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 is commercial archaeology?

Commercial archaeology, also referred to as developer-led archaeology, is when archaeological mitigation is undertaken to assist in obtaining or fulfilling planning permission for a development, such as the construction of a new road or housing. Around 80% of archaeological work undertaken in the UK relates to development-led projects. The client pays for the archaeological work and invites private archaeological companies to tender, or compete, for the project contracts.

As commercial archaeologists and heritage professionals, we have a responsibility to our client, the profession and the general public. We are regulated by a professional body, the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) and as a CIfA Registered Organisation we are expected to uphold professional standards and give clients clear and informed advice on their responsibilities concerning potential archaeology. The type of archaeological work we do includes research, historic building recording, geophysics, topographic surveys, trial trenching, evaluations, and excavations.

Who do commercial archaeologists work for?

Anywhere you see development in the UK it is likely the heritage profession has been involved at some point. Our clients range from large corporations to local councils and more. We are needed whenever development has to the potential to affect previously known or unknown heritage assets. Our client list comes from across all sectors of development such as:

  • Conservation
  • Extraction
  • Land Management
  • Offshore
  • Property
  • Transport
  • Utilities
  • Power generation/distribution
Where do commercial archaeologists work?

We work in a wide variety of environments, indoors and outdoors, throughout the UK, all year round. You will find us as much at home on sites in the middle of a city as on remote hill-tops. Wherever development is likely to impact heritage, we will be there.

Does this mean that archaeologists have to travel a lot?

For many of us yes; especially in the early years of a career it is common to ‘dig the circuit’, following larger projects that appear around the UK, spending anything from days to months in any one place. Things settle down a little when you work your way up the ladder to a permanent office-based position; although how often you need to travel will change, since archaeology is not portable travel remains a part of our lives at all levels.

What type of sites do commercial archaeologists work on?

Within the UK archaeologists can end up on sites from any period of human occupation in Britain from the Stone Ages through to the modern era (On our M74 project we discovered a collection of crisp packets!)

Are there many jobs in archaeology?

More than you think, and that number is growing quickly. In 2016/17 there were about 6,253 employed archaeologists in the country. Of these many will have fixed term contracts; these are temporary contracts usually anchored to the length of a project, they can be for a few weeks or a few months. They are the most common type of contracts and are prevalent at the lower levels where you are spending all or most of your time in the field. Permanent contracts are usually offered at the higher levels when the company can guarantee they will have work for you all year round.

Currently there is a large amount of work going on in the central and southern parts of England on several large infrastructure projects. These projects are a good place to get your feet wet by offering longer fixed term contracts and lots of opportunities to develop your skills.

How much money do archaeologists make?

As a CIfA Registered Organisation we can guarantee we will not pay less than the recommend salary minima that are updated annually. The current recommendations are:

  • Posts requiring competence/responsibility at PCIfA level – £18,600
  • Posts requiring competence/responsibility at ACIfA level – £21,700
  • Posts requiring competence/responsibility at MCIfA level – £28,000

At Headland we conduct Annual Salary reviews for staff to ensure that our rates keep up with inflation; this means that our rates are reviewed, and potentially increased, every year. For those willing to take on more responsibility, there are plenty of promotion opportunities which will consequently lead to an increase in salary.

CIfA also provide guidance on salary levels based on comparative professions which can be found here.

How do I get a job in archaeology?

First see what is available; this can be done by contacting or researching local companies and by keeping an eye on the British Archaeological Jobs Resource (BAJR), a FREE dedicated jobs site. What jobs are available also depends on the region you live in, how much work is going on there, and your flexibility in terms of being willing to travel and be away from home.

There are many different pathways into an archaeological career; the university route, the experience route, and trainee/apprenticeships. Many people assume that they need a degree and lots of experience simply to get their foot in the door and while that might be beneficial it is possible to get a job in archaeology without either. Volunteer work can count towards experience as well as being a great way to network. Additionally, many companies, including ourselves, are now offering paid trainee roles to graduates and non-graduates who have no previous experience.

In general, it is a good idea to send out your CV and a cover letter to companies on a regular basis, make sure it is up to date and tailored to the position you would like. Click here to go to our free e-learning module which offers some advice on what Headland looks for in a CV.

Why work for us?

There are lots of good reasons to work for Headland, click here to find out more about the benefits and advantages that we offer our staff.