This post is part of our ongoing series From the Trenches, which focuses on the hunt for first time archival employment. ~ed.
One of the things I think anyone who has ever been on a job hunt has to deal with is limbo. There’s the time between when you apply for a position and wait to hear back, hoping it is a request for an interview. If the stars are aligned and it is a call for an interview, then following the interview, you end up back in another limbo waiting to hear back. Very very rarely have I heard of anyone getting a job offer at the end of the interview (although it has been known to happen). Most times, whenever I have gone in for an interview, I’ve known they still have more people scheduled, so regardless of what they thought of me, the panel will see more people. Following the interview, one of two things will happen: a) you get a phone call or some communication indicating the institution wishes to make an offer or b) a nice and/or terse letter thanking you for your time and wishing you the best of luck in your further endeavors. Then with other positions, the process resumes until hopefully the cycle ends with the offer an acceptance of a new position.
Limbo on either side of the application process can last for a long time. Especially in a market like today’s where there are not as many job postings and quite a bit of competition for those postings, especially if you’re confined to a specific area. What’s been helping me is doing volunteer work. Besides what I have heard so many people say about it being good for adding to a resume and for offering something to potentially discuss at an interview (I have had earlier volunteer experience actually give me an edge the last time I was looking for jobs), I think what helps me the most is that it keeps me focused. Doing something in my chosen field, even if it’s not paying, helps give a purpose. It also helps to keep up to date with what’s happening in the field. One way I’ve found to that is using Twitter. There are several archivists who are active users and it’s a great way to keep up with what other archivists are doing and what might be happening at conferences and work shops. If you’re not already a member of SAA and your local state/regional society, join up. The local society’s listserv is how I found out about a few possible job openings the day they were posted. The world’s becoming a lot smaller thanks to social networking and the like, and my experience has been that the network is very welcoming to newcomers and if you post a question, within a short time you’ll have others happy to answer it for you. Most societies will also offer discounted rates if you’re unemployed and if you’re a student, there are deep discounts available. Conference meetings and workshops are a great way to meet others in the field, ranging from those who are new to those who have been working for years. Keeping up with the newest developments in the field and taking opportunities presented to meet and interact with other archivists can help make limbo a lot easier to deal with.
Right now, I’m on both sides of the limbo I mentioned earlier. I’m hopeful and right now what’s helping to keep me sane is the hours I’m volunteering. All the best.
3 responses to “From The Trenches: Dealing with Limbo…”
“Doing something in my chosen field, even if it’s not paying, helps give a purpose.”
This is something that has always bothered me about the library and archives profession. Not that you do volunteer work, which I think is a good thing, but the fact that many young archivists settle for volunteer or part-time employment because real professional jobs just aren’t available. I can’t think of another profession that requires a Masters degree where graduates, in many cases, have to settle for part time jobs or volunteer work. I would personally be insulted.
I think it is fantastic that volunteering is inspiring for you.
Volunteering has actually made me rather bitter, especially when “forced” to volunteer after working as a professional archivist for a few years. It’s hard, humbling, and incredibly discouraging to go back to volunteering just to make contacts when I would rather be earning money to pay down those omnipresent student loans. Also, as a volunteer, one doesn’t really get to show off too much, as the really cool projects require a huge time commitment that a job-hunter can’t afford to give.
I got my MLS back in 2005 and worked as a paid professional until my last project ended in 2008. I had to take a year off due to medical problems (which have been resolved). I have been looking for a job on and off since July. Due to the gap in my resume and lack of job opportunities, I had to almost start over again by taking two volunteer jobs and doing unpaid contract work. I am also working on grad school applications and spending a lot of time looking for that elusive archives job. In other words, I work full time and do not make a single dime. Am I happy doing all this work and not getting paid? Of course not. However, I absolutely love being an archivist and can’t imagine doing anything else in my life. That means doing volunteer work, being active in the professional organizations, taking professional development courses. In other words, doing anything possible to remain active in the field and, therefore, increasing my chances towards landing a job.
it has also been my experience that you really don’t learn how to be an archivist in grad school. Even though I attended a very good grad school program, I did not learn how to be an archivist until I completed my internship and my first project job. It is very much like an apprenticeship.