Dear First-Time Heritage Job-Seekers,
First, congratulations on deciding to work in this sector! Finding a job in heritage can be very difficult, but once you find a role in the sector that you enjoy it can be incredibly rewarding.
As someone who only recently landed their first paid position in heritage, I hope that I can be helpful in offering a little advice. After years of voluntary work in various parts of the sector I have now been in my current paid role as Museum Assistant for just over a year, and this has offered me a number of learning opportunities and insights into the sector.
I do not really have an academic background in heritage which I was worried would hold me back, and if you’re worrying about that too I would say that the sector is changing and that there are now far more routes into working in heritage. Often the various experiences, both paid and unpaid, and professional and personal, that you gather prior to getting your first heritage job inform your perspective on the sector and can be equally as important as academic qualifications, if not more so.
For example, you may think that because I work for a museum that handles music heritage that I would have experience with musical history, but you would be mistaken. Something that set me apart from other candidates for this role was that I had my own take on the museum and its collections. In my interview I was honest about my lack of music history knowledge, but clear that I felt musical history was, in many ways, social history. I explained that this perspective allows me to access the collections and their meaning in different ways, and thus encourage the museum’s audiences to do the same. Once I got the role I was permitted to utilise this to create a series of regular informal talks to highlight the many histories that our collections and building relate to, including the social history of music workshops, fashion at eighteenth-century concerts, and the history of Edinburgh’s Old Town. This has brought new audiences to our museum that previously had not considered visiting, and all of this was due to my championing of my own unique perspective on what histories we choose to share.
I hope that what this evidences is that it is important to remember that your viewpoint is a unique and important part of selling yourself as a heritage worker. So much of museum work is about including and listening to different opinions and lived experiences, and so you and your personal perspective are an important part of the kind of museum worker that you will become.
I know that this is advice that I wish I had received prior to the many applications I made while job-hunting, and so I hope that you might find it useful in your own search.
I wish you the best of luck in your applications!
Museum Assistant, St Cecilia’s Hall & Music Museum