Hiring an Archivist? Don't Do This

Throughout my career, I’ve gone on plenty of interviews, especially for organizations looking to hire an archivist. I’ve noticed a trend that needs to stop for the benefit of potential employees, as well as companies.

Do not ask for a proposal on how to improve the archives program. This is usually asked of the candidate after the first interview.

It’s madness.

During the first interview, the candidate and the employer are evaluating each other to see if they are a good fit and if the opportunity will be mutually beneficial.

Asking for a premature proposal is like going on a first date, then requesting a saving plan for your future children’s college fund—when you’re not even sure you want to see this person again. 

Soliciting a proposal is a red flag. It signals that the organization has no clue about their own archives. Why would someone know how to improve the archives department after one meeting? Any information that could be provided would be so general that it would be unhelpful. The only skill set that an exercise like this demonstrates is the ability to bullshit (for lack of a better word), which is not a quality that an organization should seek in their employees.

Some candidates view proposal writing as free work. Whether an organization implements the suggestions offered within the proposal is anyone’s guess. The recommendations would be based on a limited understanding of the specific archives. If an organization uses interviews for free consulting work, it is a place to be avoided.

There’s also a bit of cruelty in suggesting proposal submissions—whether that cruelty is intentional or not. Job searchers are usually leaving a bad work situation or unemployed. To ask someone to invest in hours of work to jump through a hoop to get a second interview is off-putting.

Some would argue that consultants create proposals all the time. And we do. But that’s only after a series of discussions and questions with the buyer at the organization. We gain enough knowledge that we can provide a sensible plan. At the very least, archival consultants are replying to an RFP that contains detailed information about the problem at hand. We don't create proposals out of thin air because we know that they will never be accepted.

A better interview process for an archivist is a short phone screening with an HR representative, followed by an interview with the hiring manager, and then an interview with the rest of the department. Ask for writing samples, and check references.

A series of interviews provides a better sense of the soft skills that a candidate has to offer. A person can suggest the most fantastic archives program on paper, but if he or she does not have the emotional intelligence to make the program a reality, it’s all for naught.

What do you think? Have you been asked to submit a proposal after a first interview?

Are the ideas suggested in a proposal ever implemented?

If you’re a hiring manager, I’d love to hear your perspective.

Comment below or email me at margot@margotnote.com. I have a few proposal war stories of my own!

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