Careers Guide | Top tips for success - Museums Association

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Careers Guide | Top tips for success

Museum workers share their advice on having a successful and fulfilling career in the sector
Careers guide
Shahnila Shafiq
Gallery Assistant, Glasgow Museums & MA Rep for Scotland

“Have perseverance, pragmatism and be courageous – do not let rejections deter you from your path. Protect your dreams and your positive energy.

“Coming from a lower socioeconomic class or marginalised group does not define your intellectual capability or dedication; instead, it gives you an edge and resilience. It makes you work harder, be more determined. Be the positive change you want to see in the world of museums, and do not let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big.

“Lift as you climb! Dedicate some time regularly for learning and self-reflection. Remember your values and what drives your passion.”

Shahnila Shafiq, gallery assistant, Glasgow Life (Museums)

Sarah Checkland
Project Delivery Coordinator (Exhibitions), Science Museum Group

“There is such a range of roles in the museum sector that all require a varied skillset, so never dismiss any experience you have as irrelevant, whether you gained it from within the sector, outside it, or through voluntary roles.

“Make the most of opportunities to network and take part in training, as you never know where these will lead. Don’t forget to keep a log of everything you’re doing, no matter how small, so you have a handy reminder for interviews and applications of all the great things you have achieved and can bring to the sector.”

Sarah Checkland, project delivery coordinator (exhibitions), Science Museum Group

Richard Gough
Director, Soldiers of Shropshire Museum

“When looking for roles, be prepared to be fleet-of-foot early on and later in your museum career. You’ll probably be anchored to a geographical location by life/love/economics in the middle bit.

“There’s no failure. Accepting why something didn’t work is the root of a growth mindset. Learn to take praise – you’ll soon find it can be in short supply.

“And give praise warmly, properly and often. Career ‘progress’ is not often linear or logical, so be prepared to take sideways steps. And listen to your gut feelings. If a job feels wrong, get out.”

Richard Gough, director, Soldiers of Shropshire Museum

Helen Atkinson
Operations Manager, Jewish Museum London

“My advice to anyone starting in the museum and gallery sector is to showcase your transferable skills and learn as much as you can from different departments early on.

“Offering help and getting stuck in with different tasks helps you develop in all aspects of museum work. From shadowing front-of-house colleagues, to knowing how to switch on different displays, it all comes in handy and helps you figure out what area of museum work you want to be in.

“You do not need museums studies degrees to show your transferable skills and learn more about different roles.”

Helen Atkinson, operations manager, Jewish Museum London

Christina McMahon
Deputy Director, Garden Museum

“If you’re working towards a museum career, I always suggest looking for jobs right across the arts. While at university I got a job in the box office of my local theatre.

“This gave me the skills in databases and audiences that enabled me to get my first job in a museum, as a graduate trainee in the development department of the British Museum.

“Since then, I’ve tried everything from fundraising to learning and events, which has culminated in my current deputy director role. It’s really worth being creative and flexible when getting your foot in the door: you never know where it will lead.”

Christina McMahon, deputy director, Garden Museum, London

Melissa Maynard
Consultant, Melissa Maynard Heritage

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the sector (no matter their level or size of organisation). If you are interested in finding out about projects or programmes run by other people do send them an email or give them a call.

“If they can help with an opportunity to shadow an activity, provide you with some information, signpost you to different work or have an in-depth conversation over a cup of coffee then they will.

“In general, people are very willing to share their approach and ethos of their department or organisation.”

Melissa Maynard, Consultant, Melissa Maynard Heritage

Heather Thomas
Head of Learning and Engagement, The Lightbox

“Find the things you love doing, whether that is in the sector or not.

“There are so many routes into working in museums and galleries and being able to use those transferable skills can make you much more likely to find the thing that you enjoy.

“Don’t worry about directing your efforts into the one sector as you may find a role that is linked that you also love.”

Heather Thomas, head of learning and engagement, The Lightbox, Woking

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