Job Hunting [For Public History Employment]

I wrote this essay for the newest issue of the National Council on Public History’s quarterly newsletter Public History News. I provide some basic tips and advice for finding employment in public history and discuss my experiences running NCPH’s Jobs page during the 2013-2014 academic year.

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One of my duties as NCPH’s Program Assistant this year involved me updating the Jobs Page on NCPH’s website. Every week I searched the internet for public history job postings that were relevant to the skills and desires of the NCPH membership base, and at times I was able to post upwards of twenty or more openings to the webpage. I gained valuable experience for my own job search in running the jobs page and came away with several key pointers that I think can benefit all public historians currently seeking employment.

Know what you are looking for: Public history is a broad field that encompasses many occupations within the historical enterprise. Knowing your professional strengths and having a clear vision of your preferred occupation, geographical region, salary, and professional goals can all help the application process.

  • Am I interested in working for a large historical society, museum, or other cultural institution where I have a specialized job, or do I want to work for a smaller institution where I might have my hands in everything from fundraising and grant-writing to public programming and interpretation?
  • Do I want to work for an established historic preservation or consulting firm, or do I have the skills to start my own firm?
  • How much will it cost to move to a new city?
  • Do I need my health benefits to be covered immediately?

Be aware of deadlines: Postings often have strict closing dates. This is especially true for federal jobs with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. military, where the window for these openings is often open for only seven or less days. One recent posting I saw on USAJOBS opened for applications on a Friday and closed the following Monday. If working for the federal government appeals to you, be sure to use the resume builder on the USAJOBS website and check often for relevant job postings.

Look out for openings on the state and local levels: While the federal government and national organizations (like the American Alliance of Museums and the American Association for State and Local History) list many job opportunities for public historians, there are state and local positions that sometimes fall under the radar of the NCPH and related jobs pages. Many states have membership organizations that post local jobs on their website. A few particularly helpful associations for finding public history jobs this year included state and regional museum associations (i.e. the California Association of Museums or the Association of Mid-West Museums), as well as other sites like PreservationDirectory.com and statelocalgov.net.

Sometimes jobs are hidden. Look everywhere!: Some cultural institutions promote job openings on their own websites, but don’t promote them anywhere else online. To complicate matters further, many of these same cultural institutions do not display or promote their jobs page on their website homepages. Don’t simply rely on one or two job resource pages for getting the latest posting. If you have a specific institution that you’d like to work for, visit their website to see if they’ve posted any job openings, and make sure to search for “employment” or “jobs” within their website if there is nothing listed on their homepage. An opening that hasn’t been posted elsewhere may pop up.

Finding gainful employment in public history has always been difficult for emerging professionals, but devising tips and tricks for finding and applying for jobs can do much to make the process smoother. As I prepare to move on to the next phase of my public history career, I realize that my experience running the NCPH Jobs Page this past year helped me find a job that suits my professional interests.

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