Wow! That’s such a relevant question for those on the job market. Our job search as practicing anthropologists is unique. Unlike other job seekers with degrees in fields that sell themselves, we anthropologists have to explain the value of our research methods, technical skills, and understanding of human behavior.
As I focused my job search as a User Experience (UX) researcher, I found myself overwhelmed with what I did not know: where to look for jobs; how to market myself; how to explain the value of anthropological research? I even had to learn what “job descriptions” to apply for and lacked a real understanding of the application process. My resume was rejected as soon as it was submitted. I knew the fault was mine—that I did not understand the world outside of academia—where I have spent most of my career as a working adult.
My dissertation fieldwork focused on business practices in Russia—how local Russian firms and multi-national corporations competed against each other. When I was in the middle of a job search, I couldn’t help but compare all the layers in this search
to a Russian nesting doll; several layers of intricately linked but separate pieces that create a whole. I am the “smallest nesting doll” looking up and wanting to know how I could connect to the largest nesting doll—the job. The middle dolls connecting the smallest doll to the largest were the job searches, resume creation, interview practices, and learning how my anthropological training related to UX research.
I started to apply my anthropological skills to the job search. I needed to learn what companies wanted—in other words, to find the insider knowledge that anthropologists need. I started this process by connecting with professional associations in which I could find a mentor. By meeting with anthropologists from different companies willing to share their insights and experiences, I was able to add suggestions to my resume and prepare for a job interview. Attending virtual professional meetings gave me added insight into how to market myself as an anthropologist with valuable skills. Further, practicing anthropologists gave me ideas for employment possibilities. I started to keep a detailed list of places to apply for future reference.
Amidst these professional organizations, I found a mentor who helped guide me through the resume process. I learned that my resume was focused on skills rather than outcomes that companies expected. With the help of my mentor, I rewrote my resume and finalized it on the fourth version.
The next step was role playing job interviews with my mentor. The STAR (situation, task, action, result) method of interviewing was key. I then practiced at home, writing and re-writing my interview answers using the STAR method. Further, I gained knowledge about possible interview questions from basic Google interview preparedness searches. I learned from professionals how to prepare myself for specific interview questions related to my anthropological skills such as which research methods I would use as a UX researcher.
The next layer of my networking process was informational interviews with practicing anthropologists. In discussing my resume with them, I learned it was perfect as far as content, but was visually unappealing. I replaced the standard black type on white paper with a colorful, modern resume format and turned it into a PDF. (Such templates can be found for free if you have Microsoft Office.)
My search took a total of four months—in student terms equal to a semester long course of learning about the network process and job search. At the end of my four-month “networking course,” I felt confident to apply for jobs with my new resume and practical interview training to answer questions on a variety of subjects related to research in business anthropology. These subjects included different research methods and design, and cultural insights and human behavior, as well as how all these affect customer awareness, design research, and user experience.
My job application process began. I focused on jobs selected from the list I gathered during my professional organization meetings and from my network, including word-of-mouth possibilities from my mentor. The results were beyond my expectations; I had two interviews with two different companies within one week—both for UX researcher positions. I now have a paid internship that I plan to leverage for later full-time employment.
The networking and mentoring from anthropologists willing to donate their time to educate and train me has been invaluable. I believe they are strategies worth pursuing for anthropology job seekers.