Myth: Merit will be rewarded (aka the meek will inherit the earth, etc. etc.)
Truth: It’s not what you know, but WHO you know.
Especially in archaeology.
It’s a tight community, even incestuous at times. Often archaeology jobs aren’t posted. If they are, it’s only out of due diligence, to say, “Yup, we’re open to employing other people. Really.”
The same people circulate through a limited number of companies and everybody eventually works with everyone else. If they don’t, they certainly know about everyone else. Consequently, what happens in the field doesn’t necessarily stay in the field.
To break into consulting archaeology, it’s possibly like any other discipline: you need an ‘in.’ There is a baseline knowledge criteria — you need to have a certain amount of education, certain amount of experience, etc. — but then you need that one lucky break to help you actually earn a living at it. You can get as much education, as many certificates, as much lab experience as possible, but if someone doesn’t know you from a hole in the wall, your CV won’t be plucked from the pile.
New and emerging authors are very familiar with this plight: it doesn’t matter how good your work is if no one knows you exist. This is why authors have been known to submit their queries to publishers and agents on coloured and scented paper, sometimes with sparkling confetti enclosed. We all want to be plucked from the pile of obscurity and recognised for who we are and what we are capable of. “Just give me a chance,” we all want to scream. “I will wow you. I promise.”
This is possibly why archaeologists are known for working for a pittance. And for young female archaeologists, particularly, to put themselves at the mercy of the older male generation of archaeologists. Again, what goes on in the field, doesn’t necessarily stay in the field. Just sayin’.
Sure, it’s tough to get a job. Bust your butt to get in. Work that network hard. But then, once you’re in, remember that you’re human. You deserve to be treated as such. There may be a dozen other people lined up for the job you have, this is true. And, just like any other discipline, archaeology doesn’t have a corner on job security. But, you are still you. This is where the network – your community – can become invaluable. Make sure that once you’re in, people get to know you for YOU. As with being an author, your uniqueness is your selling feature. People will remember you for who you are, how well you work in the field and with others, your ideas and initiative, and your integrity and work ethic. If you do something particularly well, let that shine. You will be remembered for that. Then, when it comes time to look for a job, you merely have to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, is there anything available? I am.” No CV required. Because what goes on in the field, doesn’t stay in the field.