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Applying for jobs during the coronavirus pandemic: Ancient History alumni share their experiences

Three alumni of our Master’s degree programme in Ancient History talk to us about how they found a job after graduation during the coronavirus pandemic. During the interview, Gabriël hung a huge board covered in post-it reminders behind his laptop, Molly was glad that the members of the selection committee had name tags on the screen and Diede explains that it helps to remember that expectations should go both ways.

Gabriël was recently accepted for the PhD project ‘Mapping Gender in Funerary Contexts’ at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. He did both the MA in Ancient History and the MA in Religious Studies.


"I had known for a while that I wanted to apply for a PhD, so I was able to use this year to really prepare for that. I invested the extra spare time I had because of COVID-19 in courses, writing a scientific article and my part-time job as a student assistant. But I also found it difficult at times. When you apply for a job, you obviously put a lot of effort into it, including mental effort. I found it hard to stay focused when you’re limited as to what you can do outside the house.

I have to admit that the online interview was incredibly nerve-racking. The success of your application suddenly depends on things like the internet connection, street noise and so on. And the online format is a lot more impersonal. I had to prove myself in front of five professors, so I really had to put my best foot forward. Fortunately, I had prepared well, and everything went smoothly: I got the job!"

Post-it reminders

"Practise the interview. It’s always best to be prepared for difficult and unexpected questions. I was lucky that my lecturers in Leiden gave me a mock interview. Also, think about how you come across on the screen. Check the lighting in your room, for example. It might also be worth investing in a good webcam. Just before the interview got underway, I laughed out loud. This helped me to relax and start the interview with a smile on my face. Another tip is to look straight into the camera. That might feel a bit awkward at first, but it will help you come across as more personable.

Ultimately, of course, your own room is a familiar environment for doing something as nerve-wracking as a job interview. I also hung up a huge board behind my laptop with post-it reminders to help me just in case. And because of COVID-19, I had the opportunity to connect online with a lot of people who are currently doing their PhDs. If we hadn’t had the lockdown, I probably wouldn’t have got in touch with them as readily, let alone talk to them."

Molly completed the MA in Ancient History in Leiden after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Classics from the University of Oxford. She has just started her new job as Access and Outreach Coordinator at the University of Cambridge.

"Everything about this job just really suits me. First off, I’m still involved in Classics which is great. The job involves educating and potentially attracting underprivileged kids from the state school system to study Classics at the University of Cambridge. It’s really rewarding to share my passion! I also feel personally connected to the mission, because I went to study Classics at the University of Oxford from a state school myself and my parents never went to Uni."

Tips and tricks for the interview

"Contrary to the ‘real life’ version, all interviewers have a name tag on the screen, which made it easy to address everyone by name. As for the tips: focus on the job you really want and put in the extra effort. It also helps to show off your digital skills, especially whilst we’re in this pandemic where digital skills are very valuable. Lastly and most importantly: see and present yourself as the solution to a problem. Remember the vacancy is there for a reason; the organisation must really want to find someone if they are hiring at this difficult time!

Of course, it helped that I have actually studied Classics and Ancient History in Oxford and abroad, in Leiden. At my first job, the Norwich School, I really honed my organisational skills, for instance by organising community outreach initiatives such as the distribution of meals for children in need during the lockdown. I think this combination of a passion for Classics and previous experience in organisational and outreach operations made me the right person for the job."

Also check out the University of Cambridge Classics outreach Facebook page, where Molly posts regularly: https://www.facebook.com/greeksromansus


Diede combined the MA in Ancient History with a part-time job as an examination officer at the NTI university of applied sciences. She has just started her new job as an information management trainee at a company that advises government institutions.

"I was lucky to already have a part-time job at the NTI. After I graduated last year, I was able to move to a new position within the company, where I gained a lot of experience. As an internship and graduation coordinator, I was responsible for safeguarding the quality and smooth running of the graduation processes. Thanks to this job, I learned that I really enjoy improving processes, making them more efficient, and working with systems. I also discovered that I have a talent for managing, arranging and organising things. So, with that in mind, I started to look for a new job.

Because of the lockdown, my interview took place online and, in a way, I actually quite liked that. If you wanted, you could even wear jogging pants – no one would know! But anyway, the most important thing I have learned from job interviews over the years is that it is a conversation, not a one-sided assessment. So, you definitely need to make sure you ask questions during the interview. It’s a good idea to prepare some substantive questions about the position, but also about practical things like the contract, career opportunities and something as simple as whether you will be required to work in the office or if you can work from home (which is especially relevant at the moment given COVID-19)."

From History student to information management trainee

"Historical research skills come in handy for kinds of jobs. In fact, historians are quite sought after in the business world. As an information management trainee, I will be looking at how organisations organise and archive their information and how those processes could be more efficient. Although I’m currently doing a traineeship to learn about all the specific systems, the foundations are actually already there. After all, during your History degree you learn to search, select, prioritise and organise large quantities of diverse sources and process them into something new. In a way, that’s what I’ll be doing, but as an advisor on information processes at government institutions."

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