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?