A few people have reached out to me lately asking about how they “break into” the museum field. I’m incredibly flattered that they are asking me, and I really wish I had the magic formula to give them what they want. Sadly though, there isn’t a secret handshake that transforms you into the perfect candidate. I do, however, have a few tips I’ve used to help me find a job.
1. Ask people how they got their job
When I was in college, I went to the Museum of Science in Boston. As I watched the electricity show I realized I was more curious about the guy doing the talking then the show itself. Afterwards, I walked up to him and asked “How did you get your job?” Almost ten years later we are still friends!
If you see someone doing something that interests you, ask them about it. Most people love to share their story and you can pick up good tips about internships, classes, volunteer opportunities and more. This leads me in to…..
It can be so daunting and exhausting to network, but it is really what you have to do. When you are traveling someplace new, try to set up an informational interview with someone whose job you admire (see tip #1). Attend professional conferences for the kind of jobs you WANT and talk to the presenters, the exhibitors, the person sitting next to you. Write the author of an article you were impressed with and tell them.
It can be hard to tread the line between being friendly and being bothersome, but staying in touch is one of the best ways to find out about new opportunities.
3. Leverage the Internet
There are listservs, Twitter chats and blogs related to every aspect of the museum field. This is where people go to post jobs, look for project help and talk about what is new and upcoming in the field. Professional networks (like American Alliance of Museums) also have incredible online resources.
Entry level jobs also pop up on Idealist, Craigslist and other job sites that don’t cost a lot of money for the institution to use. Pick a couple of networks and keep up with them. If it is on social media, establish yourself as an informed contributor. Once it becomes habit you will be ready to jump on the job postings as they come up.
4. Go the unpaid route
Volunteering is the #1 best way to get your foot in a door. Whether you do a regular volunteer gig, help out on family days or special events or contribute in some other way, that is how you learn the culture and people.
If you are able to take classes in the field, you will not only have a chance to intern but also meet people through the classes that can connect you with job opportunities. You will just have to use tip 1 and 2 to make it happen!
5. Entry level is OK
Whether you start out as a gallery docent, at the admission desk or giving tours…you are now in the door of the museum. Yes, it may not be exactly what you wanted (or even full time) but there you are.
My first job was as a weekend tour docent. I tried to do my job well, volunteer for things more in line with what I wanted and make sure they knew I was serious about helping out. When the educator left, they thought of me to help fill the gap.
There are a lot of great entry level positions that will help you get experience. As you get to know the institution you can volunteer to help in other areas and take advantage of professional development and other opportunities.
I am not guaranteeing that if you follow my tips you will land your dream museum job. It will, however, give you a chance to make connections, figure out where the jobs are and how to position yourself to be best suited for them. Also, you will have a better sense of the field and where you fit in it overall. Best of luck! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.