Frequently Asked Questions
Below are examples of some of the most frequently asked questions we receive at the AAG regarding jobs and careers for geographers. Click the links to read the replies.
Have a question of your own that's not addressed here? Email us at email@example.com.
- It sounds as if an internship might be the sort of opportunity you are seeking. Our research indicates that internships are an important professional development opportunity for students and early-career professionals. In addition to providing you with the chance to learn key skills and to become familiar with a business or industry, internships also allow employers to get to know you first-hand, which can give you an important advantage if a permanent position becomes available.
Internships are offered by organizations across the business, government, and nonprofit sectors, and they may be either paid or unpaid. Your first step might be to consider which sectors and industries are the best fit for your skills and interests, then to begin looking for internship openings. These opportunities are likely to be posted on traditional job boards (for example usajobs.gov for openings in the U.S. federal government) or company-specific websites (for example, nationalgeographic.com/jobs). For information about the AAG's internship program, visit the Opportunities at AAG area within our online Jobs in Geography Center.
If you cannot identify suitable internship opportunities, you might also consider looking for volunteer opportunities with organizations that do the kinds of work that interest you. Volunteering is a great way to show your dedication to a cause that interests you, expand your professional network, and get your "foot in the door" with an organization that might have paid positions available in the future.
- Despite the wide application of geographic skills in many careers and industries, only 1,170 U.S. workers bear the job title of "geographer," according to 2010 data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many employers have little familiarity with the content areas or skill sets that make up our discipline beyond the ability to create and interpret maps. Therefore, it is your responsibility to find positions that will be a match for the diverse skill set you've acquired through your studies and work experience and to clearly identify and communicate how you as a geographer could contribute to an organization's goals, mission, and performance.
Through the AAG's EDGE Project, we're currently conducting research about how geography is being used in the workplace and what geographical skills employers are looking for. Our book Practicing Geography: Careers for Enhancing Society and the Environment (Pearson Education) includes 16 chapters on an array of topics that will help you to explore and prepare for a wide variety of careers related to geography. Click here to learn more or order your copy.
For additional ideas about the value of your degree and how to communicate this to potential employers: Solem, Michael et al. 2008. Skills in Professional Geography: An Assessment of Workforce Needs and Expectations. The Professional Geographer, 60(3), pages 356-373. If you are a member of the AAG, you can access this article for free through our website: www.aag.org/publications/the_professional_geographer.
Within the Jobs & Careers section of our website, we provide information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about a variety of geography-related careers: http://www.aag.org/cs/salarydata
Another great resource for advice on how to use skills in geography in the workplace is the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences Employability Profiles Resource Pack, posted online at: www.gees.ac.uk/projtheme/emp/empprofs.htm.
If you're interested in continuing your education, we have compiled a list of universities that offer degrees in geography, with links to individual program websites: www.aag.org/jobs_and_careers/preparing_for_a_geography_career/geography_departments_americas.
I have heard that the field of geography is growing, especially in the area of GIS. I graduated with a degree in geography a couple of years ago, but I cannot seem to find a job. It seems like there are hundreds of applicants for each position, and no one will give me a chance. Are there too many geographers out there or not enough employers who understand what geographers can do for them?
- This response was contributed by:
CEO, TerraSeer, Inc.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
I think there are a few things going on here:
(1) It's a tough environment for relatively new graduates to find work. I think this is true across most fields of study.
(2) GIS technologies and GIS careers are constantly evolving and the technology you learned as an undergrad is almost certainly well behind the curve now. You have to keep up with the latest and greatest.
(3) Perhaps most importantly, you need to define a career path that you want to follow for at least a few years. Just looking for a GIS job isn't really focused enough. For example, perhaps you're interested in location decisions in which case you might contact retailers, consulting firms that work with retailers, real estate brokerage firms, local planning departments, etc. Or, perhaps you're drawn to environmental issues - I think that environmental health or health GIS or "geohealth" will be a hot field at some point.
In any case, I would recommend that you identify a subfield of geography or an application area of GIS that really interests you and pursue it like you would a favorite hobby. Volunteer to gain experience. Read books and articles about the topic. Find out who the key players are and try to contact them. In the meantime, you also have to make a living, right? Take whatever job you can find to pay the bills and be on the lookout for jobs that fit into your career focus. You might even consider forming a sideline LLC and offering your services on a contract basis. Offer to do a pilot study for free and then charge a low hourly rate to continue gaining experience. You can raise your rates when you get busy.
On the skills front, it's not enough to know how to use some GIS software program. I think there's an army of people trained to use ArcGIS but that same army may not really understand how to approach a complex problem that involves a variety of geographic data elements and pull it all together with appropriate methodologies to come up with a well-defended solution. To gain these skills, you need to get involved in a project with real deliverables and deadlines. The best way to do this, of course, is to find a job but you can also do this as a graduate assistant working for a research professor or as an intern working for a company or a volunteer helping an organization. Don't just learn how to use software; learn how to solve problems.
Finally, geographic technologies are still in their infancy, in my opinion. If you find a niche that addresses an important problem that you're passionate about and stick with it, you'll find a way to make a good living. I guarantee that people who can "think spatially" and take the time to develop analytical skills and the ability to communicate effectively will find good opportunities in the coming years.
But, no one will "give" you a chance. You have to make it happen. Best of luck.
- The AAG's Annual Meeting brings together geographers from around the world who represent a myriad of aspects of the discipline. With 7000-8000 attendees and more than 60 concurrent sessions at a typical conference, it can seem a little overwhelming to newcomers.
With the input and assistance of the AAG's Graduate Student Affinity Group, we've created a Newcomers' Guide that will help orient you to the meeting. In addition, we have posted videos of conference presentations and interviews with attendees from previous years' meetings, which will give you a more tangible idea of what to expect.
Recently, the AAG has been making a special effort to provide additional content related to careers and professional development during the Annual Meeting. Click here to see the list of careers-related sessions that were organized for the 2012 Annual Meeting in New York City.
- The AAG only accepts resumes and CVs in response to a specific job opening. Unsolicited materials sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will not be forwarded for consideration. Click here for a list of any current openings and information about our internship program.