The CORRECT path to getting a Job in a Museum

For many people working in a museum, surrounded by history, is the ultimate career goal.

But as awesome as it sounds, it is a notoriously highly competitive industry to ‘break’.

I work in a museum, and over the course of the past two years I have overheard all kinds of conversations from our volunteers (my office being just opposite their workroom). But the one that stands out is when they talk about their hopes for getting a job in the heritage sector. This conversation is always saturated in worry, predominately because they believe if they get a job outside of the sector they will never be allowed back in.

And this simply isn’t true.

Meet Sarah.

During Sarah’s undergraduate degree she began volunteering in a museum. When Sarah started her MA she began working in a front of house role in the same museum. As a particular conscientious, efficient and motivated individual Sarah worked her way up to a senior position, and began working more closely with the Manager. Fast-forward a couple of years and Sarah is the Manager.

Sarah is INTEGRAL to the running of that museum because she knows it like the back of her hand. If you’ve got a question about the museum, then Sarah has the answer.

Now meet Louise.

Louise was desperate to work in a museum after University, and despite numerous applications and many an hour volunteering, her efforts came to nothing. She moved to London and began working in media sales. From her first day organising cupboards to eventually managing a huge portfolio of clients, Louise learnt a lot. From there she moved into film promotion, but something was missing, and it was time to utilise her skills and move into the sector she wanted. She began blogging about heritage and applying the skills she had learnt to the sector she wanted to be in. Two years ago Louise got her dream job a museum.

At the same age, Sarah and Louise have both found themselves in museums. They may have taken different journeys, but one was no more right that the other. Their different experiences bring a multitude of benefits to their organisations. 

The right path into museums is whatever path is right for you

“Don’t worry” is an infuriating, and somewhat lazy piece of advice. We ALL worry – albeit to varying degrees – but we all do it, and what purpose does it serve other than to slow us down?

When the time comes for my volunteers to move on I’ve found myself giving them this same advice which I find so infuriating, “Don’t worry”. I know I’m being self-contradictory, but it’s actually the advice I wish was properly explained to me when I first ‘started out’.

Don’t worry if you’ve just finished your history degree and your first job isn’t in the cultural sector. I know you’ll think it’s forever and there will be no bends or junctions in the road, but you really are very wrong.

Turn your worry into drive

Worrying about your career is both a blessing and a curse. It means you’re ambitious, and what an amazing quality to possess. Channel it to your advantage and turn it into drive. You can never get rid of worry; once you get the coveted ‘museum’ job you dream of now, you’ll worry about what happens next, and so on and so on…so you might as well turn it into something positive.

Instead of stressing myself out over the long term until my brain explodes, I try to focus on the immediate future, what I can do now, to pave the way for my ‘future future’ (which I don’t worry about). 

So whether you take Sarah’s route or Louise’s route, there are many different ways to ‘get into museums’, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you can turn your worry into drive then you’ll eventually end up in the industry you want (and you may find it doesn’t actually end up being museums!).

*Since writing this article I no longer work in museums. I decided to leave to get more experience elsewhere…. but one day i’ll be back!
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