Museum Jobs: How To Start Your Career In Heritage
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted a museum job. Having studied Classics at University, it just seemed like the natural next step. I’ve always loved history and visiting museums, so upon graduating, I applied for as many museum jobs in London as I could. With my degree mark and previous work experience listed neatly on my CV, I was sure I would become a curator in no time! Yet despite making over 50 different applications, I found myself getting nowhere. Eventually, I got so frustrated that I gave up trying and started working at a marketing company instead.
A bit of a glum story, right? Well, fast forward to today (a year and a half later) and my dream is finally back on track. It may have taken months of confusion and research, but as of next week, I will be starting a new job in the industry and I couldn’t be happier! So, if like me, you’ve been applying for museum jobs for ages but have had no luck, read on to see what you could do to better your chances now…
1. Volunteer at as many museums as you can.
If you truly want to work in the heritage sector, the first thing you need to accept is that it’s not a lucrative industry. Paid internships are hard to come by and most employers expect previous experience, meaning volunteering is crucial to get ahead. While this may not seem like an economically viable option for many, there are still some benefits to volunteering at museums.
Firstly, no one expects you to do it 24/7. Often, just helping out a few hours on a Saturday can do wonders for your CV. You’re basically doing the fun bits of a real job minus any of the responsibility, so treat it just like any other hobby! Plus, many institutions offer to pay your food and travel expenses, so you won’t be as out-of-pocket as you may think.
2. Consider doing an MA.
Again, because there are so many applicants for museum jobs, having a Masters is often advantageous. While not essential, postgraduate degrees such as Museum Studies or Archives and Records Management can teach you practical skills that you cannot find elsewhere. They often arrange work experience placements at museums too, making it that much easier to find a job once you graduate.
There are many museum-related courses in the UK, so make sure to do your research. It’s advisable to start looking at least a year before the start date because some institutions have early deadlines and you don’t want to miss out (e.g. UCL close applications in January!). Sign yourself up to open days and don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, if you’re going to spend c. £8000 on another year of studies, you want to make sure it’s the right place for you!
3. Network with museum professionals.
The only reason why I know half the things I do now is because I’ve talked to professionals. There really isn’t that much information on how to start a career in heritage online, so talking to employers is vital. It may seem daunting but most of today’s museum leaders started out in the exact same position as you, so are happy to help. I, for one, have had many interesting conversations at volunteer placements, open days and even on LinkedIn. They have really helped me shape the decisions I have made about my career so I couldn’t recommend networking enough!
4. Follow the 3 P’s: be positive, patient and perseverant.
This point may be last on the list, but it’s definitely not the least. When I first graduated from University, I assumed that I’d be handed a well-paid and interesting job straight away, but quite simply, that’s just not how it works. To get anywhere in the sector, the #1 thing that I’ve learnt is that you need to work hard and be patient. Two years ago, I rejected a gallery assistant job only to have now accepted one at a different museum! Why? Because I know that without experiencing the low-level side of employment, I won’t ever be entrusted with a top job. Think about it! It would be like asking a mathematician to solve the world’s most complex problem without having learnt the basic formulas first. It’s just not done.
So yes, it may be a little annoying, but it makes sense. After all, it takes twenty years to become an overnight success. Life would be boring if we got everything we’d ever wanted in a space of a minute, so why not have a go at some of these tips and see where they take you!