How to identify open career niches in the cultural resource management industry

Fill existing needs within cultural resource management companies in order to get hiredCultural resource management companies don’t need archaeologists.

They don’t.

Think about it. Is archaeology the ONLY thing CRM archaeologists do for their companies? Do companies need employees that ONLY do archaeology? The answer is no.

CRM archaeologists do a wide variety of different activities and tasks for their employers. They are jacks-of-all-trades— marketers, planners, preservationists, pseudo-accountants, workflow experts, authors, data analysts, and day laborers—that are trained in archaeology and anthropology. CRM companies don’t need people that are strictly archaeologists because they need T-people— folks that have a depth of knowledge in a specific topic and also know enough to be dangerous at a lot of other things.

The problem is, when marketing or describing themselves, most cultural resource management archaeologists only self-identify as archaeologist, leaving out the wealth of other skills and experience they can bring to the table. We want to do archaeology so badly that we forget about all the other stuff we’re forced to do in order to get out into the field.

Cultural resource managers that have the easiest time keeping their careers afloat do two things well: they network their a@ses off and they sell themselves. A good salesperson makes sure to mention ALL of the benefits that come along with the product they’re trying to sell (in this case, it’s your services).

Good salespeople are also able to convey the unique properties that make their product worth buying. What makes this item so unique? How does this product help solve my problems? Do I even need this thing?

Selling yourself to potential CRM employers is difficult, especially if you spend all your time telling them how good you are at archaeology. Young archaeology careerists with little experience will have a hard time explaining how they’re a better archaeologist than the stable of experienced archaeos already employed at that company. It’s even hard for seasoned field directors and PIs to explain how their experience is needed at a company that already has those positions filled.

It’s a lot easier to sell yourself if you have a skill, experience, or ability that the company doesn’t already have. For example, every CRM company has to find a way to make recommendations on historical structures and some clients will only accept these recommendations from somebody that fulfills the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Architectural History but few companies have architectural historians on staff. CRM projects also encounter both prehistoric and historical sites but companies don’t always have an employee that knows how to identify these sites and make professional recommendations.

Don’t even get me started with CRM company marketing directors. There are few companies that have an employee skilled and educated in marketing. Large environmental firms do, but most CRM-only outfits do not (BTW: Logging into FedBizOps every morning for proposal opportunities is not marketing. It’s pretty much just surfing the net.)

It is much easier to sell yourself to companies that don’t already have somebody with your experience. If you can do something nobody else at that company does, if you can fill an open niche, you’re CV is going to be readily accepted.

Identifying open niches at CRM companies

It’s going to take some extra effort to figure out the skills that are in demand in the CRM companies you want to work for. If you’re on the job market, you should be targeting specific companies that you want to work for (If you want to learn how to land an archaeology job, check out this blog post series).

You should have a clear idea where you want to work (city size, area of the country, ect.), have a list of CRM consultants in that region, and have an idea what you want to do (community outreach, historical archaeology, archival research, GIS, ect.). You should also be building up your online persona and identifying contacts that can help you make inroads at that company (HINT: Harness LinkedIn and research these companies like a gumshoe).

If you’re doing that, you’re already on the right track. However, identifying open niches can be THE thing that makes or breaks your career.

You need to be building up a list of those company’s employees and citing their education, experience, and recent projects. What is their position? What do those people contribute to the company? What are their specialties? How do these characteristics help the company make money?

From this employee/skills list, you should be able to identify several areas of knowledge, skills, and abilities that the company lacks. For example, do they have a database manager? What about a webpage builder or IT specialist? Is there anyone described as a historical archaeologist?

Try and identify areas of weakness in their service offerings that you can fill. Pay particular attention to skills that aren’t offered in the entire region. This could be the key to your future employment.

(NOTE: You need to focus on tracking skills, knowledge, and abilities that make money for CRM companies. This is usually a variation on the core services offered by the company. For example, CRM-only outfits don’t need a biologist on staff because they don’t identify endangered plants or animals. Companies in Arizona don’t normally need a shell analyst and, when they do, they outsource this to subcontractors. But all CRM companies have to be able to identify historical buildings and structures. Look for companies that don’t have a historical archaeologist or architectural historian and start building your “tin can archaeology” skills.)

Here are some of the ways you can exploit unfilled niches:

What don’t they do that other companies do?— If other companies specialize in Section 4f compliance, multi-million dollar projects, or architectural history, look for the ones in your area that don’t do that. Here are some things that all CRM companies need help with but don’t always have someone on-staff that does that: Health and safety, GIS, historical building eligibility determinations, technical editing, graphics, database management, project coordination, billing, customer relations, and marketing.

Notice how none of these have to do with archaeology?

Think about becoming a subcontractor— Know how to do something that isn’t needed in CRM all the time but can add real value to a CRM project? Tree-ring analysis, statistics, zooarchaeology, and shell analysis immediately comes to mind.

Maybe you can position yourself as a gun-for-hire and try to get some work providing those services as a subcontractor. Your side-hustle may turn into a full-time gig.

Learn about audience engagement marketing— This is the future of business, but, like most other aspects of business, few no CRM companies are doing it.

I learned about audience engagement marketing by following Danny Iny’s books “Engagement from Scratch”, his new one “The Audience Revolution”, and advice from other authors like Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin. Basically, Iny recommends using a combination of blogging, social media, and networking to cultivate relationships with customers and other authorities in order to gain trust and, potentially, have customers look for you.

This is completely revolutionary in CRM archaeology, so don’t expect it to immediately land you a job. It also takes some time because you have to cultivate relationships with employees at CRM companies and their clients at the same time by writing blog posts, connecting through social media, and interacting on a one-to-one basis.

A CRMer without a job in CRM should use audience engagement to act as a matchmaker that connects CRM companies to projects. You could throw some companies a bone or have them hire you to do the work, if you’re qualified.

You are basically creating your own job if you go the audience engagement marketing route. Check out those books or email me if you want to learn more about how you can leverage this strategy.

Gear your education toward a niche that is in demand— The easiest way to fulfill local niches is by gearing your college education toward a niche that is in demand. College degrees hold weight. If you see that few local companies have health and safety coordinators, GIS specialists, or IT experts, you could get a degree or certificate in that specialty.

This requires forethought and effort to go for a goal that may not exist by the time you graduate. Right now advisers are telling tons of their students to get GIS certificates but the dearth of GIS certified archaeos may not exist four years from now. It’s a calculated risk, but, no matter what, at least you’re diversifying your skillset.

Also, you don’t need a college degree to become an expert in an activity that could help a CRM company. You can just do a 30-Day-Challenge-esque intensive course where you spend 20 to 40 hours a week for a month or two learning the ins-and-outs of a CRM-related activity like GIS, health and safety plan creation, or database management. Because you won’t be getting a diploma, you’re going to have to do some projects that highlight these skills. Volunteering is a great way to demonstrate your expertise. If you’re good enough, you may be able to parlay that into some freelance work.

Exploit weaknesses, Get a job

When I was working on my Master’s, I wanted to be a historical archaeologist that studied colonialism, slavery, and plantations in the Mid-Atlantic States. I was fortunate enough to actually land a job in Fredericksburg as a historical archaeologist. Even though the pay was low, I thought I’d made it.

After a few months working in Virginia, I realized the area was saturated with historical archaeologists that were all willing to do whatever it took to do colonial archaeology. There were PhDs and MAs willing to work for $15/hr. and devote their entire careers to slowly excavating a single plantation. And, they already had those positions by the time I arrived.

I realized the competition in Mid-Atlantic historical archaeology was too fierce for my liking. I wasn’t willing to make similar vows of poverty and dedication just to make it in FredVegas.

At the same time, I realized CRM companies out west were having a hard time finding competent historical archaeologists. They were finding sites with historical buildings and features but were having a hard time making quality recommendations because their staffs were filled with prehistorians.

This became my niche. Branding myself as a historical archaeologist in the American West was one of the best career moves I ever made, second only to blogging about CRM.

Continually self-identifying as an archaeologist is the biggest weakness of CRM job seekers because the market is already saturated with qualified, experienced archaeos in most parts of the country. You can dramatically improve your marketability if you start selling your non-archaeology related skills, knowledge and experience. You may also end up creating a job for yourself in the process of marketing and building the skills that will help you exploit these weaknesses.

Do you know of any other techniques to help identify the skills needed at local cultural resource management companies? Write a comment below or send me an email.

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