The winning selfie from the Moving on Up conference yesterday

Kathryn Perera: dare to fear

Geraldine Kendall, 25.02.2015
Career advice from the Moving on Up conference
Delegates at the Museums Association’s (MA) Moving on Up conference in Leicester yesterday heard a wide range of inspirational advice on building a successful career in museums.

Aimed at professionals in the first five years of their career, the sold-out event kicked off with a keynote speech from Kathryn Perera, the chief executive of Movement for Change, a non-profit community organisation that mobilises vulnerable people to act collectively to achieve lasting change.

Perera said that old career trajectories, where people could plan their careers five to 10 years in advance, had broken down in the age of austerity.

But she urged delegates not to worry if their career “meanders” and does not follow a linear plan, explaining how she had moved away from a successful career as a barrister after five years in order to stay true to her values and work in an area she felt passionate about.

“Dare to do something that makes you afraid,” Perera told the conference.

Tips on how to succeed in job interviews came from Neville Stankley, a senior lecturer in heritage studies at Nottingham Trent University.

Stankley told delegates to visit museums and new exhibitions regularly to ensure they had a wide range of anecdotes to draw on during interviews. He also advised jobseekers to learn about the organisation in advance and think about how they could help “solve its problems”, and urged them not to feel insecure about their level of experience.

“They selected you for interview because they already think you can do the job,” said Stankley. “Don’t be scared that you haven’t got the experience.”

Delegates then took part in a Q&A session with three museum leaders: Iain Watson, the director of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Maggie Appleton, the chief executive of the RAF Museum in Cosford, and Tony Butler, the director of Derby Museums Trust.

Butler echoed Stankley's advice that young professionals should have the confidence to apply for jobs, even when they didn’t fulfil every criterion on the job spec.

“Derby Museums Trust was probably the first job I’ve gone into that I’ve known what I’m doing,” he said. “Learning on the job is OK.”

Asked about entry routes into the sector, Appleton said that many different routes were valid, and a master’s degree should not be a prerequisite. “We want someone who is bright, keen and passionate, and will share their love of what we do with visitors - because at end of day it’s about the visitor,” she said.

Young professionals were urged to get involved in the sector’s numerous groups and networks, in order to give themselves a wide breadth of experience that they could cite during job interviews.

Watson also urged job applicants to broaden their horizons and look at smaller museums and organisations outside the sector, such as local history societies, when it came to volunteering.

“Often in smaller organisations you’ll find many more opportunities to have a go,” said Watson. “I wouldn’t worry about the prestige of working for a big organisation because you’ll learn much more in a smaller one.”

In her afternoon keynote speech, Hilary Jennings, a freelance museum consultant and one of the architects of the Happy Museum Project, urged delegates to look after their own wellbeing and ensure a good work/life balance.
She also explored the difference between power and influence, telling the conference that she had come to believe that “influence is more interesting than power”.

“I thought once I got to a position of power, I could affect change – but I no longer believe that,” said Jennings. “Great change doesn’t always come through power or authority.”
Influence, on the other hand, could allow people at any level of an organisation to make an impact, she said.

Catch up with all of the day’s discussions on Twitter under the hashtag #MOU2015.

Alongside the conference, the MA ran a #MOUselfie photo competition. The winning selfie was submitted by Skills for the Future trainee Hannah Eastwood, who has been awarded one year’s free MA membership