Most people currently working in the heritage sector probably have one thing in common – they didn’t realise it would be quite this difficult. Specifically, we didn’t realise just how competitive the jobs can be. A forgivable miscalculation, of course, because this isn’t like acting or the music industry, right? There must be an equal number of jobs to those wanting to work with museums etc…. Wrong! So wrong. Yet it is our collectively unrelenting passion, enthusiasm, and quite frankly, stubbornness, that defines museum professionals and makes us an admirable bunch of people.
The journey towards our first full-time professional role in a museum can be a bit of a roller-coaster. There are so many ups and downs its hard to keep track of them, and sometimes it’ll be tricky to remember exactly why you chose this exhausting career in the first place. But with every progressive step you take, it feels like a wonderful achievement.
But how do you get your foot in the door?
MoM’s 5 Tips
- If you feel that you’re a complete novice, without any heritage experience on your CV, perhaps begin by just visiting a few museums in your spare time. This will help you get some quality volunteering experience later on, and it will give you plenty of ideas in what you think makes a good museum. Something that will make you unique from the others will be your *own* perspectives on whats happening in the museum sector. If you have the money to do so, perhaps subscribe to the Museums Journal (there are various subscription rates), it’ll look good on your CV too. Even better, if you have the time, create a blog and write about your opinions and experiences, then stick it on your CV.
- Next, as everybody will tell you, get in some voluntary experience. You can do this in a few ways, and it doesn’t mean that you have to side-line any jobs you have. Many museums are open on Saturdays and Sundays, and even two or three hours of your time a week would be super beneficial. Try to place yourself somewhere that offers their volunteers training, in-house or out, and treats their unpaid staff with respect and encouragement. Volunteering is helpful for everyone and for every heritage career, but how much you will have to do differs from person to person. Like most people, I have myself volunteered in several places over the last few years and still do when I can. It can take a lot.
- Try volunteering in different places and types of heritage site. Like me, you may have already had a firm idea of what job within museums you’d like to go for. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this sector, we are a stubborn lot for a reason, and we won’t let an good opportunity pass us by. Yet, its important to realise that there are so many different and equally important roles that its worth dipping your toes into a few different experiences. On top of this, museum workers often find themselves juggling tasks outside of their job description, so it’s useful to know how another role operates. And on top of ALL THAT, its very easy to get stuck in one position later on in your career, making a varied CV extremely beneficial.
- This sector will make you tired, cranky, miserable, and thoroughly disheartened at times. But the hardest thing to face, sometimes, is the drain on our bank accounts. Its been increasingly apparent in recent years that if you want to work in the heritage sector, you’ll be needing a second degree*. Painful as that might seem for a lot of us, you will seriously struggle without one. For instance, regardless of my various voluntary/paid experiences and internships, only now that I’m mid-way through my Masters degree am I getting interviews for more secure jobs. Many people recommend the University of Leicester for heritage management degrees as they cater for long-distance and part-time learners. However, they aren’t the be-all end-all of useful degrees, I’m doing mine with the University of Winchester, and there are a large number of universities around the country who offer these. (*Note that Conservation/Archivist careers require specialist qualifications).
- Network. Network like you’ve never networked before (probably quite literally). Get to know other volunteers who volunteer elsewhere. Get to know your supervisor/s. Get to know your curator/manager. Get to know local history groups. Get to know any regional museums groups, if you can. Get to know your Heritage Studies lecturers. People are exactly what drives this sector. Creating and maintaining warm, working, relationships with other museum workers will not only create a lovely support network for those in the same boat, but it will also widen your chance at opportunities. Half of the places and projects I’ve worked at/on were the result of networking with other volunteers and professionals, they have helped steer me in the right direction. Have a finger in every pie.
- One last quick tip, follow all of your favourite museums and art galleries etc. on social media. Keep up with any latest developments, any new acquisitions, are they in trouble for anything, have they received some funding? Similarly, read any culture and heritage articles that spring up in the news. It is easier to make this a habit from the start, rather than feeling ‘behind with the times’ later on. Social media is also an excellent tool for interacting with seemingly out-of-reach heritage bodies, e.g. The British Museum. Make your opinions known (just don’t scare anyone off).
“Don’t cross me, I’ve been volunteering here for 50 years!”
Types of heritage/museum careers:
- Curator (obvs)
- Assistant curator
- Managerial roles
- Exhibitions Officer/assistant
- Project Managers
- Collections Management Officer/assistant
- Documentation Officer/assistant
- Learning and Engagement Officer/assistant
- Interpretation Officer/assistant
- Conservation staff
- Fundraising Officer/assistant
- Marketing/Communications Officer/assistant
- Retail roles
- Front of House roles
- Room/Gallery Stewards and tour guides
- IT/Digital support (mostly in large national museums)
- Librarian (not just for ‘ordinary’ libraries!)
Initial useful links:
- Museums Association (Important)
- Collections Trust (Familiarise yourself with these guys)
- Historic England (Ditto)
- English Heritage (Ditto)
- National Trust (Ditto)
- National Trust for Scotland (Ditto)
- Cadw (Ditto)
- UNESCO (Ditto)
- Heritage Lottery Fund (Ditto)
- LinkedIn (Get on here)
- Leicester Uni Museum Job Desk (The holy grail of museum job sites, updated by just one dude)