CRM companies: Why not post your starting salaries?

Salary negotiation in cultural resource management archaeologyWe’re all familiar with archaeology job posting and their biggest shortcoming.

A company is looking for some field techs, so they write up a job posting for or They’re looking for a good candidate so they start with what they want from us: A Bachelor’s degree, an “accredited” field school (whatever that means), a driver’s license, must be able to walk 50 miles through the desert carrying a 50 pound backpack, must be able to use a hand-held Trimble GPS, must be familiar with archaeological survey and excavation, must be able to pass a drug test, need to have one to three years of experience, ect….

Ninety percent of these postings are basically the same. It’s as if they cut-and-pasted a boilerplate job description and passed it around between cultural resource management firms. They all start with what they require from you, but very few companies tell you about what you require from them—-Money.

Why don’t companies tell you how much they’re going to pay you?

Each job post sounds like the company is actually trying to find the ideal candidate (i.e. a skilled archaeologist with experience). The reality is, oftentimes, they’d rather choose an okay archaeologist that is willing to work for peanuts. The reasons for this are entirely logical from a business perspective. Why pay employees more than you have to? Wages and benefits are the biggest expenses for most American companies. You can dramatically lower your expenses if you pay your employees the least amount of money possible.

What about the employees? If they can’t handle the low wages, they’re free to go work somewhere else. You can just hire another one. There are several large McCorporations that have mastered this strategy. As an employee, you have choices too. You only need to take this crap long enough to learn the skills necessary to get a higher, better-paying position at another company. Most long-time CRMers have mastered Job Hopping (FYI: If you’re a CRMer and reading this blog post, you should really take the time to look at this infographic on Job Hopping. It describes your reality to a “T” []).

There are a plethora of degree-holding archaeology job seekers. A Bachelor’s degree has arbitrarily been used as the educational baseline for an archaeological field tech, even though field techs are not considered professional archaeologists according to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards (, because companies know there are lots of Americans out there with anthro degrees that could become field techs. A good field school should be enough to qualify for most CRM field tech jobs (which is why I recommend undergraduates do their field school ASAP [like freshman year] and spend their summers doing CRM fieldwork for the rest of their undergraduate education). For some reason, CRM professionals insist on hiring a field tech that has completed her Bachelor’s degree, as if more classtime will make them a better field archaeologist.

The insistence on having a college degree furthers the idea that CRM companies want to hire techs that they plan on teaching the ins-and-outs of the industry. It suggests they deeply value what archaeological technicians do and understand that hiring intelligent, educated, excellent young CRMers is important to the survival of the industry. This is actually true.

The vast majority of cultural resources PI’s and company owners do care about hiring good employees and sincerely want to treat them well. If you talk to any CRM principal investigator that has worked their way up in the industry, they will tell you that good field techs are paramount for the success of every CRM archaeology project. Then, they’ll tell you the reality—that the budgets for CRM projects typically aren’t large enough to pay the kind of money that will land and retain good field techs.

Finding an intelligent field tech with a Bachelor’s degree and a field school under their belt is easy. Finding a field tech with field experience and is willing to put up with the rigors of fieldwork and tenuousness of employment in CRM is the hard part. Which is why they don’t tell you their pay rate.

Being up-front about starting wages will help you find the kind of candidate you want

The idea for this blog post came about through a social media conversation about job postings and the difficulty of finding a good entry-level job in cultural resource management. CRMers with experience are fed up with seeing job postings that don’t tell you how the starting pay rate. “Pay commensurate with experience” has come to mean “we’re looking for the cheapest candidate we can find.”

And, this phenomenon is not simply relegated to field tech posts. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to see how much a company is willing to pay for a supervisory archaeologist until you’ve submitted a CV and gotten a job interview. Believe me, I’ve tried to find out starting salaries for these positions and learned companies are more willing to be honest about tech salaries than those of project managers.

In the process of writing this post, I quickly perused the first two pages of positions posted on Archaeologyfieldwork and the available archaeologist/archeologist jobs posted on to do a quick-and-dirty, wholly unscientific survey of what employers are offering field techs, crew chiefs, and other CRMers. Here’s what I found:


Totally unscientific survey of wages on (8/11/2017)
Field Tech 1 $14.50/hr. 13
Crew Chief 0 N/A 3
Supervisor (Grad degree required) 0 N/A 6
GIS specialist 1 $18.00/hr 1
Other 3 $16.50—18.50; $14.50; $0/hr (It was an internship. At least they were honest) 3
TOTAL 5   26


As you can tell from this table shows, only 16% of job postings clearly show how much they’re going to pay you if you get the job. Most of the time the hiring wages were not posted on archaeologyfielwork but you could find them by going to the company/organization’s website, which you’d have to do to submit a resume or CV anyway so it’s not really that much more work. You can also see the reason why these companies and organizations didn’t post their starting wage— because most of them do not plan on paying you a livable wage.

(SIDENOTE: A special thanks to those employers that clearly stated how much they were willing to pay in their job post. It takes guts to do that. We appreciate your transparency.)

The Federal government was much less opaque. The hiring wages for all five jobs for archaeologist and 15 jobs for archeologist were clearly displayed on USAJobs. And, the wages were much more livable. The lowest wage, $12.53–$19.49/hour, was for a number of temporary archaeological technician positions in the desert Southwest. Twelve-fifty an hour is not really livable but you can probably survive on it if you get to live in government housing. Plus, these positions weren’t permanent anyway.

Government jobs are highly valued among CRMers primarily because of the wages and job stability. It’s difficult to match the stability of the U.S. Government, but I’m sure companies could probably match their wages if all companies in a given region pegged their wages to what the Federal government is willing to pay for comparable positions (although most companies would find it difficult to pay their PIs six-figure salaries. Many company owners don’t even make that much).

Most of us know wages in the United States are stagnant even though unemployment is low and our productivity is high. I’ve talked about wages in CRM before and made some recommendations on how they could be improved (collective action and bargaining anyone?) Most CRM archaeologists put up with the low wages and tenuous work conditions because they’ve wanted to become a “real archaeologist” for decades. Realizing this dream is what keeps many of us going. It’s also what keeps universities cranking out anthropology degrees.

Unfortunately, CRM company owners know this too, which is why they can continue to pay such low wages. In the table above, did you notice how none of the supervisory positions posted their starting salaries? One company was honest about how much they’re paying their field techs but nobody was transparent about what they were willing to pay their supervisory archaeologists. These supervisory positions were for someone with years of experience (7—10 years for some of those jobs) who was capable of managing other employees, project budgets, and, basically, the future of their CRM department but not a single company was willing to clearly articulate how much they were willing to pay for this work?!?!?!!

I’m sure there is some level of negotiation for these supervisory positions but why not just advertise how much you’re willing to pay an employee with a graduate degree and a bunch of experience? How can you negotiate for “pay commensurate with experience” if you don’t know how much others with the same level of experience are getting paid? You can’t.

Keeping us in the dark about wages is a major way employers can keep their employees in check. Ever wonder why some companies consider it inappropriate to talk about salaries? Because they don’t want you to know where your wages stand in comparison to your colleagues and to others in the industry. That way you can’t advocate for more money. And, you won’t be able to dramatically increase your wages when you job hop to another company. A few thousand more added to your salary will seem like a huge victory if you don’t know how much you can make.

Does anybody like this situation?

I know CRMers don’t like the fact that they have to jump through hoops just to figure out how much a position pays. My early career was marked by writing dozens of resumes and CVs each month applying for jobs that, once I got to actually speak with a hiring manager, didn’t even pay enough to be worth the effort. We all know you won’t get rich doing archaeology, but why not just be up-front about wages?

The bigger questions are for the CRM hiring managers out there. Does talking about wages with job applicants make you nervous? Do you like us calling for “more information about the job” (i.e. how much you’re going to pay)? Do you guys like perpetually training new hires because you’ve decided to pay wages that only greenhorns will accept? Why do you think high turnover is “normal” in cultural resource management archaeology? Do you enjoy haggling about salaries with candidates for supervisory positions? Or, losing the best supervisory candidates when they find out what you’re planning on paying them?

Why not be transparent about your starting wages so experienced CRMers can make the decision whether or not to apply? You will still find someone to do the work, so why not find someone that actually wants the job rather than someone desperate enough to take it until something better comes along?

Please, especially if you are a hiring manager, please write a comment below or send me an email. I want this to become a dialogue about wages, transparency, and improving the cultural resource management industry. Wages are a serious part of CRM archaeology and this is a space where you can respond.


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