How to prepare yourself for a job in anthropology outside of academia when you get out of school

Will-Work-for-Food.jpg1. Purge any elitist tendencies from your soul. It blinds you to the opportunities and people around you. Remember that, statistically speaking, scoring in the 95th percentile on the SAT or GRE proves without doubt there are a few million people out there that are still smarter than you are. No one cares if you can quote Foucault or Goffman, the measure outside of the academic world is what you can actually do, how you contribute and how well you can communicate your insights to everyone. Everyone has something to offer you.

2. Try to take jobs in school that will have some value when you get out. A lot of people work as bartenders and wait staff through school, and for good reasons: the hours and the pay. But the old adage it true, no one wants to give you experience if you don’t have experience. Get jobs on research projects, even if they are outside of anthropology. In fact, if you can get a job here and there that is not in anthropology, but still some form of team research (business, engineering, public health), even better. It shows how you can use your skills widely.

3. An undergraduate degree is not really enough if you have no other experience. Sorry… it’s true. Here is an exception: A guy in my office spent a couple of years traveling from country to country volunteering at one kind of aid organization after another. He has experience ranging from health issues to agriculture to education in developing countries all over the world. That’s something worth a second look.

4. Do internships! Interestingly, many non-academic internships at corporations and consultancies are paid, lead to jobs and critical experience.

5. Plan your undergrad and grad with the goal of getting a job. I am not saying to follow something you are not interested in. But you should always ask, is this experience going to help me later? Don’t be narrow in that definition. I worked my way through school as a computer jock with a masters in anthropology. Both are topics I still have a passion for. That technical expertise was critical in beating out other anthropologists for my first job.

6. For god’s sake get some humility. Even if you have a Masters or Ph.D. all you have shown is you are ready to learn. You are now ready to start your apprenticeship, not complete it. That new job has just opened your opportunities for new teachers. In my first job as a design anthropologist I spent a LOT of time hanging around with the designers, engineers and model makers asking dumb questions. Hell, all you are trained in is anthropology… remember that.

7. This is a harder one: Learn to do team analysis. Cultural anthropologists are supposed to be lone wolf research types, and for some reason we get taught that collaboration is almost cheating. But most of us mortals arrive at much more clever answers when we work with others that share our passions. Showing how you contribute to teams is as important as showing you can achieve a unique insight.

8. Make your thesis or dissertation as focused on actionable outcomes as it is theoretical insight. Make specific recommendations, show how you tried to get those recommendations into some kind of practical application. Theory and jargon-laden graduate tomes are a dime a dozen as a rule.

One thought on “How to prepare yourself for a job in anthropology outside of academia when you get out of school

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