On unpaid internships, professional ethical standards, and the NCPH jobs page

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NCPH Jobs Page. Screen capture by Adina Langer

In the last month, our jobs page has garnered nearly 20,000 page views, making it one of the most-visited pages on the NCPH website. We don’t limit access to the page to NCPH members and we don’t charge employers to post jobs, because we think it benefits everyone in the field to connect qualified job-searchers with as many public history job opportunities as possible. But because it’s such a widely-used resource, we thought NCPHers might be interested in a little inside baseball—and that you might have some thoughts for us as we seek to improve it. We also wanted to announce a change going forward, which won’t impact how most of you use the page, but will allow us to be better stewards of the field.

Where do our job postings come from?

Anywhere from 30 to 50 jobs are posted to www.ncph.org/jobs, fifty weeks a year. Most of these are jobs that NCPH staff identify by aggregating a variety of sources—Twitter, regional and federal job boards, listings in related fields, and people in our network who send us postings. Our fantastic (paid!) graduate assistant (this year, Stasia Tanzer) hunts down and posts the majority of these every Monday. About ten jobs a week are submitted directly by employers via an online form.

What’s our job-posting philosophy?

We view our role as primarily that of an aggregator. We cast a wide net to find as many postings as possible, and users of the jobs page can exercise their own discretion about what constitutes good employment for them (in terms of location, hours worked, etc.). We’ve also taken a fairly broad view of what it means for a job to be “relevant to public history,” and occasionally post job opportunities in conservation, the arts, public policy, archaeology, and other further-flung fields. Since the page is free of charge and open to all, we try not to implement too many limitations or barriers on content and instead provide searchers with a filtering system they can use to find the right jobs for them.

We aim for balance—to ensure that as many geographic regions are represented as possible in a given week, to make sure that there are opportunities for new professionals as well as those with more experience; to find jobs across a wide range of sub-fields—but this is an inexact science.

What jobs won’t we post?

NCPH lists the following requirements for jobs posted to the page:

  • All jobs should be offered on an equal-opportunity basis.
  • Compensation should be commensurate with the qualifications required for a position.
  • Positions with a stated salary or wage should be compensated at or above the level advertised.
  • Advertised positions must be relevant to public history. Final determination of a posting’s relevance will be determined by the NCPH executive office.

So, we can refuse to post jobs if the listing suggests discriminatory hiring practices or if the salary on offer is wildly out-of-touch with the requirements, and we expect employers to follow through on their end of the deal and pay what they say they’ll pay. We lean toward a fairly expansive definition of what’s relevant to our field, but we reserve the right to decline to post jobs that are clearly not public history-related.

Listing these expectations isn’t foolproof and requires us to use our best judgment on a case-by-case basis, so occasionally a posting will slip through that might not belong. Maintenance of our jobs page is primarily undertaken by our graduate intern, so there’s also an understandable learning curve as they learn more about fair wages, fair work, and what’s appropriate to expect from the very broad range of organizations and institutions that hire public historians. (Check out ’13-14 NCPH intern Nick Sacco’s article for the June 2014 issue of Public History News about what he took away from maintaining the NCPH jobs page and how he applied that knowledge to his own job search.)

What about internships?

Up until this point, NCPH has had no firm policy on posting uncompensated internships. In the office we don’t share unpaid internships we find, but in the past when employers have posted them directly we’ve allowed them to stay up. Our rationale when we redesigned the jobs page in 2015 was that by providing the means for users to filter unpaid internships out of their searches, and by asking employers to click the box clearly denoting an uncompensated internship, searchers are able to make informed decisions about what opportunities might work for them. While this is true, we’ve come to believe that we can do more to protect people who are vulnerable as they seek success—and pay their bills, and feed their cats—as public historians.

Speaking generally, uncompensated internships are problematic for a host of reasons. At the most basic level, they make it harder for students and young professionals to gain experience in the field while maintaining a decent quality of life. They undeniably shape the demographics of the profession by favoring those who can afford to work for free and boxing out those who can’t. And they financially devalue the work we all do as public historians, psychologically undercutting our belief that public history is vital and important. NCPH has advocated for paid internships in our Best Practices for Public History Internships (2008) and Best Practices for Establishing and Developing a Public History Program (2015) documents; at our 2017 annual meeting in Indianapolis, the working group The Economics and Ethics of Internships at the Center of Public History Education continued this ongoing discussion.

At their heart, uncompensated internships are volunteer positions, and volunteering is service. Volunteer positions have value, both to the people who volunteer and to the organizations who utilize the service of volunteers (and NCPH would not exist without the committee and board members who volunteer their time and expertise!). But these are not, after all, jobs, and we’ve decided that they do not belong on the NCPH jobs page and that we will no longer post uncompensated internships submitted to us.

To communicate this change, we’ll be amending point two of our expectations to read: Compensation should be commensurate with the qualifications required for a position. We do not accept postings for uncompensated internships, and the NCPH Executive Office reserves the right to determine if an internship meets our standards of ethical compensation.

What does this mean for you?

Not much will change in terms of user experience. We already post very few uncompensated internships (there’s only one active on the jobs page at the time of writing, out of over 250 total jobs). We’ll be using our best judgment to determine what constitutes fair compensation for internships, because a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work here: for one internship, housing and a modest stipend might be sufficient compensation, while this might be woefully inadequate for another.

We hope that going forward this will be a positive change for a part of our website that’s very important to many of our members: students and new professionals who are job-hunting; public history practitioners who post job opportunities seeking the best possible candidates; and educators who hope their students will emerge from graduate programs ready to put history to work in the world while also being able to put food on their table.

We welcome your feedback, either in the comments here or privately to [email protected].

~ Meghan Hillman is the NCPH program manager.

5 comments
  1. Thank you for taking a clear position on both unpaid internships and salary ranges in job postings.

    Every professional service organization in the cultural/museum sector should follow your lead if this is not already their policy.

  2. Edward Roach says:

    Frankly, a prospective salary or salary range should ALWAYS be a part of a job listing. Why some places don’t include them baffles me – applicants need to know whether they can afford to put forth the energy to even bother to apply for a job in the first place. If you don’t tell me what you’re planning on paying for the position, you don’t respect me and I’m not going to bother with you.

    1. Meghan Hillman says:

      Hi Ed—we’re still exploring the possibility of making more changes to our jobs page in a thoughtful and transparent way, including tackling the issue of salaries and salary ranges. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Mark says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have been in cultural resources management about twenty years, and i have been appalled at what some folks in this industry want to pay their staffers. I would rather have four well-paid curators rather than five poorly paid ones.

    If it really takes five “bodies” just to do all the work, maybe you need to rethink your priorities and drop some unnecessary tasks. Your employees are your biggest asset, and they need to be paid a decent wage.

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