re not already. Link with me.
  • Look broadly for jobs. Others have mentioned this too. Look at the up-and-coming vendors in the archives field – vendors who do digital preservation, digital asset management and enterprise content management, migration of obsolete media, etc. See if you can work for them and beef up your tech skills. This will be a huge asset when you’re looking for your next job. Records Management is another good field – lots of jobs and money there. If you are determined to work in one kind of archives, or do one type of work, then you will have much more trouble – and definitely need to be willing to move for the gig.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to this listserv. People on this thing spend hours and hours, writing message after message, about what you should do when you find a box of matches in your archival collection (cut the tops off the matches? Just keep the box? Throw it away after scanning it???) Bah. It annoys me. That is not what archives are about. We should be – and job seekers especially should be – looking at the big issues, advocating for them, trying to peer into the future, finding leadership roles and gaps in leadership in the field. You will make yourself distinct and memorable if you do this, and stay out of the weeds.

Hope this helps – and do feel free to send that resume/cover letter if you like.

17

I wanted to give my input to your situation off-list.  Connections are VERY important when you’re looking for an archivist position.  I managed to land my current position because, as it turned out, my mentor at the [University] knows my current supervisor through SAA.   That connection helped A LOT when I applied for the position!  Another instance—I applied for a position at another institution and asked a former supervisor for a letter of recommendation.  As it turned out, he was friends with the current archives supervisor at the institution I was applying to—they had worked together at another college in another state.  (I didn’t get the job but I made it to the final two, largely on the strength of a personal recommendation.)

I would encourage you to approach your former professors or anyone in a supervisory capacity you’ve worked with at an archives—let them know you are applying for a job at Archives “xxxxx” and ask if they happen to know anything about the institution or anyone who works there.  The archives world is very small and insular—I think you will be surprised just who knows who.  But don’t give up in your search.  I had about 20 applications out there before I landed this job.  And I would encourage you to consider a library position—any experience is good, and your chances of moving into an archives position as a current employee at an institution are much better than just applying randomly.

18

Before I graduated with an MLIS I had a job, yet now I feel as if I’m in a similar situation. I have been applying left, right, and center with the hope of moving back to the Midwest. Yet I only get little nibbles and often times none. I wonder if getting my first professional position was just too easy and that it takes more work than I had ever imagined. Like you I have taken this personally.

I have been advised to:

not invest in the positions that I have applied for. I am to look for a good match and I did not get an offer because we did not mesh. NOT because I did something entirely wrong,

make my cover letter as succint as possible yet sell why we would be a good fit emphasizing special qualities I can bring to the institution,

don’t leave anything out of your CV. No one will “be blowing your horn for you”. That really is a quote,

and lastly, I have a friend that was appointed to a government position that we would all dream to have. After 15 years on the job (and being frugal) he was able to retire. He stated that it took a couple of hundred applications to finally find that position. Now in his very early 50’s (he retired about 5 years ago) he continues to work but for enjoyment only. He also accomplished this in a strong economy – It is doable.

If you have any words of wisdom, I would most appreciate them.

19

I would like to be encouraging, yet real.  It’s hard for anyone to find a job right now, and some fields are even more difficult.

Here are some thoughts I have:

I have worked as a curator, librarian, archivist, and records manager.  I have degrees in anthropology, museum studies, and information science with a focus on archives.  I have been working in information and cultural heritage management since [the 80s].  I switched to libraries and archives after finding it too hard to find professional work in a museum.

It takes a long time to get a (professional) job.  I think two months is way too soon to give up even though you may be frustrated.   And sometimes when a person gets his/her first pro job, it is not necessarily the dream job.  For instance, my first professional job (and I am a person with lots of experience even then) was as a children’s librarian and that job offer came 4 months after graduation.  There are many talented, intelligent, experienced people out there searching and few jobs.  Part of it is the economy — fewer jobs being posted, fewer people retiring, fewer people moving around.  Part of it is the nature of this work.

I have been laid off twice in the past 4 years.  And the jobs that I did get, I got through networking.  Does your school offer any career counseling services?  You might want to check them out.  Networking is a big part of getting jobs.  Volunteer, get a part time paraprofessional job, apply for jobs in related fields, get a mentor, go to professional happy hours, serve on professional committees, and use social networking tools to your advance (I got one job through a FB comment saying I was laid off).  Send your resume around and ask for feedback.  (I am happy to look it over.) Asking for people to look it over is a chance for you to improve your resume, but also gets someone to look at your resume and know what skills you have.  Go on informational interviews where you contact a professional and ask to come in and talk to them about the field, their job, etc.  Again, you learn something and you get a chance to sell yourself in case jobs come up.  Looking for a job is a full-time job that requires lots of different strategies.

And before being laid off in 2008 I had been looking for a better job.  I have been looking for a better job for years.  I have applied for over 100 jobs across the country and have had many, many interviews.  I have had several job offers (many of which I turned down) and have worked in some okay positions, but only this week was I offered something good and I’m happy to say that I start on Monday.  However, it is not in special collections, but rather public libraries, and that is disappointing to me.  But I like most things about the situation and it has some potential for career advancement and tolerable salaries.  I am grateful to have it.  That’s the economy we are in.

Also, these jobs do not pay well.  Some people can make a six figure salary, but most do not.  I think starting around $30K-40K is still common.  A friend of mine is a librarian at [University in the south west] where she has worked since the 1970s and she makes around $60,000.  For some people that is not an issue, but for where I am right now, these mediocre salaries are preventing me from achieving some of my life goals and serious hinder my ability to support my family.

Personally, I think anthropology is a great degree if you can combine it with a practical graduate degree like information science, public administration, or MBA.  There are many jobs that would use an anthro degree.  Have you looked at the Society for Applied Anthropology?  Many library and archive jobs require or prefer a second masters, but before you take on any more debt, remember how much you are going to be paid.
Also, anything involving technology or other kinds of management of information are other good options, such as project management, business (systems) management, digital asset management, and records management.  Those are all valid ways of using an info sci degree, if not as cool and interesting as being an archivist.

Some people get lucky.  Keep applying.  Be flexible in the job title and location.  And don’t take it personally when you do not get interviews or offers.  You just never know what will happen, so you have to keep trying.

Again, I want to be encouraging yet real.
Good luck,

20

 I’m sending this message to the entire list since I think my comments may be useful to others, but feel free to email me directly if you’d like.

I hate to say this, but the short of it is that two months is not a long time at all for an archives job search in this day in age.  I’ve conducted two country-wide job searches since I received my degree.  My first-job-after-graduation search in [early 2000s] took about 8 months.  The economy was fine, I had a decent amount of experience in the field (about a year of full time plus 9 months part time at three different repositories), and I was willing to relocate pretty much anywhere and it still took a long, long time to find something.  It was a two-year temporary position in a university archives setting, which later morphed into a tenure-track position.

Fast forward 9 years:  There are a lot more archives programs pumping out a lot more graduates.  The economy still isn’t recovered from the recession.  People are putting off retirement as long as possible.   Vacant positions are not being filled as a cost-cutting measure.   Some experienced individuals who were laid off are willing to take positions for which they are extremely overqualified, making the competition for lower-level jobs even stiffer.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t jobs out there.  In fact, it seems like postings have become more frequent of late.    But, job searching is a slow, arduous, and self-confidence-sapping process regardless of the field one is in.

What I tell the students who’ve worked with me is that if they want to make a career in archives that they need to be willing to relocate.  Further, they are competing against people who have more experience, who went to a better graduate program, and it is up to them to get experience (maybe even get certified by ACA) and build skills to make themselves more marketable.

Some more specific advice
– Meredith Lowe’s Archives Gig is (in my opinion) the best place archives-related job listing site.
– Check out Arlene Schmuland’s That Elusive Archives Job
– Take advantage of as many continuing education opportunities as you can.
– If you can, volunteer to keep up your skills while you job search.
– Get involved in professional associations now while you can get away with paying the student/not-yet-employed rate.
– If you aren’t a member of SNAP, SAA’s Student and New Archivists Roundtable, join it.  It’s new, but the membership is enthusiastic and can commiserate and advise.
– SAA has a mentorship program, as do many of the smaller archival associations (I’m currently involved with one organized by the [a roundtable of archivists in the north east]).
– Get certified. I’ll admit that there is not universal agreement on this, but I figure that it can’t hurt especially considering the fact that some employers require certification.

21

I’m a new graduate and have been (and still am) trying to break into the field too. The main thing I can tell you off the bat is that two months of applications is, sadly, not that much. My first job search straight out of school took five months of applications before I got a one year internship (and I know people who have been searching for much longer). Towards the close of the internship, I sent in dozens (and dozens and dozens) of applications over a seven month period, had second interviews for only two jobs (neither of which I got) before the institution where I was interning as a processing archivist decided they had a temporary (6 month) need for me at their off-site storage facility. Discouraging? Yes. Extremely. When you hypothesize that you’re competing against unseen masses, I think you hit the nail on the head. A recent job I interviewed for had nearly 1000 applicants. It boggles the mind.

My advice might not be worth much (as someone who’s still relatively new in the field), but the two things that stick in my mind from this experience are to gain as much experience as you can and to be persistent. As far as experience- all the feedback I’ve had from employers/potential employers is that they’re impressed by my range of experience- I took a number of internships while still working on my MSIS (one at a national library) and spent as much time as I could spare volunteering at local libraries/museums/archives. The choice of venues was limited as I was living in a smallish city at the time, but I managed, between internships and volunteering, to build a foundation of widely varied and highly practical experiences. As far as persistence goes…I know how incredibly discouraging the job search can be (and how hard it is not to take rejections personally). If you need to, take whatever work you can find, branch out of archives into libraries/knowledge management/prospect research/records management, but don’t “rage quit” your search. Trite as it sounds, Something will work out…eventually.

As far as actually searching- you might already know about them, but some of my favorite resources for jobs/job searching have been I Need a Library Job (for which I also volunteer- find the daily digest at inalj.com or see just a selection of the jobs it contains on Facebook), archivesgig.livejournal.com (posting mainly archives and related jobs), the “That Elusive Archives Job” blog (which is really just a series of articles rather than an ongoing blog- but it’s supremely helpful- http://elusivearchives.blogspot.com/), and individual school or state job listservs or blogs (most library schools have some type of resource for posting jobs). I also love opencoverletters.com- library/archives/km professionals anonymously post the cover letters that got them their current job- It’s a great resource to see what works and what doesn’t.

Know that you’re not alone! That may be cold comfort, but a little patience and a lot of persistence will go a long way. Luckily you’ve also got a lot of other more highly qualified responses in response to your email. Good luck with your search!

22

I spent over a year applying before I ever got anything more than a thanks, but no thanks letter. Don’t give up. Just keep being persistent. It’s painstaking writing cover letter and cover letter, tweaking the resume per job, and so forth. Especially, when you never usually hear anything; it’s as if you are sending them to a black hole.

But, just keep at it. I finally got a phone interview, which led to a position three months later. In total, I was looking for over 18 months before I found a job.

23

To begin, I’d just like to say this I’m just offering you one person’s opinion. You could ask five different people to read these docs and get very different responses, so here my two cents to take for whatever it’s worth. (I’ll also say that a lot of these decisions come down to opinion and subjective points of view, so keep that in mind when reading my comments as well.)

I completely agree with you on a clear concise resume that gets to the point. I have always gone with the rule of a resume not going over 2 pages. As far as the resume goes, one thing that jumps out at me is that your descriptions of jobs are not consistent. For the Credo Reference you just list individual tasks. Then you get down to Yuba College and you use more complete sentence-type fragments. I would strongly urge you to go through and make them all consistent. I have always preferred the Yuba College style where you use good active verbs to describe work experience instead of the simple list under Credo Reference. It is small style consistency things like this that can keep your resume at the top of the pile when up again 100 other candidates. I also understand adding content this way makes it longer, but I think you have enough of a cushion to expand on some things and still stay within 2 pages.

On your letters, the file cover.pdf – the first thing I notice is that your first sentence isn’t a sentence. Who recently saw? If a recruiter is reading through 100+ letters, starting off with a fragment like that might mean they don’t even read any further and chuck you into the no pile (not fair, but certainly the way things happen sometimes). This, like most of my advice, is just personal preference, but I’d avoid using the word nerdy. It gives the letter a less professional vibe to me. I would also definitely never write “I’m sick of writing cover letters.” It shows a poor attitude and will have them wondering why nobody else has wanted to hire you either. I do think your secont paragraph starts out extremely strong with your focus on Web 2.0 technologies etc. and I also like the part in your last paragraph about not simply doing duties, but going above and beyond.

On the file named ChrisKrauseCover.pdf, I would nix talking about how you’re keeping it brief because of all the other letters to sort through. It’s true, but not something that needs to be said as it’s not strengthening your case any. I would also never say in a cover letter “I am not the most experienced.” I would never ever advocate dishonesty in a cover letter, but you should also be using all your space in the cover letter to sell yourself to the company. It’s not a time to talk about your shortcomings. I would also discourage mentioning things like working for a low salary until you earn your chops. In my experience, a discussion of salary in a cover letter is just too premature. I do think the bullet points in the middle are great. They clearly state the experience and are listed in a way that makes them stand out. You might consider changing your resume to mimic this sort of bulleted list as well.

The last letter, ChrisKrauseInterest.pdf, once again the starting with Recently spotted… take the time to write out I recently spotted. Other than that, the first and second paragraphs seem really great and strongly worded. I’d once again shy away from the bluntness of I am a giant nerd. I understand you’re trying to make it more personal and staying honest, but cover letters are supposed to be a more formal type of writing. I’d also remove comments like (no kidding).

Hope this was at least somewhat helpful and I do wish you the best of luck in your search! Persistence pays off!

24

You are right about the debt [I brought up on the list that the main issue is student loan debt and lack of medical insurance] .  I got through a Ph.D. and then did an MLIS with minimal debt.  My wife was also earning a pittance as a university professor in [the south] at the time, so we were not starving.  After I finished my Ph.D., however, I worked for two years in a clerical position in a library, decided I wanted an MLS and had to quit that job in order to go to library school.

Good luck and hang in there; professional jobs take time, especially academic jobs.  On a personal note, even if you are angry, don’t mention it in an interview.  I lost a job at Brown University that way; and I don’t really blame the people who interviewed me.

25

I am sorry that everyone is being so negative.  Being unemployed in this economy is hard.  I consider myself lucky that I graduated with an archives degree during the first tech boom when everyone just wanted to get rich quick working for a tech company.

I recently attended a MARAC conference in which there was a session on people having trouble getting hired, entitled “Hire Power”.  Here is one of the presentations, which might be helpful (or at least let you know that you are not alone).  Best of luck!

http://eatingouryoung.wordpress.com/

26

I was laid off in August 2009 so received unemployment for much of the time that I was out of work.  I don’t know your circumstances so probably don’t have useful advice regarding the challenge of day-to-day financial security (taking a part-time gig, moving far away for a job or some other less-than-desirable solution). I am very sorry to hear what a rough time you are having and wish you good luck in your job search.

27

Well, your request certainly went viral on the A&A list!  A few archivists tend to fall into traps of responding “Well, oh yeah, look what happened to me.”  Some tend to lose sight of humanity.  But these are a tiny minority–vocal they may be–of the list members and archivists, in general.  Frankly, I was put off by the tone of part of your message, but I chalk that up to frustration.  I can still remember my fear of 30 years ago that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job after graduate school.  I don’t know whether what follows will be useful, but you asked for some advice.

First, it is true that you are in a tough market.  The effects of the economic meltdown of 2008-2009 is still being felt in the archival profession–many layoff and few jobs.  Two years ago, I posted a grant-supported job announcement that paid an entry level salary and got 115 applications; the person I hired had 28 years of experience, the most recent three doing exactly what the new job entailed.  I don’t tell you this to further discourage you (although I’m sure I have), but to answer part of your question.  You may not be doing anything wrong in application process, but you are in that “gigantic” pool that you mention.

Second, I know it is hard to have patience.  Your generation isn’t known for patience; neither was mine when I was young.  Many of my colleague forget this.  You probably have debt, you may be worried about health care insurance, and you want to get into your chosen profession.  If you have a passion (I don’t especially like this word) for it, it will eventually happen.

Third, and here is my real advice–and I apologize for taking your time if it is all stuff you know and are doing already:

1) You start with a Catch-22.  Newly graduated archivists need to find entry level jobs to get experience and almost all entry level jobs require experience.  And the ways to get pre-appointment experience are not always satisfactory, at least from an income perspective.  Most hiring managers looking at entry level positions will take seriously student employment, internships, and volunteer work.  I always feel badly suggesting volunteer work, but if you get the right situation, it is a great way to learn, hone skills, and get experience.  It seems that this work is often heavily weighted toward working with photographs.  At least in my experience reviewing resumes, that seems to be the case.  Thus, it does raise two issues:  1) It is important to either broaden your experience as much as possible or 2) figure out exactly what you want to do (visual materials, digital records, preservation, etc) and get as much experience as possible in that area.  Admittedly, neither of these is easy to do; but a focused volunteer experience can be valuable.

2)  Figure out what your short-term (and perhaps intermediate term) career goals are and whether you want to focus your job search strategically to meet those goals.  Do you want to be a generalist?  Do you want to work with institutional archives?  Do you want to work with manuscripts?  Do you want to concentrate on reference?  Do you just want to get a job?  Of course, sometimes your perspective changes.  I worked two part-time jobs immediately after graduate school; one in municipal archives, the other in a school district records management program (this is the “just wanting a job” part).  After a year, I got a job as a manuscripts curator dealing with Jewish records (this is the “exactly what I wanted to do” part).  But it did not pay well and it was in [a city in the midwest].  I did not want to work in government archives, but after three years in [a city in the midwest], I took the project position in [a city on the west coast].  And now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

3)  Having an answer to number two informs your strategy.  What experience do you need and what skills do you need to develop to find a job?  Most entry level jobs are still processing positions.  Getting more experience in processing textual records would be good for your resume.  Work in or familiarity with MPLP seems to be a “must” these days.  As much knowledge about (and any experience with) digital assets and electronic records will be invaluable.

4)  Someone on the List mentioned contacts.  Networking is really valuable.  Several years ago, a young recent graduate asked for an informational interview.  She was bright and personable, but I had no jobs.  But I did keep up with her to a certain extent and followed her work experience.  When a job came up, she applied and the fact that I had some knowledge of her weighed in my decision to hire her.

5)  Hopefully, your graduate instructors or career counselors told you this one.  Always tailor your cover letter to the job, using the same language that is in the job announcement.  I personally do not like cover letters that are more than one page.  To some degree, you can create a template that has basic information and then you fill in the material that needs to be specific to the specific application.  Of course, be sure that you don’t leave any of the old information in a new letter.  I once had someone applying for a job who had the wrong institution in the body of the text.

6)  Make your cover letter and resume look like you are the guy who invented cover letters and resumes.  Non-professional looking application materials don’t get very far with me or most of my colleagues.

7)  Think outside the box in looking for work.  I know perfectly fine archivists who first went to work for Corbis or Amazon doing taxonomy work.  Your graduate skills should be able to buy you a lot if you are willing to do something in the short term that you don’t really want to do in the long term.

8)  Be willing to move anywhere.  I am a native Pacific Northwesterner, but I took a job in [a city in the midwest] a year out of graduate school.  Three years later, I got back to the NW.

Chris, I’ve written more than you probably want to read and it may not have been helpful.  Don’t let a few cranky archivists bother you.  We are generally a pretty decent bunch.

Best of luck,

28

Thanks for the follow up posting.  I didn’t join the pile-on of responses, but I do want to add a few comments of my own.
You are correct that a lot of people who have been in the profession for a while are perhaps unaware of the situation faced by a lot of recent graduates.  Things have changed a great deal from even 20 years ago, let alone 30 or 40.  But I think one of the real problems not discussed in polite company is the failure of faculty to be honest when advising students.  Encouraging students to get degrees in fields that are not likely to lead to employment which pays a living wage is not fun, but it is the honest thing to do.  Unfortunately, too many faculty try to avoid hurting the student’s feelings or enthusiasm for getting an MA or, Heaven help us, a PhD in a field like history or anthropology.  They are rewarding areas of study.  But I wouldn’t dream of encouraging any student to enter such a program unless they have a brutally realistic appreciation for how bad the job market is in those fields BEFORE they head off to grad school, and how much the degree will cost them.
I have had this discussion with students regularly over the past fifteen years.  I have told most of them that I do not encourage anyone to borrow large amounts of money to get an MA or PhD in history, because incurring such a debt is a very poor economic decision.
The archival world is changing fast.  If you don’t do computers and data management, you probably are limiting yourself to a few large archives with large legacy paper collections.  Today’s archivist needs to be savvy on working with electronic data.  Lacking that, no matter how good the subject area MA (anthropology, history, American Studies, etc) won’t be much help, unless you are able to line up an interview with a museum or library in that area of narrow expertise.
Best of luck with your search.  I’m sorry to repeat, be patient, and keep plugging and looking.  Keep doing the volunteer work and the paid project positions.  So far, it’s the only way anyone gets an entry level job these days.

29

I’ve been following that firestorm you sparked over on A&A today, and as someone who has seen many n00bs get smacked down on the list over the years–try not to take it too personally. The advice you’re getting over there is mostly good, but you’re right that many of the archivists don’t really understand how tough it is to break into the field right now. (I had two solid years of library and archives experience when I started applying for professional jobs, and it still took me 1.5 years to land one.)

If you’d be willing to share the private responses you received with the SNAP list, I think our members would appreciate it.

30

From a recent interview we had with an intern… how are you presenting yourself? Are you coming in with the attitude that you are the best freakin’ person they will ever find and they are blasted fools IF they don’t hire you? Our first choice was rather shy, but we thought she would be happier than our #2 with working alone most of the time.

31

And now I want to apologize for all the ungracious things said today.  I can understand why people can have been offended by some of the words you guys chose to use in your emails, but they didn’t bother me.  You were just asking for information from your peers, communicating the best way you could at the moment.  Nothing wrong with that.  Nothing wrong with being frustrated or curious.

I have found that the Archives list is full of petty bickering.  Very odd.  I have never been the recipient of this craziness, but I have witnessed it often enough, which has caused me many times to sign off or at least not pay very much attention to the list.

If you want to be an archivist, a library/info science degree is not always required, but getting to be that way more of the time.  Rarely is a person required to be a Certified Archivist and it’s even rare that it’s a preference.  But still a good thing to aim for.

Museum curator, registrar, and collections manager are jobs you could get with an MA in anthropology if you also get a certificate in museum studies.

To be a librarian, you need a master’s degree in library/info science.

If I had it to do again, I would not go into this field.  Sad to say.  I like the work, but the pay and chance for advancement and other kinds of support (like being able to go to professional conferences and having the tools I need to do my job) are so few and far between.  And other kinds of frustrating decisions from administrators…Well, where I am in my life now makes me regret my choice of career.

That being said, it is rewarding in many ways and I do like the work.

Again, sorry for how my colleagues represented themselves and our field today.  Most of us are not all like that.

Let me know if I can help you.

32

Hey – may I recommend substitute teaching as something to live on while you look? I did it through the half of library school when I didn’t have a full time job (in another field) and then while volunteering to get the right kind of experience (at a historical society where even the director, working full time, was unpaid whenever she couldn’t find a grant to pay herself with – if you’re dead set on working in a field with no money in it, sometimes you get literally no money!)). The first in [a southern city], in the private and parochial school circuit, and the second in [another southern city], in the public school system.

It’s massively flexible work – you take only the assignments you want and work only the days you want – and, especially at the high school level or in specialized classes (music, science, etc.), can really be nothing more than sitting in a room while they watch a film, do homework, or (my best week long assignment) a student teacher runs music class. Many institutions actually have an “archivist”, often a current or retired teacher or school librarian who is the keeper of the institution’s history, and who may be involved in the local professional associations and be able to be an additional reference for you (Archivists of the [southern city] Area has several members who are school archivists, for example).

No, it doesn’t pay exceptionally well, and generally (I believe some larger public school systems may be exceptions) you’re on your own for benefits (I self-insured through Sam’s Club for much less than my eventual job took out of my paycheck in premiums each month – unless you plan on high medical bills, it’s really quite feasible — and if you do plan on high medical bills, may I strongly encourage you to get a government job!). But it pays better than waiting tables many places, and it’s certainly more pleasant and flexible. It also gives you convenient time to volunteer and get your hand in after the school day is done and on weekends, unlike working retail.

Remember, volunteering doesn’t have to be something that takes the place of a paying job – volunteers often have full time jobs and volunteer after work or on weekends, either because they love the institution and want to help out or because they want employment in the field but can’t afford to be unemployed during the job search (are supporting children, etc.).

I speak as the former volunteer coordinator for the [southern city research institution], for what it’s worth!  And we’ve hired several people (2, currently interviewing a third) who volunteered for us, then got paid on contract whenever grants showed up (hint: just about anyone will hire you if you can find your own grant!), and finally got hired full time when positions opened up. Incidentally, there seem to be a lot of traditional archives jobs in the [southern city] area in the past few months… Although that may be just a fluke and once they’re all filled nobody around here will be hiring again… (My facility hired six people at once -out of a staff of eleven! – but then went four years with nobody leaving and just recently hired two more to replace departing staff.)

Hope my (recent – [mid 2000s] library school grad) employment experience helps.

33

>Most of you who started careers in the 80s or 90s didn’t graduate with $50,000+ in debt, and you didn’t have the interest rates we do,

No, I didn’t graduate (M.A. [a university on the west coast] [mid 1980s]) with $50,000 in debt. But I wasn’t debt free either. My student loans (combined grad and undergrad) were around $20,000. The University of [some state] was a lot cheaper back then. You’re not the first and  you’re not the last to deal with student loan debt. No, we didn’t have the same interest rates you’re dealing with. As [someone] noted, ours were often higher.

>and statistically you probably didn’t worry about health insurance or a survival on a daily basis because of the former.

Depends on when you graduate, what the economic climate is at that time (the late 70s was a time of very high inflation; the early 80s was, like now, a time of deep recession), and what kind of job you land right out of school. My first one was a paraprofessional job at [a university on the west coast], and rarely do those pay well. Just try living anywhere on the west side of [a west coast city] on a paraprofessional’s salary. I lived with a roommate, owned no car, and chipped away at my student loans. I did that job  for 3 years and it was the best, most foundational experience I could have had. I will grant you that lower level jobs back then were much more likely to have health benefits than lower level jobs do now. What we did worry about, I assure you, is the same thing you’re worrying about: Am I going to be able to get a job where I can use my degree and my skills (and, yes, keep a roof over my head and pay my bills)?  Some things don’t change.

34

After scrolling through all the various responses to your posting on the listserv (some of them negative), I just want to tell you I understand the job search can be very discouraging. I was lucky enough to get a great job within a few months of graduating with an MA in History and an MLS, but that was right before the economy tanked. I have friends who have been laid off and are still looking for jobs, but I also have some friends who were laid off and found jobs.

I think it’s best to be prepared for lots of rejection, but keep in mind that somewhere down the line, your resume will get to the top of someone’s list. It is incredibly difficult to apply and apply and hear nothing back, or get rejection notices. I received several rejections before getting this job, and I know it’s a bummer. I also turned down two jobs after being interviewed because I knew they weren’t right for me, so don’t feel like you just need to grab anything or you might get into a situation where you hate what you’re doing.

I am one of the least patient people I know, but hindsight has taught me that you need to just keep going and things will work out for you, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is when you do get an in-person or phone interview, let your personality shine. I think that weighs as heavily as your resume and experience. After I was hired at the [a museum], my boss told me that my phone interview was better than any of the in-person interviews because of my personality and enthusiasm. I also think that keeping your foot in the door as a volunteer in a library or archival setting (even if it’s just once a week) will show your commitment to the profession and add to your practical experience.

I hope this helps you in some small way. I wish you the best of luck.

35

You’ve spent two months trying to get a job and are ready to quit? Get a grip.

My name is [a male’s name] and I have 15 years experience in archives and records management. I’ve worked in city government, county government, and a public university. I’ve sent out my resume for over 125 jobs since 2009 and have been a finalist for 2 of those 125 jobs. I was not hired by any of those places. I’m not giving up my focus after THREE YEARS of looking.

You want no-nonsense advice?

1. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Make connections with people of influence in the profession (local or state). Use them as a reference and you are golden. Trust me. Nobody cares about your GPA.

2. You have an MLIS/MLS degree I have my Master’s Degree in Public History. The MLIS/MLS will get you into any library.

3. Hiring for archives jobs are overseen by idiots in departments that know nothing about archives. Those idiots think a certified archivist or a certified records manager can only be hired. That’s not true. Those are programs set up by the SAA and ARMA to get money out of members.

4. Are you a male? This profession, especially libraries, is dominated by women. Women want to hire women.

5. Are you willing to get paid $30,000 to live in New York City, LA, or Chicago? I didn’t think so. Be willing to relocate to ANYWHERE. Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming pay very well. Go to another country for jobs. Saudi Arabia and Qatar will pay well, let you fly home for holidays, give you money for clothes and rent, and in some cases, they will give you $20k to leave your job and return home. I’m not kidding.

36

Well, at least now you have some clues. Among the responses I think there was some good advice. Some people did seem to jump to their own conclusions from very little information. I’m probably the last person to give advice, since after forty years in my profession, I’m still living hand to mouth. But I love what I do. Among the rather varied things that entails, I teach part-time in a masters program in a university history department. It trains people to work in museums and archives. One thing that we are seeing is people coming into the program from a variety of disciplines – archaeology and anthropology, education. We expect some history and we have learned that students who come into the program need some kind of volunteer or paid experience in a museum or historic house. I think the advice you got about volunteering where you want to be was spot on. Also, pay attention to the suggestions that special collections may have a home in some non-traditional settings. Museums often have archives, and several of our students have landed in corporate archives. I hope that you are not too discouraged. In spite of some of the negative posts, I think you will find most people supportive of honest attempts to keep plugging along. Best of luck.

37

My name is [someone]. I have been following the conversation on the SAA Listserv that you started with the title: Career advice for a new and probably clueless graduate. I have found some of the comments and advice helpful and many to be abravise and overly hostile.

I graduated from [a university in the north east] in May of 2011 with an MLS and a concentration in Archives and Digital Libraries. I searched for a job throughout graduate school with no luck and after graduating spent two more months searching. At that time I met an aquaintence who knew someone at an archive and sent me the information that they had an opening. Even though HR knew that I was very overqualified for the position they offered me the part time job, which consisted of monitoring the reading room and making photocopies, and I accepted. I was hopeful that this would give me the oppurtunity to get a full time job at the archive later on as HR said was a possibilty.

Sure enough, thankfully my supervisor saw quality in my work and I was promoted to full time after six months. Even now, at a much lower wage than I expected and with a job title and description that is not what I wanted I am happy working here. And since my supervisor knows that I am overqualified for the position almost from the start she was comfortable giving me work that a full time archivist does here (like reference). Because we both know that I am more than able to do this work even though the archive doesn’t hire people for the job that includes reference in the job description until they have four years experience and I only have a little over a year.

I just wanted to share my story with you and let you know that I think the wait was very worthwhile as I am so happy to work in the archive here and truly enjoy my work.

I also wanted to thank you for starting this conversation and follow up on your offer to share some of the advice that you received off list.

38

Bottom line—keep getting applications out there.  Personally, I wouldn’t mess with the CA until you have some more professional experience under your belt.  Also, some employers may actually pay for you to get the certification so it may be prudent to wait until you are in a position that has you on a career track.

39

My sympathy and empathy to you in your search.  As a recent graduate (2010) who is also carrying a massive amount of debt, I can empathize with your situation.  I am one of the lucky ones who landed a job right out of grad school.  The short version is that my previous employer (a subject based historical society where I continued to volunteer during grad school) had a newly created position for an archival professional and I got the job.  (Altho I had been applying for other jobs and landed an interview or two.)  Most of my suggestions for job hunting will likely echo what others have said.  So, I will chime in with a tangential bit of information.  I applied for jobs all over the country and needed a way to evaluate the salaries and/or a good way to come up with a ‘salary requirement’ portion of an application.

There is a website with information gathered by the National Low Income Housing Coalition called Out of Reach.  This is a side-by-side comparison of wages and rents in every county, metropolitan area, combined non-metropolitan area, and state in the U.S. The report calculates the amount of money a household must earn in order to afford a rental unit in a range of sizes (0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 bedrooms) at the area’s Fair Market Rent.  I found it immensely helpful to determine if I could afford to apply/take a job.  http://nlihc.org/oor/2012

40

I saw your post on the archivist listserv and I thought it would be better if I emailed you directly. You probably got more responses than you bargained for on there! This will probably be a long email and I hope you find some usefulness in it.

I have a BA in history and MLIS from [a university on the east coast], specialized in archives, preservation and records management. Going into my masters program I had four years of experience – most of the people who were in my class did not have any experience. While at [my unviersity], I also had a 15-hour/week job, so I graduated with 5 years of experience doing a variety of tasks at a variety of institutions. I actually went to school with [someone], who replied to your message, and like he said only a few people in our class graduated with a job.

I was one of them. I not only had all of the experience the job was looking for, but I was willing to take the lower salary. I graduated in August 2008 and only applied to three places – two of which I got rejection letters for months later, but the job I truly wanted and the one I got was Archivist at the Historical Society [somewhere in the east coast]. I could commute from my parents house in [a north east state], I loved [a north east town] and my brother actually lived there at the time, I liked historical societies, I was so lucky and it was perfect for my first job. I applied at the end of June/beginning of July. The search was open until July [] and I got a call that very day for a phone interview. I had the in-person later and by August [] I was hired officially. I graduated August [] and start the job in [a north eastern town] on August []. I was hired making $28,500.

I was there for a total of 3 years. About 10 months into being hired, a bunch of changes occurred because of financial problems. I had originally been in a department with a project archivist (funded by IMLS) and a librarian. The project archivist position was not picked up and the librarian was let go, so I became the archivist and research center coordinator. We had various other changes, so I was basically doing a ton more work including gardening, facilities like cleaning the bathrooms (all the staff had to do this stuff), and we all were furloughed which accounted to a 4% paycut.

I started looking for a job when all these changes were beginning because I honestly didn’t know if I would be kept on. Luckily I was, and it was because I could do everything that needed to be done not only running the archives but continuing with the library/research center, and I was cheap to hire.

A lot of things continued to happen which I won’t get in to, but I started to seriously look for a new position around the summer of 2010. I sent out probably 50-100 applications, but honestly I didn’t keep that close of track. I had a hard time because I wasn’t entry-level, I had a ton of experience, but the length of time I had been in the field was less than others going for the same type of positions. I was in a weird limbo-space I guess you could say. I was trying to stay in the [north eastern state] area, but when I started my “serious” applying in 2010 I broadened by scope to basically the entire eastern seaboard. I applied to a larger variety of places and I also applied to jobs that were perhaps “below” my skill level. However being an archivist and working with archives was my main goal.

I had a few interviews during this time. One was for History Associates (that was suggested to you on the listserv) and I was actually offered a job there, but the job was only a bit more than I had been making (I think it was about $33-35K/year) and I would have been commuting which basically would have taken the extra money. The job was also VERY unstable. It was a job to work with other archivists helping this large NPS survey, but basically the funding could have been pulled at any time for any reason. Another job I was brought in for an in-person interview was something for records management at [a university on the east coast]. I had more experience than the University Records Manager. Needless to say I was not offered that job. I had another in-person at a different university that didn’t go anywhere. I had some other phone interviews and that was as far as it went.

Then I came across the job I now have. I am a Project Archivist at [a major university]. It is a 3-year position and I get to do a bunch of different things with archives. I had to move 5 hours away for this job. I also left a fulltime permanent job for a fulltime temporary position. It has the possibility of extension, but who knows if that will go through. This job is definitely “below” what I used to do, but I felt comfortable taking it because for one thing, its [my university] in [a north eastern city] and I am making some amazing collections and working on amazing projects. I also am glad to have years of focused work processing collections as my main job. Three years is a solid time – I had been at the Historical Society in [my old town] for 3 years and that was a good length of time.

While I was lucky at my first position being hired so quickly, this second job search I had been job searching for 2 years, although only 1 year was “serious” searching.

Some advice for you specifically? Get more experience. I looked at your linkedIn, and while you’ve worked at a bunch of different places, it didn’t seem like that big of a variety. Digital things, EAD, creating websites, etc… are all great, as is helping to guide the collections at Dubai Women’s College, but have you ever processed a collection? Have you written a finding aid? Have you cataloged a book? Have you created an exhibit? Have you reshelved books? Maybe that isn’t where you want your career to go, but those tasks are the building blocks of many other positions. If you HAVE done these things, they aren’t apparent on your LinkedIn and maybe they aren’t apparent on your job applications either.

I would be happy to look at your resume or a cover letter example. I am also a mentor in the SAA program. Please let me know if you have questions or want more advice on something I said here.

41

I appreciate your non-defensive stance in your reply to the group; it can be difficult to do when one feels under attack. Hopefully it will open up some eyes to, as you said, ” assuming that the poster is ignorant, not lazy or self-entitled.”

42

The listserv has been viscious; I deleted most of them without opening them.
I was mentoring a young woman looking for a job and I advised her to re-write her resume to answer the job ad.  She had both archival and library experiences and more computer skills than I will ever have.  She needed to tailor her skills to what the job wanted, not just what she had to offer.  That may sound strange, but your resume has to answer point by point what the job ad wants.  That is just to qualify for the next level.
I started out working part-time and I have held two or three part-time jobs at the same time in my decades long career, so I have a clue as to what looking for a job is like and I didn’t like it then and I wouldn’t like it now.  But sometimes you just have to hang on and keep trying.
My best leads were by word of mouth.  The regional archives groups may be your best source of leads for word of mouth contacts.  Rarely I got leads from volunteer work and once a temporary job was created for me.
Good luck.  The economy doesn’t help, I know.

43

It certainly seems like you’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest, I hope that some of the advice you’re getting off the list is a little more productive than some of the posts I’ve read.  I don’t have too much to offer, but several routes I’ve used in the past.  I started out at a museum, in their archives on an NHPRC funded grant; when that grant wound up, I was able to follow up with an IMLS grant and another NHPRC grant for 6 years until I was hired full-time.  I would suggest you find out the award schedule for funding agencies (they all vary) and start looking for jobs then – many archives will be bringing in new staff for these grants and these can lead to full-time jobs – it did for me (twice).  This year I remember seeing a lot of positions around March.  And if you were told about those “hordes of archivists/librarians getting ready to retire…”, they were saying the same thing when I first started in school.  Unfortunately a lot of those jobs get lost due to attrition and more institutions rely on grant funding for staffing – temporary, but still usually 1-2 years duration.

In terms of hiring – I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but at my institution, a university, we have to go through HR for approval every step of the way – from the job description, approval of initial questions, approval of on-site questions, approval of reference check questions, make-up of the search committee, etc. (are you starting to get the picture?).  While we want to move quickly, it is a very long process and unfortunately policy prevents us from reaching out to perspective candidates to let them know where in the process we are.  We have lost candidates because they find jobs faster than the pace at which we move.  Its frustrating on both ends.  But don’t lose hope!  Bite the bullet and send out those cover letters.  Two months is a very short term to be looking for a job in this economy – it took me 5 months my last go around.  And your resume might still be making the rounds at institutions that move like mine – snail’s pace!

In terms of volunteering – I’ve done it and had good and bad experiences.  If you can find a position that will teach you new skills, is at an institution you want to work at, or will offer good networking contacts – go for it!  Also, you may want to consider joining a professional association or two – if you haven’t already.  Most have reduced rates for unemployed members.  Find one that offers mentors – these can be a real boon, from helping make contacts, but even acting as a coach for interviews, etc.  I found the regional associations to be more open to this, and surprisingly, I had the most help from the Special Libraries Association in my area.  And regional conferences are usually more affordable than national conferences, and most offer job boards and resume help.

I hope this offers a little bit of help, good luck.

44

I just wanted to let you know that it takes about 3-6 months to find a job, in most fields not just the archival field.   Also, being willing to relocate increases your chances of finding a job.  I moved from [midwestern to western state] for a job.  So, try to keep all of your options open.  Keep at it and you will soon find a position.

45

Hi, Chris. I have stopped responding directly to the A & A list for various reasons, although I do read it in digest form, and just now saw the “conversation” your post triggered.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, mostly because I have some very unhappy friends with the same dwindling bank account you mention. I’m not in the same boat as I never took out student loans for my MLS ([mid 2000s]). Instead, I plugged away at that degree for years while working full-time, and, in various semesters, working multiple jobs, and depleting a savings account I accumulated working a decent job that I just never was able to establish an intellectual commitment to. With the exception of two months after being pink-slipped in [a few years ago], I’ve never been out of work.

As mentioned in several posts, networking is important, but one has to go about it the right way. A lot of newly minted archivists can be kind of aggressive in their very clear and present desperation. When I’m at a conference or a professional gathering, I want to talk with people as my peer, not as someone who has something to gain from our exchange and I get nothing in return. So, yeah, network, but also be genuine and share your interests and your passions. I know. Easier said than done.

Also, I hear a lot people giving the old “volunteer” advice. Although I did volunteer before I started my graduate degree, I was able to do so because I had a financial cushion. If you’ve got debt and need to eat, you shouldn’t be volunteering between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. Plus, it totally undermines what paid professionals do. How about starting out as a freelance professional researcher, or working for a law office (I know, dull, but it pays the bills)? That’s what I did. My clients referred me and it kept me going until I got my first real archives gig in [mid 2000s]– not even advertised. I sold my skills by explaining that because I was working toward an archives/library degree, I had the “inside track” on how to find information and historical records quickly and expertly, and I was able to interpret them. The library thing has also paid off pretty well — I am occasionally called upon to provide library-related advice.

I recommend looking for opportunities that contribute toward a demonstrable “portfolio” of sorts [I actually have one]. Book reviewing for a local archives journal, serving on a professional committee, helping plan a conference, etc. These are productive networking opportunities- — there are also unproductive networking opportunities — and you can do them in addition to working at whatever job you have to hold down to pay your bills. As a former committee chair for a local archives group, I would have been so grateful for the assistance of someone in your position to basically go out and create programming content for me by cold-calling archivists, repositories, etc., and asking about possibilities for collaboration.

Also, listen to [someone] about the records management thing. I highly recommend this track, especially if you are a people person and have good interpersonal communications skills. Many of my pals are “digital asset managers” but they’re basically digital archivists who are handling the tail-end of the record lifecycle if you buy into that theory. They don’t.

In retrospect, I realize I graduated at a good time, which means pre-2009. While I still cannot wrap my mind around anyone taking out student loans to get an MLS, I also realize I am trapped in the mentality of the particular time and place in which I was raised and spent my young adulthood. This may be at the root of some of the hostility you and [someone] are experiencing. Frankly, when I first saw your post, I thought, “Two months! What is he whining about? And who in their right mind would knowingly accrue that much debt?,” but I understand now that you are earnestly searching for understanding and camaraderie, and we senior archivists met your entreaty with disdain. As a profession, we need to be honest and authentic with each other and the people knocking on the door, asking to be let it in.

I wish you the best of luck, Chris, and hope that you can still dream of a future in which you get paid to be an archivist. Please let me know if you have any questions.

With all good wishes,

46

I read with interest yr posting to SAA A&A asking for career advice, & I wanted to give you my take offline.
First of all, you’re younger than most MLS people.  That’s a good thing because if yr tech savvy, you can help any institution trying to manage digital assets, electronic records, info or knowledge management.

Two months for a job search is very short.  I recently spent 17 months searching for my current job after my first FT gig after library school ended & I probably sent 120+ resumes & cover letters & refs & had 44(!) interviews (including 4 @ place where I’m currently working).  I finally got four job offers in one week & happily ended my job search last October.

What I learned is you need to have experience, expertise & empathy, & be able to articulate the role & function of archivists & organizational strategies (born-digital or digitization) especially in relation to IT & Creative or records managers.

You should also join & network with other professionals & members of SAA or Archivists RoundTable of ny or ARMA or AIIM.  To keep myself involved, I started [a group of archivists in the north east] as a forum for us to share opinions & ideas & stories related to r careers.

I see you already have a blog, but it might be good to start a new one  related solely to library & archives so you can better brand yrself & yr name for background checks in advance of yr intvs.

But most importantly, keep everything well organized & structured. On Satdays & Sundays check lisjobs.com & archivists.org & indeed.com for archivist or records managers or librarian or metadata or taxonomist job listings. Make a list & split job listings into academic, media, public, records mgmt, etc. Create resume templates for each kind, & create folders so u’ll remember that you sent it out on date & follow up w/ phone calls & etc.

Then when you hear nothing, repeat the process & sooner or later u’ll learn how to write a short & concise cover letter to get you an interview, & that may lead to a second interview, etc.  It aint easy, but if you keep at it, & do it carefully, then the job search process itself (in addition to yr new blog) will make you into a better archivist.

I hope this helps, & if you have any questions, let me know.  Good luck!

– Sent from my [mobile device]

47

If you have not heard this from the many responses ( I gave up after reading about 15) let me explain something. I have been around the archival community since 1974 and there is a huge surplus. Salaries are poor and archivists cling to an institution for many years. I suspect that is because of the insecurity in the marketplace.

Leverage that degree in information management. Get a few certifications (CIP, CDIA+, CRM, CIPP) and get into the information management world. It pays far better as essentially you will use the same skills. I was an assistant archivist in the mid-1980s and made the jump. I make six figures and I am in demand. People ask me to work for them but as an archivist I was hungry after graduate school.

Think about this because you can have the highest GPA, best school etc. but it will not matter. Employers are flooded with resumes for archival positions. Gain a certification and a specialization and you will have no problems. Move your skills to information management and you will have a bright future. Archivists too often languish waiting for someone to die or retire.

48

I just caught up on the A&A list serv from last week’s discussion (vacation) and wanted to give you some advice that helped me. If you’ve heard it before I understand; and if it’s not helpful, that’s okay too. Just wanted to tell you my experience in the hopes it will help you.

I graduated with my MSLIS from [a prominent LIS school] in [last year] and began job searching [early this year]. It was really difficult; I had been a school librarian while I got my master’s and thought with 3 years library experience (undergraduate degree in Library Science) and my archival studies degree I would be in any archive I chose; no sweat. How wrong I was. Many places want a CA (Certified Archivist) on top of a MLIS; I didn’t have the year experience to take the exam and won’t be able to take it for another year and a half because I’m only part time. I did one resume a day since I was lucky to find a full time job in retail while I had no archives work. I found it easier to do quality cover letters and resumes with only one a day; every evening at 10 was a convenient time for me to search and write. Do what works for you; even one a day makes a difference. Don’t get frustrated by no response or an interview and then never hearing again; sadly, it happens all the time.

I had a phone interview for my current position in [sometime last year] and a full-day on campus interview in late [later last year]. The hiring process in academia is glacial. I was officially hired at my current place of employment in January 2012 and only by default; my position was originally offered to someone with more experience but he turned it down because it is only 26 hours a week. The other thing that worked in my favor is I had interned for the University President’s wife a few years ago in my undergrad and used her as a reference. You’ve heard it before but networking is huge these days; I truly believe having her a reference had immense pull in my getting to be second choice. I had little to no archives experience; I wouldn’t consider the one month for 20 hours a week experience I had a ton of hands on experience.

I also networked with local organizations to even find job listings; MARAC in the north east, SAA and ALA in the US, and ACLCP for small colleges and universities in PA where I live and work. All the fees to be members were pretty small (I believe around $150 a year for all four since I could say I wasn’t employed in the field) and they were exactly what I was looking for in employment. Find the local organizations in your area and join them. I also am a member of [two local organizations in the North East]; both looked great on the resume because of community ties and again, great for networking.

I don’t know if you can but volunteer; I did at a local library shelving and whatnot once a week and had it on my resume and everywhere I interviewed loved it because it showed community involvement.

I don’t know if any of this will help you but don’t give up yet. I’m not. I hope this position becomes full time and if not, I’m in the process of getting my MBA here since its discounted and will be another feather in my cap when I start seriously searching again.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need any assistance.

Peroratio

All in all I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart those who responded personally to my email with incredibly valuable advice, guidance and critiques. The response was massive and it surely has given me some things to think about. These pieces of advice will hopefully help others in kind and offer some solace to those at sea:

He is like some rock which stretches into the vast sea and which, exposed to the fury of the winds and beaten against by the waves, endures all the violence.