Monday, February 12, 2007

Moving Up

Not only is the museum profession a highly competative field with limited numbers of positions, but it can also be a tough one to climb--especially within a single institution. It has been noted in several recent articles that, unlike thier parents' and grandparents generations, young professionals are spending less time with a single organization. Not only are they not spending their whole career with one institution, but they are actually spending only 2-4 years in one place. Is the only way to advance in our career to move to another organization for a better title (and hopefully the comensurate salary)? How do you ascend the ranks in an organization where turn over at the top is rare and the opportunities are limited? I'd like to hear your stories about your career advancement both in and outside of your current institution.



Courtney said...

Although it has not been my personal experience as of yet, one thing that I've noticed about the museum field in general is that, while formal advancement may be tough, there seems to be a higher level of malleability in terms of creating/morphing positions. At my museum there are a lot of people who've been here for a while, and rather than advancing into a higher-level position, have managed to make lateral or upward moves by carving out new positions for themselves. I don't know if this is good or bad; on the one hand it requires an extra amount of motivation and proactive-ness, and messes with the salary steps of an organization when nobody knows where these new positions fit in; on the other hand, it can provide opportunities that aren't available in any of the existing positions, or even fill in vital gaps.

Anonymous said...

My current thought process about being a museum professional - what does it mean to move up the ladder? Where would I go? As an educator, I want to always be in direct contact with people (teach school programs, lead tours, etc.). Unfortunately, to move up the ladder typically means more meetings and more desk time. Where is the perfect marriage of being a manger, having a good salary, and still doing what you love?

Jason said...

I am one of those notorious job-hoppers to which Nathan refers. I started my professional life in Washington, DC in 1999. I am now in my 7th position in my 5th organization. Now, for those of you in the DC area, you kno wthat the average tenure in any position for twenty-somethings is somewhere in the range of 9-12 months (as opposed to Nathan's example of 2-4 years outside the Beltway). My last two organizations have been 2 year stints (and counting). The reason for each move was for better pay, more responsibility, or relocation to a new city (or in the latest case, a return to my hometown).

I certainly don't recommend this career path. With each new position it becomes more and more difficult to explain the numerous job moves, especially since I'm now in positions of greater responsibility and interviewing directly with those individuals who have been in their positions for decades.

Amy said...

Anonymous brings up a good point about the marriage of management/good salary/doing what you love. From what I've observed in a few small to mid-sized museums, it appears that the managers (department heads and directors) still interact with the public although on more of a VIP level with special tours and the like. Your priority remains the same, to increase knowledge through and encourage use of your collection, but your audience has shifted from third graders to board members.

My thought has always been that, when the boring meetings increase and multiply, a commitment to your museum is what keeps you going. Budgets may not be your strong point, but if understanding the budget keeps your museum viable, then you tackle the challenge.

But is this perspective practical in an age of museum job-hopping? I'm still fairly new to the museum field and I suspect that any career advancement will require a move to a new museum, as the next level holds individuals who will be in their positions for decades, to paraphrase Jason.

Claudia said...

Hi everyone,
I am no longer young but perhaps this time it will be to my advantage. I was fortunate enough to "move up" in a museum job and I'll tell you how it happened: my boss left - so I moved from middle management to senior staff. However, the caveat in all this is that I had been with the organization for 9 years - so I had "proven" myself and was therefore, I think, given the chance.

This relates to another post I read on this blog about changing jobs often. I've only had 5 museum jobs in my life (including my current one) - I'm 40 - and I wouldn't have taken this one had the other organization I was working at not gone through some tough financial and managerial times. I know that everyone wants to make money and pay back loans and be in a leadership position - but, I have to say, you have to pay your dues. Don't stay at a museum if it's an abusive relationship - but let me tell you, there is no perfect job, so you do have to put up with some things everyplace you are. I worked my way up - from a part timer in one museum, to a paid internship for a year in another, to a full-time job in another (small place) to a full-time job in another (larger place) - where I stayed and got promoted - to where I am now, which although I am not a senior staff, and there are issues here - I am working in a museum, doing what I love.

I guess my message to you all is to try and stick it out and build your reputation at one place. Someone might leave - or unfortunately, get sick - and if you are there long enough and they know you and you do your job well, you can "move up." Or, stay long enough to learn enough to build your skills - and then move up in another museum. You won't be able to get the higher level job by spending one year here or there.

Blossom said...

i have had some the same internal tussles that anonymous mentioned. my ongoing problem has been balancing my eagerness to take on new challenges (and thus keep my interest level up) with gaining recognition/salary increases in accordance with increased responsibilities and successes. i stayed at my last position over 5 years, and over that time i consistently took on new responsibilities to the point where my position had completely morphed. although i did eventually get a title promotion(and a raise, it was only after i had made it an issue. in the end i felt that there was nowhere else to 'go' within that organization, so i have moved on. i am hopeful that my new organization is more supportive of the growth of it's staff.

Courtney said...

Claudia and Blossom bring up some important, opposing points of view in what is maybe one of the hearts of the matter for us "YMPs": How long can you stay reconciled to the idea of "paying your dues" when we all see our peers in other industries seemingly bypassing that requirement? As a museum educator, I find myself earning markedly less money and recognition than many of my less experienced and/or less educated friends, a state of affairs with which I'm sure many of you can sympathize.

So, we can either suck it up, say this is the way the museum world works and at least we're doing something we love and feel is worthwhile; or we can try to fight the status quo, say we're not willing to be taken for granted, and keep looking for those few organizations that might be willing to give us equitable pay and responsibility.

Think if enough of us do the latter we might actually manage to change the system, or, as Claudia seems to suggest, will we just wind up damaging our own careers in the long run?