Tips for Applying for Positions in Applied Anthropology


I am currently wading through a number of applications and CVs for a vacancy in the agency where I work. I’ve done this a number of times now, and there are a few things that apparently intelligent and highly qualified applicants often do that never cease to amaze me. I’m talking about mistakes in the application process that instantly ensure they never get an interview, much less the job.

If you’re looking for a job in applied anthropology in Australia -and this advice will carry over into many other disciplines- read on. This post offers advice to professional job applicants from the point of view of someone on the selection panel.

1. Having a PhD does not exempt you from addressing selection criteria

I don’t care if you’ve published 100 articles and books and completed your PhD. If you can’t be bothered addressing the selection criteria, I can’t be bothered interviewing you.

2. Address the selection criteria – do not just send your CV

I want to write this in bold and underline it: you must address the selection criteria if you want to be short listed for an interview.

Perhaps I should be clearer: Do you want an interview? Then address the selection criteria.

Interview panels use selection criteria to see whether you understand the nature of the job and to make some assessment of whether you have the skills and experience necessary to be considered for the position. I will be the first to admit that many examples of selection criteria are poorly written, but this is not an excuse to ignore or dismiss them.

So I will say it again: address all of the selection criteria. Just sending your CV and a cover letter is regarded as an incomplete
application and will guarantee you a rejection letter.

3. Do not make up your own selection criteria and then write responses to them.

Don’t laugh, some job applicants do this.

4. Do some research about the job and organisation you are applying to work for before you write your application.

Do not just copy sections of the agency’s website or Act and put them in your responses to selection criteria. This is unprofessional – do you really think that people working in management positions in the agency don’t know their own legislation? Believe me, I know instantly when I see a job application where someone has cut and pasted from the Act!

Serious advice: call up the agency and ask about the job! You are allowed to do this. I encourage you to do this – it demonstrates you are serious about applying and are taking genuine interest.

Think about this: the reason for advertising a position is to put a real person into the job. That’s right – a real, live person who will become a colleague and valued team member. So be a real, live person and call up and ask questions about the job and the agency.  Ask whether you can talk to someone in the organisation who does the same or a similar job. The more information and understanding you have about the position, the better your application will be.

What amazes me even more is overseas applicants who don’t call or email for more information. If you are applying for a job that requires you to move interstate or overseas and you aren’t prepared to spend even 10 minutes talking to someone about the position, then ask yourself do you really want that particular job? Are you really prepared to move to a different country, culture, region if you can’t take the time to ask the locals what it’s like?

5. Just because you have done field work in (insert name of Developing Country) does not mean you have the skills necessary to undertake remote area field work with Aboriginal people in Australia.

Working on a community development project related to women’s reproductive health in East Timor or Colombia does not necessarily give you the skills required to undertake work in remote Australia.

Each employment context has particular requirements. One of the requirements of working in applied anthropology with Aboriginal people in Australia is an ability to work within narrow legislative frameworks in highly contested and politicised situations. Often, legislation determines the oles and responsibilities of your position above and beyond any other criteria.

It also means you will not be doing pure research work, but will undertaking work with specific outcomes and deadlines. Thus, this kind of applied anthropology it is not pure ethnographic research, but more like rapid ethnographic appraisal work. You do not determine the project or even the research methodology; you simply manage and carry out the research portion of the project within a larger process involving other agency staff.

Other issues to consider regarding anthropological fieldwork in remote Australia:

Are you prepared to camp on the ground in a swag? If you aren’t, please reconsider your application. Serious. If you are freaked out by ants, bugs, or snakes – I seriously recommend that you do not apply. Likewise if you can’t live without your hair straighter or make up.

Are you prepared to drive very long distances in Toyota troop carriers?

Are you prepared to change tyres and caryy out other minor mechanical repairs?

After driving a long way (500km) and changing 2 flat tyres, are you prepared to cook dinner and care for five or six demanding old ladies?

6. If you are not an Australian citizen and do not hold a current work visa, you may not be eligible to apply for many positions in Australia.

Sorry folks, but that’s the way it is. You need to be eligible to work in Australia to apply for a position here. Check out: for further information.

I hope this is helpful to people thinking about applying for positions in Australia.  I have written this in the hope that anthropology PhDs and Honours graduates will readthis  and not make the mistakes I see time after time when reading job applications.


2 thoughts on “Tips for Applying for Positions in Applied Anthropology

  1. I read your advice to job hunters with some glee! Things are very difficult in the US for job hunters and one would think that people would investigate what a job entails before assuming that they know what an employer is looking for. Interesting read!

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