Dear Steff Metal
I finished my history degree last semester, and I’ve been trying to find a job. I would love to write history books or work in or a museum library or something, but I’m not too fussy – I’d basically love to do anything where I can be surrounded by the past.
After five months of trying, I’m ready to give up. There’s very little out there right now, and I seem to be competing against so many well-qualified applicants. I just never seem to have the right set of experiences to get a job.
My parents say I should go to teachers college – at least I’m pretty much guaranteed a job when I get out of it. But going back to university – and taking out a loan (my first one) to do so – makes me feel like a failure.
Should I go to teacher’s college, or keep slogging it out in this decrepit job market?
Ah, a fellow lover of all things old and dust-covered. I’ve been there, and I’ve tossed the teacher’s college idea around. The number of ex-archaeology students in teaching positions right now attests to how many people have been in the same situation.
As I always say in these columns, I can only offer advice based on my own experiences, and you can take of that advice what you will, and discard the rest. Anyone can feel free to disagree with me in the comments. I welcome discussion on this topic!
I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist since I was about ten years old. That’s a long time to want to do something. I couldn’t wait for school to finish so I could hurry up and get to university and learn about radiocarbon dating and trowel-handling and have wonderful adventures.
And I got to university, and archaeology was everything I expected and so much more. I freakin’ OWNED university. I made so many friends and contacts, topped my year in archaeology in a couple of papers, won eleven scholarship and awards, went to Greece on a field school, participated on several digs and projects, sourced some paid archaeological work, and made some kick ass friends.
When I finished, I looked for a job, and I looked and looked and looked some more. I tried labs, I tried archaeology firms, regional councils, engineering consultants, freelancing, museums … even the library. I tried for six months, just like you.
I felt like a failure. Here was the one thing I’d wanted to do since I was a kid, and I couldn’t do it. I tried my hardest, but that wasn’t good enough. No one wanted me. I wondered what was wrong with me. Did everyone hate me?
While I job-hunted, I watched my flatmates (three archaeologists) sit at home waiting for the phone to ring to tell them they had a dig that month. I saw them eat nothing but rice for two weeks when their money ran out. I saw them come home after a month in the field utterly exhausted. I saw them fight with the contractors for checks that were over a year late.
And I realized something, I didn’t want it anymore.
I didn’t want to be waiting by the phone for work to come in. I didn’t want to be poor all the time, and I didn’t want to be a slave to the two or three people who run archaeology in this country. I didn’t want to be involved in the politics, or go back to university to be an academic. I don’t even LIKE rice.
But I can’t be a failure, because I’d actually achieved everything I’d set out to do. I’d worked on digs, in a lab and in museums, I’d had papers published, I’d finished my degree with First Class honours. I’d done archaeology. My dream had come true.
Now I had the exciting, wonderful challenge of deciding what I wanted to do next.
While I disagree with the phrase “those who can’t do, teach” there is an iota of truth there. For some, returning to teachers college for a year and then walking into a job where you can tell others about all that stuff you’re excited about (greek vases! Homer! World War I!) seems like a pretty good plan. And it is, if you’re meant to be a teacher.
I will not go to teachers college. Teachers are so important and invaluable that I don’t feel I could do the profession justice, because I’m not meant to be a teacher. Some people can be teachers, but I am not one of them. I don’t want to teach. I don’t have the personality, the tenactiy, the strength for teaching. I don’t want to go back to school – the one place in my life where I was miserable. To me, that feels like failure.
So you have to put everything that’s stressing you out aside – your parents, your job hunt, your worries about the future – and ask yourself: “Am I a teacher? Do I have the strength within myself to impart knowledge to a classroom full of children (or adults), day in and day out, even if they don’t actually want to learn?” “Will teaching give me that incredible buzz for life that comes with having a career that makes me truly happy?”
If you think you’ll be fulfilled by teaching, then sign up immediately. If you don’t – if you’re thinking about teachers college only because you can’t get a job at the moment, then don’t go. It’s not worth it.
Instead, sit down and write a list of all the jobs you’d love to do. If you don’t know the specific title, write a description “the person who fact-checks Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction books.” Museum Curator, Subject Librarian, non-fiction writer, textbook writer … write them all down.
Next, visit a site likeand have a look at what you need to do to get a foot in the door at any of these careers. While some people can talk their way into any job without the “necessary” qualifications, if you’re not one of those people, you’ll need to find out if there’s anything else you can do. I happen to know (from sending off a LOT of applications) that getting a job in a museum without a museum qualification is hard work, as is getting a library job. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard work. You can be a writer anyway, with any qualification or no qualification at all, as long as you can write. (however, making a living as a writer is an entirely different story).
If you were debating spending a year at teachers college, why not take that year and do something closer to your dream job? Why not do your museum or library qualification? You can do this extramurally if you don’t want to move.
Next, I would ring up an institution that you’d love to work for and offer to do some volunteer work, if you’re not doing this already. Squeeze in a day or afternnon each week if you can. You’re not earning any money, but you’re building your experience, AND your contacts within an organization. If a job comes up, you have a foot in the door already.
Write another list of all the things your dream job should be: demanding, stress-free, work-from-home? Centrally-located? Lots of writing? Creative? People-focused? Working by yourself? Pin this list beside the computer while you job hunt. Remember what you want in a career.
Remember that a job you get now probably won’t be the job you have for the rest of your life. You can take a job that acts as a step-up to the career you really want.
Join any professional institutions you can, like Museums Aoteroa. They keep a list of museum jobs throughout the country. Read industry magazines and international newsletters. Keep abreast of the happenings within your industry, and add your own voice.
Keep yourself flexible to opportunities. If the perfect job came up, would you move away from the city? If the perfect job came up, would you move to Korea?
I know it’s hard to stay positive when things seem so tough, but a perfect job is waiting for you. If you’re open and accepting of the trials that come your way, and see it all as a learning curve on the path to the life you want, you’ll find your niche sooner or later.
It may take another six months, but put yourself in a place where you’re working towards a goal, rather than waiting for a goal to present itself. Best of luck to yee!
Also, don’t show up to the interview in a Cannibal Corpse long-sleeve. Future employers find them somewhat offputting.
Horns up and metal christmas! \m/