I was sorting email this morning when I opened archaeology.about.com and read Rebecca's "horrifying experience" as a field technician. I also read the article to which Rebecca referred titled, "Field Technician: A Harsh Reality." Together, these two articles evoked feelings of sadness, impatience and frustration. I was sad that apparently talented people are turning away from archaeology because of unfortunate experiences. I felt impatience, because the writers of these articles were apparently not assertive enough to stand up for their rights or to leave a disagreeable job for one of interest with another employer who would treat them fairly. I was frustrated, because I am having a devil of a time right now finding someone to assist me in supervising a field crew, and I offer decent pay well above minimum wage for work in a friendly, educational atmosphere.
I have employed field technicians, as well as Ph.Ds in archaeology, paleontology and history for more than 30 years. During that time, I have made it my personal business to live up to what Art Linkletter recently told Larry King on CNN: "Always see that your employees are as happy as you can make them."
I believe that people are attracted to archaeology out of interest in the field. Certainly, if one were motivated solely by making money, there are many other fields where that objective could be reached more directly than by doing archaeology. However, we live in a society where money is important as a means not only for survival, but achieving the American Dream. Therefore, a decent wage is a must.
Combining business with archaeology, as we have seen in rise and growth of private sector consulting firms, can have devastating effects as chronicled by the two disappointed writers. The combination of business and archaeology can also provide a wealth of opportunity. Before applying for a job, write down your career objectives as you would do in a goal setting exercise. Then, carefully select the firm or agency you wish to work for based on how that firm or agency may help you to further your goals while you help the employer meet his objectives.
When interviewing with a potential employer, ask him or her about the type of work you will be doing, and ask about the employer's long term, as well as short term objectives. For example, as an employer, I am always looking for someone who is a self-starter and who can fill out archaeological site record forms following the State Office of Historic Preservation's published guidelines. My long-term objective is retirement and, eventually, I will need others to do what I do now. Explain to the potential employer how you could help him or her achieve those objectives while keeping in mind your own unspoken career, as well as personal goals.
At the end of an interview, after you have learned about the nature of the work, ask about wages and policies regarding per diem, on the job injuries and other benefits. If the potential employer doesn't take the time to speak with you, find a job offering somewhere else. Though his or her time may be limited, an employer should be approachable by job applicants as well as by any employee.