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Deb's Unofficial Guide to Getting a Job in the Museum World

Updated for the New Millenium

By Deb R. Fuller

Woman looking through a window to another universe
Paper Boat Creative/ Digital Vision/ Getty Images

The following article was submitted by Deb R. Fuller, museum professional.

So you want to work in museums? Why? You think they're cool; you want to justify getting a degree in obscure pre-Celtic French impressionist painters; or you really loved going to your local museum as a kid and want to work there. Whatever the reason, the museum job hunt is challenging, demanding and ultimately rewarding. Expect your job hunt to take 6 months to a couple of years. Yes people get jobs first shot but those are the exceptions. The job hunt is like a job in itself. It will take time and effort to get where you want to be in the museum world.

1. Research museum jobs. There are many different types of positions and fields out there to go into. Museum educators, curators, registrars, development/grant writers, administration, special events, exhibits, computer specialists and volunteer coordinators just to name a few. The smaller the museum, the more areas each person will have to cover.

2. Network, Network, Network. Find museum professionals and talk to them. Find out what experiences they have and what education they got. Most museum professionals are friendly and will take time out to talk to you. Ask for informational interviews. DON'T bring your resume to them. It's bad form. After you talk to someone, thank them profusely and ask them to refer you to someone else. Send them a nice note after you leave and only send them your resume if they ask for it. You never know when they might call you back or pass a job lead on to you. Make a schedule of networking like one a week, every two weeks or every month. Keep it up and keep meeting people.

3. Think Small. This comes in two parts. First off, don't apply for that director position straight off. Go for the executive assistant instead. Don't go for full curator, go for a curatorial assistant. You need experience even if you are coming from another career field and have job experience.

Secondly, look at smaller, local museums. Smaller museums usually will allow you to get a lot of work experience in different areas. In a large museum, you might be stuck in one area like registrar of a certain collection. But in a smaller museum, you might be a registrar, lead educational programs and help coordinate volunteers.

4. Volunteer, Intern or Work Part-time. If there are no positions open or you aren't sure if you really want to work in the museum field, look at volunteering or interning or getting a part-time position. Most museums won't turn down someone who is eager to work and is willing to learn. Don't expect to come in and take over either. Again, start small. If you want to be a registrar, start out by volunteering to clean artifacts from a local archaeology dig. If you want to do museum education, volunteer to help out with summer camps. If you stick around long enough and show people that you are responsible, you will get more and more responsibilities. Larger museums usually have formal intern or volunteer programs. Interning and volunteering are good ways to meet people and NETWORK.

5. NETWORK! Did I mention networking? Trade business cards with EVERYONE. You never know when you will have an opportunity to call them about a job or vice-versa.

6. Professional Organizations. Find out what the professionals in your area belong to and pay your dues. A good one to start out with is the American Association of Museums. Not only will you keep current on what is happening, you also can put it on your resume. All professionals should be a member of at least one professional organization in their profession.

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