This year I’ve been involved in recruitment to our Transforming Archives traineeships. Now that the hours of sifting, interviewing, trains and hotel rooms are behind me, I have had chance to reflect on how it went – and about what makes a strong application.
This is my personal perspective and as project manager I was part of every interview and read (and re-read) every application (over 800 in total). I know what I’m looking for in an application form, and what not to do.
This doesn’t mean you can’t surprise me. It doesn’t mean I’m looking for a formulaic or tried and tested answer. But there are some basics that you need to get right:
Read the whole job description
Before you apply for a job, it’s good to understand a bit more about what you’re applying for. In the job description we included links to blogs from current trainees, information about the host organisation and The National Archives – if nothing else, have a quick read to see what we’re about.
We don’t expect you to be an expert, as we’re looking for people who may be completely new to the sector. But we are looking for a little bit of understanding of what you’re getting into, or bags of enthusiasm for trying something new. The advert may be the first time you’ve thought about a career in archives (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing) but please tell me why you’re excited about the traineeship. Tell me why the advert caught your interest. Can you see how your experiences could be used in an archive?
And don’t say you want to work for The National Archives, because you won’t be! The traineeships are based in host archive services.
Complete your application form as asked
Follow our guidelines: if we ask for a supporting statement, don’t attach a CV. If there is a word limit of 300 words, don’t go over it.
We have a two stage sifting process, with application questions to help us decide who to select for the second stage. If you don’t answer these questions or don’t put much effort into the answers we won’t even look at your full application. It doesn’t matter how carefully crafted your supporting statement is or whether you meet every essential and desirable criteria – the panel won’t read it. It really is as simple as that.
Think about why we have asked application questions
Traineeships are about a new route into the archive sector, and each one looks at specific skills (a specialism).
Whether this is the first time you’ve thought about archives or it’s something you’ve been considering for a while, tell me why the traineeship is the right step for you at this particular time. This is your chance to say what makes you different from other people applying.
The traineeships are highly competitive, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Archives and our host archive services invest a lot of time and money in the trainees. I want to make sure that you will develop and learn new skills through the traineeship (rather than other routes into the archive sector).
If the traineeship is looking for IT skills, tell me about yours (if you could see how they might be relevant to an archive – even better). Don’t just share your experience of using archives or volunteering in archive services; these are skills you would develop through your traineeship. Tell me about other experiences and skills that you think could make you the right person for the individual traineeship.
Make me say ‘wow’
Also known as: address every single one of the essential criteria in your supporting statement.
It may sound obvious, but if we’ve listed seven essential criteria you need to provide an example of how you meet each one. If it helps, number them and address each one on a point by point basis, using a real example of something you’ve done. It may not ‘flow’ so well but it really helps the panel members reading lots and lots of application forms.
I had lots of ‘wow’ moments when I was reading the application questions and supporting statements – there are lots of amazing people out there who can bring new experiences and skills to the archive sector.
I also had my fair share of head on desk moments. Some people had written engaging application questions and seemed full of potential – but then attached a CV or wrote one short paragraph for their supporting statement. There were quite a few candidates that I would have liked to have put through to the next stage, as I thought I saw potential, but it’s just not possible if you don’t show that you meet the essential criteria.
Be you and be positive
I want to hear your voice as I read your form (not a ‘cut and paste’ generic sentence about your ability to work in a team).
It can be difficult to get right, and this depends just as much on the person reading the form as its writer. I like to hear a personal voice, but don’t be too chummy (it is still a job application) or too academic (a traineeship is hands on).
Do provide real examples of what you have done – and even if you think you might not meet one essential criterion fully, show me what you do know and where you’re willing to learn more. And as I’ve said, it’s not about what you’ve done in archives, it’s about what you can bring to your host archive service that’s new or different.
Recruiting for a traineeship is different to recruiting to a job. We’re not looking for someone who can do it all already, we’re looking for someone who can bring existing skills to their host archive service but who will also learn new ones through the traineeship.
Potential, motivation, enthusiasm and something different: these are the things I’m looking for in a Transforming Archives trainee. And this is why I’m excited to be catching up with our new trainees – they’ve got an exciting and challenging 12 months ahead.