Saturday, 14 April 2012

How to get your first job in archaeology

Archaeology students in their final year may look beyond their final exams to see an even more challenging prospect - finding a job in the industry.  About 2,000 people graduate in archaeology-related subjects every year.  Most of them will never get their first archaeology job.  Of those that do, most leave archaeology after a few years (in 2010 the average age of professional archaeologists in the UK was 38).  It has been estimated that  100-200 people join the profession and make it their long-term career - everybody else either doesn't try, or tries and fails.  Commercial archaeological contractors employ 90% of archaeologists.

So if you are in this situation, and you want to try to start an archaeological career,  what steps should you follow?

Prepare your cv

The university careers service should be able to give advice on formatting and content.  The cv is particularly important in archaeology because most junior posts are filled without interviewing, so it is your only chance to make the cut.  It should be noted that archaeological employers take a very narrow view of what they are looking for in potential staff, and other content will be ignored.

The ideal new graduate would have a cv proclaiming:

  • driving licence and car
  • fieldwork experience on several UK sites
  • work placements in commercial archaeology
  • knowledge of British archaeology
  • experience of finds handling and identification
  • experience with GIS, databases and photography
  • team working and initiative
  • some evidence of an interest in archaeology (membership of local, period or topic societies, IfA)

All of these should appear on the first page.

You shouldn't lie on your cv.  But you should highlight if you have relevant knowledge, skills or experience.  (if you have the chance to fill some gaps before leaving, now is the time to do it).

Include references, preferably from a commercial/professional rather than academia.

Research your employers

There are about 200 archaeological employers in the UK.  (That's a guess- there are 72 CIfA Registered Organisations).  It is a waste of your time and theirs if you approach them all.  Choose the ones you want to work for, find out what they are doing at the moment, and note the names of the key staff.  Find out whether anyone at the university has links with them which could be used.

Most organisations have centralised recruitment, so don't approach individuals directly, but you should tailor your submission to emphasise areas of their work you could complement.


Job vacancies are advertised on BAJR  and the CIfA Job Information Service.  Most most job vacancies aren't advertised at all.  What tends to happen is a company is told it has got a contract and the race is on to bring a team together in a matter of days.  So don't wait for an advert: apply anyway.  Some companies are careful to maintain a list of people who have approached them in case things come up, some just delete on receipt.

 Be prepared to volunteer

Having a degree in archaeology is no indication that you would be an asset if employed.  Most companies will simply ignore any applications from people without 6 months of paid excavation work under their belts.  So how to get a foot in the door?  Be prepared to spend some time learning the practical skills you will need.  With any luck if you hang around, a paid post will turn up.

Think about the future

The most valuable asset in your career is the good opinion of your current and future employers.  So don't mess them about.

Do some research

You could do worse than reading 10 simple steps (free ebook)

Update: get a Skills Passport and start getting it completed.

Join or upgrade CIFA membership and join relevant Area and Special Interest Groups- this will give you a chance to meet with all levels of the profession and find out what current debates and practice arise.
Prepare for future responsibilities by brushing up Excel skills, exploring grey literature and HER data online, and maybe contributing corrections, additions and photos to your local HER.


Archaeological Surveys said...

It is lamentable to read that most archaeology students will never get their first archaeology job. This tips are really handy, those who heed this have better chances of making it.

Martin Locock said...

The figures are slightly distorted because a substantial proportion of students choosing archaeology as a degree never have any plan to follow it as a career, just treating it as an interesting humanities course. Even so, it's a tough world and I hope that people realise that.

Unknown said...

I have always said choose your career find out what qualifications you need and then work your way backwards. If you don't know what you want to do as a job for goodness sake don't go to uni. Its far too expensive just to go for the social life and really its only a handful of good nights out a year. If you are unsure just wait. There is plenty of time ahead of you. Great post

kumari said...

Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

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Anonymous said...

Opt for a distance learning program in Archaeology. Most of the courses can be covered online though training and excavation skills will have to be developed in the field.
A Career in Archaeology

ufo 3d said...

Great post