Saturday, December 30, 2006

Job Hunting Cross-Country (...or in your own backyard)

First of all, a big thanks to Nathan for doing all that job links compiling! Meanwhile, I've been dithering away at trying to finish this posting (...for a while now...) in between holiday craziness, and all that stuff you see on the right-hand side may actually be more helpful than what I say here, but I'll still give it a shot.

It can be challenging enough to snag a museum job right in the city where you live, with all the knowledge about and connections in that market you may have. What about when you're trying to find a position on the other side of the country? Or what about when you're open to applying for any relevant job, nationwide? I'm currently in the former situation, and it's forced me to start consolidating and reviewing everything I think I know about getting a museum job. But most of the ideas here are ones that apply to any job search, whatever its geographical boundaries, so I'm hoping this post will stir response from both potential relocaters and local job hunters.

First, a little background: I've been living in New York City for over 9 years, working in and learning about the museum and school worlds here for the last 4 while completing a masters in museum education, and finally thought I was getting somewhere in my understanding of how the whole thing works. I now find myself -- after job-hopping for the past several years, and having just this July started what I would consider my first permanent, full-time, "professional" job in a museum -- faced with the proposition of moving to Seattle, hopefully within the next six months or so, to join my significant other. Though I know next to nothing about the Seattle museum job market, I at least feel that my past experiences in the hiring process, from both sides of the desk, give me some idea of what I'll need to do, and what to expect, when my hunting starts in earnest this coming spring. Among other things, it'll involve:

Inevitably, networking
I guess this goes without saying for just about any job, in any field, when you're trying to make a career out of it. But it seems to be especially true when it comes to museums. So much of the time people go through their friends and colleagues to find good candidates before they even post a job opening, and having someone -- particularly one of those individuals who seems to be sort of the hub in the wheel, the folks who know everybody (doesn't everyone know one of those?) -- looking out for you is perhaps the best way to find the right position. And museums are such a small world that you might even have local contacts who can help when you're looking for employment hundreds or thousands of miles away.

In addition to individuals, I've also been looking into any local museum organizations in the Seattle area that might be helpful. Mary Rizzo commented on Erin's 11/30 networking blog that when attending conferences for networking purposes, she thought the smaller, local ones were more useful than the big, national ones, and I think this is true for the organizations you choose to join as well. For instance: I'd been a member of AAM for several years; I did not renew my membership this year, and instead got a membership in NYCMER, the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable. AAM was great: the nationwide free entry to museums was very handy, and I enjoyed the annual conference this past year, and plan on attending next year's. But NYCMER is filled with lots of people I know, lots of other people whose names I've heard or who've heard mine; they send out regular job postings by email; they hold regular, local events that are great networking opportunities and relevant to my work; and best of all they're less expensive to join than AAM, and most of their events and services are included in that nominal membership price. I have to imagine that in other large cities across the country there are, hopefully, comparable entities. To check, for museum ed-ers like me, you can go the Museum Educator's Roundtable, which lists and links to local orgs.

And knowing where to look
There are a couple good national sites for nonprofit job listings in general, and museum listings in particular. If you still haven't checked out, it just might be the best job site ever for us do-gooder types, and will even send you free daily updates based on your search parameters. Local Craig's List sites can also be helpful, particularly as its whole being free thing makes it more accessible to small organizations. For museum jobs specifically, I've so far found AAM's careers site (which you can access, although not apply through, even if you're not a member) and Global Museum (a little hard to navigate, not having a search function, but it lists international jobs as well); there are also a bunch of other sites listed over there in the job links column. Local organizations are also, again, often a good source for job listings (NYCMER's regular emails are great for New York jobs), and these days a lot of individual museums, especially the big guys, have detailed, up-to-date employment listings on their own sites.

Those are the two big job search points I'm already far too familiar with in my only 27 years thus far on this planet. But I am now encountering some questions that are pretty specific to more geographically sweeping searches, and some that are specific to us young museum professionals, and while I hope the above might be helpful to other job searchers, I'm also hoping to solicit some opinions -- some help for me -- on the below:

How much does that return address mean?
Will Seattle museums see New York at the top of my resume and just dismiss me out of hand? I know that we've been interviewing for several positions at my current museum, and are admittedly somewhat skeptical of non-New Yorkers, keeping in mind they will have to work with a wide spectrum of local students, teachers, and other visitors. And I recognize that museum programs have a genuine need for professionals who know their communities, know how their schools and cities work, and how to work with them. Or, alternately, some folks may just not look at you because they assume, if you're applying from so far away, that you're just haphazardly blitzing museums with your resume, and don't have a specific interest in their institution. Is there any way to get around issues like this, or do we all just have to move to the places we want to work before they'll take us seriously?

How about missing the face-to-face?
In my Seattle job search, I've had one phone interview thus far, and frankly I'm pretty sure it sucked. I'm just not a person who does very well reading people over the phone; I find it much harder to get a real sense of, or develop a good rapport with, the person I'm speaking to, and I think I'm not alone. I think it's probably true of a lot of the people who will be interviewing me, in fact. But, being a museum professional, I can't afford to constantly travel for interviews (though I'm prepared to do so for second-rounds with places where there's a high mutual interest), and, being a museum, they won't often pay for me to do so, either. Not to mention the time constraints my current job would impose on such travel, even were it financially viable. Does anyone have any tips here?

Remember when I said "job-hopping"?
This is the one that I'm hoping will be relevant for some other young museum professionals, local and long-range hunters alike: the somewhat checkerboarded resume. It's not that I haven't been dedicated to the places I've worked, it's just that for the past several years I've been trying to finish graduate school, doing the required fieldwork for that degree, and taking a couple positions as sort of test-drives (where those hiring me also recognized them as such) to see what direction I wanted to take that degree in. Now I'd really, really, really like a job that I can stay in for a while, an organization and program I can grow with, but I fear that prospective employers may -- noticing that the longest I've held any job ever is two years, and in the museum/teaching fields my average is more like six months -- be initially skeptical. Reassurances and/or commiseration from fellow job-hunters, or viewpoints of those doing the hiring, much appreciated here, and regarding all the points and questions above.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Dilemma of the Young Professional

As a young professional--again using the definition of "under age 35"--I have found that I, and others like me, are either seen as "saviors" or "sinners" in non-profits, particularly in the museum world.

Many museum directors and boards recognize that the traditional museum model doesn't hold the public's attention in the same ways it did even 10 years ago. They put out the call for fresh ideas and create new technology-related positions within education and marketing departments. They hire a GenX'ish professional for these positions because it is this generation which is able to translate older, traditional themes into more user-friendly concepts. Unfortunately, though, the transition from paper to product is not always met so warmly.

In her paper entitled The Gap: Young Nonprofit Professionals Needed to Fill Executive Transitions in the Third Sector, Emily Davis points specifically to the "condescension and untrustworthy attitudes from older colleagues and people in leadership roles within organizations." (**)

My question is this:

How can we as young professionals allay the fears and misgivings held by our older counterparts, thus allowing ourselves to be more successful, without simultaneously sacrificing the attributes which make us different from those same counterparts?

Have you had any personal success in breaking down the barriers? Any horror stories from which we might learn something?

**I highly recommend the paper by Emily Davis referenced above. I read it and finally realized that I'm not alone. You can download it from the Greater Milwaukee Chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network at

Thursday, December 28, 2006

When is it Right to Propose?

Staring at the piled landscape that is my desk, I caught a glimpse of AMM 2007 Annual Conference Call For Proposals. I chuckle at the title: "No Museum is an Island" and think it could quite possibly read: "No Young Museum Professional Works on a Deserted Island" even if geography sometimes tricks us. I digress...
Nathan and I discussed the possibilities of Young Museum Professionals leading some sessions. What are we interested in? What topics would you like to see discussed? Would any of you like to present? Please post any possible topics up for discussion.

I'll give one topic that seems to be consistently interesting.

The Grad School Question


The Great Job Search

Oy Vey! I just spent the past few hours compiling the very long list of job links in the right hand column of this blog. Thank you to those who submitted suggestions. I also welcome more additions. I hope people find this helpful. While almost every state has its own museum association, some do not include free job postings and therefore I did not include them on my list. FYI--they are in need of a museum director in The Turks and Caicos.

2007 Marketplace of Ideas

I am going to use my bully pulpit for a moment to promote EdCom's upcoming Marketplace of Ideas and Read the Fine Print showcases for the 2007 AAM Conference here in Chi-town. This is a great opportunity to show off some of the cool things that you have been working on at your museums. The MOI is a chance for people to share new and innovative programs, educational materials, or research that they have been conducting at their institutions. The RTFP is a display area for museums to showcase some of their finest printed materials such as lesson plans, brochures, catalogues, and other publications. The application process is very easy for both. If you are accepted for MOI, you are provided with a table and equipment. You must stay with your program for the entire duration of the event (two hours), but you can also qualify for a free registration the day of the event.

This is an easy way to get involved professionally at a national level as well as take part in some of that valuable networking that we are frequently discussing. The deadline to enter is January 12. Contact me at NRichie@FreedomMuseum.US for an application or questions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Software Headaches

I guess this post is more of a question...…
What software do you use at your institution (specifically for tour scheduling)? We're looking to depart from the paper calendars, I've searched online and found some out of print/production, some that caused an immediate headache, and others I can't really commit to.

If anyone can provide stories of success or failure, please share. I think this will be very useful to others.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hunting Season

When I was ready to change jobs more than a year ago, I was in a frenzy to locate good positions. I mailed out more than 100 applications coast to coast and heard back from approximately 5-10% of those potential jobs. Needless to say, competition in this field is fierce. I am creating a new section for Job Links on the sidebar of this blog. I will catagorize websites by geographic region. If you have any good suggestions, please leave your feedback and I will post the link to the site.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Grad School Question

One of the questions that I have been asked by several YMPs is whether or not it is worth it for them to go to graduate school to get their MA in museum studies or a related field. It's a question that each person has to figure out for them self. However, after looking back at my own experience, I thought of a few points to consider:

1. Feel confident in your decision. Going to graduate school should set you on a career path and not be a temporary time filler. I have met several people who went to grad school simply because they didn't know to do with themselves after college. That usually led to dropping out or receiving a degree that was never used. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind midstream, but avoid unnecessary heartache and debt by assessing your commitment to the program. And, if you are already working in the field, ask yourself if you can continue to advance without further education.

2. Graduate school is not like college. I loved my undergrad experience and made a lot of great friends. I went to grad school thinking that I was going to have a similar experience--boy, was I wrong. There are fewer people, they are in a different phase of their lives, they are fiercely competitive, and slacking off isn't an option. I know not everyone's experience is the same, but I think most would agree that the experience can be disappointing if you're expecting a sequel to your first four years.

3. Shop around. Not all graduate schools are created equal--especially museum studies programs. Learn the difference between a certificate and a degree. Also, plan ahead. If you think you are going to want a full degree (which, let's face it, if you are going to bother to take out a student loan and expend the time to go back to school, you'll want the full degree)then plan for it from the beginning. Also, some programs require that you get a degree within a larger field (art, anthropology, etc) and then take course work in museum studies, while others offer more general museum studies degrees.

4. Commit to finishing the program. I am very happy that I went to grad school and love my job, but every time I open that envelope from Citibank Loans I wince a little. I justify it in my mind as an investment in myself, but if I hadn't completed the program (which crossed my mind more than once) I would still be paying back my loans without the privilege of having the degree.

5. Know how you are going to support yourself. I know that there are a few people out there whose parents can pay for their graduate education (and they better be counting their blessings), but for the rest of us, we have to rely on jobs, spouses, and loans. I knew that I would have to work during graduate school, so one of the major selling points of my program was that classes were offered in the evening. If you can swing it, don't work while in school--or work as little as possible. Spend that time making the most of your graduate education by reading all of the materials, making sure your work is top notch, and seizing every opportunity.

6. Talk with people who have been or are currently in graduate school. Ask them about what they like and don't like about their program. Ask your mentor or employer where he or she went to school.

Grad school can be fun and rewarding, but it is also tough and wearisome. The greater sense you can have of what the grad school experience will be like, the better prepared, more successful, and happier you will be.

Other thoughts on grad school?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Networking: Wash, Rinse, and Repeat

Yesterday over my triple non-fat caramel macchiato from a popular chain cafĂ©, I was reflecting on my one-year anniversary as a professional in the museum world. So many things happen in just over a year, I’ve attended 1 AAM conference, 2 AMM conferences, the NAEA Museum Education Pre-conference, and the list goes on. You’d think after those networking opportunities I have a Rolodex filled with potential collaborators and wisdom providers. I don’t. That is not to say I don’t have some because I do. Let’s be honest it takes more than one session with a colleague to make a connection. So, how do we as Young Museum Professionals break into these groups of professionals and get to know each other?

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat.

This direction is not only for shampooing but also for networking: if you feel you didn’t have the opportunity to connect with those you networked with, try again. I’ve found sending out a personal note to those individuals you’ve made contact with at conferences is very beneficial. How many times do we get hand-written letters? Not often. We live by emails but if you switch it up this will make you different and memorable.

Attending more than one conference every couple years is also very beneficial. (Understanding sometimes it’s not financially feasible) Connecting with someone after a hiatus is great, if you can still put a face with a name and put him or her into context (What is your common experience, how did you first touch base). My first AMM conference, I met a very interesting colleague from Chicago, the following year I was delighted by his presence at the conference! A familiar face in a crowd, an anchor point, what’s better than that?

Hopefully these experiences will provide you with the opportunity to ask advice, to share stories, to find common ground, and maybe come up with potential programming opportunities.

Remember, networking takes time. So wash, rinse, and repeat if needed.

Please share your networking experiences and questions.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Internships: The Value of Knowing What You Don't Want to Do

A few weeks ago I found myself arguing with my mom about the way I spent my summer more than ten years ago now. It was May 1996 and I was just finishing my freshman year of college at Colorado State University. I chose to attend CSU not only because it had the best program for what I thought I wanted to do (natural resources and tourism), but also because it was not too far from my home town--two hours, which is close in Colorado distance. I remember that beginning in fifth grade I wanted to become a National Park Ranger. It wasn't my affinity for Yogi Bear that inspired me, but a love instilled in me from a childhood of camping, traveling, and learning to enjoy the wonder of natural and human history. I was so certain that I wanted to become a park ranger that I spent much of my early life preparing for my future career. My first job was even working as a tour guide in a cave. During my freshman year of college when everyone I knew was either undeclared or changing majors weekly, I declared my major in the Natural Resource Department upon my first visit to campus.

When spring arrived and I had completed my first year, it was time for me to think about leaving the dorms, returning home, and taking a summer job to earn a few bucks. But one day I happened to stop by the career center in the student center. I don't know why or how I ended up there now, but I found myself leafing through all of the various summer jobs. There I found a listing for an internship with the Student Conservation Association as an interpretation ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA. (Having grown up in the West, I really wanted to experience the East Coast and the history of New England which was totally alien to me). I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Thoughtless of what my parents wanted of me, I decided to apply for the unpaid position. I was soon accepted and somehow, after much conflict and hurt feelings, I finally got to Massachusetts.

It is hard for me to now measure everything that I learned that summer. All I know was that it was a completely transformative experience. I learned that I loved American History--so much that when I returned I added it as a second major. I explored New England extensively. I met wonderful friends, lived in a haunted house, drank my body weight in Sam Adams Ale, skinny dipped in Walden Pond, and got the first glimpse of what I wanted my future to be like. When I returned to CSU the following year, I was even more charged up for a life in the National Parks. After my sophomore year, I accepted a position as an intern at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwest New Mexico. It was another life-changing summer for me, but in a very different way. Not only did I gain a great deal of life experience, but I also got the first negative glimpse of life as a park ranger. I lived in a trailer in a remote desert. It was 80 miles to the nearest town to buy groceries. I met people who had worked in, what I thought was my dream job, for twenty to thirty years. Many of them never left the park; they chose never to marry or remained estranged from their spouses. There was even a suicide from loneliness. Now, while that was a unique experience only to me, it made me face the facts of my chosen career path. Things weren't always going to be camping and hiking. There would be a host of obstacles that I would have to overcome, or simply learn to cope with. By the end of that summer, my commitment to being a park ranger was seriously shaken. However, I did have the opportunity to work in the park museum. I saw how exhibits were made, objects were cared for, and stories were interpreted. I discovered a new love of museums and learned that I could be in a field that allowed me to work with artifacts, history, and people. I left New Mexico that fall with an altered vision of my future, but one that I have been pursuing with great satisfaction for nearly ten years since.

So, back to the argument with my mom. It came out recently that she (and with very good reason) absolutely did not want me to go to Massachusetts that first year. But, my dad interceded on my behalf and helped me follow my dream (maybe divorce can have a silver lining). Although I might have pursued a somewhat selfish cause, I can't imagine my life now if I had not made those important decisions. They not only helped me find the path to my present career, but in ways even unclear to me still, shaped the person I am today. I continued to pursue internships after those first years. Some were great successes and I learned what I could achieve. One was a terrible failure, and I tested the limits of my capabilities. But in all instances I personally grew. And, every internship I took was unpaid. I did get a small living stipend from the NPS, but it also came with a Ramen cookbook. Yet, for me, the value of experience far outweighed the minimal financial gain of a summer time job. It built my resume and prepared me to accept my first official museum job. It also gave me a competitive edge that managing a Taco Bell, no matter how much more lucrative at the time, could never have offered.

Any thoughts on internships? Had a valuable experience or wasted your time? I welcome your stories.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New to the Field

Welcome to YMP! This site is dedicated to emerging museum professionals who want to connect with other people in the field to discuss issues young professionals face. In the coming weeks we will address such issues as career advancement, pursuing graduate school, navigating interoffice politics, and much more. If you have a question or comment, send me an email at

Nathan Richie
Education Program Manager
McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum
Chicago, IL