Choosing To Apply: Deciding if the Job is Right for You

Applying for Archaeology Jobs-2

Applying for a job in archaeology shouldn’t be too different then applying for any other job. You’ll find job postings in the typical spots most archaeologists look: Shovelbums,, USAJobs, your local network, professional organizations like the SAA, SHA, and RPA, and the bar. If you’re like most job seekers, you’ll throw a bunch of applications at anything that sounds mildly interesting, shipping off the same resume and perhaps the same cover letter if you send one at all, to each job, hoping one of the many will write you back.

But if you want your application to stand out, you need to put energy into each application. And to do that, you should put some energy into answering these questions:

  1. Why do you want this job?
  2. What makes you a good fit for this job?
  3. What makes you a good fit for this place?

Addressing these questions should do three things: first, it will help you decide if the job is a good fit for you. Second, your message in your materials will be consistent and cohesive from your letter to your interview (learn more about cover letters and resumes here). Third, each application will be tailor made for each position, because while some answers might be the same, each job and organization is different. This will all increase your chances of getting noticed.

Why do you want this job?

There are lots of reasons to want a job in archaeology. There are the obvious practical answer: we all need food and shelter. Good materials, however, will include additional reasons that you want a job. Is this filling a gap in your experience? Will it give you a new skill set? Perhaps you want more management experience, or want to break into a new region? Perhaps the sites they are excavating meet an interest or specialty of yours. Maybe you need more Phase III opportunities, or maybe it is an institution that you have always wanted to work for. There are countless reasons, and they are all valid and should inform the materials you are presenting. So challenge yourself to think beyond, “because I need a job.”

What Makes You A Good Fit for This Job?

Take note: this question is not “Are you qualified for this job?” That’s the wrong question. How do you fit into the job is the right question to ask. Remember, a job description is the idealized candidate. It describes the responsibilities of the job, and then what the employer hopes will land on her desk. In some cases, these qualifications will exclude you. For example, lacking a field school or bachelor’s degree might make getting a job in archaeology much more difficult. But for the most part, things like “2–5 years experience” doesn’t mean I’m tossing out every application with less than 2 years experience, particularly if you’re bringing other things to the table that I want.

So, what makes you a good fit? Make a list. First, go through the job description and list out all the different qualifications and job responsibilities. If you’re into analog, put them on notecards, or just type them in a word document. Then, pull out your up-to-date resume, and see what lines up. Write them down. In some cases, you’ll find areas where you don’t have the qualification. This doesn’t mean you are unqualified, it just means that you need to think a bit about how to fill that space with something that is useful. For example, I didn’t have much archaeological management experience heading into my current position, but I did manage retail stores. That’s valid experience. Think creatively about what parts of your experience may indicate that you will succeed at parts of the job that you may not have direct experience doing, and write those down. Voila, you have answered question 2.

Extra credit: Do a bit of research on the type of job that is listed. Look at what other people you know do in those jobs, ask them what their job is like, get an idea as to what the trends are in the field, and add those things to your list. You may discover that you have additional qualifications that the employer doesn’t even know they want. Perhaps the tech job doesn’t list GIS, but you have that skill set and you can see how it would be applicable to the role. This could make up for a gap in your experience elsewhere. My current employer didn’t know he wanted a social media expert until I told him he did in my cover letter.

If you know anyone who works in the department you’re applying to, you should contact them. Get it straight from them what they’re looking for in the job. There is nothing worse than not finding out a colleague you know is applying for a job in your department until you read their materials. Put yourself in the best position to succeed. Use your network.

What Makes You a Good Fit for This Place?

This last one will take some research. Understanding why you fit the job is only part of the battle. You also need to demonstrate why you fit the institution and the department you’re applying to work for. This is particularly important for mission-driven institutions like museums, schools and universities, non-profits, and even government organizations. But even CRM firms have specific foci, do specific types of work, and do it for specific reasons.

Start with their website, but don’t hesitate to dig deeper. Who would you report to? Who does your prospective supervisor report to? What is the organization or departmental mission? Look at reports from their most recent excavations to figure out their methods, the types of sites they work on, and so on. Do they do public programs? How are they funded? How large are their crews? What’s their organizational structure? Know these places inside and out.

Then, dig through your professional network. I love using LinkedIn to see who I am connected to at a potential job or institution, or who knows someone at the job I am applying to, or who used to work there. This is where LinkedIn really shows its value. Write those people a note and talk with them. What do they know about the institution? Do they treat their workers fairly? Get the low down on the place. Follow places on Instagram or Twitter to get an idea as to their culture, the type of places they are to work, and see what type of work they do, equipment they use, etc. You never know what you might notice or find out. With this information in hand, you should be able to get an idea as to whether or not this is a place you want to work.

By answering these three questions, you should have a good idea of whether or not you should apply for this job. If you’re on the fence, I would encourage you to go for it, particularly if its a lack of qualifications that is holding you back. Again, its much easier for a manager to make up lack of experience then it is to make up for a lack of fit. Most importantly, by doing all this research, you’ll be well prepared for the next part of your application process: putting together your resume and cover letter. You’ll also be well prepared for an interview. And trust me, it makes a difference when someone applies for a job and they have clearly done their homework. In the next post, I’ll give you some ideas about how to make this clear in your cover letter and resume, which is your first step through the door towards a new job!