As followers of this blog know, getting a job in the archival field is something that we touch upon often, most notably in our From The Trenches series. However, to this point we have not had a post focused on getting an archives job. In my case, I have been hesitant to write such a post because I figured that people would say: thanks for the advice, Mr. Only-Had-A-Real-Job-For-Like-A-Year. However, my attitude changed last week. After reading a series of messages on the A&A listserv regarding the state of the job market, I asked the Twitter machine if others felt that the market was that bleak. Once again the archivists on Twitter did not disappoint and gave me some great insight and inspired this post.
As way of disclaimer, I am not saying that the things discussed here are guaranteed to get you a job. I am also not trying to blow sunshine up anyone’s petticoat. I was lucky in that I had an archives job lined up right after grad school. But in my previous career I endured an unemployment period that lasted over a year. It sucked… hard. If you are currently going through such a period, I hope that hearing some successful stories helps.
Grad School is Key, but not the School Part The job hunt should start from the first day of grad school. I don’t mean start looking the first day, but you should immediately start thinking about building a resume and carving an area of interest for yourself. As twitterer Jess M said: “I think we can make niches for ourselves.” School is great and you learn a lot. However, I found that the best way to carve those niches were the experiences I gained outside the classroom. Use the fact that you are going to grad school as a ticket into places that will help build your skills and allow you to meet people who will be helpful in your career. Four of the five NewArchivist regular contributors currently have jobs that are in, or connected to, places they had contact with while in school. In my case, I did an unpaid part-time internship between my first and second year at the organization where I am currently employed. Many of my classmates are currently placed where they did some sort of volunteering, internship, or part-time employment. If you want a job at a specific location or institution, then try your best to get some kind of experience there. You still have to be lucky in that a position will need to open at the right time, but being there to take advantage of that luck is half the battle.
Volunteering Often the type of experiences outlined above can only come in the form of free labor, be it volunteering or unpaid internships. During the listserv discussion, the importance of volunteering was mentioned several times. It has also been written about on this blog by Sophie and D.S. On Twitter, Megan summed it up: “Best advice I can give is to throw yourself out there. Volunteer, be involved with prof organizations, go back to school, etc. I wish I did more of this when I first started. [F]our years ago, but I was shy, nervous, etc. Once I started to put myself out there, my job prospects seem to be going up.” My advice is make sure you get something tangible out of volunteering, whether it be employment contacts, specific skills, or even a measure of confidence. In lieu of money, “employers” should be willing to give you their time and offer things like advice and resume reviews. If they are not willing to commit to this up front, I would probably not be willing to give them my labor.
The fact that unpaid experiences help in getting a job is, well, a fact something I am pretty sure of. However, I also think making unpaid experience a gateway to the profession is deeply troubling. Some of the comments on Sophie’s latest post summarize that view perfectly. The idea that we have to go to grad school and then serve a kind of apprenticeship is, in my opinion, outdated and elitist. Also, how can we say that we are concerned with diversifying our profession while at the same time saying mountains of educational debt and time served in non-professional positions are entry fees to a career? I dont have an answer to this paradox, but I do think that this will be up to our generation of professionals to solve. When we are in positions of power, will we continue to use volunteering as a litmus test? I hope we can come up with something better.The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Lucasfilm
“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny” While Yoda was talking about the ultimate battle between good and evil here, this advice can also be applied to career direction. Some on the listserv suggested diversifying your skills with things like records management to make yourself marketable in areas other than archives. Based on my limited experiences and talking to seasoned professionals, I strongly disagree with that advice. It is one thing if you genuinely want to explore different paths like librarianship or records management. But if you goal is ultimately getting a job in the archival field, it is hard to argue that a job in another area will give you skills to compete for those archival jobs, now or in the future. Yes, it would be employment and I know that we all have to do what we have to do to pay our bills. However, didn’t we all choose this low paying, low glamor career so we can follow our passion? I am not saying only take a perfect job out of school, none of us have that opportunity. But be certain that the job you do take will help get you where you want to go. If you want to be a records manager, be one, if you want to be a librarian, be one, and if you want to be an archivist, than be an archivist. Otherwise you may wake up one day shouting nooooooooooooooo!
Never Forget This might be a little out of place in this post, but I feel the need to say it anyway. As we move along in our profession, lets never forget what it is like to look for employment. So far my job hunting experiences in the archives field have been very good, but I have heard stories. In my previous period of unemployment, I was always shocked at how soon people forgot what it was like to look for a job. The stress, the limbo, the effort involved. I cringe when I hear people give weird or silly reasons to not consider an applicant. I am not saying consider people for employment that show up to interviews wearing a damn seagulls hat. I am asking that we remember that each application and resume represents a person that can add to our profession and deserves respect. And when we see others in our profession doing otherwise, we call them out.
This is just the tip of this iceberg and we at NewArchivist will be posting a lot more on this topic in the future. If you have other tips or opinions, please leave them in the comments or let me know and we would gladly welcome a guest post. You also should checkout the blog That elusive archives job, which focuses on getting an archives job. And most importantly, if you are currently looking, know that there are a lot of people in your corner, and good luck!