If you have a cultural resources job, you need to be a T-Person 5

I had an incident this summer that reminded me of my days before I landed my first cultural resources job. I’m sure any of you out there with heritage conservation jobs or historic preservation employment can relate.

My 16-year-old sister is entering her junior year in high school and we were recently chatting about her plans after graduation. I think college is one of her best options because she’s smart and does well in school. But, I understand college isn’t for everyone. While she’s definitely smart enough for college, smart people don’t always excel in college for a number of reasons. Some kids are too immature. Others aren’t ready for the fast paced learning environment. Many aren’t properly motivated or have poor time management skills. It’s also hard to keep pushing forward through all those classes.

Let’s face it: college is a gamble and many people end up losing.

My sister and I were looking at the course catalog for our local university. She made a remark about how many classes each student has to take, many of which have little to no use in the student’s respective field.

“Why do they make you take all that extra crap? Why don’t you just take the classes you’re interested in?” she asked.

Instantly, I recalled having that same conversation with my mother when I was about a year and a half into my bachelor’s program. I was burning the candle wick at both ends; living on my own, working full-time, and taking about 14 credits in school. It was hard. By my second year, I was approaching burnout.

I thought, “This would all be so much easier if I only had to take the classes in my major.” During a rant with my mom, I blurted out the same thing my sister asked me, “Why do they make us take all this crap?”

The answer I gave my sister is the same one my mother gave me. “They make you take all that crap so you’ll become a well-rounded person.” It was all I could think of.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know if those extra classes contribute much to anyone’s well-roundedness. All of us in the humanities and preservation fields have taken numerous classes that never seemed to help us in our professional lives. I think our experiences in life are what turn us into well-rounded individuals. But it is true that those extra classes expose each college student to a number of ideas that they otherwise wouldn’t explore. It’s debatable if classes like Introduction to Theater, Introduction to Logic, and Symposium on African Women actually affect our personalities, but they do provide a breadth of knowledge that we would otherwise lack.

I guess the goal of all those extra classes is to become a “T-Person.”

Be a T-Person
I was introduced to the concept of T-People while listening to a CD version of Scott Belsky’s book Make Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles between Vision and Reality. At a certain point in the book, Belsky recaps an interview with Diego Rodriguez of the design consulting firm IDEO. When asked about the ideal employee IDEO is searching for, Rodriguez said the company looks for T-People. Rodriguez went on to clarify that the “T” represents a diagram of a candidate’s skill set. The horizontal line of the T is the employee’s breadth of knowledge and the vertical line represents the depth of knowledge the employee has on a specific topic.

The concept of companies hiring T-People is so important and I’ve seen it work itself out in a number of different ways. In my job field, cultural resources archaeology, people with the greatest breadth of skills and experiences usually have no problem finding a job. But the people with a wide range of skills AND extensive knowledge in a specific area typically have more secure employment. The T-archaeologists are the ones that companies can’t do without. Archaeologists with extreme specialization in a single area, a tall vertical axis but a narrow horizontal axis, have the most difficulties finding employment. The hyper-specialized archaeologists don’t have enough to offer that would make them invaluable to their employer and they have to learn many things after they’re hired.

I think the T-Person concept plays a significant role in all cultural resources job fields, especially in cultural resource management or heritage conservation. People working in the CRM or heritage conservation usually specialize in a particular area or field of knowledge. These specialized people will always be important, but they aren’t always necessary. Consultants that have a breadth of knowledge, with a particular emphasis in a single area, are more likely to have steady and permanent employment.

Keep this concept in mind no matter what job you’re looking for:

• If you are currently studying archaeology, biology, geology, architecture, or heritage conservation, try to develop a specialty while also expanding the number of specialties you know.
• Start learning everything you can about a certain aspect or area of your job field. Try to make that your specialty. Read everything you can and start writing white papers, articles, or blog posts on that topic.
• For those of you that are already working in consulting, always seek to expand your knowledge base and be willing to learn new things.
• You should also be willing to find new skills that you can use to increase your productivity, or create as a means of diversifying your skillset.

Becoming a T-Person benefits all of us in our job search. The breadth of topics in CRM or heritage conservation means there is a nearly limitless number of things you can use to specialize or diversify your marketable skills.

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