Finding Work in the Museum World

The museum field is a difficult area of work to break into.  While there are museums amply spread across the United States, many only have one or two full time (or their equivalent) staff members onsite.  Larger facilities have more money, contacts, staff, and resources, but also much more competition for open jobs.  What can you do increase your chances of landing work? Read on for a few tips:

  1.  Join Professional Organizations:  The National Council on Public History, American Alliance of Museums, and Association for State and Local History are all excellent organizations to belong to.  All have student or new professional rates to help take the bite out of membership fees.  Journals, online career resources, web forums, and conferences provide great information about history, museums, and general job skills.
  2. Never Stop Learning:  Always keep developing your job skills.  Volunteer in your free time at relevant museums locally.  Work on a crowdsourced research project.  Consider enrolling in a formal certificate program in museum studies.  Demonstrate on your resume and with your skills that you are already working, studying, and innovating in the museum field.
  3. Start Small:  Do not turn down small opportunities.  Part-time work as a tour guide, visitor services representative, security, or events staff member can all develop into more involved work.  Getting into the museum, making connections with staff, getting recognized is a great way to slowly take on more responsibilities.  New projects can lead to new career paths.
  4. Network:  This word gets thrown around a lot in college and the working world, but I feel it does not get the explanation it deserves.  Networking is connecting with professional colleagues (could be a fellow volunteer, classmate, friend, ex-coworker), and letting them know what you are working toward/listening to their work goals.  Do not start blasting emails out to folks you have not spoken to in years.  Find colleagues with similar interests, reconnect, learn what they are working toward, see if there is anyway you can help each other.  This is a mutually beneficial relationship.  Great jobs, projects and innovations can come from a phone call.

Just keep trying.  Event when the odds are so low as to beggar the imagination.  You never know what application will get an interview, what journal issue will have the spark of a great project, or what job could lead to a career.  Have hope, and march on.