Continuing the Summer Seminar Recruitment Panel Q&A from the last blog, here the panel address issues relating to the fear of being ‘pigeon-holed’, gaining further skills, and job interviews.
Q6. I’m currently working in Records Management but want to work in archives. If I stay in my current job, will I likely be “pigeon-holed?”
a) Unlikely no, because our skills are so transferable. What you do in records management is very applicable to archives. There are a lot of similarities between the roles: writing policies, communicating with different departments, training people, advocacy, etc. – it’s all the same but different. If you’re applying for a job, you’re in a stronger position if you already have one. It is not a good idea to think “I’ve been a records manager too long” and suddenly quit. If you feel you’re at a point where you feel you want to move on and start applying for things , then do it, but you’re the only person who can decide when the time is right for you. If you have, for example, four years of records management experience versus someone who has just graduated, then it’s felt that you’d be the stronger candidate.
b) There is a lot of turnover amongst the younger generation in this field: leaving a job after 6 months can be seen as questionable; one to two years’ is better. The longer the job, the more reliable you are perceived to be. If you’re not enjoying your job and it’s only been six months, leave it, but someone might question it. But you have to prove that there was a good reason, such as you’re moving on to a different job.
Q7. What if the archivist position you’re applying for requires a lot of cataloguing experience – how do you get those skills if you’re working in records management?
Cataloguing is a soft skill, it’s being able to describe something. You’ve done it in the past and you’ve probably done it on the university course. In the meantime, if you’re currently working in records management and you know you really want to go for something else, try and seek out opportunities to do it to increase your skills, such as crowdsourcing cataloguing on the internet.
Q8. How do you answer interview questions when they ask about what you can offer to the team and why you want the job?
a) As an employer, I always think about team work. As a manager, I want to keep the team together. If you’re a new graduate, you could offer fresh ideas to an existing team that has been together for many years. Think about what you can offer the team and be honest. Be yourself and use your own answers, rather than those sourced from the internet. Try to be different and be prepared for the interview. You only have 20 minutes to impress the interview panel and they may see up to 10 candidates. People like optimistic people. The interview panel don’t like to see people talking about their problems. Be relaxed and optimistic. Employers will think about having to spend 7 hours working with you every day.
b) Many people conducting the interviews hate doing it too and find it really awkward. So, as much as you’re going in and feeling really awkward, so do they. If you’re the person who can walk into the room and defuse the situation and make it comfortable, then that’s an amazing thing to have done. They will warm to you and think that you’re the person they want to work with. In this sector, the person sitting across you conducting the interview is basically the same person as you. We’re all quite similar. Walk in to the room telling yourself that you’ll get the job, and you’ll appear more confident than you actually feel.
Q9. Do you have any horrible or funny interview experiences?
a) One person being interviewed came across as so strong and confident, that he started interviewing the panel. He was asking so many detail-oriented questions about the salary.
b) I work at Buckingham Palace and going for that interview was absolutely terrifying. It was raining, I was late because my train was delayed and I was a mess. I was walking into a place where not many people get to go. I was walking past the armed police and wondering “What am I doing?!”. However, the people were nice and I got the job!
c) My first archives interview was at a local authority record office and there was a paleography test as part of the interview. At the time I was also just finishing the paleography course at university and had never done it before so it was all quite new. I was quite anxious about it. It was a really warm day with about 90% humidity. As I was doing the test I was being watched by the interview panel; I was really stressed and it was really awful. At the end of the test, as I lifted my hand, I realized that my hand had sweated through the paper. It came away with my hand and I had to hand back this soggy bit of paper – and I got the job! So it doesn’t always mean that it’s gone badly wrong.
d) I work for the Duchy of Lancaster and am the first professional archivist for them. The interview panel consisted of a solicitor and CEO who had no idea as to what an archive was, or knew what to ask. The interview lasted five minutes and I got the job.
Q10. Once you have your first professional job, how did you know what to do on your first day? Did you have someone to support you while you were on your own? How did you handle your first professional post?
a) My first archives position was my first experience in archives. Previous to that I’d worked in museums and the heritage field. On my first day at the university archives, I spent a lot of the day on the computer learning about the archives there.
b) My first day was quite average, talking to HR. I suffered from Imposter Syndrome for the first 3 months and thinking that they chose the wrong person for the job. “What am I doing here doing records management? I don’t know what I’m doing!” I was even questioning what a records manager did as I was thinking that it was very similar to what I’d done in archives. “Is this right?”
I spent a lot of time learning and listening to what everyone else was doing and realizing how I fitted into that and how I could help, and asking an embarrassing amount of questions. I’ve been really lucky because they hired me knowing that I had experience and that I was capable of doing more. They’ve given me more and more authority to do what I want, and they’ve given me a big project to do which I run on my own. They realise that I’m capable of doing this; it’s finding a way and making it work for you.
c) My first role was in local authority and in my first week I was supervising the reading room and was in a county I’d never lived in before and didn’t really know anything about that place or the records that they held there. It felt like there was a gap between what the members of the public expected me to know, and what I did know, which was very very little and less than them in a lot of instances. But you should accept that there will be a learning curve. Every time you work at a different repository you start over again because the collections are different, but there is cross over between local authorities as they have the same types of records. But there is a difference, even down to how the places operate. Just accept that there will be a steep learning curve when you start. Just accept that you’ll ask lots of questions, and your managers should be there to support you. If they’re not giving you the information you’re asking, you may need to search elsewhere to obtain this.
Q11. Any top tips for new professionals?
a) Sign up to do anything. Be involved with committees. Accept any free events that you can go to. If you get the chance to do some volunteering and you have the time, do it. You might meet someone and this might be your way into the profession and get you a job. It adds another string to your bow. Do what you can because the field is really competitive.
b) Be prepared. If you want to work in archives, then volunteer in one. Try also to understand teamwork and how it works because a lot of jobs are within teams. Be flexible. Be the best, not average. Be prepared for a competitive market, and be prepared to move for a job, either locally, nationally or even abroad. Create a great vision of yourself and your own brand.
c) Don’t pigeon hole yourself. Don’t narrow the jobs that you want to do too early because you’re cutting off a whole load of potential things you could apply for for no reason. Also, apply for things you don’t think you’ll get, not just jobs, but also for things like conference bursaries. Go and experience something different. Lastly, get feedback from job interviews for jobs that you didn’t get, and use that information to better yourself.