Job hunting in the museum world can be tricky. Most of us are well aware that the field is competitive. Luckily we’ve spoken to a few recent graduates to get their tips and tricks for the job search.

  1. Know where to look and start looking early.

While in the second year of your program, graduation may seem a long way off. Many museums, especially government museums and historic sites, have a rather slow hiring process. Generally, the larger the museum, the longer the process. I recommend starting to look for jobs in January or February. The blog’s Job Roundup is a great resource, but be aware of where else you can look. We list several job boards at the top of each job roundup, including the New England Museum Association and the American Alliance of Museums. If you’re looking for a job in a specific state or region of the country, there are many local and regional professional associations that have their own job boards.

 While professional associations are great, don’t forget to check more general resources like LinkedIn or Indeed. Smaller museums often post on these sites and opportunities can appear here before on more specialized job boards. If you’re interested in positions with the federal government, is a great resource. The platform can be a bit tricky to use, but once you become familiar with it, you can largely automate your search. The site allows you to set up email alerts for new positions and I highly recommend using their resume builder.  

  1. Your CV is your best friend.

Crafting a strong CV or resume is critical when applying to jobs. Start by creating a header with your name and contact information. You can use this same header for your cover letters. CVs, or Curriculum Vitae, are generally used more in academic contexts, but I have found the format to be a great way to highlight any projects you’ve done as well as any articles you’ve published. If you haven’t completed many projects or publications, a resume may be a better choice. When describing your work, use the active voice and include specific outcomes whenever possible. A helpful tip is to work directly from your job or internship description(s) and add one according to what you remember. Using fancy templates on Canva can be fun and creative, but make sure your resume is readable and comprehensive. 

  1. Master the art of the cover letter.

No one really enjoys writing a cover letter, but cover letters are your best opportunity to argue why you’re the perfect fit for a job! You should only write one or two full cover letters if you’re applying to largely similar jobs. I find it helpful to organize cover letters by type of skill and then chronologically according to how you gained experience in that skill. Create a template for yourself and customize it to the requirements and duties of a specific job opportunity. Cover letters are often a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ situation where only the introduction and conclusion paragraphs change significantly. Address the letter to the hiring manager personally if you know their name, otherwise, “Dear Hiring Manager” is appropriate. Be sure to include what interested you about the position and institution!

  1. References are the name of the game.

Strong references are critical if you make it through the first round of interviews. Think carefully about who can best attest to the qualities most important to the job for which you are applying. It’s best to use a mix of professors and work/internship supervisors if possible. Be sure to give the people you are using as references plenty of notice! If you will be applying to a large number of jobs, sometimes it’s best to have a frank conversation and ask your references for blanket permission when applying for jobs. Be sure to share your CV/resume and cover letter with your references. This helps them prepare to answer questions about your work and experience.  

  1. Stay organized!

When you’re applying for twenty or more jobs, it can be easy to get them muddled. I recommend keeping a spreadsheet of all the jobs you’ve applied to, important information like pay and location, and the current status of your application. Be sure to update your spreadsheet regularly. I also recommend keeping copies of each cover letter in the same folder. This is optional, but it can be a life-saver to make a copy of the job description for your records. By the time you interview for some positions, the job announcement might be taken down and you’ll be wondering what the job was!

  1. Interviewing like a Pro

Interviewing is arguably the most important aspect of the job hunt. The key is preparation and to remember that you are also interviewing prospective employers. Start by prepping answers to common questions like

  • Describe yourself
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • Describe a time you encountered a conflict

Also take the time to brainstorm industry-specific questions and any questions you have about the particular position. For example, when interviewing for a museum collections position, you might ask what the current goals for the collection are or what projects are ongoing. Asking the right questions can show that you are knowledgeable. Read the job description thoroughly and think of any questions you have about the position. 

When it comes time for the interview, dress professionally. If it’s a Zoom interview, be especially mindful of how what you’re wearing picks up on screen. I once was going to wear a very nice sweater for an interview, but realized that when viewed from only the chest up, the neckline made it look like a sweatshirt. Even though interviewers can only see part of you, dressing formally from head to toe will increase your confidence and put you in the right mindset for an interview. Pick an area for the interview where you are lit from the front and the background is neutral. Make sure any area visible is tidy. Take time before the interview to gather your materials. You should have the job description, your CV, and your cover letter readily available for reference. You should also have either a tab open or a notebook to take notes. Finally, I recommend joining the Zoom meeting at least five minutes early to avoid any last-minute technical issues. 

Don’t be discouraged if there are several rounds of interviews. Many institutions begin with a Zoom interview and will invite you to an in-person interview if you progress to the next round. It’s also not uncommon at larger institutions to have a screening interview with Human Resources first. This is usually a short interview where they determine you are who you say you are and have the experience you reported on your application. This is a tool for employers to narrow down the applicant pool for the hiring manager. 

  1. You have a job offer! Now what?

First of all, congratulations! The job market is competitive so getting an interview, much less an offer is an accomplishment. But remember, you do not have to take a job just because it was offered to you. Take time to make sure the position is the right fit for you. Will it help you achieve your career goals? Is the institutional culture the right fit for you? Does it pay what you need it to? These are all questions you should think about before accepting. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and the excitement of your first job offer. If it’s not your dream job, ask the hiring manager for a day or two to think about the offer. I also recommend setting up a meeting to ask for any clarification you need on duties, ask about benefits, and find out about workplace culture. 

This is also the time to negotiate your salary if necessary. Research what similar positions pay. The American Alliance of Museums National Museum Salary Survey is an amazing tool that breaks down by region, museum budget, and a number of other factors. Don’t turn your nose up at entry-level positions but do advocate to be paid what you’re worth with an advanced degree. Benefits are also an important part of compensation. Health insurance, dental, and retirement benefits might compensate for a lower salary.

Remember that finding a job takes time. Very few people have a job lined up immediately after graduation. Don’t get discouraged! Good luck job hunters!