Friday, March 14, 2008

How to get a job in museums. Part 1: Preparation and Application

It's spring of the year, just about the time antsy students are getting ready to graduate and track down that first big museum job.

Last year, at this time, I was searching for a job. So I've been there. I feel your pain, really I do. So, I've decided to offer up my thoughts, opinions, and rants on the subject, seeing as I have successfully secured a position very nearly matching my ideal position in the field. Please be advised: I am not an expert and have never worked in Human Resources. There's your grain of salt.

Let's do this by numbers, shall we?

1. Get a degree, and get the right one for what you want to do. Almost no positions require no degree at all. Graduate high school. Then go to college. Major in what you want (I'm anthropology and english lit), but take museum classes if you can. Then go to graduate school. Get a Master's degree in Museum Studies, or Museology. If you want to be a curator, get your Ph.D., because you'll need it to be a curator at any of the larger institutions.

2. Remember that a degree is not a magical pass to get a museum job. Especially remember this if you're a Master's student, because that extra $40,000 you just dropped for the degree will be helpful, but it won't show return on investment immediately... or any time soon likely.

3. Get experience. Do museum internships as an undergrad, do them as a grad student. If you can, get an entry level job, especially if there's a museum associated with your program. Try to work in a museum for one or two years. Get experience in a variety of museum areas. Museum work is not one size fits all. Development people are different from collections managers are different from educators. Do as much as you can in museums before you need to launch yourself out into the museum job hunt.

4. Make connections. Get to know the people you work for, work with, intern for, intern with. In the museum field, personal connections are gold. Get to know people locally. If you can afford it, go to national conferences. If you can't, try getting to the local conferences.

5. Learn to write. And have as many people look at your resume as you can. When you're applying for jobs, the cover letter is your real chance to present yourself, not just your accomplishments, but also your ability to communicate. The museum field does not have a lot of money; you are going to have to write grants/be involved in writing grants at some point. It behooves you to polish your style early and often. And work on your long resume - polish the format, the wording, everything so that it's ready to customize easily and quickly.

6. Find all the job resources you can. Check out all the national and regional association website. Bookmark them. Join the Yahoo! group Musejobs. Check them. Check them regularly.

7a. Be flexible. This is key. If you can move, your job search is likely to be less frustrating. Consider living places you'd never lived before. Define your geographical limits.

7b. Be flexible. This is key. Most museum jobs do not perform a single function. Many museums are very small and you will be wearing many hats. If you want to be a collections manager, think about being a registrar, an assistant director, a curator for a small museum. Consider all options, don't be set on a job title. At the same time, identify what you would most like to do and what environment you would like to do it in: Big or small museum? History, art, science, children's? East coast, West coast, the South? Lots of responsibility or lots of supervision?

7c. Be realistic. This is key. Work out your budget. What can you live on? If no one has told you yet, museum work is usually not going to make you rich. What will you be happy doing? Are you willing to work in the pest management department or will you refuse? And remember, please remember, that this a a field that many people want to work in, many people are qualified for, and in which there are relatively few open positions.

Basic rule of museum job hunting: There are more job openings for development people and educators. If you want to get a job more easily in the museum field, don't be an objects person. Also, development seems to get paid more.

8. Apply early, apply often. Once you're in the job search, apply broadly. Keep a close watch on those resources you identified and send out your application as soon as you can. Being on top of the game may earn you points. Doesn't hurt at the very least.

9. Wait. Wait as patiently as you can. (See rant below.) Apply for more jobs.

9.1 Don't complain on museum listservs. Seriously. I enjoy the inevitable drama, but please don't. For one thing, you're usually using your real name and establishing a persona as someone who feels entitled and may be a whiner. If you need to complain/ask for advice (I feel that most, not all but most, job seekers on museum listservs asking for advice are only thinly veiling their whining), do it privately. Search the archives of the listservs - see if your issues haven't already been addressed. Otherwise I'm just going to roll my eyes and wonder if you realize that potential employers may be reading that list and your name may turn up attached to the posting on a search.

10. Be aware of your net presence. What happens when you google your name? How does that look to a potential employer? It is your Bedazzled myspace profile, or is it a museum newsletter commending your volunteer work? Increasingly, these things matter.

Part 2 coming soon: Responses and interviews.

1 comment:

Alyssa Gardina said...

I really wish I had found this post a few months ago when I was debating going to grad school or getting a job. I'm a senior in college, and I actually landed the perfect entry level job in a museum in Texas, but thank you for this amazing post - it helped reassure me that I'm taking good steps!