#freearchaeology- The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled

Posted on August 19, 2013


The greatest trick #freearchaeology ever pulled was convincing new graduates they needed #freearchaeology. In case that reference is not clear:

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”- The Usual Suspects

In Emily’s post, that started the #freearchaeology conversation, The problematic topic of the volunteer culture in archaeology and heritage in Britain she stated-

“It has only become more apparent as I begin to search out jobs and complete application forms from employers who expect a huge amount of experience (both voluntary and paid) from successful candidates. All too often, it is impossible to gain experience in a paid position until you have really rather substantial voluntary experience.”

There is the common belief that experience matters. In my last post I did some quick math to show that a degree does not give a person the necessary skills and experience to be an archaeologist, which would indicate that experience matters even more.  However this is not the case and as Archaeology in Tennessee eloquently said on that post-

Have you ever read “What Color is Your Parachute”? I am damn near an expert on the thing. I’ll sum it up for you in the same way Dick Bolles would: “It is not the most qualified person that gets the job. The person who gets the job is the person who knows the most about HOW to get the job.”

Just to be clear,  experience does matter but not in the way that most new graduates think. Let me explain what I mean, there is probably only one person, Jennifer at archaeologyfieldwork, who has seen more archaeology job adverts than myself. I have produced annual review of job conditions in archaeology based on job postings and in that work I have read every posting  on Shovelbums, years of archaeologyfieldwork, and every BAJR posting since 2005. I can tell you with the full knowledge of 10’000+ job adverts there are only 3 types of job postings, 4 if you want to get very technical. Not knowing the difference it posts can lead one to believe that they need #freearchaeology.

The first type is the emergency hire. These are posts you get that say stuff like, “crew member dropped out and I need someone in St. Cloud on Monday” or “project starts next week and we just got the go ahead, anyone in Inverness looking for work”. These posts don’t require any experience to get them, but they do require luck e.g. living in the location, being the first to respond, etc. These positions practically anyone can get if you have luck.

The next set of job postings, and the ones that mislead most new graduates are your general call for workers. These are either every few months to refresh lists of entry level workers, or in anticipation of a large project coming up. Now depending on how you want to break this up there is a third category or it can be counted in the general call category and that are positions that must be posted. Large organizations, most government departments, etc. are usually required to post every job position no matter what, even if they have someone for the job. I place this in the general call category as they follow the same format, which is they tend to require experience. These are postings that mislead new archaeologists into believing that they need to undertake #freearchaeology. Unfortunately they do this because when you post a job advert on BAJR, shovelbums, etc. you will get up to 100 + applications in a matter of hours. Imagine if someone took 5 minutes to read through 200 applications? That is 17 hours of work and at only 30 secs. per application that is still an hour and half of work. Thus one needs a way to cut down the number of applications and the best way to do that is to put on requirements like 6 months of experience, CSCS card, archaeology degree, a pet unicorn, etc. In the case of organizations that have to post sometimes they use this to get their preferred candidate.

Now comes the third type of job posting- the one that is never posted. Many entry level posts are never posted on a job board (debatable as it could be the majority but since they are never posted we can’t track it). Bill said it best in the comments of my last post,

“I have several suggestions for Emily. They mostly focus on working to create a job for herself BEFORE its posted on the Internet. By the time the job hits the Internet, you’ve got to compete against all the other archaeos in your area which is why job posts have such ridiculously high experience levels for an entry level job. She should get keyed into the local market and get to know every single person that has the potential to hire her. Then, stay on their minds by periodically emailing and calling to see if there’s anything available. It’s tough work, but that’s how it’s done in archaeology.”

You don’t need six months of experience to get an entry level archaeology job, you just need to know how to get a job. How can you do this? Simple, read Bill’s blog, the man knows what he is talking about and can get you a job in archaeology.

The best class I ever took at University was Avenues to Professionalism,  a course that taught me how to get a job in archaeology. 4 years of undergrad! 4 years of postgrad! and out of all that time only one class has made a difference in my archaeology career. One of the instructors for that class recently emailed me asking me to send a short statement of what I got out of the class and I wrote back- “best class I have ever taken”. She though it was a joke until I told her I was dead serious. That class taught me how to get a job in archaeology. That is the experience new graduates are missing, not six months of blah blah.

Now, you might be thinking alright that is nice and all but all I see are some opinions. Well for those looking for some hard data here it is-

Entry level requirementsThis data is the mentions of certain requirements in entry level positions in USA commercial archaeology from 1999 to last year. It was collected from postings on Shovelbums and archaeologyfieldwork.com. This is across two recessions and one of the greatest boosts in archaeology work. If anything the data indicates that fewer postings are requiring experience, at least in the US.

In my last post I stated that University does not qualify one to be an archaeologists. What I would add to that is that employers know this and to be honest, they have always known this. The only thing that has changed in the last few years is that there are far fewer jobs in archaeology, 1/3 less in the UK than before the recession. Six months, 12 months, a master degree as a requirement in a job posting is not meant as a real requirement but as a way to sift through applications AND they has always existed. Don’t let sift convince you that you need to undertake #freearchaeology.

Undertake #freearchaeology, I prefer the term volunteering, because you want to, not because you want a job. If you want a job in archaeology follow the advice of Bill and Archaeology in Tennessee- learn how to get a job in archaeology. Yeah- universities are going to fail you there but people like bill have written books to help you.

Again, much longer post than I expected and still more to say but it will have to wait till the next post. Those I promised that I would cover certain topics, hoping to get to them soon.