Entering the preservation field can be especially challenging, since it is a relatively niche market. Unless you want to write historic resource evaluations all day at a CRM firm, the jobs available are difficult to find. “It will all work out,” and “something will turn up” are probably the least useful phrases you hear when looking for that first job after graduating or changing fields. You feel qualified and full of energy, ready to throw yourself into a job. Any job.
Application after application, painstakingly tailored for each position, are answered with indifferent silence. You might take the shotgun approach and apply to positions that you are over-qualified for, and those you are under-qualified for, and are still meeting with no success. From one Millennial to another, you’re doing it wrong.
First, pay more attention to which jobs you actually want, and just apply to those. Use the time you save from applying to fewer jobs by volunteering or teaching yourself a new skill. It is also beneficial to join a professional network in your area. You can get more involved in the field, make contacts, and usually get a free lunch out of the events!
Second, value paid internships. Despite what we’ve been told all our lives, there is nothing wrong with graduating from an undergraduate or graduate program and starting out as an intern. Even if the internship is not offering you the exact work you’re looking for, the company or organization might be a great fit.
The applications you do want to send (after whittling down your massive list of potentials), send to a peer for review. You may also want to contact a professor or former colleague and ask them to write you a general reference, so you have one quick at hand. Be sure to follow up on your applications at least once, if only for the closure of rejection (since that courtesy is rare).
Most importantly, be proactive! Get out there and meet people! Volunteering in the field looks great on your resume, and you will probably meet some useful contacts. A volunteer position, like an internship, could easily lead to a permanent position. Contact companies or individuals who are doing what you want to be doing. Ask for their advice, they will probably be happy to give you pointers! Not only will you get some quick and free career advice, but you’ve just made an excellent contact. Don’t forget to stay in touch with former coworkers or professors. Your contacts are important to your career, and it’s wasteful to let those relationships fade.
Finally, don’t buy into the fantasy that the job you land will be your ‘forever job’. There is no such thing. Your life will change, and your work will change as a result. Try to enjoy the in-between time, where the possibilities are endless, and your near-future is a mystery.
By Jean Stoll, Historic Specialist