Recently I spent some time with the young lady who was an intern for me and, as she was talking about her bleak job outlook, I found myself trying to strategize with her about her future-perhaps looking in the "mirror" in a different way, taking control and making her own opportunities.
She and her peers are so excited at this point in their lives and they have just accomplished a great feat-graduation! I would never want to shut them and their enthusiasm down with a curt, "Well, you know, NOBODY is hiring right now, have you thought about the food services industry?" So, I say to those of us who they turn to for advice, help them think outside the box. Don't say you don't know anyone who is hiring (that's probably true in the curatorial field), but tell them to create a job by selling their knowledge to someone who does not usually think they need a person with this education helping them with their business.
Thinking outside the box, as it were, is the best way to come up with a job or business that will match their skills. Real Estate, local government, and Historic Preservation Societies are the first place one would think of that would need the skills of a young historian, especially if they are willing to piece together their jobs in a small "chunk" size that will be more affordable in today's economy. For example, tell them to pitch to a real estate office that often has historic properties to sell, a service researching the information about what is available tax wise to someone who purchased this property. They could also add a history of the house for another fee-the trick is to keep the fees small and make money by volume. These days a simple, "You know you can get a tax break by buying this house," does not cut it, people want to see a report or evidence that it can benefit them tax wise to purchase this home. A new graduate could charge a flat fee and work for many realtors. Or how about contacting a set designer or art director through the website, www.setdecorators.org and send a letter offering to do research for them for their next project that features historical interiors, architecture or material culture.
Deciding where their interest lies is a major component in this next piece of advice. The best way to find out their passion and gain valuable experience is to volunteer at a historic site near where they live and get to know the staff so that they will be the first in line when a job does come around. Suggesting that they hone their skills in grant research and writing is something else that is currently very needed and with few people schooled in the proper way to go about the process. They have just graduated with the skills to research and analyze historic properties so connecting with a local appraising office is a place they could give out their cards and sell their ideas.
To her credit she was very respectful and listened as I came up with two or three ideas that she could put into action immediately. I am sure I sounded like I was very naïve as I spun the ideas and tried to get her excited about their potential to, if not make a living wage, at least be something to keep her active and engaged in her quest to find the perfect fit for her.
I have been very lucky in my career and I think it is because I have always done what I wanted to for the most part. I was blessed with an optimistic outlook no matter what befell me. I forget that lots of people do not have an entrepreneur's constitution, and to be successful you certainly need a strong one.
This being said, I have also learned that when you float an idea that seems "out there" you definitely are blessed to have someone listening to you who takes the idea and without prejudice helps you flesh out the pluses and minuses of the proposal. These people are few and far between and I have found that when you find someone with great patience and listening ear, hang on to them as a friend or contemporary...or marry them as I did.
I have no idea whether or not she has gone on and taken any of my advice. I do know, however, that she knows that she can always find a willing listener in me if she needs one.