Getting a first job

Lots of people want to work in museums and there aren't very many jobs, so competition for entry-level jobs is often fierce. Different types of jobs need different types of skills and knowledge. Frustratingly, this can vary between different museums (for a guide to different types of job, see case studies).

For most types of entry-level job, you'll find you need to have relevant experience, and people usually get this by volunteering. Some types of job, such as museum assistants or administrative jobs, can be easier to get.

A few forward-looking museums offer training and development to their administrators and assistants, so they can progress up the career ladder - but most museums don't. For many types of job you'll be expected to have qualifications. Employers can be demanding.

In addition to the work-experience, specialist skills and knowledge needed for the particular post, employers say they look for:
  • Curiosity, passion, interest and enthusiasm
  • Willingness to learn and develop
  • Very bright ('bright sparks' are in demand)
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Public service ethos
  • Customer focus
  • Tenacity
  • Imagination and creativity
  • 'Can do' attitude
  • Confidence
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Courage and risk taking
  • Understanding of the world of work
  • Team working
  • Management ability or potential (people, project and financial)
  • Communication with a range of different audiences and advocacy skills
  • Outward looking
  • Understanding of the social and political contexts of museums
  • Empathy
  • Reliability and trustworthiness
  • Interpersonal and political skills
  • Good IT skills
  • Excellent written English

  • These don't all apply to all jobs in all museums, of course. But some employers do have high expectations.

    The following will increase your chances of getting a first job:
  • Varied relevant work experience (paid or unpaid)
  • Understanding of the specific role and organisation being applied to (don't do blanket, standard job applications)
  • Focus, commitment and determination
  • Patience
  • Flexibility about the type and location of work
  • Financial support
  • Good contacts
  • Getting your foot in the door (or better several doors) by volunteering, or doing casual work
  • Luck (being in the right place at the right time)
  • A good museum-studies course

  • For more information on postgraduate courses, click here

    There are few traineeships and apprenticeships, but some are advertised from time to time. The Heritage Lottery Fund is currently running a scheme called Skills for the Future.

    For more about Skills for the Future, click here

    The MA wants to improve entry-level development for staff.

    For more about the MA's entry-level work, click here

    You'll learn much more about museums and museum work if you become a member of the Museums Association, which includes a subscription to Museums Journal.

    To join the Museums Association, click here