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Managing Your Museum Career During Crisis

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Updated 12/16/2020

The COVID-19 crisis has had a broad impact on the museum profession and has affected thousands of people working in the museum field. In this section, find information specifically related to professional growth and change during the crisis, as well as comprehensive links to the Alliance’s evergreen museum career content. Whether you’re searching for a museum job, seeking a digital internship, thinking about a degree in museum studies, or building your network, the resources below can help you as you manage your career during the pandemic.

Keeping up with professional practices

It is always a good idea to pursue professional development, but during these turbulent times, it is even more important to stay apprised of trends and best practices in the field. Many organizations are offering free or reduced-cost webinars, conferences, and classes. AAM’s professional development resources offer a wealth of content on managing your museum career, not to mention Professional Members can access all of our Professional Network webinars for free. Seeking a digital internship is also a great way to keep your skills up-to-date. The AAM Museum Studies Network has compiled a list of digital internships being offered by museums across the country.

Job hunting during COVID

What can you do if you’ve been furloughed? You might think about taking on some side jobs or utilizing your skills to help your community. While it’s always a good idea to know your strengths and skills, now it is more important than ever to understand where and how those skills might apply to other areas of museum practice or fields. Consider creating a profile on MuseumExpert.org, a website dedicated to connecting museum professionals who have been furloughed or laid off with immediate contract or full-time job opportunities.

While many museum jobs have been reduced during the pandemic, opportunities in the field still exist – and others may become available when museums are able to safely reopen in their communities. Consider working remotely on contract for a period of time to decide if a particular organization is a good fit. AAM’s JobHQ can help when searching for a new job. And knowing your own skills and value is critical, so take inventory.

Remember that most people in the museum field are very generous with their time and talents. LinkedIn, Museum Junction, and AAM’s Professional Networks are great sources of information and places to post questions and stay in the loop about what’s happening in the field. Networking and leveraging those connections are especially important now, particularly for learning about newly available opportunities. Try making a list of who you know and make sure to stay in touch with them. If you are interested in employment at a particular museum or company, consider searching for “friends of friends” on LinkedIn who may work there or be able to make connections on your behalf or, if you feel comfortable, reach out directly to people who work at that museum to express your interest so they get to know you.

It may be that you will need to find a job outside the museum field, or in a different area of the field than you had been in (i.e., the commercial sector). Your skills are transferable in many areas but you may need to rethink how you market them to really make the most of the opportunities available. Take a look at this resource on what to do when your museum job is terminated. This document is especially important for those just learning of a layoff who might still have some negotiating power.

Polish your resume, but keep the formatting simple since a lot of larger museums use software to help them sift through the mountains of resumes they receive. Customize both your resume and your cover letter for each position to which you apply and make sure you use the keywords listed in the position announcement.

Interviewing will look quite different during this time, with most conducted via phone or videoconference. Make sure you check to ensure your technology is fully charged and in good working order when you sign-in for your interview. Choose your space carefully, and dress professionally. As is always important, do your research beforehand and make sure you rehearse and know the museum or organization you’re interviewing with so you can answer and ask questions thoughtfully. And, most important, be patient.

Recruiters are navigating new processes for interviewing and hiring candidates so things might take quite a bit longer than usual and we’ve all experienced a technical glitch or two, try to stay calm during those times.

Financial implications for those affected/financial relief

The Alliance has a useful set of resources designed for museum workers who need financial plans for riding out the pandemic, whether you are presently employed (but have new, additional financial obligations like an unemployed spouse or need to take care of a loved one) or if you are currently under-employed.

How to help others who have been affected

Several organizations have developed financial relief for those in need. If you are financially able to, consider making a donation to these funds supporting museum professionals who have been furloughed or laid off.

Also, reach out to current or former colleagues to check in every once in a while. We all know this crisis has had a broad impact on the field and we’ve all been affected in different ways. Offering everyone a little grace will go a long way!

Resources

Attendees of the 2020 AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo can view a recording of the “Managing your museum career through COVID-19” session, (also available for purchase through the full session recordings for those who weren’t able to attend).

AAM has compiled a set of “Financial relief and resources for museum workers” to help those directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alliance Blog and the Center for the Future of Museums blog also cover topics of labor and career management:

Harvard Business Review has put together a set of resources to help professionals Ascend to the next level in their career.

Katherine McNamee, Director of Human Resources at AAM, and Ryan Bourke, Director of Member Services at AAM, present on job search and career development resources available on the American Alliance of Museums website in this MuseumExpert webinar.

The Leadership Matters blog, by Joan Baldwin, has several posts that are relevant to overall leadership issues, including this one on “Place Holder or Leader: What’s the Interim’s Role?

The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network is a great place to get ideas about future work if you are just entering the museum profession.

The When You Work at a Museum blog published this post on “So You Think You Want to Work in a Museum” that discusses the many areas of museum work.

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