I see so many, hundreds at least, of comments on listservs, message boards, e-mails, etc., from young museum professionals asking questions about whether it’s feasible to work in museums right now or not. Should I go to school for museum professions? Will I ever get a paid job? Does my internship count as qualifiable experience? My answer? Yes.
To all my fellow emerging museum professionals out there, this is my story.
After working in so many museums and getting my bachelors degree in Public Relations, I felt I had learned more of what not to do than what to do. I wanted to be able to do right by my profession and not just make it up as I go. I wanted in depth, correct education about how to design exhibits and handle artifacts, etc.
I graduated with my Masters of Museum Professions in May 2012. At the age of 25, I had 11 years of experience in museums under my belt. From small town historical societies to The British Museum in London, my time included 2 degrees, 5 internships, 3 jobs, and 7 museums around the world. I had done a little bit of everything in a lot of different places.
I began applying for jobs in late March all over the world; from Saudi Arabia to New York to London and Maine, many positions of which I was sure I stood no chance at even landing an interview. I was turned down a couple of times, rejected a few offers that didn’t feel right, and just plain didn’t hear back about most of my meticulously labored over applications. When the Executive Director of the Boone County Historical Society, which operates four 100+ year old museums, position came up I applied right away. I knew I wanted to get out of the Jersey/NYC area for awhile and Iowa was close to my family.
The big question, however, was will they give a 25 year old that kind of responsibility AND power? I had a phone interview, was flown in for an in-person interview (an affair which lasted 8 hours), and within days I was offered the job. Perhaps the Board of Directors and I see it differently, but there are a few things distinct things which I think landed me this position at my age.
1. I was sure of myself. I may be young, but I have a lot of experience and knew I had a lot to offer this museum having come from museums in both a better and, more importantly, a worse state.
2. I asked them questions. During my in-person interview I called the Board out. I asked each of them to share why it is they sit on the Board of Directors of the Boone County Historical Society. I received some interesting answers, answers that have helped inform me about working with some of my Board.
3. I told them that they would have to be ready to accept what it was they were asking me to do. Change. Change the museum, change the operation, change the exhibits, change the community perception, change the branding, and on and on. It was something the Board knew was necessary but before taking the job I needed to make sure I wasn’t going to try and accomplish something they were going to slap a bunch of red tape all over.
I’m not recommending you try this at home. Museum job interviews are not a formula. EVERY. SINGLE. MUSEUM is so incredibly different, no two interviews should be handled the same. If I would have posed that question to another board (let’s say the MET) I may or may not have been laughed off the face of the planet, who knows. I’m not saying my own Board is any lower caliber than the MET’s because they aren’t. They are both a group of people passionate about their respective institutions, whose mission they are entrusted with serving. The MET is just a different type of board with different expectations and history.
I have been in this position for just over a year and I have learned more about museums, people, working with communities, and collaboration than I ever thought was humanly possible. More on my actual experience as a museum director at a later date. Join me next post for my Five Tips (and a bonus) to Landing that First Museum Job.
Oh yeah, and lastly, any emerging, or current, or past, museum professionals that have a question or just want to chat museums, contact me directly. It’s my favorite thing to talk about. I’m a good ear, a strong opinion, and a smiling face.