Our tips for writing a good job application for a field archaeologist position

MOLA team

It’s a busy time for the archaeology profession and at MOLA we’re looking forward to a year filled with lots of big and exciting projects. At times like this archaeological organisations grow their teams and can receive high numbers of applications. In this blog we share some tips for those applying for field archaeologist positions, outlining what you can do to make your application stand out and maximise your employability.


Be clear about your level of experience

One of the most difficult aspects of writing an archaeological application is accurately conveying your level of experience. Some people don’t demonstrate how experienced they are and sell themselves short, whilst others might try to suggest they have more experience than they do fearing they will be ruled out as a candidate otherwise.  

It’s important to remember that it’s ok not to have commercial experience – everyone has to start somewhere. If you can show that you’re hard-working, want to learn and can pick up new skills then employers will see your potential to be a great archaeologist with time and the right training. A common pitfall is trying to hide a lack of commercial experience by over emphasising voluntary field school or research excavation experience. Whilst this is incredibly useful experience for building a foundation of knowledge, it does not equate to commercial experience. However, you should definitely mention any fieldwork experience in your application and give an explanation of what you learned. Bear in mind it’s equally as important to focus on your attitude and other skills.

If you do have commercial experience, consider taking the time to list some of the main projects you have worked on and try to show a range of site types, such as rural or urban, different time periods, experience with burials or timber, and so on. This is a really good way of demonstrating breadth of experience, which most employers are looking for. If you know the organisation you’re applying to have a speciality or are recruiting for a particular project, such as a deep urban stratigraphy, then make sure you mention any experience in that. It might also be worthwhile detailing some of the activities you are able to do confidently on site to show that you have an active understanding of the requirements of the role. It might seem like stating the obvious, but it will give a prospective employer confidence in you and your working knowledge of field archaeology. Examples might include:

  • Recording using context sheets, photography and plans;
  • Being able to identify and excavate a range of different archaeological features;
  • Using GPS for trench stakeout;
  • Machine watching;
  • Knowing when and how to sample deposits.


Reference specialist skills

If you have any specialist skills, make sure to highlight these in your application or CV. These will not only make you stand out as a candidate, but they also tell the employer that you have an aptitude for picking up skills and could do other tasks if needed.

These might be archaeological specialisms, such as surveying, finds and environmental processing, standing building recording or expertise in a particular artefact type. However, you should also mention other relevant skills that aren’t specific to archaeology. These might include database entry, photography, community outreach, problem-solving, report writing and speaking other languages.

Perhaps most importantly, if an advert lists a particular skill as being an essential or desirable criterion and you have experience in it, then make sure to really emphasise this.

It’s also worth clarifying if you have the ability and willingness to drive company vehicles, as it could give you an edge over other applicants.


Get a CSCS card

CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) cards act as evidence that you have the health and safety awareness needed to work safely on site. Without a card you will not be allowed on most construction sites, particularly in London and on large infrastructure schemes.

In order to get a CSCS card you must first pass a Health, Safety and Environment test. You don’t need to be employed by an archaeological organisation in order to take the test or get the card, but it is worth noting that currently the test can only be taken at centres in the UK.

There are different types of cards which are suitable for different people – for example, those with a relevant UK degree can get an Academically Qualified Person (AQP) card, whilst members of CIfA can get a Professionally Qualified Person (PQP) card. There are also Provisional cards which last for six months, are non-renewable and allow time to attain one of the other CSCS cards; these are particularly useful if you can’t currently get an AQP or PQP card. One thing to note, if you have any intention of working on site you should not get a Visitor card, as this is only intended for people visiting site in a monitoring role and CSCS will be phasing these cards out over time.

Because they are essential to site work, being a CSCS cardholder can make you a more appealing applicant, especially if the company you’re applying to needs people to start quickly, as obtaining a CSCS card can take some time.

More information on CSCS cards can be found here https://www.cscs.uk.com/ and here http://www.archaeologists.net/cscs, and there is some useful advice here https://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/Applying%20for%20the%20PQP%20card.pdf.


Some general dos and don’ts


✔ Use a professional email address. Try to limit it to first name, initials and surname, rather than a nickname or archaeological pun. As fun as they may be, they don’t convey a professional image.

✔ Do some background research on the company you’re applying to. For example, MOLA frequently receives applications from people who say they want to work in a museum, which gives the impression that they don’t understand the role they’ve applied for. Tailor your application to that company as much as possible.

✔ Get your application in as early as you can. Although adverts will usually have a specified closing date, employers will often appoint good candidates as their applications come in.

✔ As well as talking about any specialist skills you have, you should mention if you have a particular area of interest – it’s not only useful for employers to know but it might also help make you a more memorable applicant.

✔ Take the time to fill your application in and try to address how you meet each of the criteria. If an employer can go through a written statement and mentally tick off each part of the job specification as being met, you are likely to come across as a strong candidate.

✔ Give examples of work experience (or even hobbies) that show you’re not afraid of hard work and/or being outdoors. Applicants often forget that field archaeology involves hard physical work in all types of weather so it’s reassuring to an employer if this won’t be new to you.

✔ If you have a non-UK academic qualification it is worthwhile finding out what the equivalent level and grade is in the UK educational system, and adding this in brackets in the form or your CV. This is not essential but it can be a useful way of highlighting your academic results and usually only takes a quick look online.


✘ Never say anything negative about a previous employer or project you’ve worked on.

✘ Don’t submit an application without properly proof reading or spell checking it. Being a field archaeologist requires a particularly high level of attention to detail so multiple mistakes in an application don’t look good.

✘ Once you’ve filled in one application or created an archaeological CV there’s nothing wrong with copying relevant sections to new applications. But don’t forget to change any key details, such as the name of the employer you’re applying to.

✘ Don’t send a CV on its own if the advert states that you need to fill in an application form. If you have an archaeological CV then it is a good idea to send it alongside an application form, but often a CV won’t contain all the information the employer requires. Furthermore, if you don’t follow an instruction at the point of applying, it doesn’t send a great message to your potential employer. If time is a constraint when completing your application you could write ‘see CV’ for some sections, such as your work experience or education history.

✘ Lastly, the examples of skills and experience in this guide are for inspiration and to give an idea of what employers are looking for – it’s not advisable to just copy the lists into your application


We hope this information is helpful and good luck job hunting!

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