Finding a Job in Archaeology

We are keen to give you more information about  finding employment in commercial archaeology. Some common themes have emerged in conversations and as an introduction we hope you will find these FAQ pages informative. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts will also give you a feel for the life as a commercial archaeologist and if you still have questions please ask us directly on one of our Facebook Q&A posts.

Meet some of our Staff

What do commercial archaeologists do?

Perhaps heritage professional is a better way of describing what many commercial archaeologists do, because our remit goes way beyond the excavation of archaeological sites.  We are an essential part of the planning process, offering advice whenever archaeological sites could be affected by development, then recommending ways of avoiding and protecting them. We do historic building recording, geophysics and topographic surveys backed up with trial trenching and excavation where this is necessary, to identify and record archaeological sites. We work on-shore and offshore. Wherever possible, we make our results available to the general public.

Who do commercial archaeologists work for?

The majority of our workload is done for clients wanting to develop areas containing known archaeology or with a potential to disturb hitherto unknown structures. Archaeology is an integral part of the planning process. Our clients range from private developers and multi-national corporations to government or local authorities.  They commission us to work on projects as diverse as wind farms, historic building conversions, roads, rail and housing developments.

Where do commercial archaeologists work?

We work on-shore, offshore, inside buildings and outdoors, throughout the UK and beyond. You will find us as much at home on city gap sites as on remote hill-tops. Wherever development is likely to impact our heritage, we will be there.

Do archaeologists have to travel a lot?

We do! In the early years of a career it is common to dig the circuit, following larger projects that appear unpredictably around the UK, spending anything from days to months in any one place. Of course things settle down a little when you get a permanent position but for most of us travel is an enduring part of life as a heritage professional.

What type of sites do commercial archaeologists work on?

On rural developments we routinely encounter sites such as Mesolithic encampments, Bronze Age cremations, Romano-British, Dark Age and Medieval settlements right up to post-medieval farm buildings and 20th century military remains. Industrial archaeology is an increasingly large part of our work and urban regeneration projects routinely require both excavation and building surveys on remains that may be as recent as the 19th and 20th centuries.

What happens to the artefacts we find?

In Scotland, after stabilisation, a list of all finds are submitted to the Treasure Trove panel who decides who should be allocated the finds – typically the local museum. In England and Wales we have to contact the local museum before excavation to let them know finds may be coming in and ask whether they can take them. Once the project is finished we work out a plan for the archive with the relevant museum.

How do you get a job in archaeology?

If you have a relevant degree and a little experience,  you shouldn’t find it difficult, in the current climate, to find fieldwork. If you are short of field experience or haven’t got a degree, there are places where you can pick up volunteer work and commercial companies are increasingly offering paid trainee posts. But whatever happens, keep trying because commercial work often comes up at short notice and if a company needs the staff they might be willing to help you fill the gaps in your CV. Make sure Headland has a copy of your current CV on file and keep this updated.

Where do I look for jobs in commercial archaeology?

The main place to look is the BAJR website, a dedicated jobs finding site but the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists also run an online service. Also, check out the web sites and social media of companies like Headland and you’ll see what they have to offer.

Are there many jobs in archaeology?

More than you think, and as we come out of the recession that number is growing quickly. In 2013 there were about 5000 employed archaeologists in the country but this number must have gone up significantly in the last 18 months. Of these many will be fixed term contracts for the duration of a specific project. You should perhaps think about these fixed terms as prolonged interviews because even though there may not be vacancies at the time, it is a good place to impress and employers will try very hard to offer permanent contracts if they can.

What skills would help you get a job in archaeology?

There is no substitute for experience but enthusiasm and people-skills very quickly start to make an impact. For a permanent job, a driving licence is a must (if you can’t get to site you have a problem!) but survey, GIS, CAD and specialist skills all improve employability. Once you get the opportunity, the ability to write clear and concise reports is valued by all employers. Consider using BAJR’s skills passport as a way of collecting and demonstrating your skills – most organisations will be happy to help you fill them in.

What can you do to demonstrate your skills?

There are a couple of things you can do to make it easier for an employer. The BAJR skills passport is being used by more and more employers and is a great way to demonstrate your experience. So start to tick your skills off while still in education or on volunteer work. Target any gaps, and get them signed off by someone in authority, it all helps!

Health & Safety is a hugely important to us at Headland, like most good employers, should put you through the CSCS test (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) soon after joining the company. You can show that you already know how to keep yourself safe on site by going for it yourself. It’s not expensive and requires a little homework but the test itself is no more complicated than a driving theory test.  Good luck!

Are all commercial archaeology companies the same?

Absolutely not! You will find private companies, universities, local authorities and charities all doing commercial work but you will find the culture varies significantly. The private companies perhaps offer more opportunities and flexibility (but then we would say that, wouldn’t we?) while local authorities and universities may offer better pensions etc. There is no doubt that some organisations specialise in certain types of site, (eg green-field or urban) while others are perhaps slightly more skewed towards education or outreach. Take a little time and research your potential employer – the revamped BAJR website might help you to get a feel for the differences.

How much money do archaeologists make?

The bottom levels tend to be pinned to the recommended rates of the CIfA (in fact Registered Organisations of the CIfA should not be paying less) . But remember, these minimums are just the bottom grade and you should quickly expect to leave them behind. For those willing to take on more responsibility, there are plenty of promotion opportunities.

How many hours a day/week do archaeologists work?

Typically contracts stipulate 37.5 hours per week but on fieldwork projects, particularly where travelling is involved, it is sometime necessary to work longer hours. You should expect to be given time off in lieu or paid to cover this additional effort with higher rates on weekends and bank holidays.