Alright. You typed up a CV, had it checked by friends and colleagues, and looked for some job postings. The perfect job came up so you typed up a customized cover letter and sent off the email to your future employer. Now what?
Many people don’t realize when they get in to CRM that it’s not like other jobs. You likely won’t be called for an actual interview unless it is a higher leadership position. If you receive a phone call for a field technician position they are likely offering you the job. Companies are not all that discriminating when it comes to hiring field techs. Other jobs will read your CV or resume, check your references, and then call you in for an interview. CRM companies usually stop at the “read your CV” step. In my experience they don’t even really do that. Why is this?
Well, at other jobs you are probably planning on being there for a while. The companies want to see you and talk to you so they can have an idea as to what they are getting themselves into. When you get to the job there will probably be a 60-90 day probationary period where they can pretty much fire you at any time. Nearly every CRM job is a probationary period and at any point you can be fired or let go. You might finish out the project but you may not be called back if they have additional work.
This is a small field and everyone talks. Nearly every company I’ve worked for has asked my co-workers and I about possible new employees. They ask if we’ve ever worked with these people and whether we’d ever work with them again. I’ve seen CVs tossed in the trash with out a second thought. It’s brutal but a reality of our field.
So, how should you prepare for that phone call? For my first few jobs I didn’t ask many questions. I asked what my pay was going to be and where the job was taking place but that’s about it. Now when I receive that phone call I’ve got a list of questions that I’ve prepared ahead of time. The following is a list of some of the questions I ask and why I ask them.
Pay and per diem. This seems simple and obvious but unless you ask, the person on the other end of the call might not even tell you what you are getting paid and what the per diem is like. As for pay it varies depending on the region of the country in which you are working. On the east coast you can expect $10-13 per hour as a field tech and on the west coast you can expect $13-16 per hour. There is a lot of variation in those numbers but they are generally accurate.
Per diem is a whole other animal. Rates of per diem vary considerably. On the east coast I’ve generally only been paid food per diem with the hotel being covered by the company. I’ve been paid anywhere from $21 a day to $45 a day for food. On the west coast I’ve made from about $100-125 per diem which covers food and lodging. The nice thing about the high per diem is that you can stay where ever you want to. A lot of people camp at free campgrounds and bank all that money for the winter.
The per diem is paid out in different ways too. Some companies give it to you in cash at the beginning of the week or session while others will give it to you in a separate check when you get paid or include it in your paycheck. This is important for people with low credit card limits and no money in the bank. You might not get a pay check for two to four weeks and will have to pay for hotels, gas, and food out of pocket until then. Most companies don’t require you to turn in receipts for your per diem but some still do. I generally avoid these companies unless the archaeology is really interesting.
Lodging. On the east coast lodging is often, not always, but often double occupancy. Sometimes you can choose your roommate and sometimes you are randomly assigned. I generally avoided these situations when I was single because I felt that being treated like an adult and not a college student was key to my sanity.
The west coast usually leaves you to your own devices when it comes to lodging. Some companies still insist on direct billing the hotel, though. There is a great company in Reno that I’d likely be working for if they gave full per diem and let people stay where ever they’d like to. For some people the lodging situation is an important question to ask potential employers. Others don’t care. It might not really matter to you if the project is of a short duration.
Project Length and Future Work. Is the project slated to last two days, two weeks, or two months? Ask. It’s important. Is it worth it to drive 1000 miles for a two week project? Depends on the project. Find out how long it’s supposed to last and whether they have other projects lined up. Employers don’t want people to quit before the project is over and they don’t like hiring new people so they might inflate the duration of projects and tell you that they have a lot of work coming up. That might be true but they may not have permits in place and there could be delays. Always have a back up plan and/or some money in the bank.
Cultural Background. I like to find out what type of project I’m going on so I can look up information about the people and/or the area before I get there. It lets me know what I should be looking for and informs me of any unique archaeological features or artifacts I should be looking for. It’s just good science and professionalism to do so.
The Work Day. There is a lot of variation in what employers call a work day and what they pay you for. The most ideal situation from a field tech stand point is being paid hotel to hotel. That means you are on the clock from the time you leave the hotel to the time you return. Find out whether overtime is authorized or whether you are on salary. Some companies don’t start the clock until you get into the field or they will only pay drive-time one way. If the project area is an hour from the hotel you could be giving up two hours of your day or 20 hours during a 10-day session for free. Again, if the project is really awesome and interesting then it might be worth it.
Ask what the schedule is going to be. I’ve worked schedules that vary from ten days on, four days off to nine days on, five days off. There are Monday through Friday schedules and eight on, six off schedules. Some companies pay per diem on the days off but most don’t. Find out what your company’s policy is.
Rain Day Policy. This might seem trivial but in the spring time it could mean the difference between a full paycheck and half of a paycheck. Companies often have a policy for rain days. Some won’t pay you at all and might ask for your per diem back for that day. Others will pay you for two, four, or six hours and let you keep your per diem. Some companies will drive out to the project area to make a determination as a matter of policy and others will just check the radar. This may not be a factor in your decision to join the project but it’s good to know and usually doesn’t come up until it happens.
Sick Days. Some companies will ask for your per diem back if you call in sick. Find out what your company’s policy is. Do you get health benefits after a certain period of time? Goodwin and Berger give benefits after 90 days. You don’t often get on projects that last that long but it’s nice if you do.
There are likely many other questions that people ask. I encourage anyone to leave a comment and tell me what kinds of questions you ask. If you’re and employer and/or in charge of hiring what kind of questions do you wish people would ask? What is the craziest thing you’ve ever been asked?
Good luck on the job hunt.
Written in Sparks, Nevada: created by the Southern Pacific Railway Company!