Thursday, April 03, 2008

How to get a job in museums. Part 2: Applying and Interviewing

So the last post was more about preparing to be a candidate for a museum job. Let's get down to brass tacks; applying, interviewing, and getting yourself a nice cushy museum job. There may be some redundancy with Part 1, but if there is, then it bears repeating.

1. Apply. Apply early and often. Apply for jobs at the edge of your comfort zone; this is a competitive field and more applications=more possible jobs. I have a good friend who applied for a position that she was at the very edge of her comfort zone, was offered the job, and is now learning a great deal in the position. What I'm trying to tell you is that the risk can be worth it.

2. Customize your cover letters. You should know this by now. Even if you have some template paragraphs, be very careful when you create new letters: please remember to name the correct museum in your letter. If you don't and discover it later, you will be mortified. And, again, get people to look over your letter and help you refine it.

3. Wait patiently and apply for even more positions.


4. If you're interviewing for a job across the country or for a job down the hall, chances are you're going to have a phone interview at one point or another. I believe that I had about 6 phone interviews (I had one literally at the other end of the country, and one from the third floor while I was one the first), so I will relate my technique for feeling confident on the phone.

- Dress nicely. Yes, I know this feels silly, especially if you are interviewing at home, but I felt so much more put together and ready to interview when I was dressed nicely, and especially when I was wearing professional shoes. Your mileage may vary.

- Have your materials at hand. I had a copy of my resume, a copy of the job listing, a sheet of paper with my notes and questions on it, and a blank sheet of paper to take notes on in front of me when I had phone interviews at home. Also, have a glass of water in front of you, in case you need it.

- Smile. A smile comes through in your voice. Again, it seems hokey, but I think it really makes a difference. Plus, smiling releases endorphins in the brain to make you happy!

- Take your time. I rush like a banshee in interviews and it's a problem of mine which leads to giving less than concrete examples when answering questions. So take your time - if you need a moment to think, tell your interviewer that you need to think for a moment. It's acceptable to take a short moment to formulate a response (although, again, I stress that I am not an HR person nor do I play one on teevee).

- Listen for cues. Good phone interviewers will make little noises to show that they are listening. My worst phone interview was with someone who made no little noises at all, which gave me no cues to play off of. Of course, since you're on the phone, this is can be difficult, therefore, your mileage may vary.

- Thank the interviewer. Follow up with a thank you note or email. I tend toward email, but a paper note probably makes a better impression.

5. Interviewing in person. Same as interviewing on the phone, but without all the paper spread out in front of you. I can speak less to this portion as I only had a couple of in-person interviews, but there's a lot of good information out there.

6. Be prepared. Know about the institution you are applying for. Check out the 990s of the institution on Get nosy. This is a place you may become intimately familiar with.

7. Be prepared. No matter which interview format you have, there are going to be certain questions. What attracted you to this position? What are your strengths? Weaknesses? When responding to the weaknesses question, spin it in a positive light; "I would say my greatest weakness is my confidence when speaking in public, but I've been learning techniques to improve my technique." Or something like that. Show your assets (desire to improve) when discussing your liabilities.

8. Thank them. I said this before, but I'll say it again. Thank your interviewer. Send a thank you email. Send a thank you note. Keep your name in their mind.

9. Follow up calls. Now, I will admit that not once did I call to follow up on an interviewer. But I've since decided that calling to follow up is like the secret test of interviewing that no one tells you about, eveer. So, if a place tells you they will get back to you by X date, and you don't hear from them, call them the following business day to check in.

Waiting, part 2.

10. Wait patiently (with the exception of polite follow-up calls). In this day and age, many museums lack the staff to tell you that you didn't get the job. This will frustrate you, perhaps even infuriate you, but this is the way it is. You may get an email rejection, you may get a letter of rejection if you interviewed, but very possibly not. Find a coping mechanism and keep applying for more jobs. If they do want to offer you a job, you will hear from them.

And that's as much insight as I am prepared to give. There is a lot of information out there about negotiating salary, benefits, etc, but I don't feel I have any depth of knowledge in these areas, save for two nuggets of information:
1. Look at the low end of the salary range, not the high one. And the salary may be non-negotiable.
2. In lieu of salary negotiating, negotiate about fringe benefits - vacation time, flexible scheduling, etc. Museums may have more ability to bend on these points than on that sticky fiscal point.

Coming up sometime: Part 3, or How I Got the Museum Job I Wanted

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