We received hundreds of applications from all over the world, as well as plenty of phone calls, emails, tweets and FB messages from you lovely folks. THANK YOU to everyone who spent time on preparing your materials – we know how much effort and thought goes into that process, and we’re really flattered.
But during this process, something in addition to the boundless well of talent and enthusiasm grabbed our attention: a few, repeated mistakes that made us wonder whether young archaeologists are getting good advice (or any at all) about how to get a job.
Hey – we’ve all been there, applying for our first job – so we felt compelled to put together some tips for all the talented folks out there who want to work in archaeology, but might need some help decoding the process, and there’s plenty on this list that we wish someone would have told us when we first started out…
Bear in mind that this is based on what works for us (and what doesn’t), but it can probably be applied to almost any job application in archaeology. So here it is: 10 mistaken assumptions NOT to make when you’re trying to get your dream job in archaeology…
You really do need to do your homework. As in every other sector, all serious archaeology or heritage organisations have websites – and they’re not just there to look pretty. They hold key information about their staff, their projects and their mission statements. Employers can tell immediately if you haven’t bothered to find out what makes them tick. In your letter, reference something you’ve seen about their work so it’s clear you’re not just sending them the same letter and CV you’ve sent everyone else. Little things matter, for example addressing your letter ‘Dear Sirs’ when a few clicks on the site will tell you that the core team is made up of two women, one man and a dog just won’t cut it.
Archaeologists like old things, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get new stuff like social media – and employers will check your public profiles, especially if you’re applying for a public-facing role. So scrub that profile clean of anything that contradicts the values you’re trying to display in your application. Remember Sergi Guardiola? This football player was sacked within a few hours of being signed to Barcelona after officials were alerted to some offensive tweets. Don’t score an own goal like Sergi – make sure your social profiles are appropriate to your career goals.
Buzz words (like ‘team player’) are what you use when you don’t have substance that actually counts. What do they actually MEAN? And what does it say about you? Like profanity, buzzwords are a lazy solution for quite important information. Use your words! Also, it seems there’s a new trend to highlight or bold key words and phrases. This technique makes your letter look like a ransom note. We can read – and if we’re interested, we’ll read more. Make sure you’ve stated your skills clearly – are you a geofizz whizz? Tops with a trowel? Say it like it is, because it’s really meaning something when you say it that counts.
Different jobs in archaeology have very different requirements, and you need to take the job description seriously. Read it and then read it again. Are you a good fit? Do you even want to do that job? Does your application provide any evidence that you really understand what the employer is looking for? Have you explicitly stated how you meet all of the requirements? Sending in the same CV and cover letter you’d use to apply for a Field Archaeologist role won’t even get you close to an interview for a Community Archaeologist, and nor should it. You need to make sure you’ve clearly addressed every requirement they’ve asked for, and provided evidence of where you got that experience. In most cases, this means tailoring both your cover letter and CV.
Attention to detail matters. If it’s an application you really care about, we’d suggest that once you’re happy with what you’ve written, ask AT LEAST one other person to read it for comments. This goes for the text in your email too (if applying by email), as this is the first impression employers will have. Check your grammar, spelling, and capitalisation! SAY IT WITH ME: check everything. If you’re not a confident writer, you can easily find a good example online to inspire you. When you are finally finished, make sure you have actually attached ALL the documents the potential employer asked for. Really, if they’ve asked for a cover letter, you better make sure you’ve included one. Double check you have done everything before you finally press ‘send’!
Poor time-keeping is not a very hire-able quality, and if you can’t meet the first deadline you’re presented with (the application!) then your chances are slim. If you have no choice but to submit on the same day as the closing date, then double check the deadline – is it 9:00am, 5:00pm or midnight? You may have spent your life studying things that have been in the ground for centuries, but you need to know when a couple of hours will make all the difference.
We might remember you, but unless you have a genuine question, we might not remember you for the right reasons. Phoning up to engage in witty repartee is not exactly going to convince us that you’re right for the job. And if you decide to ring up with a genuine inquiry about (for example) the flexibility of the job or the kind of training involved, your focus still needs to be on how you can help the business. These (and many others) are all valid inquiries, but if you phone up wanting to have a conversation about whether the job is going to solve your needs, rather than a conversation about how you and the company could mutually exchange value, it isn’t going to work. Calls can be a great way to make an impression – or not.
Go back and read points 1 and 4 again. You can infer the appropriate tone from the organisation’s website and the job description. While you do need to remain professional at all times, remember that wading through hundreds of applications can be tedious and employers will notice someone who has intuitively understood the organisation’s tone and style and can use it appropriately in their application. If the organization is friendly and creative, then be friendly and creative in your application. We employ people, not robots – we want to see your hustle!
This is potentially the worst attitude to have. If anything, you have the competitive edge and the potential to submit a stand-out application. This is your chance to shine. You know how the company operates, their goals and what they like. If you have that insight, you’d better show that you know how to use it; there is nothing worse than having to turn someone down because they just didn’t bring it.
Some companies might give us a slap on the wrist for telling you this, but it’s simply not true. Archaeology firms will often say they’re looking for field archaeologists with six months or more experience by default, but the fact is, we all have to start somewhere. Many companies will offer you a job and train you up if you are willing to learn and show you have a can-do attitude. And with some huge infrastructure projects on the horizon, it is likely that there will be a mass recruitment drive for many archaeological organisations. Your chances will be a whole lot better if you call up and find out what the requirements really are at that point in time… and use all of the advice we’ve given you in your application!
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