Suggestions for the Job Seeker in American History

Below are the OAH's suggestions for those beginning their graduate school careers or work careers:

  • Think strategically about your long-term career goals.
  • Develop your Plan A to include jobs that are not in academia and ones that you might enjoy equally as well as (or even better than) teaching. Do not wait until you have exhausted all possibilities in academia. Other history-related professions want genuine commitment to their fields. For example, while in graduate school, if you are interested in a career in publishing, then seek out opportunities for editing; if you are interested in museums, take related courses while in graduate school; even explore internships. Aside from giving you experience, an internship will help you determine if you actually would want to work in a particular environment. And if you want to teach, make sure you get teaching experience outside your own university since it will give you a more accurate picture of what teaching is like.
  • Be honest with yourself and make sure you understand what an academic life entails. If you are not mobile and need to stay in a certain geographic area, you will definitely be limiting job opportunities in academia. If you need to pay off student loans or support a family, the first jobs you obtain in the history field, whether it is in academia or in another history profession, may not suffice.
  • Understand the peculiarities of each type of history job. Some require extensive travel (publishing), some require administrative and committee work (academia), some start at very low pay (museums, small historical societies), some may not lead to full-time positions (adjunct and part-time teaching positions), etc.
  • Assess your skills and strengths. Make sure teaching is what you want. There are other things you can do with a Ph.D. in history and many are well paying and actually involve "hands-on" history.
  • Make sure you are up-to-date on digital history.
  • Understand the skills you learn while studying history—research, writing, critical thinking, etc. and be able to sell these skills to others.
  • Tailor your résumé/CV to the job you are seeking.
  • Be familiar with interviewing via Skype.
  • Attend professional meetings; network. Don't be afraid to call individuals working in various history professions to see if you can talk with them about the profession. For the most part, they will be flattered and you have extended your network of professionals.
  • Remember many jobs in the history field require other skills such as fundraising, customer service, public speaking, etc. If you have a chance to hone these skills, you will be ahead of other candidates with PhDs.

Click here to read interviews with individuals who have PhDs in American history and work in a variety of history related fields (members only).