The Terrors and Pleasures of the Job Search

I wish I’ve been blogging more, but I have a good reason: I’m hunting for jobs.

Spalding Gray (RIP) once did a monologue called Terrors of Pleasure about him buying a house in upstate New York. When asked by a real estate agent what he did for a living, Gray, who was an actor, writer, and monologist, dryly said, “That day, I chose ‘writer’.” With my background in history and archives, I feel at times like Spalding Gray. Historian-archivists are not all that rare, it’s true. But jobs for history geeks are not exactly growing on trees right now. Whatever you might call yourself, 9.2% unemployment is a drag for those looking for work, especially a permanent gig. In archiving, many positions are temporary, assuring you only 1-3 years of employment. Many archivists who have been at a college or historical society for many years are still working on soft money, that is to say, grant-funds.

Yes, for the second time in a year, I am on the job market, which has improved little since last year, which was really, really rough. Thanks to massive cuts, hundreds of thousands of more people, many of whom are highly educated, are out of work since last year. When you have a doctorate in history, as I do, about all you can do with that is work for a library, historical society, teach, or work in a government job, where knowledge is not measured in its relation to profit margins. I feel mighty bad for freshly-minted Ph.D.s, or any Ph.D.s for that matter, who are searching for teaching gigs. Thankfully, I have enough archival experience to apply for positions in libraries and special collections that need someone to “read dead people’s mail ” (as the industry joke goes) and organize it in a way useful to researchers.

But it ain’t easy. Last year, I sent out over 150 applications before I landed a job. Those 150 applications got me 10 interviews, including the one that resulted in my hire at Smith College. Although I sent applications to places covering most of the 50 states, I had no interviews for jobs not located on the East Coast. People talk about ageism, sexism, and racism in hiring. What they don’t talk about is regionalism. Of the ten interviews I had, 3 were for Washington, D.C. jobs; 2 for jobs in NC; 2 in VA (where I was then living); 1 in SC; 1 in NYC; and 1 in MA. Some job ads specifically said they would not hire anyone outside a 100 mile radius. Given the desperation of people on the job market, I thought that was cruel. This year, I think I’ve seen even more job ads that ask for “locals” only.

With economy dragging and politicians engaged in petty ideological wars of their own making (I’m looking at you Cantor, Boehner, and McConnell), life has been tough for those who don’t live in the top 2%. And yet, there is a certain amount of adventure in the job hunt. You get to fantasize about where you might live next. Could it be a subtropical, Old South place like Charleston or Savannah, a New South behemoth such as Raleigh or Atlanta, or a gem of the Northeast like New York or Boston? The job search can be exciting. You get a fresh start. If you’re lucky, you might even have a higher income and better benefits.

Of course, there are many downsides, too. Moving is expensive, whether it’s across-town or five states over. Being the “new guy” at an employer is exhausting, even if it builds character. Being in a committed relationship also presents many problems about where he/she will work and how far away you’ll be from your families.

I don’t know where I’ll be in six months. When asked at an interview, “Where do you expect to be in five years?” I’m tempted to say, “In this economy, I have no idea.”

About amerikanrambler

Amerikan Rambler is a Virginia-based blog and podcast hosted by Colin Woodward. Colin is a historian, author, and amateur musician, who works in the archives full-time. Author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he is now writing a book on the historical, family, and musical roots of Johnny Cash.
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3 Responses to The Terrors and Pleasures of the Job Search

  1. dorquemada says:

    Best of luck with the job search. It’s rough out there.

  2. civilwarhistorian says:

    Thanks. How’s your search going? Last I heard, you were applying something in CT.

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