Voxpop | Tips for success - Museums Association

Voxpop | Tips for success

Museum workers offer their advice on how to get ahead in the sector
Careers guide 2022
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Illustration by Wendy Wong

Stacey Anne Bagdi
Collections and exhibitions officer (curator), Headstone Manor & Museum, Harrow Council

“Try your hand at everything, so that you know what you like and what you don’t. Talk to as many people in the sector as you can, and join or start a network. Volunteering or working in different roles in diverse museums helped me find my path.”

Calum Pearce
Junior content producer, Imperial War Museums

“Apprenticeships are a win-win for those involved. You get your foot in the door and the museum gets you on the cheap. I had a degree but did an apprenticeship because it got me working where I wanted to be. Apprenticeship courses vary, but you learn far more at work than in a classroom.”

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Tom Hopkins
Curator (aircraft and exhibits), Royal Air Force Museum

“When you are unsuccessful at an interview, it’s important not to treat it as a failure, but as a networking opportunity. Connect with the panel on LinkedIn or Twitter. You never know when a job may come up again, so building such relationships can be valuable. Check on LinkedIn who got the job that you didn’t. This will help you identify your skills gaps.”

Apprenticeships are a win-win: you learn far more at work than in a classroom

Junior content producer, Imperial War Museums
Verity Smith
Freelance curator, consultant and writer

“Volunteer at a museum or heritage site, even if it’s only a few hours a month. This will help to build your skill set and experience. You never know when a chat with another volunteer or member of staff might lead to an opportunity.

Don’t underestimate the value of your experience from other jobs. Experience in office admin or customer service, and proficiency in IT systems, will help you stand out on applications and in interviews.”

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Rebecca Hossain
Director of commercial and operations, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

“A willingness to start in a field that may not be your ultimate destination is a huge benefit. Be open to opportunities when they arise and expose yourself to variety – if antiquity is your thing, try contemporary museums. This keeps your options open and equips you with transferable skills and broad knowledge of the riches that the museum world offers.”

Don’t be dispirited if you’re told you need experience for an entry-level job

Alex Bird, Museum development officer: workforce and skills, Museum Development North West, and an MA board member
Liz Power
Director, London Museum of Water & Steam

“Get your foot in the door! I had no idea that I wanted to work in museums, I was just dyslexic and knew I couldn’t work in an office like most of my friends did. I got a front-of-house job and then realised how much museums suited me.

I took different jobs in museum learning, and learned about museums by working with great people and going on all the training I could. I am glad to have had front-of-house experience and can still work a till if needed.”

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Liz Johnson
Director of museums and cultural property (interim), Arts Council England

“Experience gained in unlikely places can be applied to museum jobs. My first job in a museum was as a security guard at the National Railway Museum in York, because I had been a door-person while I was at university.

Aside from giving me a lifelong mistrust of museum mannequins (they move when they think no one is watching), it gave me insight into museum operations. I subsequently took jobs in higher education and the third sector, before returning to a role linked to what I am passionate about – museums in society.”

Ellie King
Doctoral researcher and exhibitions officer, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

“Practical experience is more important than studies. You should spend time building networks, relationships and contacts in the sector. Work out what your strengths are and where you can add value to an organisation – and emphasise that in your early career. This may be through specific volunteering projects or in a job role. It’s also crucial to log your experiences and keep reflecting on the skills and knowledge you have learned. Specific examples of your expertise are handy to have when applying for jobs.”

Peter Fallon
Visitor team manager, Manchester Museum

“You will be competing with lots of applicants, so demonstrating knowledge of the organisation’s values and mission and how you can contribute to those is vital.  For visitor facing roles, experience and genuine enjoyment with working with people, evidence of great teamwork and a passion for the objects on display will go a long way. This experience doesn’t have to come from within the sector. Just be sure to evidence your experience and skills in applications and interviews.”

Rachel Adams
Managing curator, the Firing Line Museum of The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and The Royal Welsh, Cardiff Castle

“Many jobs now involve roles where you’re not working in one area with specific collections, audiences or museums. Use volunteering to get experience of different aspects of heritage and to gain a more solid understanding of the nature of these careers. Investigate different types of organisations to discover the roles that you feel particularly connected to or passionate about. Don’t be scared to work on things that make you uncomfortable, as this will help you to become more adaptable to change and new ideas. Also don’t under-emphasise the transferable skills that you can gain from other sectors, as these often lead to positive innovation and change.”

Alex Bird
Museum development officer: workforce and skills, Museum Development North West, and an MA board member

“The first job I applied for was   in a museum shop. I was 16 and was told that I needed experience to gain even an entry-level job. Dismayed by this, I decided museums weren’t for me, as I couldn’t afford to volunteer. So I worked in visitor-facing roles in cinemas and chippies, which gave me many transferable skills needed to get ahead in the sector. My advice is don’t be too dispirited if you’re told you need experience for even an entry-level job. Relevant skills can be learned in a variety of places outside of the sector.”

Matching your values with where you work is a force of good

Sahar Beyad, press and communications officer, National Museums Liverpool
Leah Dungay
Learning officer, National Videogame Museum, Sheffield

“Make the most of your transferable skills. My route into the museum sector involved a combination of my education, part-time jobs and volunteering opportunities – many of which were unrelated to museums and heritage. It can often feel like your experience is not relevant to a job application, but highlighting the skills you’ve developed in other roles is vital, particularly when you are able to connect them to roles in the museum sector. Remember you are always more experienced than you think you are.”

Sahar Beyad
Press and communications officer, National Museums Liverpool

“Museums can change us but we can also change them. If you come from a marginalised community, a lower socio-economic background or a different religion or gender to the mainstream, this is your superpower – and the sector needs you. Matching your values with where you work is a force of good. Apply for a role in which you can make a difference. Research the museum’s mission, vision, and values, and if you get a vibe of belonging, go for it.”

David C Weinczok
Digital media content producer, National Museums Scotland

“My background is freelance writing and presenting, and I had never had a full-time job. I almost didn’t apply for my the role, as I was sure I would not make the cut. It turned out that my unconventional path gave me the skills to approach projects with an unusual perspective. If you think your experience is too ‘out there’, it might be exactly what a museum is after.”

Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell
Community engagement specialist, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, Washington DC

“Learn to focus on activities that amplify your values and relationships with leaders in those areas. Values-driven leaders recognise leadership at all levels of experience. You will likely need to get involved in opportunities outside of your full-time and paid labour – but be strategic about your efforts.”

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Careers guide 2022

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