Publication Date

April 15, 2015

This blog post is part of a regular series to inform the AHA Today readership and AHA membership about Career Diversity for Historians, the AHA’s initiative to broaden the career horizons of history PhDs.

AHA Career Contacts, a new service launched in January as part of the AHA Career Diversity for Historians initiative, is off to a great start. The premise is simple: connect graduate students and recent PhDs with historians employed beyond the professoriate for one-time, low-stakes, informational interviews. “Junior contacts,” graduate students or early career historians, learn about some of the variety of career paths open to them and gain valuable experience in conducting informational interviews. “Senior contacts,” history PhDs employed beyond the professoriate, are given the opportunity to share the wisdom of their experience and a sense of connection with a wider world of historians.

As the program enters its fourth month, I’ve successfully connected 48 junior contacts with senior contacts. Over 40 senior contacts have signed up online, and I’ve sought out additional historians to participate via other Career Diversity events and by personal solicitation when demand for certain experience is high. (For instance, junior contacts frequently request senior contacts with experience in publishing and editing, as well as nonprofit and policy work.)

I’ve also begun to receive feedback.

From junior contacts:

I got the sense that [my senior contact] fell slowly but surely into her current role, which made me feel a lot less stressed about the position that I am in now.

The interview helped me to confirm the things that I am doing correctly and gave me ideas about how to use my education a bit differently in job applications.

The senior contact offered good concrete advice on how to improve my resume and prepare it for the market in which I am seeking a position.

From senior contacts:

Junior contact seemed genuinely interested in a field that I’ve worked and asked appropriate questions. Contact was obviously well prepared and asked informed, specific questions: not “how did you get to your current job” but “tell me about x in y field.”

[My junior contact] seemed genuinely interested in exploring other options to academia, and I hope I gave her some insight into the pros and cons of [my field of work]. We spoke for about 45 minutes, and it was very enjoyable.

As is always the case, not everyone can be connected with someone who perfectly matches his or her own interests and experiences, but by working to increase the pool of possible senior contacts, I’m hoping to improve the (already good) chance that informational interviews will be enjoyable and productive for both parties.

As I work to expand AHA Career Contacts, I am also connecting the program with the growing resources offered at our annual meeting. The Professional Division is improving its annual Interviewing Workshop, and the Career Fair will again offer the chance to meet historians in many career paths. We are also planning at least one seminar where early career historians can receive some hands-on training in networking, getting resume advice, and other skills useful in job searches.

As the AHA and the four Career Diversity pilot programs improve and generate opportunities for graduate students, one theme consistently emerges. Historians need to start thinking about the many careers open to them as early as possible. Our pilot programs are working on this, but a simple way to start is to participate in AHA Career Contacts. Have you signed up yet?

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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