National Theatre

Yesterday I recieved an e mail from the National Theatre saying that my application to be the assistant archivist would not be taken any further. I didn’t even get an INTERVIEW. This got me thinking – when it comes to being judged on a piece of paper (application form) – what exactly do you have to say to get through the door? Looking back on my personal statement maybe it was a bit dull (degree, work experience, blah, blah, blah) so what am I going to say next time? All I want is an INTERVIEW, surely if I could get face to face with people they would love me??


70 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Steve Davies
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 10:00:09

    Dear Holly
    There seems to be a lot of over-optimistic views among new archive graduates at the moment(!) – believe me, you’ll have a few job applications where you don’t even get an interview, and it’s no reflection on yourself. I didn’t so much as get an interview or a reply for the last 2 jobs I applied for, and that’s with 12 years’ experience and a regional chairmanship of the SoA on my CV as well as a lot of other things (he said modestly). Keep trying, but most of all get someone to proofread your applications and CVs. Good luck!


    • The Realist
      Oct 02, 2010 @ 10:36:01


      Over-optimistic? Is it over-optimistic to expect some reward after a year (or longer) of studying an intensive ‘vocational’ postgraduate course which, for most people, required a great deal of self-sacrifice. Perhaps it is merely reflecting the ‘over-optimistic’ and rose-tinted assessment of the job market on the SoA careers page. I quote:

      “Currently the job market is good for record professionals, as there is a growing demand for their services. Many employers have reported an ongoing difficulty in recruiting record professional staff so the competition for jobs is comparatively less than in other domains in the cultural and information management sectors”.

      This page was last updated OVER 3 YEARS AGO!

      Having said that, if you can’t get an interview after 12 years of experience and a SoA regional chairmanship the situation must be bad!


      • holly1986fairhall
        Oct 02, 2010 @ 10:54:07

        I agree! People shouldn’t be made to feel bad for chasing their dream jobs – but I do understand that it is really tough out there at the moment.

      • The Really Realist
        Oct 02, 2010 @ 17:06:54

        Realist and the sudden number of people complaining about the ‘unfairness’ of the job market;

        Sorry, and it’s a real truth but there’s no entitlement to a job in this sector or indeed in any part of the Heritage and Culture sector. The job market is still good (a four page ARC Recruitment!) and if you’re not getting jobs ask for feedback.

        Every Archivist has to make the same sacrifices. Jobs, family, happiness – yep, they all go on the line in the job market. Nobody out there is being over optimistic, apart, it seems, from you. Stop blaming the ARA for your problems in getting jobs. Work hard, persevere and hey presto – you’ve made your own luck.

      • holly1986fairhall
        Oct 04, 2010 @ 14:11:41

        I didn’t blame the ARA for anything – I am sorry that you took it that way. I will def be trying to make a bit of my own luck 😉

      • The Realist
        Oct 04, 2010 @ 15:06:24

        Dear Real Realist,

        I am guessing you play a leading role in the ARA.

        People have the right to feel frustrated and to express an opinion on the job situation. People also have the right to criticise the ARA. The ARA is, of course, not to blame for the job situation. However, as an organisation which is set up for the benefit of the archives community (or should that be its members) it should be doing alot more to cater for the requirements of newly qualified archivists (or perhaps they don’t pay high enough subscription fees). Very little has been done by the ARA on behalf of new and aspiring archivists and, in spite of the recent ARC job bulletin, it is a situation which needs addressing. At the very least the information on the webpage should be kept updated (it’s actually not difficult to do this).

        Personally, I have asked for feedback with every application I have submitted for a number of archive jobs recently. Perhaps unsurprisingly the common response is that my application is good but that they have received too many applications from archivists who have a greater depth and range of experience than me (I have long-term paid and voluntary archve work on my CV). I doubt I’m the only one in this position.

        Lastly, I find your ‘get on your bike’ mentality offensive and patronising. Many new and aspiring archivists are indeed working hard (often studying or working long hours in an non-archive job whilst volunteering).

      • Lucky archivist
        Oct 04, 2010 @ 19:19:59

        To the ‘Really Realist’ –

        As an archivist of several years’ experience, I have to disagree with you. When I was starting out, the number of jobs available seemed much greater and the number of people chasing those posts rather fewer. The SoA careers officer recently said on the archives listserv (13 Sep) that a rough survey of job adverts suggested that while “in 2004 there were nearly 2 jobs for each graduate, in 2009 there were over three graduates for each job”. The recent four-page jobs was something of an anomaly, as for many months most have been only two pages. The recruitment freeze in much of the public sector (and many other organisations) also does nothing improve employment prospects. I feel very fortunate to have started my career in a time of relative plenty.

      • The Really Relist
        Oct 04, 2010 @ 21:12:16


        I have no idea where you got the idea I have, as you put it, ‘a leading role in the ARA’. Firstly, yes, I’m a member but I have no leading role; and secondly, I’m certain that if any leading member of the ARA had any points to make in response to your post it would be in a much more formal capacity. So, all and any posts I make have been and always will be in a personal capacity as a new professional!

        I just wonder if you’ve put any of your comments to the ARA itself? I actually got a lot of support from the old SoA when I was qualifying and – when I’ve been able to go – regional meetings. It’s easy to say ‘something should be done’ but its hard to see what can be done – nobody can make jobs appear and there’ll be a lot of professionals of all levels of experience going for all the jobs over the next few years. There’s no point any webpage anywhere saying ‘profession closed for business’ and no archivist I’ve ever met has made getting into the profession sound easy. It isn’t. And the whole ‘needing experience’ conundrum is common to pretty much every profession.

        Holly – It’s nothing personal and, yep, you need luck. Serious, genuine, 100% luck. But as I said, you make your own luck too. To use footballing parlance, you can’t score from the halfway line, no matter how good your talents may be. You need to be in the box to score, so get yourself in a position to take those chances when they come your way. And that means networking!

        And to be honest, Realist, I find *your* attitude terrible and I’m a potential employer! We’ve all worked hard, made sacrifices, worked in non-archive jobs (some of us still are making those painful sacrifices) and sweated blood working 18 hour days. It pays off. It shows. Complaining about the bloody unfairness of it all might be what we all feel, but it helps nobody. I may well have an ‘on your bike attitude’ but I at least respect your point of view so you know, respect mine. I’ll even lend you the bike if you’re lucky. Handily, I accessorised it with some spokey dokeys and a playing card that makes that appealing ‘frraapapapapapappp’ noise on the front wheel. And it says ‘ARCHIVES!’with a lightning flash through it in Tipp-ex on the back of the saddle.

        Holy – crack at it. Passion and ability are great assets, as is tenacity.

        Right, and this is to everyone – CHIN. UP. Yep, public service cuts, money worries and all that but the profession needs that positive, can do attitude and a belief we can bloody well survive this. We will. Jobs may have dropped off, but jobs will inexorably reappear.

        Keep calm and carry on, boys and girls.

      • holly1986fairhall
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 16:36:33

        Hahahahaha!! Say what you feel – I love it!! 🙂

      • DaisyThing
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 07:47:17

        Just a few general thoughts really to everyone: other than the paid staff everyone who plays a leading role in the ARA is a volunteer. Why not try to make the organisation more representative and successful? Let them know that you think they should do more or offer to help do it. If the profession is going to survive the current economic crisis we need to be acting together not as separate factions of aspiring/newly qualified v established/senior – that’s not helping anyone and is the best way to ensure that no one has a job.

      • The Realist
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 10:16:38

        Daisy Thing,

        Why should the ARA be the only vehicle for expressing views on archives?The point of my posts and, I imagine, the view of others, such as John Smith on the NRA list and the Facebook group, is to provide alternative platforms to raise awareness of other issues which, at the moment, the ARA does not represent. In any case, the ARA structure (meetings and appointments to various positions) in the age of social media, is outdated. As a newly-qualified archivist, I would feel a little intimidated about attending an ARA meeting and trying to get my opinion across when I can do so more easily on a Facebook group. I’m sure many others feel the same.

        Surely a critical dialogue is healthy for any profession?

      • Newly Qualified
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 10:35:07

        The Realist,

        I respectfully disagree with your statement that ‘As a newly-qualified archivist, I would feel a little intimidated about attending an ARA meeting and trying to get my opinion across when I can do so more easily on a Facebook group.’

        I have wery recently qualified, and have throughout my studies attended the regional meetings of ARA/SoA, which have all been interesting and I have never felt that my contributions would not be appreciated.

        That said, I have frequently wanted to comment on something posted on the NRA list, but have refrained from doing so due to the way members of the list react to some posts.

        I was glad to see the recent discussion regarding the difficulties of finding a job for newly qualified archivists. I am in that position at the moment, and while I appreciate that it is not the fault of ARA, I think that it is important to give people wishing to enter the profession a realistic view of how the job market is behaving. I began my quest to become an archivist 3 years ago, and the details of employment prospects on the ARA/SoA website have not changed once in since then. Although I love working in archives, I would probably would have looked at other careers had I known the prospects.

        To Holly I can only say: Keep at it! I had to volunteer for a year before I managed to get a paid archive job pre-course, I also had to apply for the course twice before I was accepted.

      • John Smith
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:21:51

        (Apologies if this duplicates at the bottom)

        Dear all,

        The comments on this blog have just come to my attention so I thought I should add to the discussion.

        Firstly, thanks to ‘The Realist’ for highlighting the Facebook group. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been namechecked in a debate before (online or otherwise) so I feel quite honoured. Whilst the reasons you give for the setting up of the Facebook group are largely accurate, I must make it clear that ‘factionism’ (as suggested by DaisyThing) was never my intention. My intention was solely to provide a forum for new archivists to communicate with each other and discuss issues relevant to them. I am not trying to suggest that new archivists are an exclusive group within the profession or that the issues facing them are not of concern to other more established professionals. However, I feel that the ARA is largely preoccupied with the wellbeing of established professionals and doesn’t give enough opportunity for the issues affecting newer archivists to be addressed. Neither does it currently provide opportunity for discussion in forums, such as social networking, which many of the younger members of our profession are more comfortable with. I would be happy for the ARA to provide such facilities but until then I will continue working to establish areas in which newer professionals can feel comfortable discussing the issues that matter to them.

        In response to ‘The Really Realist’, like it or not, the situation regarding jobs, I am afraid, has become much worse than it was even three or four years ago. The fact of the matter is that competition for posts has intensified drastically, meaning that many newly qualified archivists struggle for months or even years to make ends meet after qualification. While I must agree with ‘The (original) Realist’ and say that I find your ‘get on your bike’ mentality a tad patronising I do understand the underlying premise of your argument that jobs are not an entitlement. However, the denial of the difficult employment situation has become a problem in itself and all that many of us wish to see is the issue fairly discussed in a reasonable manner; not extreme views and accusations on where the fault lies, but simple straightforward communication on what can best be done to make things easier for new archivists. As you may have guessed I have many ideas of my own on the matter, which I would be happy to share with anyone concerned to listen.

        Finally, just to thank Holly for providing this forum for these issues to be discussed (whether it was intentional or not). As I said in my email to you I think your blog is refreshingly honest, though perhaps you should be a little less ‘open’ in your approach.

        Best wishes,


      • DaisyThing
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 17:34:47

        Absolutely – ARA should not be and is not the only forum but surely this isn’t an either/or situation is it? Someone could join the facebook group and ARA or various other archival bodies. My point is that if anyone thinks ARA should be doing something then tell it not each other! At present ARA is representing archivists at a national and international level. It depends on member support to do that – if it fails (for whatever reason) we’ll all be worse off as instead of having a small voice we’ll have no voice unlike our museum and library colleagues.
        John, I did not intend to imply that you intended to create factions – just expressed a concern that the tone of the debate seems a bit polarised. Whether we qualified last year or 20 years ago we’re all in the same profession. In 10 years time the people on your Facebook group will be established professionals hopefully! Btw even some elderly people like me enjoy social networking sites but I tend to use my free time to talk about things other than work 😉

      • John Smith
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 18:16:01


        I agree with your sentiments entirely and think that a strong professional body such as the ARA is of immense importance to the wellbeing of the profession as a whole. I’m simply looking to offer something that I believe the ARA is currently lacking, but I hope people will not assume that I intend it as an alternative.

        The reason I highlight the plight of many new archivists (and, from some of the emails I’ve received since setting up the group, I do mean plight) is that in competition with more experienced archivists they tend to come off worse. That’s not to say we’re not all in it together and I’m sure there are many long-qualified archivists who are in exactly the same position (employment-wise) as many new archivists. However, it’s the more recent entrants to the profession who tend to suffer most when the employment situation is as it is.

        Now, I do think the above posts from ‘The Realist’ are a little unnecessary and reactionary. Perhaps, they can be seen as an example of the frustration many new archivists currently feel. I also understand that no one is ‘to blame’, so to speak, for the job situation. However, what I do know is that many new archivists are coming into the profession feeling a little disillusioned. Despite what the ‘Really Realist’ (there’s too many realists on here) says, some of us were indeed led to believe that we’d have it a little easier than we actually have since qualifying. The ARA are certainly not at fault for this but it would be good if we could at least have open discussion about what we, as a profession, can do to make things a little easier for our newest recruits.

        The employment situation is indeed affecting all sectors. However that’s not our concern. We, as archivists, and the ARA, as the professional body representing archivists, should be concerned for – that’s right – archivists, regardless as to what the situation is in other professions. A grin and bear it approach isn’t really that helpful. We can’t procure jobs from nowhere but we can at least discuss the issue of what can be done to provide support for new archivists and ease their transition into employment. As I’ve said I certainly have my own ideas and opinions on what might be done but I shan’t bore you with them here. If anyone is interested I’m sure you can get in touch with me.

        Anyway, if anyone is interested in taking the debate further feel free to contact me ( or join the Facebook group. The website will be up soon also, so keep an eye out. And, by the way, it’s not all rants about jobs (or the lack of) I’m hoping it might develop into an interesting forum for fresh ideas and opinions on all issues relating to our noble profession.

        All the best to you all,

        John Smith

        P.S. DaisyThing – I apologise if I caused offence with my remark suggesting that social networking only appeals to the young.

      • Ageing Archivist
        Oct 05, 2010 @ 22:29:36

        To Really Realist –

        I’ve been an archivist for rather longer than you and I really feel for those entering the field in the last two or three years. For the sake of such people, please try approaching this subject with a little more compassion, maturity and thoughtfulness.

        And – for the sake of those of us of a sensible yet sensitive nature – please abandon such nauseating nonsense as ‘chin up’ and ‘can-do’.

      • Steve Davies
        Oct 11, 2010 @ 09:32:31

        @The Realist:
        Yes, I do believe it’s over-optimistic. Is it fair? Of course not. People have worked hard to get on and complete their course, and they should be able to get a job at the end of it as a reward for their efforts.

        I’m not saying “stop moaning and get on with it” as some have done during this debate both on NRA and on this blog – I can understand the disappointment and frustration new graduates must be feeling. My point is just that new graduates need to be aware of and accept the reality of the situation; that an archives degree simply does not equal a guaranteed job anymore.

        This isn’t about making new graduates feel bad; on the contrary, they need to understand that the poor job situation is simply the way of things at the moment, isn’t their fault, that they should be prepared for some disappointments and not lose heart as they plug on.

        Pay no heed to the SoA website, it’s ages out of date as you say and that’s the fault of SoA and of the profession as a whole for not highlighting the outdated advice sooner. We’re promised that this will be updated soon as part of the general overhaul of the site now that SoA has become ARA!

    • DaisyThing
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 08:21:42

      John, I fully support what you are doing and hope it is successful. The great thing is the number of people wanting to become archivists and making contributions. Just shows what a vibrant and exciting profession it is at all levels.
      I was only kidding about the social networking – I’m not all that sensitive!


  2. Becky Emms
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 13:29:45

    Dear Holly,
    I feel your pain, I got the same email myself!


  3. Robert Frampton
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 20:37:38

    You released a link to every archivist in the country, and I don’t want to sound offensive but your current blogging is not going to do you any favours. Try not to moan, everyone is finding it tough. And employers are known for inspecting social networks and blog sites.

    I wish you all the best in your job search, and every recent graduate is having the same difficulties. You will get a job eventually. Its good to see your doing volunteer work, that will look impressive on your upcoming applications. And take it from someone who has awful spelling and grammar, this does not prevent someone from getting a job.


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 01, 2010 @ 21:21:47

      Thanks Robert – I really don’t want to come across as moany!! So I will be working on that.

      I’m glad you got my back on the spelling and grammer though 🙂

      Please keep reading the blog and keep me in check if I start getting moany again. Nobody needs a moany, wannabe archivist in their life… Least of all ME.


  4. Victoria Kauffman
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 22:15:34

    You shouldn’t be surprised that you didn’t even get an interview. You’re a moaning little bitch. Oh, and you possibly have the worst blog I have ever seen. Go buy a dictionary.


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 02, 2010 @ 06:49:23

      I wanted to trash this comment (grrrr) but then I thought everyone is entitled to their own opinion!


    • T
      Oct 03, 2010 @ 17:02:59

      ‘Moaning little bitch’? Tell me, what blog postings did you read that made you come to the conclusion that Holly is a bitch? Do you understand what the word means? Even in the derogatory sense you have misapplied it here. If you do understand what it means to call someone a ‘bitch’, I think that you must have been writing this with yourself in mind rather than Holly – that seems much more fitting. Holly, it is good you left her comment up as now Victoria can feel embarrassed by her stupid and nasty comment – let us see who would want to employ her after reading her childish name-calling (I bet she was the bully in the playground, who bullied to make herself feel empowered because it was the only means she had to feel such a way).


    • Professional archivist
      Oct 04, 2010 @ 18:57:09

      This has to be possibly the most unprofessional, not to mention unkind, comment I have read outside of the hater drivel on Youtube etc. I sincerely hope, Victoria, that you are using a pseudonym as when I am next recruiting I would not touch you with a bargepole – whereas I might just give Holly a chance. I don’t know which repository you work for but I sincerely hope I never run into you and I hope your treatment of colleagues and users is a good deal more professional and respectful than this. Her reply to you is more gracious than you deserve.


    • The Really Relist
      Oct 04, 2010 @ 21:25:33

      Oi! Now that’s uncalled for. And calling people names like that helps Holly how, exactly? Jeez.


    • Becky Emms
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 10:13:19

      Ok that’s way harsh! Iam quite grateful for Holly for starting this blog as it is highlighting the difficulties archivists (qualified or not) are going through! Some people will have the detirmination to just keep going and keep trying. Not only was your comment unsympathetic, it was also unproffessional and mean. Way to put a positive name out for yourself.

      Holly…Just keep trying!


      • Victoria Kauffman
        Oct 06, 2010 @ 21:34:43

        I have successfully landed a job in London right after I graduated uni. I worked hard to be where I am. I didn’t send a blog about nonsense to human resources/companies. If anything, I would have sent a blog about intellectual observations I have made in my field. There is always a reason why one person gets the job and another doesn’t. The economy is not completely to blame. I landed a job 2 months after graduating, I am very well-liked and respected in my field.

      • Astonished archivist
        Oct 07, 2010 @ 19:38:35

        Victoria – are you really ‘well liked and respected’ or does your thick skin just allow you to assume you are? You maybe successful but you don’t seem at all likeable and I have no respect for you (or your potty mouth!) based on the way you addressed Holly.

    • T
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 23:10:22

      Well, Victoria. You are missing the point. Your comment calling Holly ‘a moaning little bitch’ was highly unpleasant (I am restraining my language here). And I suspect you are well liked because your colleagues don’t know you very well. Since you posted your comment I have heard many people (colleagues and many friends working in archives) who have all stated that they would never employ you after reading this, and can’t believe how unkind and how you are, quote, “not very clever”. And as for being good at your job etc., who cares? What has that got to do with your attitude towards Holly? If you don’t like this blog, why are you still reading it? Your colleagues may respect and like you, but my guess is that the rest of the archival community who have read your comments probably won’t think as highly of you. If I was presented with an application form for a position with your name on it, I would throw it in the bin. By the way, there is nothing more tedious than someone going on about themselves in such a self-congratulatory way as you have done.


      • Victoria Kauffman
        Oct 06, 2010 @ 23:33:48

        I’ll let you think you won because I am above this nonsense. PS. I stumbled upon this blog because the internet has that potential. I’m not even in this field! I’m in the media, where you need thick skin. So no worries seeing my name (until I get on tv!) I gave Holly some very sound advice to get the job. Just because I’m not part of your community doesn’t mean I can’t give sound advice. I was having a bad time of the month. So sorry I can’t be a girl. And I would give Holly advice for helping her make a blog if she wanted it. There’s no need for you to blow everything out of proportion. How about you don’t waste your time arguing with me and help Holly instead?

      • T
        Oct 07, 2010 @ 09:41:52

        Thick, rather than thick skinned. And yes, calling someone a bitch is sound advice. This will be my last response as you’re boring me now.

        Holly, good luck with the search!

  5. The Realist
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 10:37:41


    Did you apply for an Assistant Archivist or Archive Assistant position? The Assistant Archivist would require a postgraduate qualification.


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 02, 2010 @ 10:49:28

      It was an archive assistant position (internship) so it was to prepare you for the MA. It was my first shot at one of these jobs and from starting this blog I am really working out what to do and what NOT to do next time! Thanks for tip though.


  6. DaisyThing
    Oct 04, 2010 @ 13:27:36

    There probably needs to be a bit of perspective on getting or not getting interviews and jobs. The good thing about blogs like this is they can provide support but the downside can be that people get into a state about their chances of success. Everyone brings different things to the role and some people who have great qualifications might do terrible application forms or even vice versa. Getting the first job can be tough – it took me two years to get on to the course (I am quite bad at interviews) but after that I found getting work was not too hard. The page quoted is not necessarily wrong – two of the courses think that all their students will have work by the christmas following qualification and several students I know who qualified in 2009 did not have any difficulty in finding a first job.


  7. Records Management Man..
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 08:44:37

    One of the things missed in all this is that most do the postgraduate course and part of the remit of ARA also includes records management, archives is of course just a part of the records life-cycle and most people have training applicable to both sectors. I would be interested to know the extent to which all these archivists who are struggling are also using their skills to work in RM, something many of them are equally qualified to do at a time when their skills are in demand…


    • Siobhan King
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 15:18:22

      Yes, come over to the dark side (RM). We have cookies!

      I know there’s a romantic ideal that historical records are dusty and monochrome but those little pulsing 001010101010s on the screen before you are just as vital as documents of history as anything else. It’s at least worth a try to see if you like it or not.


  8. Senior Archivist
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 08:55:38

    DaisyThing is right about perspective. If you don’t get an interview it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a failure! At our (local authority) archive we recently had over 200 applications for a part-time archives assistant post. It’s a permanent job, but a number of applications were from people looking for pre-course experience. So do we gamble on training somebody up who may be excellent for a year but is then off to get qualified? Or do we go for somebody a bit less dynamic (although maybe equally well-qualified) but who’s likely to stay in that job for a while? Even once we’ve decided that, we still have a lot of people who could probably do the job perfectly well who won’t get shortlisted.
    If you’re really keen, keep trying!


  9. Heather Woodley
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 09:23:56

    I am a professional librarian of senior years who has witnessed a number of recessions during my career. What’s happening in the current jobs market is not by any means unusual, but this time the public sector is taking a particular hit so its predicatble that competition for public sector jobs will get increasingly fierce … so I would suggest applying for non-public sector posts. I have not had ability to “get-on-my bike” to find career posts as I have had a husband’s career and children’s schooling dictating where we live for the last thirty years! When we have moved location its been driven by my spouse’s career and I’ve had to hand in my notice and then apply for another post in our new location – we have moved 5 times! So when you have imposed limitations you have to be willing to be more flexible. My current post (since June 1999) is in the private medical sector of Higher Education. The only directly relevant prior experience I brought to the role was academic librarianship in a school and in a further eduation library. I had never worked in a research focused library, nor as a specialist medical librarian (which demands getting to grips with medical terminology, and medicine as a subject!), nor in the private sector. This job was also part time and required regular weekend working. But as I was limited to applying for posts within a certain radius of home, I decided to apply for this job and got it. NB I was willing to think outside the box, take the medical specialist challenge, and the part time hours, in order to get a job that fitted my domestically imposed limitations. After a couple of years the College’s courses and student intake expanded and I became 80% employed. Hope this helps you Holly … be prepared to be adaptable and look for something that isn’t necessarily ideal, and is also less likely to have such fierce competition.


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 12:22:00

      As a Mum myself I really like this comment – you do have to make sacrifices for your family. I am lucky enough to have a partner who will go part time if I get my dream job. I hope your husband respects you as much as I respect my partner for being willing to make that sacrifice for me.


  10. AlmostArchivist
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 09:41:14

    I don’t find this blog particularly constructive – but at the same time I can understand the frustration, because I’ve been there. I’m now half-way through my MA (after ten years of unemployment / temping / part-time jobs / volunteering / and a couple of good placements), so I’d like to make some suggestions.
    *Don’t reach too high. Everyone is going for the officially advertised jobs with well-known repositories. Get some temping jobs – agencies like Sue Hill always have cataloguing positions available. It may not be the most exciting historic material, but it’s valuable experience.
    *Don’t write off records management. Similar to before; everyone always wants to work with beautiful archives (everyone who is leaving my MA is trying to get into archives, apart from maybe two or three people) but records management is also good experience and will become more and more linked to archives in the future (probably).
    *Get a professional qualification. I’m not saying it’s easy; I’ve had to wait years to be able to afford it and I am lucky that I can fit it round work, but your chances will really be so much higher, no matter how much experience you have.
    *I second what someone said above, which is that employers may well be googling your blog / facebook / whatever. If you have a blog that shows how badly you want to work in archives by demostrating how hard you’re trying it will give a much better impression than one that is moaning about how hard it is. Employers know that already!

    /just my 0.02/


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 12:19:07

      Have you actually read my blog or just the NT post? Check it out and you may see something other than moaning 🙂


      • AlmostArchivist
        Oct 06, 2010 @ 23:09:52

        Well… have you read anything in my comment other than the bit about the moaning? It was a very small part of what I said; I was trying to help you with constructive suggestions from my experience.

  11. Hannah
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 10:00:00

    I can see where people are coming from when they say ‘don’t expect everything to be handed to you on a plate, you have to work for it’. It’s true, you have to work to build a career, in any profession, not just archives. However, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to worry about the future and, if you’re working for free, your finances. I’m on the point of giving up a reasonably well paid, secure job because I really want to eventually become an archivist, and I know this isn’t going to happen without sacrifice. I fully expect it to take a couple of years. However, I’m absolutely terrified. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a forum to vent frustrations and worries with people who are in the same position as you. I just think people should be more understanding.


  12. Blogreader
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 11:08:06

    Well Holly-I know it’s tough out there, but you just have to keep trying-be prepared to be flexible about where you work and what you do. Experience gained and the ability to show that you are really committed to the profession will help enormously. We are not a large profession and sometimes it is just luck that you catch someones eye.
    People are certainly not going to forget your name in a hurry after the number and nature of posts to this blog which is a stunt that will either help you or completely hinder you in your future career. Some employers will admire you for your drive and all the publicity you have gained for yourself, others are now going to run a mile when they see your name on the application form. I hope it works for you


  13. Elmo
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 11:35:40

    Hi Holly. Congratulations on the blog, it’s certainly encouraged a debate! Unfortunately rejection, although frustrating, is something you need to get used to in this profession. It will likely take you quite a few applications to get an internship. The best you can do is always ask for feedback, and look at it like a development process. Different employers are looking for different things, and it is very much the luck of the draw.

    The profession has become a lot more popular, just as the job market is taking a hit. There is not much to be done about this (apart from maybe the university courses being responsible enough not to expand their intake at this time). Worth noting that many professions have a flooded market. Museum Studies post graduates by far outnumber the available posts, and have done for a very long time. Records professions have had it (relatively) easy up to now.

    It is important however for bodies like the ARA (and not JUST them) to project a realistic view of job prospects in the sector, so people are able to make well informed choices. It does seem that the ARA published information on this point does need updating.

    You will get there Holly, but after a lot of effort.


  14. Teresa
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 11:44:00

    Sadly, although a lot of the above discussion is relevant it doesn’t answer Holly’s question: What does she need to do to get an interview?

    1) Make sure you say briefly why you want the job. Not just any old assistant post, but that post at that archive. This can be in a covering letter, in the personal statement, or in e-recruitment somewhere in the application. For the latter you may need to be creative about where you put this, but make sure it goes in!

    2) Read the Job Description and the Skills that usually accompany it. In your cv you must demonstrate that you meet the Essential Skills to have a hope of making it to the short list and be considered for interview. At the moment this ‘short’ list of candidates being considered for interview can be quite long, so you need to ensure you meet as many of the Desirable Skills as possible.
    If necessary use the skillset being looked for as a heading (e.g. Computer Skills: I have used xxx software for xxx roles)
    Employers meeting fair practice will be using a tickbox system – a bit like bingo. To get an interview you must complete at least a couple of lines – preferably full house. BUT even in these straightened times not everyone has a full house. Be clear about gaps in your skillset – this could be the reason you want this particular post in this particular archive – i.e. to fill this particular gap!

    3) Don’t make the application too long, but demonstrate that you have the skill – this means saying you have the skill and then giving an example of how you have used that skill. Although the employer is ticking boxes , they are looking for personality to come through as well.

    4) Spell check. Grammar check. Then get someone else to read it. Then spell check again. remember to check your dates.

    5) Ensure the application is made in good time. With the rise of e recruitment there may be problems in submitting your application! Be aware that many institutions do not accept cvs – only (e)applications.

    6) Accept that there are a lot of people chasing jobs. Even in a economic boom you will be up against competition. More experienced people may be pipped at the post by more enthusiastic people who are willing to learn. Sometimes the employer is looking for a specific skill. Where there are a number of qualified/experienced/appropriate applications sometimes it is only as part of the interview process that the employer realises what ‘that special something’ is that the applicant needs to bring to the team. Try not to take it personally, but do try and find out what skills you are lacking and see if you can fill the gaps on your cv – accept that this is not always possible and that you may not always be the right candidate for a particular post. That someone else may be able to do it better.
    i.e. don’t take it too personally. Find out what you can do to improve your chances and move on. Please don’t dwell or let it knock your confidence too much – sometimes there will have been nothing you could have done differently.

    7) Always ask for feedback. If you are regularly not getting interviews see if you can get some feedback on your cv/applications. If you can’t get this from an employer (not everyone can give detailed feedback on CVs) then make sure you get feedback from a friendly employer – who may even be outside the sector

    Most of this advice is relevant for any role – there are books out there that give much better advice than this (check out any advice that is being offered). This is purely from someone who has to wade through the applications and be as fair as possible to everyone. Employers WANT to get a good set of applicants for interview. We WANT people to do well at interview, because we do want to give someone the job.

    And in case anyone says “isn’t this teaching granny to suck eggs?” I would have thought so. But experience of being on the receiving end of applications means that for the majority of applicants, sadly this isn’t the case (particularly the spell checking!)

    So yes Holly, you need to get your foot in the door and get to interview. Hopefully this will help you get you to that first step


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 12:10:56

      This is the answer that I wanted Teresa – do you also have any tips about what to do/not to do in interviews? Thanks 🙂


      • Senior Archivist
        Oct 06, 2010 @ 13:15:27

        Interview tips:-
        Do some research beforehand – look at the employer’s website, and try to get a feel for the culture of the organisation.
        If you’re offered a tour, turn up for it. If one’s not offered ask if it’s possible to look round in advance.
        Think about the sort of questions you might be asked, and some you might want to ask yourself (but don’t ask about holidays! Training and CPD is a safe bet.)
        Try to give full answers – not monosyllabic yes or no, even if the question may be badly phrased. But don’t go on and on……
        Easy to say, harder to do, but try to relax, without coming across as so casual you don’t care.
        Basic, but it’s amazing how some people let themselves down badly at interview by ignoring basics.

      • Teresa
        Oct 07, 2010 @ 14:31:26

        I’m very glad to see my comments have been useful, and that Anna and Senior Archivist have chipped in! Both of them give advice that I support re interview. Most of it is common sense – dress smartly, have clean hands(!), be polite but not too reserved.
        Make sure you do a tour – if one isn’t offered ask for one – you need to see where you are working (desk space / reading room / vaults).
        Take an interest before you come – have a good look at the website and if possible visit before hand (most employers would see this as a good sign!).
        The actual questions should be based around the skills on the Job description so read your application form before coming and use the skills on the JD as the check list of what you need to say.
        If you haven’t been to many interviews get a friend to interview you. Explaining to someone out loud ‘why I want this job’ without repetition hesitation or deviation can be tricky.
        Make sure that any key experience you have has been covered in your answers – if not be prepared to make a short statement at the end to point it out. (“By the way, I didn’t get to tell you about some experience in archives you might be interested in. I did xxxx from which I learnt yyyy and which I really enjoyed”).
        Questions are useful – have a couple up your sleeve. If it has not been covered checking working hours can be useful if part time / out of 9-5 is required. Training is also useful – ask about in-house as well as ‘paid for courses’. Support for development, informal as well as formal, is also useful – If you’re going for pre-course experience ask how many of their previous postholders have gone on to the course…or have successfully completed the correspondence course whilst in post.
        Good luck!

  15. Kit10inDublin
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 15:00:13

    This discussion makes interesting reading. I’m based in Ireland where the overall job situation is much worse but in particular, for those hoping to get work as an Archivist. I have several months of volunteer experience, performed off and on over a two year period but I never expected to get paid work before obtaining a post-grad qualification. I start my Masters via distance learning next April. In Ireland, demand for third level and post-grad courses has increased enormously.

    I have applied for jobs, had one interview (unsuccessful!) but have been told NOT to expect any feedback at all, ie not even a letter or email to state that I haven’t been called for interview. No news is, in fact, not good news.

    Most organisations I’ve applied to say that they do not have the time, or simply refuse, to give feedback on individual applications. It’s very disheartening so I was delighted to read the application advice above – thank you to Senior Archivist for that post.

    I also wanted to comment on the ARA; as a person with little idea about how to become an Archivist but hugely interested in the profession, I found it difficult to find information on how to get work in this field, what qualifications were available, where to get further information, etc.

    I contacted the ARA on more than one occasion. I’m sorry to say that I found them unhelpful. Perhaps I was unlucky. I was disappointed by curt and discouraging replies I received to requests for information. I do not want to go into particular detail but as someone who is still working hard at getting into this wonderful profession it was very off-putting. Thankfully, I’ve found better support elsewhere.

    Good luck, Holly. Fingers crossed for both of us.


    • holly1986fairhall
      Oct 06, 2010 @ 17:08:45

      Yes – fingers crossed!


    • Damien
      Oct 07, 2010 @ 11:46:45

      Am an archivist working in Dublin – if you have any questions regarding archives and the archives profession in Ireland, give us an email. I probably won’t be able to answer all of your questions but can make a start at finding some answers. Volunteering in archives hasn’t taken off in the same way it has in the UK. You are right in saying that the job situation in archives in Ireland is very bad however there does seem to be work in records management.




      • Kit10inDublin
        Oct 07, 2010 @ 15:30:20

        Thank you, Damien. I will very likely be in touch soon.

      • ktin10indublin
        Oct 09, 2010 @ 15:03:48

        I joined a bizarre thing called Gravatar hoping to contact you without having to ask for an email address and now I’m very confused (Ted). No doubt I’ve gone about this completely the wrong way. I wanted to contact you to see if you know of any on-going volunteer archive possibilites in Dublin. However, if you don’t have this inforamtion I won’t bother you further! 😉

      • Kit10inDublin
        Oct 09, 2010 @ 21:21:17

        Hi Damien – I’m trying to take you up on your offer for communication about archives in Dublin/Ireland via email; thank you again for that. However, I’m not sure how to do that through this site. Obviously, I do not want you to post your email address publicy (nor do I want to put mine here either) but how can I get in contact with you? Sorry to be a pain!

  16. Kit10inDublin
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 15:09:39

    Apologies for posting again so quickly but another important point…

    I have also found it difficult to get volunteer work. Some organisations can’t afford, or are not willing, to pay for separate staff insurance for someone who is not a full-time or salaried member of staff. Some are simply not interested in volunteer staff that are not qualified. One organisation told me they only take volunteers from full-time courses. It’s taking some determination to get into this professional but I really want to do this job.

    I am fully prepared to leave Ireland to get work as it’s almost certain I will not find a job here.


  17. Anna
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 15:34:24

    I am so glad to see Teresa’s constructive advice on the application process and her interview tips.

    I agree entirely. I am responsible for short listing for Archive Assistant roles and it is vital that applicants tailor their application to the job description and person spec, as the intial shortlisting is done through tick boxing to rank candidates according to how well they meet the essential and desirable criteria.

    If there are too many good candidates to interview it comes down to analysing what we see as the most important skills/qualities and how well the cnaditates have demonstrated those on the application form. I also want to get a sense of enthusiasm, a passion for archives and a willingless to learn.

    At interview for an Archive Assistant level post, I want the candidate to show me that they will fit into my team well, will give excellent customer service, and be prepared to have a go at anything. Again, a genuine enthusiasm and passion for archives is vital.

    I have chosen less experienced candidates because of how well they have presented themselves at interview because I can see that they have greater potential. Experience must be coupled with a good attitude. You must come across as personable.

    I have been impressed by how well you have handled the negative comments on your blog, and asking for advice is very sensible. I certainly wouldn’t run a mile if I saw your name on an application!

    Good luck, I am sure it will work out for you.


  18. Anna
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 15:52:20

    One more tip about the interview. Remember you are on show from the minute you walk into the building for your interview. A member of my team always gives a tour of the archives before the formal interview process begins. Once the interview has been completed, I always ask the person who has given the tour for their informal feedback on the candidate, to check that my impression and instinct about them is correct. It almost always ties together that the one they have warmed to the most is the one I have also ranked as the most employable candidate. I take their opinions seriously, and if it is close between two candidates, their feedback could be a factor in my final decision.


  19. Anna
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 17:30:54

    I am glad the above is useful.

    I would also say that I look for candidates who have a clear idea of why they particularly want to work within my archives service and not elsewhere. I want to know what particularly attracts them to the role. I don’t want to feel that anywhere will do, I want to have the impression that they are keen to be a part of what we do and I want to hear their reasons for that decision. Candidates who particularly impress are ones that have done their research about us, know our ethos, and our service, and can talk about how they can fit into what we achieve. The tour can be a useful exercise for the candidate, and intelligent questions about what you have seen always go down well.


    • DaisyThing
      Oct 07, 2010 @ 09:38:03

      Many offices also do a document handling or document production test to check that you are careful with the records and will not do anything dangerous on ladders etc. Whilst it’s good practice to inform candidates that this will be required, not all do, so be prepared to have to do something practical like this.

      If you are asked to do this take your time – it’s not usually a speed trial. Ask for further instructions if you are unsure. Do not try to lift anything that is above your eye level without getting a ladder or step stool. Ask for one if there isn’t one around (but there should be). If the box or item you require is at the bottom remove the items above it first – don’t try to pull it out with things on it. When you have the box do not try to juggle the contents in situ – put it down on a flat surface like a trolley or empty shelf. Sort through the contents taking care not to get them completely out of order and handle each item carefully but not gingerly.

      My office does this – we are simply looking for someone with common sense who can remain calm and take care of the documents. Just like in the driving test provided you have not endangered yourself or the records producing an incorrect item will not be the end of the world.


    Oct 06, 2010 @ 22:11:00

    Dear Holly,

    I just want to say don’t give up! I had plenty of rejections before I got a job as an archive assistant. Anyway good luck and I like the blog!


  21. DaisyThing
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 15:03:38

    More from me I’m afraid… Several of you are undertaking voluntary work in order to get on an archive training course. The advantage that someone who is in paid work as an archive assistant will have over you is that they are likely to be getting a wider range of experience and skills. A lot of voluntary work in archives tends to be indexing/sorting/scanning records with little or no public or user contact.

    Make sure that you address this in some way, either by asking to shadow searchroom staff or help answer enquiries. Alternatively you could fill the gap by making the most of non-archival experience such as working behind a bar or in a shop. These require the same skills in terms of being outgoing, friendly, able to explain things and help people and, of course, security. All these are highly relevant and will show the interviewer that you can use your past experience in the post they are offering.

    Other things you could suggest joining in with might be answering the telephone, showing new users around the office, doing an exhibition or a web page or helping with a group visit. Visit as many archives of all types as you can to get a feel for how things are done in different places. It is always impressive at interview if someone has knowledge of a few places.


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