Our annual Summer Seminar was held at the Marks and Spencer Archive at the University of Leeds on Friday, June 8, 2018. We had our popular Recruitment Panel where the audience get to ask people working in the industry questions about employment, professional development, interviews, etc. The panel this year comprised Chris Sheridan, CPD Programme Manager, ARA; Miten Mistry, Digital Archives Trainee, Bodleian Library, Oxford; and Vicky Stretch, Archivist, Network Rail. The panel was chaired by Sara Brimble, SfNP Chair.
Q1. If recently qualified, how do you compete for jobs when you’re up against people with more experience? Are there are good things about being a new graduate?
CS Most employers will provide a Job Description/Person Specification which gives you a very good idea of what they’re looking for. It will show what skills and experience are ‘desirable’. I would encourage anyone, if it’s a job you’re interested in, just to go for it, even if the job requires experience that you don’t have, because there is always the chance that you do get that job. Don’t feel intimated by lack of experience; but you would realistically have to think about how best to sell yourself because there will be more experienced people out there.
Individual experience is also important as lots of employers will also look for other things. We want to see that you can do the job; but don’t forget that you might have experience that can relate, such as having worked in a coffee shop, bar work – the kind of thing that lots of people do when they’re at university. This is still great customer service. You also might have been mentoring somebody.
If the jobs involves working in a team, employers are looking for someone who can fit in that team, and personality is important. You are selling yourself, think about what you’re best at. Any decent employer is going to be looking at various things. They’re going to have their checklist which is aligned with the Person Specification which you will have as well. You could have somebody with 20 years’ experience and you can tell that they need a job and that’s why they’re applying. This does come across in interviews. Those people often don’t get the job because what you’re looking for is a combination of things: they might tick all the experience but they’re not demonstrating to you why they want the job that you’re offering. I would always encourage you to go for it. Identify the areas where you think you might be weak and what you can do about that because that will show that you’ve prepared. An interviewer can tell someone who hasn’t prepared for the interview. An interviewer will likely want to make a decision that day or the next day, so always be prepared.
VS If you’ve been invited for an interview for a job, in a sense you can already do that job because you will have ticked off the criteria that somebody is looking for: it also comes down to personality, being positive, enthusiasm, and preparation is absolutely key. You need to be prepared for the interview, such as knowing something about the company you’re applying for. I think if you’ve got an interview for a job, you’ve already crossed the line in terms of the skills that you are going to bring to it, it’s just that employers are looking for other things, such as a team fit. The person who walks in with 20 years’ experience might not be the right fit at all.
CS You could apply for a job where it involves line management experience in some capacity, such managing a project, or managing another employee, and you apply for it without direct experience; somebody applies for it and they do have direct experience, but you get the job because you proved yourself in the interview that you were ready to take on that responsibility, so employers look for that as well.
You could consider phoning an employer to chat through the job before applying for it. There are pros and cons for doing this. You may impress the employer that you’ve done this because you’re going one step further to find out more information which is going to put you in a better position. It also helps you find out that it’s a job that you don’t want to apply for.
One thing about applying for a job is that you don’t always hear back from employers if you weren’t successful in getting an interview. It’s a real downer, it happens to everybody. Employers sometimes receive 100 applications and it’s not possible to reply to every single one. You need to develop thicker skin where you just get on with it and put it down to experience, do some reflection and then move on to the next one.
If you’re really keen to get as much experience as you can, try and develop a 5-year plan about what you want to do, and once you’ve got some clear ideas try and take advantage of your situation and even go to another country if you have the chance.
SB As a new professional, you have more up to date knowledge than someone who has been working for many years. New professionals may also be at an advantage than more seasoned archivists as they may tend to have less responsibilities and not able to move around for work.
Q2 I’m currently in the middle of applying for archives courses and I have the opportunity to staying in the UK and doing a course that is accredited, versus going abroad and doing an uncredited one with added work experience. Which one should I choose? What is more important, the reputation of a course or experience?
CS From an employer’s perspective that would make you more interesting if only because you have been taught a subject perhaps from a different perspective. It might be difficult to prove that its an inferior qualification, but this is petty. You are still getting work experience, even if it’s in a different country. You’ve opted to do that and you’ve got more life experience in another country/culture. This gives you something unique that an employer would wish to talk about. You could maybe work this to your advantage.
You could argue that if you did an unaccredited course, that some employers may not recognize the qualification because it’s not a UK or Ireland one, or one that is recognized formally by the ARA, then this might make your application slightly weaker if you’re competing with 20 other applications. You could counter this by selling the benefits you feel you could bring to the role by having studied and worked in another country. The life experience might be more beneficial. Think about the strengths in your application and how to talk to an employer why you chose to do this and chose a different route to perhaps most other people they’d be interviewing. of
VS People don’t look at CVs and think ‘oh, Liverpool (for example), that’s an accredited course’. They look at the person as a whole.
MM When applying for the graduate traineeship, the digital curation course wasn’t accredited at the time and it is still going through the process. I was told that two years work experience at the Bodleian along with the course would be fine.
Q3 Could you describe how you go through the process of finding work; and how you made the decision to go into archives?
MM I visited a lot of job web sites where you can tick certain sectors that you’d like to work in and they then filter potential roles. I was in a bit of a transition in what I wanted to do so I felt almost anything was available. Similar to the transferable skills, I thought what can be used in other roles; surprisingly there is quite a lot from your life experience, from your course, that you can draw on. For example, with the archives role, I realized I had no work experience and didn’t even know what an archivist was until I applied! You can apply for these things and it does work, but you have to be sure that you know this is something you want to do. For me, it felt right and I did look into it a bit more. I tried to speak to some people, but ultimately it was a gamble. The first time I wasn’t successful, but I went back and had a bit more work experience and I felt I had a stronger application because of it.
VS For me, I was always interested in history and I was doing my History A Level and there was a requirement to do some work experience. I wondered what to do so I did a week’s experience at the museum in Chester and then another week at the archives at the Cheshire Records Office. I had spent a week cataloguing Victorian ladies’ hand fans that were put in a box and, as far as I know, never saw the light of day again! So who has seen that stuff?! When working at the archives at Cheshire Records Office, I catalogued the collection, it went on the shelf, and you can come to that stuff from so many different angles for whatever purpose and I thought this was amazing. I felt this was the best thing ever and I really wanted to be an archivist. From that moment on, my course was kind of set.
I’ve applied for loads of things and not got the job. I was doing a 12-month contract at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York and, by that time, I’d started to put down a few roots. I applied for a job at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. They had two jobs going, an archivist job and a records manager job. I applied for the archivist job even though records management paid a lot more. I didn’t want to do records management so I didn’t apply for it. I applied for the archivist job and they phoned me and said they wanted to interview her for both jobs. I was interviewed for both but I was told they wanted me to become a records manager. So I did that for about 4 or 5 years, but it stood me in so much better stead to get my job at Network Rail, because the archives I’m working with are absolutely part of the records lifecycle. We, as a team, deal with stuff from creation to permanent archive keeping. I think when I went for my interview 10 years ago, the fact that I could do both, and demonstrate that I had done both put me head and shoulders above everybody else. So don’t be frightened of records management! A lot of people don’t really want to go into it, but you will become a better archivist as a result of it. What I do for Network Rail is records management, I just deal with the very end bit of it. I don’t really see that you’re this, or you’re that.
In a lot of businesses and universities where you’re looking after the records of the organization for whom you work, I don’t think you can make such a huge distinction. It’s all part and parcel of managing the information of your business.
CS There are limits to what you can do. I ended up moving to London and working there. There is a period in your life where you can do these things if you want to do them, and it is a good time to explore. For example, if you were thinking that you’d like to get a role where you’re developing line management skills, you start looking at the kind of roles being advertised that link to what you do. You can do the obvious search which is looking for jobs with similar job titles, but you see that there is a wide range of potential jobs you can apply for because you have transferable skills. When you start to find some of these jobs, there will hopefully be a Person Specification that gives you more information about the role in terms of what they’re looking for as an employer and what you need to demonstrate.
This helps you understand what it is you need to do. For example, if you don’t have management experience, then what experience do you have? Have you done any mentoring, such as like through Peer Pals (SfNP). Is there any other example you can use in an interview situation where you can demonstrate that you do have the capabilities and that you’ve got some skills in an area? By looking at types of roles you’d like to move into in the next 2-3 years , you have an idea as to the steps you need to take in order to submit a credible application that will get you an interview.
Speak to recruitment people like Sue Hill. There are people out there with insight and knowledge that can help you.
VS I have come across a couple of people fairly recently who have almost created their own jobs as archivists within the organization that they’ve been working. Perhaps they were brought on for an 18-month contract to help with the administration, or they’re moving offices so need to organize to get things organized and moved, and then all of a sudden they’ve wound up being the archivist. They were able to influence the right and have been able to advocate for that role.
CS You should think about professional and personal development plans to help make you more resilient in the marketplace should you be made redundant and are particularly mobile. If you’re living in an area and you can’t move, but where there aren’t many employers, you can become a consultant and offer your services that way.
VS Build up that experience while you can , move about and take on other opportunities because once you start putting down a few roots it is difficult.
The second part of the Summer Seminar Q&A will be posted on Friday, 20th July, 2018
Sue Halwa, Publicity Officer, SfNP