How to ruin your archaeology job search 2

Are you still in the waiting room for an archaeology job?My wife isn’t an archaeologist but she is a hiring manager. She uses the same processes to hire new employees as nearly every archaeology company (except her job doesn’t use the hidden job market as liberally as the cultural resource management archaeology industry does). Her department has some entry-level positions that she is currently trying to fill.

Yesterday, my wife and one of her colleagues went through over 80 applications for four positions. They were trying to winnow the applicant pool down to about a dozen candidates. A number of college students applied for the position. Because the college semester hasn’t yet started, they decided to call the candidates on the phone in order to see if they were even in town and available for an interview.

Several of the candidates are not yet in town, so all the interviews can’t happen just yet. Most of the folks that answered their phones were cordial and more than willing to schedule an interview. Some haven’t answered their phone yet. A couple of candidates totally blew their chances at getting the job because they pulled one of the most fatal acts that can completely destroy a job opportunity: They were indecisive.

One woman couldn’t decide if they still wanted the job. She lives less than an hour from the university, but said she didn’t know when she’d be available for an interview. Another man was too aloof. He also didn’t know when he could interview and was unsure if he had the time for the job.

I’m sure these folks had their reasons for indecisiveness, but why didn’t they just say they weren’t interested anymore so another candidate could be found? If they still wanted the job, why didn’t they just say so? Why was there so much ambiguity in the simple decision to schedule a job interview?

Indecisiveness is fatal

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation from an undergrad who has assured me that they’re really serious about becoming an archaeologist:

Me: “Congrats on finishing your degree. What’s next? Are you looking for a job?”

Aspiring Archaeologist (AA): Short pause. She breaks eye contact as she says, “Well I just finished school. I’m not sure what’s next. Guess I’ll try and find a job in CRM, but I kinda just want to take it easy for a little while.”

Me: Taken aback by the fact that, despite the fact that she’s just dropped tens of thousands of dollars and went on a field school and had an archaeology internship, she still is not sure she wants to be an archaeologist. Not understanding how taking it easy means not working. “Uuuum…okay. So what are you going to do then? Crash at your parents’?”

AA: Visibly discomforted by this line of questioning. “Well, I don’t want to. But, there are, like, no CRM jobs out there right now.”

Me: Trying to help when I should just move on. “Have you ever heard of or Archaeology jobs are posted there every day.”

AA: “Oh, yeah. I’ve been checking those websites and a lot of other ones there too. But,…[insert  wet-blanket excuse here].”

For some reason, I always stay engaged in this conversation even though I know the aspiring archaeologist is not really ready to go for it. Sometimes, rarely, I can convince this aspirant to take the plunge: Start networking and working towards a job. Usually the AA’s I talk to finish school, drop their stuff off at momma’s, grab a job in their old hometown, and live in Millennial poverty for a couple years before they even think about going after their dream job in archaeology (if they ever do at all). There are a lot of reasons for this:

  • The given AA is not ready to go out of their comfort zone. High school was safe and comfortable. College was safe and comfortable. They are very used to being safe and comfortable.
  • They have a “job” that provides enough money to be comfortable, further diminishing any motivation to get uncomfortable. Even though it doesn’t pay much and layoffs happen all the time, working at Target makes them feel safe and comfortable.
  • They know there’s going to be pretty steep competition for any archaeology position and they don’t want to get bloodied in the fray. Or, fight at all for that matter.
  • They actually believe the hype—that you can’t make money doing archaeology for a living.
  • They are afraid of not “making money” (i.e. not choosing a career path that could end up in a six-figure position [even though this is unlikely for more than 99% of all Americans]).
  • None of their professors are dangling an archaeology job in their face after graduation. The spoon-fed archaeo position buffet has ended.

All of those fears can be paralyzing. I know from personal experience.

Once upon a time, I graduated with my B.A. in anthropology and wanted to use that degree to become an archaeologist. The only problem was I didn’t know any archaeologists besides my anthro professors (I didn’t even know CRM existed until I went to graduate school).

At the time, I was working at Costco and was making more money than I could hope to make in an entry-level archaeology tech position. There was a clear path to making six-figures at Costco and guaranteed raises at certain benchmarks (FYI: A cashier that has been at Costco for 20 years makes close to six-figures when you include their stock options. Some are sitting on $500,000+ retirement accounts since Costco stock has risen steadily and split more than once since 1990. If you want a job, Costco is one of the best employers in the United States.)

After nearly three years of pushing carts, boxing groceries, tending a cash register, changing tires, and stocking shelves at night, I realized I was moving further and further away from my dream of being an archaeologist. I was getting pretty comfortable. I’d paid off my college debt and was saving for a house or new car. I was thinking about moving up the corporate ladder.

In 2002, I applied for a cashier position and was denied. The reason why I was passed up for the position was because somebody with 3 months more seniority also applied. She got the job over me.

I was disheartened. How could 90 days’ worth of employment trump my work performance? How did someone who was less physically capable pass me up for a promotion (The lady that got that position was in the hospital with a strained elbow in less than a month. She never cashiered for the rest of the time I worked there.) Why didn’t my college degree count for anything when considering this position? (The lady that passed me up didn’t have a degree. Neither did the hiring managers.)

Soon after that event, I got some sage advice from my favorite college adviser. He came through my line at Costco one day. We chatted while I boxed his groceries. Then, he asked me to help him out to his car. While we walked to his car I talked about the money I was making here and the difficulties I was having finding a job in archaeology that would pay as much. He listened intently.

When we got to his car, he gave me some excellent advice that I would never forget. He told me that if I wanted to become a professional archaeologist, the first thing I needed to do was quit working at Costco. As long as I was getting raises and staying comfortable, I would never do what it takes to change directions in my career. I would have to make a decision and choose one or the other. He was right.

That month, I applied for graduate school at the University of Idaho and was accepted. I put in my resignation at Costco as soon as I got the acceptance letter. I landed my first CRM archaeology job within 2 months of starting classes at Idaho. That job gave me my first network of contacts that I’ve used to find work ever since. I’ve never looked back.

Are you ready to go for it?

I’ve helped a lot of people get jobs in archaeology but I’ve also decided to not help an even greater number of people. Why? Because it was pretty clear that they weren’t ready to go for it.

Most of the people I’ve helped get an archaeology job were folks that knew me personally; however, I have also helped a number of Succinct Research Blog readers in the past. The reason why I started this blog was to help aspiring archaeologists get jobs, but about a year ago I realized many of the people who asked me to help with their job search were not really ready to make the switch towards archaeology as a career.

Inaction was really at the heart of the matter. They got my advice but never acted. Some of these folks wanted me to just call my friends at CRM companies in their part of the country and conjure them a job out of thin air. They weren’t ready to do the networking, resume writing, and industry research necessary to get the job themselves. That stuff is hard work, I readily admit it, but your career will not last beyond your first arch tech position if you don’t do it for yourself.

Archaeology jobs don’t find you. You have to find them. And, in the process, you will be building a career that can support you for years to come.

This post isn’t for everyone

After reading this post, I’m sure some people are offended. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of archaeological technicians who are beating the bushes and trying to find meaningful employment in archaeology. There are lots of crew chiefs and project managers who are trying to sustain their careers and network themselves into the next job or promotion. There are even principal investigators who are trying to decide if CRM archaeology is how they want to spend their lives. They’re asking themselves whether or not getting scoliosis from hunching over a computer screen while writing RFPs is how they want to spend the rest of their days.

Some of you are saying: “Indecisiveness isn’t why I can’t find a job in archaeology. I’m doing everything I can.

For those of you who are hustling out there, keep on keeping on. You are acting. This blog post is not for you.

I wrote this for everyone who is waffling about whether or not they should quit their day job and risk their security on going after a job in archaeology. Let me to tell you this: Archaeology is not for everybody. The life of a cultural resource management archaeologist can be tough. You may not see rewards, financial or intellectual, in every project you work on. But, you don’t want to live your life wondering what if. What if you never tried to live your life as an archaeologist?

What if you could have been reminiscing about your awesome work that day on Moundbuilder site while sipping cheap beer in a pub in rural Illinois rather than reminiscing about taking some customer’s shit at your day job while sipping a cheap beer in rural Illinois? What if…?

You will never know if the haters are right about archaeology unless you try. You will never be able to answer the question “What if?” unless you go for it. What are you waiting for?

Seriously, tell me what you’re waiting for. Write a comment below or send me an email.

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2 thoughts on “How to ruin your archaeology job search

  • Rose

    Hi! Just wanted to drop off a comment to let you know that your article has found me at the perfect time. I graduated from college in May and have been piddling about in the exact manner you describe for the past seven months (decent job, burnt out from school). More than anything, I want to be a shovelbum, though. I don’t even care about moving up in the field or making a lot of money at this point in my life. I just want to dig and survey and sweat and travel and actually earn my beer at the end of the day (what a lofty dream!). Last month, I got sick of the piddling and without stopping to think too hard, I shot off emails to my boss and landlord, giving my month notice. I’m in the fortunate position to be able to store my few belongings at my mother’s home and save money by staying there in between traveling for digs. I haven’t even secured my first job yet and I’m not sure exactly how long that will take, but your article has boosted my confidence in this decision. Thanks!

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