The Ugly Truth Is

….I still think about the job hunt.  The good, the bad, and the down right ugly.  That’s my gift and curse, I have a sharp and long memory.

But, you’re probably wondering why someone like me still thinks about it.  To that I say, I’ve only been in my current position for a little over a year.  The job hunt is still fresh.  And, it doesn’t help that I’m still subscribed to all the various job hunting listservs, websites, and social media.  My motto is never say never.

More importantly though, what started me on this path was being asked to speak on an Archives Career Panel.  Some of the pre-circulated questions related to the job hunt and advice I would give to job-seekers.

Cut to last Thursday, I’m seating on a 5 person panel I’m talking to a room full of people at various points in their archival career: veteran to current grad student.  I did my best to answer their questions.  Internally reminding myself that I am the expert on my experience and no one else.

The nervous shaking, the dry mouth, and the fidgeting (because I was seated) happened.  It’s par for the course at this point.

I shared my experience about picking up and moving to the remotest areas of the country: Death Valley.  I knew, at the time, the only way to make it in this profession was to a.) get the experience and b.) get that experience however I could.  I’m sure you’re wondering why Death Valley and why not something a little closer to home.  Well, I tried that and, frankly, no one would hire me.  But here were people willing to give me a shot in my first real professional gig.  How could I pass that up?

So I moved.  I talked about the positives that came out of it: the professional/personal experience, interesting talking point in interviews and professional conversations, and how (I believe) that job helped me to land my current one.

But, I also talked about the not-so-great aspects: the isolation of Death Valley, the culture shock, the homesickness, and the constant questioning of if this was the right thing to do.

Afterward, what surprised me the most was how that experience and my anxieties and fears around it resonated with people: from students just entering the job market to archival professionals still searching for that illusive permanent position.

One person in particular, a man in his early 30s, wanted to know more.  How and why I could do that? How could I pack up and just leave what’s familiar and take that proverbial “leap of faith?”  The why part was the simplest and the most complicated statement:

“Because, I had to.”

I elaborated by saying that my prospects for my location were grim (after all my library school was putting out archives students every semester!), loans were going to come due in a couple of months, interviews were few and far between.  And I knew, looking at my resume that I didn’t have the “street cred” to be an archivist.  I didn’t have substantive processing experience.  That was the biggest gap.

“Hi, my name is Ashley.  I’m an archivist and I have no processing experience.  Please hire me to process your collection.”

Yeah….would you hire me?  So I shifted tactics and looked for more entry level processing positions.  I interviewed for the Death Valley job in March (two months before graduation), told in May (when I graduated) that I didn’t get the job, and then miraculously called in July for another interview.

Apparently, the person they originally hired backed out as soon as the culture shock of Death Valley set in.  That person threw deuces in the air, left the NPS in the lurch, and I was number #2 on the list.

So yeah, I took it for the above reasons but also because I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.  I spent 3 long years committed to becoming an archivist.  That’s a lot of time and countless dollars.  And that pesky Stevens stubborn streak wouldn’t let me give up.  In the words of my family, this was going to happen.

I’m not sure if my answer helped him but its all I could come with on the fly.

As professionals, those of us who have landed that illusive permanent archival position in the last 3-5 years, I think, should talk more candidly about our experience.  To admit to job seekers and even to the veterans in our profession that, “yeah, job hunting in this economy blows.”  And, guess what, job seekers have a right to be upset.  They have a right to vent…to a point.  Eventually, the venting should lead to action of some kind.

We should be open to sharing our successes and failures.  For example, I shared on the career panel how I started experimenting with my cover letters.  After all, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so.  I look back on my old job applications (Yes, I kept every cover letter and resume I’ve ever submitted to a job) and I can’t help but grimace.

My early cover letters were horrible.  You think I’m joking but I’m so serious.  They. were. bad.  But toward the end (spring 2012) they started to get pretty good.  In many ways those cover letters are some of the best writing I’ve ever done.

The job hunt is a struggle.  And to my job seekers out there, I understand.  I really do.  Its an experience I still think about from time-to-time.

Good luck to you all!  Your job is out there.  I know it is.

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About Ashley S

I'm an archivist!
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