This is a recorded session from the 2021 AAM Virtual Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo.c
As museum staff return from unprecedented furloughs and layoffs, not all the jobs that were there pre-COVID will return as well. For many professionals, this will be a chance to shift to a different type of work or museum. This session will help you get ready, dealing with the issues in the field that were amplified by this crisis.
Laurie Davis, Former Human Resource Manager, Guggenheim Museum and Foundation
Jane Hsu, Associate Vice President, Arts Consulting Group
Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Senior Vice President, Arts Consulting Group
Maria Munoz-Blanco, Vice President, Arts Consulting Group
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: Okay, I’ll go ahead and get started. So welcome, everyone, to Your Museum Career: Now What? I’ll go ahead and introduce our agenda for the day, if we can just go to the next slide.
Thank you so much. We’ll quickly do introductions and we’ll talk about these four topics in our brief time together, of course, leaving the bulk of our time for your questions, which will be able to be presented in the chat for us to follow up. We’ll talk a little bit about your job search post-COVID, preparing materials, handling virtual interviews, and also understanding museum salaries.
We’ll skip that one too, in the interest of time.
Okay. So quickly, just to introduce our presenters and our time here. So, good afternoon. I’m Wynona Lynch-McWhite, Senior Vice President with Arts Consulting Group. I joined the firm in 2016 after more than 21 years leading art, university, and multidisciplinary museums. My background and career started as a MFA student in Chicago, where I worked at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and then the Art Institute of Chicago and that led me on my path.
I’m currently based in Boston, and I lead ACG’s leadership transition area, which includes searches throughout the US and Canada in a variety of disciplines, and of course, that means museums of all sizes.
Our next speaker today is Laurie Davis, who has worked in the human resource field for the Guggenheim Museum for more than four years and has a long tenure working in HR functions before that. Laurie has helped run recruiting efforts and support job functions all across the institution and has also spearheaded diversity, equity, and inclusion functions for the museum.
She holds an MA in applied psychology from NYU and a BA in history from Duke University, and she’s calling in today from New Jersey.
And our last presenter today is Jane Hsu. Jane is also an ACG team member who joined us in 2020, bringing over 20 years of experience in museum and nonprofit arts leadership, education programs, and engagement. Prior to joining the team, she served as head of engagement for the Rubin Museum of Art. She has a bachelor’s of Fine Arts Degree from Cooper Union, an MBA from Metropolitan College of New York, and a Masters of Art in Film from Columbia University. Jane is calling in from New York City and is a key member of our executive search team.
So very quickly, those were our introductions.
Next slide, please.
Okay, so now we’re going to go ahead and just jump into the first topic, which is talking about how to prepare your resume, how to update it, and how to get ready to get started. I’m going to go ahead and mute for a second and let Jane and Laurie go ahead and start us off, and we’ll just go back and forth.
Jane Hsu: All right. So it is exciting time as museums are reopening and we’re getting a bit of mind space to start applying for positions and, of course, the first step is getting your application materials prepared, right? Updating the resume. What are some top priorities for updating that resume outside of how do you read the job posting first, right? Do you use the same resume for different positions? Is that something you would do, Laurie?
Laurie Davis: Nope. I would definitely recommend tailoring it. Start with the job, start with the organization, and then really make sure that your resume reflects the skills and the experiences that they’re asking for on the job description, so that job posting is really, really quite important.
And don’t forget to update your LinkedIn as well as the resume. The two really should enhance one another. It’s okay if they’re a bit duplicative. I don’t think the LinkedIn profile needs to be quite as in depth as the resume in terms of your bullet points, but you can also use it to add things like presentations or scholarly articles, videos, blog posts, things of that nature that you might be able to add, so don’t forget about that rich media format on LinkedIn, but just know that recruiters are going to be looking for you not just on your resume, but your social media presence as well.
Jane Hsu: And don’t forget the cover letter is essential. It personalizes your intention to apply for this position and in the museum field, we’re really lucky in the sense that we’re applying to positions with pub… you can go into the museum and visit. Even if you’re not available in person, you can make that website visit and learn a lot about this organization you’d like to work for, and then add that to the cover letter. I think that always provides a personal touch.
Laurie Davis: Absolutely. A lot of people ask if the cover letter is even read and it was a resounding yes, for me. In fact, sometimes, it had even more importance than the resume. Were looking at, especially, at jobs that have a strong writing component. For example, if you’re interested in institutional development within fundraising, writing skills are critical, so that cover letter is going to be really important and, of course, same for curatorial and many other job functions. So tailor that as well. Make sure it really talks about the specifics of why you’re prepared and able to add value for that job at that institution.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: And then the other bullet point that we wanted to speak to briefly, which we can talk more about in Q&A, was how to self-identify. This particular bullet came up in conversation as we spoke to folks who wanted to make sure that they had a specific expertise in terms of self-identification. I see myself as a museum leader, as a curator, as an educator, as a programmer, but also, those who wanted to self-identify based on their cultural lived experience.
Our recommendation here, of course, is also that you just understand that you do not have to choose anything that you share with your employers. That’s entirely up to you, but as we said, LinkedIn and other things do mean your profile, your public profile, the one that you create may be out there. And we just think it’s really important to make sure, as Laurie has said, that they are consistent and professional and exactly what you want someone to see if they were searching for you.
There have been questions about, “Should I put a photograph on my resume? Is that important?” And we would tell you, it often is not. Some organizations try to do kind of a blind resume review, if you will, and would cover or remove your photograph anyway, so that’s not necessarily required, although our friends that work more in performing arts love to do it. Again, not necessarily required.
Let’s go to the next slide.
Excellent. All right. So one of the things we wanted to talk about as you were kind of thinking about, “What next” is how to deal with 2020 and for some of us, what’s still happening in 2021. For many people, it will mean a leaving of the field, a shift in position, and these things should be addressed. We like to think about calling it kind of a gap year, if you will. And the fact is everyone has a gap year.
So Laurie, Jane, I’ll let you talk a little bit more about that and these other bullets.
Laurie Davis: Sure. I just wanted to make the point of not being too concerned about the gap. That’s something, historically, people worry about when they leave the workforce. It’s going to be more challenging to get back, but I think everybody gets a pass for a global pandemic. So I just… I really wouldn’t be concerned about it. If an employer sees that you’ve stopped working, they’re going to assume it’s very likely COVID related, whatever that may mean, whether it was cuts for funding because the museum was closed or because you had to relocate or you didn’t have childcare, all of those completely understandable. So that’s the first thing is just not to really stress about that.
And as Wynona was saying, you might take the opportunity, if you find that you’re not seeing a lot of openings for sort of your first choice type of institution or type of a position at an institution, to think a little bit more broadly. So outside of a museum, perhaps you want to consider galleries or auction houses, universities, archives, libraries, other nonprofits that are in tangential fields. If you’re typically in the visual arts, maybe you could pivot to the performing arts or vice versa. So I think just to think a little bit more broadly.
I would also say think, really, about job function, as opposed to just where you’re doing it. So if you’re in marketing, you can do marketing at a museum. You can do marketing at any type of institution. That may be your love and, of course, you want to stay there if you can. But if you’re really in need of work, you’re going to have to expand a bit, and I wouldn’t be too afraid. It is possible to get back. It’s, again, about those transferable skills that you’ve gained from that job function, not necessarily the industry or the place of where you’ve obtained that.
Jane Hsu: I’d just like to add that with a gap year, just own it. Okay? The time you have off, what have you done? Have you [inaudible 00:09:31] the board, on advisory board, committing your community, gone to community meetings, pursued different education? That’s also something that I hear people mention about what they did with their time as they’re pivoting their career.
I’ve also heard people very honest about personal reasons for that gap year. Doesn’t always have to be professional. Helping out a ill relative. That’s why you moved from point A to B. Having kids. You want to take that time to grow your family. That’s okay.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: Excellent. So as we shift a little bit, I think in terms of the application materials, if you have any questions, I will go ahead and flag now that you would go ahead and put those in the Q&A so that we have those as we get towards the end of the session. We really just want to make sure that it’s clear that there’s no technically right or wrong way to prepare your materials, if you were doing honest information-sharing with accurate dates. It’s really important just to be honest in terms of when tenure ended or what roles were.
We also think it’s a good time, as we talked about shifting, to lean into the fact that if you were working, you likely picked up additional duties and responsibilities and perhaps expanded your toolkit at your existing organization. And these are really good things to highlight as you think about next steps.
So let’s talk a little bit about the virtual interview, which couldn’t be any more fun than I’m having right now with my light issue here. So there’s some tips and some pointers for virtual interviewing that we wanted to talk about. By now, everyone’s done it, but clearly, we don’t always do it perfectly. So Laurie and Jane, I’ll let you get started on that.
Laurie Davis: Sure. So I think the good news is thankfully, thank you, medicine and vaccines, we’re starting to move back a bit in person as people feel comfortable. So hopefully, this isn’t going to be forever, although, a lot of places are embracing a remote-first atmosphere, and so, I think that will be… you’ll see fewer people in the office for a long time.
In terms of the virtual interviews, some just real practical tips. Test the microphone first, test the webcam first, make sure you don’t have anything in your teeth. Make sure the lighting is good, the sound is okay. When you first get on, the very first thing you might say is, “Thank you so much. Can you hear me clearly? Can you see me clearly?” Just confirm that with the interviewer. They’ll appreciate that.
Speak clearly. You might want to enunciate a little bit more than you would in person. Remember it’s going to be much harder to read body language via computer than if you were in that room sort of feeling that other person’s energy in terms of when they might pause, when they’re going to want to break in. So be extra conscious of interrupting, letting someone finish their question, make sure they’re ready for your answer before you proceed. If they interject, let them have a moment because it’s easy to sort of trip over one another when, again, you don’t have that in-person body language. And I think just facial expressions or even more important, smile. Let the person feel comfortable and that goes, of course, for the interviewer and the interviewee.
Jane Hsu: Yes and I think it’s always helpful, if you can, to understand who’s going to be on the call, so get a list of names, and what’s wonderful about these Zoom interviews, especially in the group situation, is you have everyone’s name in front of you. So it makes some such a warm greeting and also, as you were speaking through the interview to note the person’s first name. I think that makes a huge difference.
And I also get a lot of questions about writing thank you notes at the end of the interview, mailing them since a lot of people are still working remotely. Just, I know interviews end very quickly. They go by so quickly, but please be sure to leave a little bit of time at the end to give your thank you there and your appreciation for everyone’s time.
Laurie Davis: And I would also still recommend the follow-up email thank you note. You have everybody’s email address. I mean, I just think that follow-up is really critical and just to reemphasize why you’re still really interested, why the interview helped you be even more excited, and helped you realize that your skills could be an even stronger fit than you might have thought originally, et cetera. So definitely do that follow-up thank you note.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: And I’ll just jump in to say we bring different perspectives to this work. So Laurie speaks to someone representing an institution, whereas Jane and I are typically a firm that is partnering with an institution. And if you’re working with a firm, I do think it’s appropriate to note the firm is often your primary contact, so you would send all communication through the firm. Even if you saw the names of the folks on the screen, it would not necessarily be appropriate and when in doubt, just ask. Every situation is different, and we’re always happy to help.
As it relates to other tips that just haven’t been covered I want to expand on, one of the problems with a video interview, as Laurie was suggesting, when you can’t quite read the room is sometimes, you will go too long. It’s really important to be able to pace yourself, answer questions concisely, and kind of pay attention when people are kind of leaving the conversation so that you can govern yourself accordingly. I think that’s really important. One of the most common missteps we have seen in a video interview is being told specifically to take three to four minutes to do something and then taking 10 minutes to answer the question. Not ideal.
We also wanted to talk about how you might interview other people. So our suggestions today are really for job seekers, but we do understand for many people, part of your next career move is that you’re hiring your team or restoring your team, rebuilding your team, and so these pointers certainly have to also be considered from the standpoint of what do you do if you’re doing the interview? And I guess some of the things that we’re really suggesting here is making it clear how much time you have for the process, maybe how many questions you’re hoping to have someone answer. Certainly, tell people if you want them to be prepared to discuss any particular thing in advance, and Jane mentioned that you can normally see everyone’s name at the beginning.
We also think it’s a good idea, folks, take the time to introduce themselves, including the pronunciation of their names. If you’re an institution that likes to reference pronouns in your introductions, we just think it’s a good idea for you all to do that first before you ask the candidate to do the same. That’s really, really helpful.
And in terms of best practices for diverse hiring, I think we’ve covered that in a few potentially different areas, but when it comes to a video interview, everyone should be treated equally in the process, and that’s probably one of our best suggestions, in general, as it relates to equity in the hiring process, but we can talk more about that in just a second.
Let’s go to the next one.
Okay. Before we answer this one, Laurie and Jane, I want to go ahead and maybe grab a question from the chat because it’s about cover letter and resume, which we’ve already done. Okay. So the question is, “What are your thoughts on cover letter and resume length? I’ve come across many conflicting suggestions here. Do your thoughts on length change depending on how long someone has been in the field, i.e. a new applicant, versus 10 years, 15, or whatever.
I’ll answer and then I’ll turn it over to you all. And I would say a cover letter should not really go more than two, at the most three, pages, or you’re writing me a term paper. That’s my opinion on that. And it’s meant to reference what’s in your resumes. You’ve already heard the document’s function as companions, but they are also independent. And I personally do not have a problem with a resume that has some length, but I do think it’s important to know the difference between a CV and a resume. A CV is everything you’ve ever done in the world, and a resume is not. All right?
Laurie, Jane, what are your thoughts?
Laurie Davis: This is a really important question, and the answer is it really varies based on what you’re applying for. Yes, how long you’ve been out in the field matters. If you’re a recent grad, you do not need a four-page resume. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be one page, quite honestly, unless you took a five year gap between high school and college and have a tremendous amount of work experience. But otherwise, you do want to keep it to one page. If you are looking for an academic position or a curatorial position, your resume and cover letter are going to be longer than, say, a finance position in a finance department at an institution or again, marketing or even fundraising.
So you have to sort of know your sector and what the norms are there because it really does vary. I would say the more writing intensive and academic in nature the job function or department is, the longer it’s acceptable to have your document be. Again, though, with a cover letter, I wouldn’t go more than two pages. One and a half is usually perfectly fine. Resume can be a page and a half, two pages. A CV, if someone asks for that, just to be real clear about the difference. Typically again, those are required at universities and some select, very academic-based organizations and nonprofits, but that’s including things like a list of every scholarly article you’ve ever written. It includes references where a resume does not need to include references. It would include all of your academic work, so much, much more thorough, and there’s plenty of examples of that online. But resume, again, if you’re relatively new to the field, one to two pages. If you had extensive experience, three max. You should be able to be concise and highlight the main accomplishments of what you’ve done.
Jane Hsu: Yeah, Laurie, that really covers a lot of it. I was just going to stress with academic positions and curatorial to please prioritize what you’re listing. Let’s say your selected exhibitions and publications. Leave that at the end, and then, it could grow to 10 pages, sure, but prioritize those lists, please.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: Thank you both for those. Those were great tips. And the only other thing I might add that I don’t know if we really stressed is when you review your resume as a candidate thinking about submitting it, make sure it’s clear what you actually did. I know this may sound funny, but it’s not always clear to me how many people someone has supervised, the budget experience, the number of exhibitions they worked on each year, a whole lot of things, so it’s really important that they are accomplishment-based resumes, and that’s really important. Don’t make us hunt for the information. Neither a search firm or Laurie, in her capacity, has the time to try to dig through to find the information. Fair enough, everyone? Okay.
Let’s jump to the salaries and then we’re going to make sure we leave time for questions. We’ll go very quickly through the salary piece. We just thought it was really important, as we’ve talked about reentering the field, that we talk a little bit about salary research. Information around salary transparency has been really important to the field. It’s a topic connected to equity in so many ways. We think it’s important for folks to understand that there are ways to get your arms around what is an appropriate salary.
Many people are now posting the salaries. It’s often required. That’s about salary transparency, letting you see what the range is. It’s not required, so not everyone does it, and that is a different issue than pay equity. So let’s just be clear, we’re talking about salary transparency.
If you are trying to get a sense of what you’re looking for, you have salary surveys at your disposal. Certainly, AAM, an organization that we all love, has done a wonderful job with salary survey that’s broken down by the region. In the museum field, there’s an AAMD survey that’s also sometimes applicable, and some of the other sub-disciplines have them as well.
If you don’t have a salary survey that you think gets you what you need, you can often look at the organization’s public filings, their 990s, typically. They’re only going to list the top five employees, but sometimes, that’s the job you’re looking for and you can figure that out. And I think that’s just really important, so we could maybe… I’ll stop there and let Laurie and Jane give you a little air time before we shift to questions.
Jane Hsu: Only thing I have to add that is there was a spreadsheet going around about a year ago. Some of you may have seen. It’s called the Art and all Museums Salary Transparency Spreadsheet. That is a grassroots document, so there’s nothing verified, so you have to take it a bit with a grain of salt, but there have been people who have said it was very, very useful for them. And I do think it is important when you’re interviewing, really on the interviewer to ask the salary expectations of a candidate before they fully engage with them because you don’t want to go down the path and find out that it’s just… there’s no way that this person would be able to take that salary or on the flip side, that the institution could afford those person’s needs.
But from the candidate’s perspective, I wouldn’t ask, flat out, in a first-run interview, “What’s the salary,” but I do think as you go along the process, it is important that you get your hand around that, but as we said, there’s other resources that you can take advantage of to get a sense of what it should be.
Yes, I also… when you’re interviewing, the employer should not be asking you for your previous salary information in any way. It’s not information that you should feel obliged to provide. [crosstalk 00:22:42]
Laurie Davis: [crosstalk 00:22:42].
Jane Hsu: Yes, you can provide what you may expect for the role you’re interviewing for.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: Excellent. Thank you both for that good feedback. And I would say if there are additional questions around the salary piece, because we know it’s really important, let us know, but I would say before we transition to the next question, it’s really important that you, as the applicant, have a sense of what is your personal range. I think all of us have heard stories of folks that just really felt like they accepted something that was below their personal range, and that’s really not ideal. And so you should kind of know what the range is for the jobs in your area, in that field, and within the discipline. Something as simple as a curator title can have 10 different levels of meeting in a variety of institutions, and it’s really important to think about what it’s reasonable for you to make in that area, and I think that’s really important.
Now, we do have a question in the chat that says, “How certain should you be that you should take a job before you engage in the interview process?” I’ll answer and then turn it back over to Jane and to Laurie to also give their opinions. But I would say that first initial one, I’m okay if you’re 50% curious, right? If you’re not sure, but you’re intrigued, I think it’s fine to have a conversation. If you know that you would never want the job. Let’s say for example, it’s in a town, a state, a neighborhood, or a country that you’re absolutely never going to move to. I think it’s appropriate to not waste anyone’s time. That’s my feedback.
Jane, Laurie, what are your thoughts?
We’re in furious agreement. Okay, excellent. Okay, excellent. I’ll wait to see if we have any additional questions. Flash sessions go really fast. We want to make sure we get as much in.
Okay, two questions from the chat. Okay. I didn’t see them. I’m so sorry. “How far back in time should your resume go or not go, and how important is it for your personal statement to be at the top of the resume, and generally, is a preference for skills-based or chronological?” So I’ll just go and then we’ll give it to you two to kind of say.
Personal statements are kind of outdated. You don’t see them as often. They’re typically not really necessary or used. I do think it’s important to list in chronological order. Remember what we said before about a hunt. Don’t make me hunt to figure out what’s going on and just address the gaps. There is nothing wrong about having a gap in employment, and people should not make assumptions around it. That’s biased, and so it’s important for you to feel free to just list it in a way that we can clearly understand it.
Jane, Laurie, what are your thoughts?
Laurie Davis: So I’ll take each one of these here. In terms of the personal statement, again, I really actually hate when there’s a massive paragraph of a statement at the top. It’s just paragraphs are so overwhelming when you’re trying to go through a lot of resumes and just get the main bullet points. If you want an objective at the top or sort of a positioning statement that’s a one-liner just to sort of make it very clear, especially if you are a career-changer, that can be quite useful. So to leverage my experience in XYZ and transition into the field of blank, that can be, “Oh, okay, I get it.” Right from the top, this person really wants to enter this, but what I’m about to see might look a little bit different or unusual. So that can be helpful.
In terms of how far back the resume should go, I mean, we don’t need to know that you were a babysitter when you were 14. You really… it should be your professional experience, but again, this depends. If you are 22 and recently graduated, then your college experience in the internships or whatever volunteering and work experiences you had are going to be quite relevant. If you’re in your 40s, your college experience at this point, just list your degree. We don’t need to know that you were the head of your sorority social club in college. Just throwing out examples.
So, I think the answer is, it varies. I’ve also seen it happen where people will give the most amount of bullets or time on their resume or real estate, as I would call it, to the more relevant positions and still list the other ones, which is the date, the title, the name of the organization, but one, if any, bullets at all, just so we’re like, “Okay, I get it. This person started out as an accountant and then eventually went back to grad school.” Again, make it easy, as Wynona said.
Definitely agree with chronological. The one thing I will say within that is it’s okay to use headings that break that up a little bit. I’ll give you an example. If the very last job that you had was very irrelevant to the job you’re going for, but the job you had before that you really want to feature on top and you don’t want to do this too much and get scattered, but you can say “arts experience” or “relevant experience” and list those one or two jobs in reverse chronological and then “additional experience” or “volunteer experience” and list those below [inaudible 00:27:29]. So within each section, you’re still always in reverse chronological, most recent going backwards in time. But sometimes, someone just has a job that they really want to stand out that may have been a little bit tucked in. So if you want to feature that, there is a way to do it.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: And I’ll just note in the chat here. We’ve got a couple of questions here. Someone has asked for that salary spreadsheet. We can’t… I don’t… I think we have it and can post it, but I will warn you all. I’ve checked it because it’s come up and have found errors in it. It’s not necessarily accurate. The 990s are your best bet, but I do know they don’t go back that far, so use it with caution because I think it’s got great things on it and other things.
Jane, we had a question here about headshot. Are you on board with yes or no for a headshot? That’s in the chat.
Jane Hsu: No, it’s not necessary.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: And then I had something here about what do you do about bias around being a 50 plus candidate being rejected as being overqualified? I don’t know if there’s enough time in a flash session to cover that sort of thing, but I would say it’s appropriate to make sure that your resume is fitting the position. So if you have a level of skills and qualifications that’s overwhelming, this is maybe where you take that CV and tool it down to a resume and then very clearly in your cover letter, speak to why you want the job and then have a conversation if you feel as though you were not really given fair consideration to understand if there’s other elements about the process that led to the decision.
Okay. What’s the best way to list an organization if you’ve worked in multiple departments. Laurie, did you cover that one?
Laurie Davis: I didn’t, but I certainly can, and I think [inaudible 00:29:02] an important thing to do. So typically, what we would recommend [inaudible 00:29:09]… Wynona, can you just… because [inaudible 00:29:12].
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: Sorry.
Laurie Davis: That’s okay. So let’s say, for example, you worked at the Guggenheim, so you would put Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, and the overall dates that you were there, 2015 to the present. Most recent job title, right, talent acquisition specialist, and the dates you have that with a couple of bullets. Then, the previous title before that with those specific dates and a couple of bullets, et cetera. So that’s one way to do it.
The other, sometimes, people just sort of put the name of the institution. It depends if they were all concurrent or if there was a break in between. You worked at the Guggenheim, you went somewhere else and came back, then you would list the institution twice. But if it was the same place, three different titles or three different departments, just list the name of institution once, each title, and the relevant bullet points for that.
We are at 6:00.
Wynona Lynch-McWhite: Yes, we are, and I think they’re going to stop us soon, so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to continue to answer the chat. I apologize that there’s not enough time to give due diligence to every single wonderful question. I want to thank the person who pasted the site in the chat for those that were looking for it, and I hope that we’ve answered all of your questions, but the next slide, if someone could advance to that, does have our contact information. We’re always happy to support and answer questions. And, of course, our bios and all that are linked, if you have any questions, but the most important thing to know is to reset your materials, both print and social media, and be ready to engage in the process in what’s not so much of a new environment, but definitely a changed environment than it was before COVID.
Best of luck in your searches and your work and thank you so much for your time and for being with us this afternoon. Enjoy the rest of the conference.
Catherine: Hey, thank you guys. This is Katherine from AAM. I’m going to go ahead and stop the recording now.