You’ll Never Walk Alone: Navigating a Twisty Heritage Career Path

Policy Letters of Advice - Debate 2023

Dear Colleague,

I’ve been thinking about career choices recently. It’s almost exactly twenty years since I left my job as European and Overseas Co-ordinator at the National Trust to run a ski lodge in the French Alps.
Careers in heritage are often quite twisty and that wasn’t the only time I gave up a ‘dream job’ to take another path. I wish I could say they were well thought-out, calculated choices. But they were probably more lion-hearted and opportunistic. With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been helpful to talk through these crossroad moments with someone. So here are some thoughts about how to navigate your own route.

Firstly, get a mentor! It’s impossible to underestimate the value of someone to talk to about this kind of stuff. Someone who can share their knowledge, skills and experience and steer you through any challenges as your career progresses.

Secondly, keep learning! Growth is one of my top values. For me that’s about learning new things, exploring new places and building good habits. In a work context it’s about creating the conditions for others to grow, both individuals and organisations.

To that end, I’m really excited about our new development programme for leaders in global heritage. INTO Heritage Leaders responds to the needs of our member organisations. Many have evolved organically, often due to the passion of a single individual and there’s a need to grow leadership skills amongst the next generation. We also heard that existing leaders are not always able to access the training they need. And then there’s just the great opportunity of learning from an international network.
So, my last piece of advice is to network! Well, I am in the networking business.

If, like the younger me, you’ve ever felt a slight shudder at the sight of ‘networking’ on an agenda, or if you’ve looked at a pile of business cards and wondered, who, where, what? You might want to think about a networking strategy.

There are loads of great resources about building your professional network. Key for me are: networking with the right people (research and focus!); don’t be a selfish networker (make sure you give support and advice as well as take); keep in touch (once you’ve made a connection, remember to stay in contact).
And it’s not just about networking in real life. Social media is a great way to create and maintain networks. Webinar chat is good too. You might want to join an existing network (like The Heritage Alliance!) or create your own network with a particular theme or purpose. Becoming a trustee is also a good route to expanding networks and learning.

James Lees-Milne, who ran the National Trust’s Country Houses Scheme in the 1940s famously said ‘I think if I searched the whole world, there is no job I would rather have’. I tend to agree with him, but we all face different crossroads at different times so it’s good to be prepared!

Catherine Leonard
Secretary General, International National Trusts Organisation