[quote cite="Matthew Exline" url="http://publichistorycommons.org/looking-for-a-job-in-public-history-an-outsiders-perspective/#more-3367"]
I spent long hours reading job descriptions, getting a feel for the market. I found no shortage of wonderful-sounding positions for which my hard-earned degree would suffice.
Yet time and again my heart sank as I read about the experience requirements. Some jobs were clearly senior-level positions, designed for professionals who had already made a name for themselves in their field. But even lower-level positions with modest salaries and encouraging titles such as “assistant curator” or “assistant collections manager” or “historic preservation assistant” had heart-breaking requirements about years of prior experience doing whatever the precise job was. After having maxed-out my possible number of internship hours at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, I can boast of eight months of part-time experience processing archival collections, and another six months of part-time research and writing, plus a year spent working on a film documentary. I had no experience creating and installing museum exhibits, handling artifacts, or guiding tours, had never heard of a cultural landscape, and didn’t know what Section 106 was or why it had to be complied with.
The root of the problem was clearly evident: organizations, institutions, and companies often rely on prior experience as a predictor of being qualified for a given job. I found this strange. Surely there are other ways to gauge or predict the likelihood of future success in a job. Suppose doctors told expectant couples, “I’m sorry, but you are not qualified to become parents until you’ve had five years of experience raising children,” or the United States military started telling hopeful enlistees, “We now only accept recruits with at least two years of combat experience.” Of course, that’s not how it works at all. Yet it seemed as if the job advertisements were really saying, “You are not qualified to work as a public historian until you have x years of experience working as a public historian.” This mindset turns the profession into a walled fortress that cannot be breached from the outside. I fervently wished I could find an organization willing to train an eager would-be historian, or at least let me learn on the job using transferable skills, instead of expecting me to be an expert already. Surely that would be in everyone’s best interest in the long run, since the organizations would no longer be excluding an entire pool of potentially capable candidates, including me. Unless, I realized, that is exactly what they are deliberately trying to do.
A million times, yes. I had these same realizations, and all the frustration that ensues, for all of 2012, when I was earnestly searching for a public history position. I started searching nationally, then narrowed it down, necessary for the time-consuming nature of the process, to just Georgia and Atlanta. I figured there was strength in my network, which has been mostly true. Though the search continues. And the best advice people offer is to volunteer places, but as the author of this points out, when you're doing that, how are you surviving the present? That's what all those loans were for in grad school, to do internships then. Yes, I did them.
Anyway, I just know this man's thoughtful essay on his sticky employment search must be a part of my larger series of essays on similar subjects. Kindred spirit.