How to get ahead in museums

Geraldine Kendall, 31.08.2011
A round-up of advice from the experts via Guardian Q&A
Earlier this month the Museums Association’s (MA) museum development officer Charlotte Holmes joined a panel of professionals to take part in a Q&A session on Guardian Careers website.

The session aimed to give new entrants an opportunity to quiz employers about getting a job in museums.

Top tips from the panel included tailoring applications to highlight the specific skills required for each role rather than submitting generic text; being energetic and passionate in every interview; and getting feedback when you don't get the job.

Panel members also advocated treating any role in a museum like "gold-dust" - even if it's not the one you want. This approach could help you make connections with employers and get a foot in the door.

For volunteers, the panel advocated applying to smaller museums that can offer a wider range of roles and a higher level of responsibility. The panel also suggested volunteering in other sectors that overlap with museum work, such as mental health or education, to show a diversity of experience.

Taking part in on-the-job learning programmes, such as the Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA) or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), can also help volunteers stand out from the crowd when eventually applying for paid positions.

If applicants still keep hitting a brick wall, however, the panel suggested finding paid work in a different industry and developing transferable skills, including PR, marketing, commercial expertise and administration, which are becoming highly sought-after by museums.

The Q&A session revealed just how tough the jobs market in the sector has become, with many questionees describing how hard they have found it to get an interview – even with the necessary skills, qualifications and experience.

One wrote: "I have an MA in Museology, extensive internship and volunteer experience, and all I seem to be able to secure in terms of roles in museums are more unpaid internships."

Others highlighted a growing trend towards employers relying on volunteers and unpaid interns for more skilled roles. One wrote: "Some of the volunteer adverts that I see, including for back of house, look more like they should be paid positions, with a variety of responsibilities, a commitment of 6 months and beyond and a 35 hour working week."

Holmes said after the session: "I was really glad to participate in this event. I seem to be receiving an increasing number of enquiries from people trying to get that elusive first job in museums, many of whom have all the qualifications and voluntary experience required for an entry level position.

"With fierce competition for posts, this Q&A was really useful as it gave new entrants an opportunity to find out exactly what employers are looking for, and how they can stand out from the crowd."

To read through the Guardian Q&A session, click here

For more from the MA on developing your career, click here