From history major Brandon West:
In Real Estate the saying goes location, location, location when finding that perfect home. In History we have our own saying when trying to find that perfect job we’ve always dreamed about: networking, networking, networking. Ok maybe that’s not what all historians say but in a competitive job market this is a key component to achieving our dream job. As budding historians we look forward to the day when we graduate with our Bachelor’s Degree and can finally start working in a museum, politics, education and so on; however, just our degree alone will not, for the most part, guarantee us the career we want.
These are important lessons learned at the Careers in History Symposium that Dr. Elder and I attended at IUPUI in Indianapolis last December. The Symposium was sponsored by the National Council on Public History.
The day started off with a panel of professionals in the field of public history who shared a little bit about themselves and the jobs they held. Once each individual had spoken, quick breakout sessions took place in which symposium attendees could sit down and speak to each panelist about his or her education and the nature of their jobs. These panelists included a Park Service historian, archivists, curators and several others. These conversations gave each of us insight into what it would take to crack into the field of history and the steps that would be necessary to achieve success. All of the panelists stressed the importance of networking with individuals inside the field already, and getting your name out there. These suggestions included calling someone in the field already and asking if you could interview them about their job; this way your name is out there in case a job were to open up and you are able to discover the nature of that profession. They called this the “informational interview.” Another big component to success that each individual spoke about was the need for internships. One important note to make is that internships come in a variety of forms; they can either be paid (not as common) and unpaid (more common). This not only gives you a chance to build up your resume but also a list of contacts within the field.
Once these mini breakout sessions were completed we are able to have lunch at the college itself, which was quite enjoyable. Dr. Elder and I met a few students from various schools and spoke with them about their aspirations and enjoyed just casual conversation as well. After lunch there were two sessions that we could pick from to end our day. One session was geared towards students looking to go to graduate school and the other a session for those students who have a degree already and are looking to find a job within the field. The session for those who already have a degree was centered on those with a Master’s Degree or better who are having a tough time finding their career.
The message each of these sessions had in common was the overwhelming need for networking and internships. Without these two components, historians will find it difficult to attain their careers. In such a highly competitive job market, it truly is about “who you know,” and “experience is required.” Largely, these two can be achieved by internships and networking with other professionals in the field you are hoping to enter.
2015 will offer another Symposium. I would encourage any of those interested in learning about opportunities within public history to be sure to consider attending this informative and exciting seminar. If you have any questions I’m sure Dr. Elder would be happy to relay any information she may know. And anyone can also visit the National Council on Public History website directly at www.ncph.org.