Career Development

The information below is relevant to starting and developing a career in practicing and applied anthropology.

“Employers often seek sharp thinkers who can manage and interpret the large volumes of data that either exist or need to be gathered on  human behavior. Governmental, nongovernmental, and private business entities need those who can collect and/or analyze qualitative and quantitative data, and then apply the holistic understanding and insights to the information that anthropology can provide.”

What to keep in mind when planning your job search and resume preparation
If you are still in school, look for opportunities that are relevant to the area in which you wish to work. For example, if you want to get into international aid, there are many opportunities to volunteer overseas (if you have the means). If you are interested in local community issues or public health, find a city government or nonprofit with which to work. You may find that articulating the benefits and relevance of an anthropology degree to those unfamiliar with the field is often the largest hurdle. Look at some of the skills listed below, and think broadly about your education and experiences, and how those are relevant to a particular position. Boil those down into key strengths to note to an employer.

Volunteering directly or doing an internship in your desired field will help you develop contacts that you can use after graduation. Just as importantly, it also exposes the public (and potential employers) to anthropologists at work – thereby increasing awareness of our field and the skill sets we bring to bear.

State and local governmental organizations use anthropologists in planning, research, and managerial capacities. Many corporations look explicitly for anthropologists, recognizing the utility of their perspective on corporate researcher teams, for example, or as evaluators or project managers. Many anthropology graduates work in the public and not-for-profit sectors, such as for local governments, charities, central government bodies, universities,  museums, and voluntary organizations, as well as for international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

When preparing a resume, you will need to adjust it slightly to best appeal to the particular sector of the employer. A state employer will look for rather specific backgrounds in education and experience, as laid out in a job announcement. A nonprofit may focus more on any prior relevant experiences and how you fit best into their organization.

It is difficult to compile a list of all jobs that anthropologists are able to do, but according to the American Anthropological Association some of the most common job titles/positions include:

  • Nonprofit project manager
  • Community development worker
  • International aid/development worker
  • Local government officer
  • Market researcher
  • Social researcher
  • Equality and diversity officer
  • Higher education lecturer
  • Human resources officer
  • Public health officer
  • Museum/gallery curator
  • Public relations officer
  • Program manager
  • User experience (UX) analyst
  • Advertising manager
  • Conservation/Environment
  • Social worker
  • Heritage manager
  • Sales and marketing

Each of these job roles will require a resume with a slightly different focus, that highlight how your education and experience best match both the position and the organization.

Skills to note on your CV or resume
When drafting your resume, make a list of the most relevant skills you have developed as they pertain to the job in question. Use all the skills you have acquired throughout your school and work life, not just those developed while earning your anthropology degree.

Read the job posting several times and circle the skills you listed that are most relevant to the career you are seeking, to ensure you will be satisfied in that position.

As well as a specialized knowledge of applying anthropology, you may have also developed a range of social, behavioral, biological, and other scientific research methods. Additional, general skills gained with an anthropology degree include careful record-keeping, attention to detail, analytical reading, and clear thinking. You have also most likely developed skills that are less easy to express in a resume, such as social ease in strange situations, critical thinking, and strong skills in oral and written expression.

Keep in mind the following general skills that can be listed in a resume or cover letter, and remember to tweak your resume to highlight the skills most prominent in a job listing, or that will best suit a particular employer:

  • Learning and study skills
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills
  • Gathering, assessing, and interpreting data
  • Statistical and computing techniques
  • Clear, logical, and independent thinking
  • Organizing and planning
  • Written communication
  • Oral communication and presentation skills
  • Time management
  • Discussion and group work skills
  • Problem solving
  • Constructing a compelling and holistic argument

Remember, you are an anthropologist! Be sure to research the company or organization, and use the information you have gathered to not only to adapt your resume but to develop your objective or personal statement (if required) and cover letter.

Cover letters
Some application postings will only accept a resume. But frequently, you will be allowed, even required, to submit a cover letter, too. The cover letter lets you to express yourself more thoroughly than you can through your resume, and to “pitch yourself” more specifically to the position needs outlined in the job announcement. Here you can let your personality show through; try to pique an employer’s interest in you! Remember that you may be one of hundreds of applicants, so don’t be afraid to try to stand out a bit.

  • Attempt to discover who specifically will receive the cover letter, and personalize it to address that person.
  • Complement, but do not duplicate, your resume.
  • Write simply, clearly, and to the point. The letter should be less than one page.
  • Explain plainly why an anthropologist best suits the job and organization.
  • Include some of the keywords or skills listed in the job announcement.
  • Highlight any special talents or experiences you wish the employer to consider.
  • Briefly explain any employment gaps or anomalies in your job history.
  • Have someone who knows you well proofread your draft, and offer suggestions.
  • If you get into a creative bind, find some sample cover letters online for ideas and inspiration.
  • Unless specifically requested, do not include a salary history.
  • Follow any specific instructions requested by the employer!

Always save a copy of each cover letter. This will help you remember who received which letter, when.  (If the cover letter is in the form of an email, draft and finalize the message first in a word processor.) And as you write more and more cover letters, you will be able to cut and paste content from prior versions that are relevant for current applications. This will be especially helpful as you find different ways to best articulate the relevance of anthropology in different contexts.

General resume tips

  • No two of your resumes will be alike. Each will be tweaked to best present your background vis-a-vis a specific job.
  • There are numerous samples of resume styles and formats online; find one that best suits the relevant employer.
  • Most resumes should only be two pages. CVs may run several pages, as required by the employer.
  • Put your name and all available contact information at the top, and ensure their accuracy.
  • Do not use specific anthropological jargon, unless the employer seeks a specific anthropological background.
  • Do use descriptive words that highlight your anthropology, such as “cross-cultural,” “ethnographic,” holistic,” “insightful analysis,” “multidisciplinary,” etc. If needed, use the cover letter to further describe the relevance of anthropology for the job/organization.
  • Be specific but brief. Use active/action words. Focus on your successes and specific outcomes.
  • Skills, education, and experiences should be listed in the order that best suits your background, or that best match the job announcement.
  • Triple check spelling, grammar, and consistent format/layout. Don’t cram too much into the resume.
  • Professional references (usually three) with full and accurate contact information should be included, if requested, on a separate page, in the same format as the resume.
  • If you have a LinkedIn or personal web page, be sure the content aligns well with your resume.

Jobhero is a website that gives great examples of the different way you can work your skills as it pertains to the job you are seeking. Visit their anthropologist resume samples.

Recommended reading

  • Briller, Sherylyn H., and Amy Goldmacher, 2009, Designing an Anthropology Career: Professional Development Exercises, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
  • Camenson, Blythe, 2004, Great Jobs for Anthropology Majors, McGraw-Hill.
  • Ellick, Carol J., and Joe E. Watkins, 2011, The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Career, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
  • Guerron-Montero, Carla, 2008, “Careers in 21st Century Applied Anthropology: Perspectives from Academics and Practitioners,” NAPA Bulletin Number 29, Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Gwynne, Margaret A., 2002, Applied Anthropology: A Career-Oriented Approach, Boston: Bacon Allyn.
  • Gwynne, Margaret A., 2002, Anthropology Career Resources Handbook, Pearson.
  • Nolan, Riall W., 2003, Anthropology in Practice: Building a Career Outside the Academy (Directions in Applied Anthropology), Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publisher.
  • Omohundro, John T., 1997, Careers in Anthropology, Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.
  • Stephens Jr., W. Richard, 2001, Careers in Anthropology, Pearson.
  • Wasson, Christina, ed. 2006. “Making History at the Frontier: Women Creating Careers as Practicing Anthropologists.” NAPA Bulletin No. 26, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Additional resources

• American Anthropological Association (AAA) Career Center
• NAPA Mentoring Program
• Best of the Web, “Anthropology Organizations” (a comprehensive list of discipline specific organizations)
• Anthropology Blogs (links to an almost overwhelming number of anthropology and anthropology-related blogs)

Both research data and personal anecdotes indicate that networking is of key importance for anthropologists, not only to assist in finding jobs, but to help build careers. There are many ways to go about building your network:

  • Start with the people you know. Build on your alumni network. Look back to see what members of your cohort are doing currently. Keep in touch with key faculty and advisers. A quick email here and there can go a long way over time.
  • Attend annual meetings, pass out business cards, follow up, keep in touch. If you can not attend a meeting, look over the program and contact those who presented on topics of interest to you.
  • Join listservs relevant to your interests, such as design anthropology. Anthrodesign:
  • Join a “slack” community, such as AnthroHangout:
  • Another networking software option is joining or creating a “meetup” group ( An example of a group that used this strategy is Ethnoborrel, based in the Netherlands:
  • Look online for groups that align with your specific interests. For example, those interested in evaluation can join the Evaluation Anthropology Network:
  • Go to the websites of specific groups and see if you can get a message out through the site.  If you are interesting in business anthropology, for example, visit their website or social media pages.

Most anthropologists are surprisingly (well, perhaps not so surprisingly) accommodating in responding to queries and trying to help build networks. Do not be afraid to reach out, but be specific in your ‘ask’ and always say “thank you.” It sounds pedantic, but many of your peers don’t bother to do this.  Finally, if you are stuck, find someone who has a great network, and ask them for advice. No doubt you have at least one peer you can query.

Moving from the Academy to Practice
By Mary Odell ButlerNAPA Past President

Over the 35 years of my life as an anthropologist, I have held jobs in both the academy and in practice (in companies doing program evaluations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  For 25 years or so, I ran evaluation projects with multidisciplinary teams.  I also taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

At this point in my life, I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that have come my way.  It wasn’t always easy, and I had many moments of uncertainty about what I was doing–and why.  Particularly traumatic was a denial of tenure in the early years of my academic career.  Actually, it turned out pretty well, but of course I could not foresee that at the time.

I have come to understand that career building is a life-long process.  Few of us outside of the academy have a single employer for our entire careers.  Thus, we need to be up to date on what is happening in all aspects of our fields not only at the beginning but throughout our professional lives. And remember that ethnography is an important tool, not only as a product we deliver but as a guide to negotiating the job market.  I use it every day. 

Specific actions for career planning include, among many important points:

  • Develop a plan for starting or changing a career.
  • Use your ethnographic tools to understand the workplace and how to approach it.
  • Build, maintain, use a network of contacts.
  • Clear jargon out of ordinary conversations.
  • Avoid strong ideological positions in the job hunt.

Once placed in a job, we need to learn to:

  • Accommodate a different work rhythm.
  • Develop the capacity to function in interdisciplinary teams.
  • Cultivate agility in selling ourselves and in selling anthropology. 

I strongly urge new practitioners not to de-identify as anthropologists.  Rather, those of us in practice should disseminate to employers, potential employers, funders, and colleagues just what anthropology is, what we can do, and why anthropology is valuable to their respective missions.  By doing this, we smooth the way for the anthropologists who come after us, and we strengthen the field as a whole.

Are you pondering a career shift? Perhaps you should consider joining the NAPA Mentoring Program. Review the information and decide if a NAPA mentor is for you!

Independent Consulting

Numerous opportunities exist in diverse sectors for practicing anthropologists to serve as independent consultants. Below are some tips provided by experienced anthropologists. More tips will be added over time.

International Development: Entry Points by Mari Clarke, PhD

Successful Consulting: Networking is the Key by Elizabeth K. Briody, PhD

Stepping Into Consulting by Ruth Sando, PhD

Getting Started in International Consulting by Laurie Krieger, PhD

General Information

Selected Links from Anthropology Programs

Start with the NAPA Podcasts; the pilot series focuses on career paths and realities from eight experienced practitioner anthropologists.  These podcasts were recorded in late 2013 and 2014, and cover such topics as what anthropologists do, how they got there, and what anthropological skills they apply in their daily routines.

These videos, beginning with the most recent, focus on careers in anthropology:

Altimare, Emily L.  2008.  “Beyond Ethnography: Corporate and Design Anthropology,” DVD, 24 minutes, Careers in Anthropology No. 2, Arlington, VA:  American Anthropological Association.

Smiley Francis E.  2006.  “Anthropology:  Real People, Real Careers,” DVD, 42 minutes, Careers in Anthropology No. 1, Arlington, VA:  American Anthropological Association.

Briody, Elizabeth K. and Dawn Bodo.  1993.  “Anthropologists at Work:  Careers Making a Difference,” DVD, 36 minutes, American Anthropological Association and EXPOSE: Communications Network.

See also: NAPA answers to student questions about anthropology careers (1994)

These publications, beginning with the most recent, focus on careers in anthropology:

Nolan, Riall. 2013.  A Handbook of Practicing Anthropology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Brondo, Keri Vacanti and Linda A. Bennett.  2012.  “Career Subjectivities in U.S. Anthropology:  Gender, Practice, and Resistance.” American Anthropologist 114(4): 598-610.

Ellick, Carol J. and Joe E. Watkins.  2011.  The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Career.  Walnut Creek, CA:  Left Coast Press.

Fiske, Shirley J., Linda A. Bennett, Patricia Ensworth, Terry Redding, and Keri Brondo.  2010.  “The Changing Face of Anthropology:  Anthropology Masters Reflect on Education, Careers, and Professional Organizations,” Arlington, VA:  American Anthropological Association.

Briller, Sherylyn H. and Amy Goldmacher.  2009.  Designing an Anthropology Career:  Professional Development Exercises.  Lanham, MD:  AltaMira Press.

Strang, Veronica.  2009.  What Anthropologists Do.  Oxford, UK:  Berg.

Guerón-Montero, Carla, ed.  2008.  Careers in Applied Anthropology in the 21st Century:  Perspectives from Academics and Practitioners.  NAPA Bulletin No. 29, Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing.

Rudd, Elizabeth, Emory Morrison, Joseph Picciano, and Maresi Nerad.  2008.  “Social Science PhDs – Five+ Years Out: Anthropology Report. CIRGE Report 2008-01.” CIRGE: Seattle, WA.

Wasson, Christina, ed.  2006.  Making History at the Frontier:  Women Creating Careers as Practicing Anthropologists.  NAPA Bulletin No. 26, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press.

Nolan, Riall W.  2002.  Anthropology in Practice:  Building a Career Outside the Academy.  Boulder, CO:  Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Omohundro, John T. 2002. Careers in Anthropology. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 2nd ed.

Sabloff, Paula L.W., ed.  2000.  Careers in Anthropology: Profiles of Practitioner Anthropologists. NAPA Bulletin No. 20Wiley-Blackwell

Camenson, Blythe.  2000.  Great Jobs for Anthropology Majors.  Chicago, IL:  VGM Career Horizons.

If you are interesting in business anthropology, visit their website or social media pages.

Versatile PhD:

An interesting model for how to start with the career planning process is offered on p. 5 of this 2012 workshop paper:

Also on this site:

  • AnthroJobs and AnthroCurrents: See our blog archives for these postings, which show jobs of interesting to anthropologists, and the range of areas in which anthropologists work and appear in the popular press.
  • Position Listings (employment directory, volunteer/internships, and field schools)
  • The “Practicing Anthropology” pages present what practicing and applied anthropologists do.
  • Read through a 2009 career survey to explore what MA anthropologists do and how they got there.
Welcome To NAPA

NAPA promotes human-centered work applied to practical problems by linking a network of professional anthropologists working across employment sectors.  We support all anthropologists in bringing real solutions to communities, organizations, and policymakers, by offering advocacy, information, networks, mentoring, and continuing education.


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