I thought I’d share a few tips that have come my way with the caveat that they aren’t the opinions of my employers, I’m not a careers adviser, I have a whole hunch of privilege and the game has changed significantly in the last 10-15 years. I’ll add funding opps and other bits as I find them.
Traineeships, mentoring, networks
Arts Emergency – the ‘alternative old boys’ network’ is growing in London, Kent and Manchester. It includes lots of creative roles and includes museums and galleries so definitely worth a look.
Create Jobs – keep an eye on the New Museum School (applications now open tho the application page gives a 404?!) and see if it’s something you might be interested in.
Museums Galleries Scotland have a skills for success programme, with placements across Scotland.
A bunch of museums run their own paid traineeships which you can keep an eye out for. These can be pretty competitive but worth a shot. Plus the more excellent applications museums see, the more likely they are to realize it’s a good way to get great people into museums. This British Museum-led scheme is open at the moment and has eight traineeships across England.
Unofficial mentors can be very handy – if there’s anyone you know who is helpful, has a bit of experience and knows you ask them for advice and insight. It might not always be something you can do (a number of times I’ve been told to work in another country for a spell) but sometimes the conversation is worth having.
It’t not a formal network but I did a talk once at Museums Showoff and that did wonders for my confidence and if you can do something like that somewhere friendly and that suits your vibe and will work for you then go for it.
Doing a Masters and paying for it
A lot has been written about whether a master’s degree will get you a job – you might have read this and this. Anecdotally there’s a move away from listing an MA in the ‘essentials’ criteria of jobs (tho it’s still used). Sometimes the ‘essentials’ criteria includes studious commitment to the sector and the AMA is included. This is cheaper than an MA and might be a better option if you’re already working or volunteering somewhere.
If you decide a Masters is a route that you would like to take then you’re going to need a lot of money to pay for the course.
You might be able to find money to study through this website.
Some people I know took up Career Development Loans to pay for uni fees – you can find out more here (tho the scheme is closing in Jan 2019).
There are Master’s loans available, with extra support if you have a disability. (Thanks Alex for telling me!)
Max out your chances of being lucky
Being in the right place at the right time helped me – tho I still did the application and selection process – but I still didn’t get the first job I applied for at the museum I was working with. (My brilliant friend Sarah did and she’s amazing). This was lucky, but I’d maximized my chances of being in the right place at the right time by doing a funded PhD, and using it as an excuse to kick around the office a lot. Some people are able to find ways to live at home/off their parents money or something and volunteer for ages, but there are other ways to kick around until someone employs you. A PhD was my thing but you’ve got something of your own you can offer. If you can, find a way to network, and participate while getting paid then take it.
A friend of mine was office manager for a big museum for an ‘in’ and that was a fantastic way to meet everyone and learn about the jobs they did and how they got to do them. Plus, and this shouldn’t be understated, it’s a pretty sweet job in its own right.
Make your job more like the job you want
Museums and curator jobs are changing. My job title didn’t exist six months ago and I expect my next job hasn’t been thought up yet. But you can help drive that change. Get good at what you value and what you think a museum you want to work for values – get creative, or just copy what other people do that works. Our collections online team was meant to clean records and manage new images for the website, but we set up a series of public talks about our work (inspired by another team who helped us), blogged about it, and researched and published too. Is there anything from job ads you like that you can build into what you’re doing? Blogging and organising talks, tours and events can be really effective.
Your cover letter needs to cover the essential criteria point by point
This is a mistake that still comes up and if you make it, you won’t get shortlisted. If you write ‘please consider my CV’ it’s just not going to happen. It’s a pain and a pity and no-one likes it but you have to re-write every time. Mark’s written some more advice from a recruiter’s perspective here.
Ask a critical friend to look over your application
Buddy up with your friends and check over each other’s applications. It helps pick up any mistakes, your friends are super proud of you so they’ll add in all the words you feel like a tosser writing about yourself, and you learn from each other. Find friends who believe in you and look after them. You’re going to have to grow a thick skin if you don’t have one already, and you don’t have to do it alone.
Rejection and redundancy (can) hurt
It can really hurt when you get that email saying you’ve not got the job, or the meeting invite that says you’re off. And it’s ok that it hurts and it’s ok that you’re hurting FOR A SHORT TIME. Remember you don’t have to keep doing this. Remember you have transferable skills, and you can walk away and do something else. One of my mates worked in an archive for a year or so then got into regulation and now she’s earning a six figure salary and fair play to her. Every few years I think really seriously about leaving the sector and I’m sure that one day I will. And I think it’s ok not to be resigned to being kicked around by funding cuts, low wages, short term contracts and being overstretched. There’s no shame in walking away and doing something else.