If you are a recent graduate, looking at job specifications can be daunting. While you may be lacking in direct experience of working in the museum sector, it is likely that you have been developing many of the required skills, competencies and attributes throughout your adult life. Many of the most highly valued skills are transferable – they can be developed in one role and in one industry, yet are able to be deployed in almost any scenario.
Some of the skills most commonly sought by employers include communication, team-working ability, honesty and integrity, and time management. When I was first applying for museum jobs, I was able to find evidence that I could do all three from settings that had nothing to do with museums whatsoever. For me, university and my part-time job at Morrisons had proved to be environments where such skills could reach fruition. Let me show you how I would demonstrate (whether on application forms or at interview) to potential employers that I had some of the above skills, from examples limited to just those two non-museum environments.
I really did hate working at Morrisons, but it was a great place to develop some mean communication skills. The below example might contain some embellishments, but it is indicative of the sort of processes that all (competent) retail workers go through every working day.
I was working on the returns desk when a visibly upset woman approached me with mostly-cooked chicken carcass. It had been sold to her as being without its giblets. However, after cutting into it after it had been cooking, the woman discovered that the chicken still had all of its insides. Not only was this unsightly, it also caused a foul smell to permeate the rest of the meat, and her kitchen at large. Her and her family’s meal had been ruined.
I apologised profusely, and employed active listening and an empathetic stance throughout to let her know that my concern was genuine. Offering her a refund, I also asked her if she would like to speak to a manager and for me to lodge a formal request for a customer complaint investigation.
By demonstrating sympathy and the fact that the company was taking her complaint seriously, her upset diminished significantly as I processed the refund. She remained shopping at Morrisons, and over the next months I was able to develop a strong rapport with the customer.
When I apply for jobs now, I may well use more recent and more museum-based examples to demonstrate my strong communication skills. The above example, however, remained my work horse for a good few years.
Time Management Skills
My experience of holding down a part-time job while studying is far from unique, and I don’t know many people who made it through university without having to work to support themselves financially. Balancing study with work wasn’t always the easiest thing to do, but I just about managed it. I still use some of the time management techniques that I leant along the way. See below what I did:
Over the Christmas break during my Master’s Degree, I was required to complete a number of assignments totalling 20,000 words. I had been working part-time at Morrisons during term time, and was due to work full-time for three weeks during the holiday period.
I knew about the essays in advance so planned ahead to make sure I had enough time, and started work on them as soon as I could. However, while monitoring my progress I noticed that I was starting to fall behind.
As I could not feasibly put in any more hours on the assignments than I had been already, I decided to prioritise my university work over my paid employment. With sufficient notice, I asked my line manager at Morrisons if I could work only two weeks full-time, and revert to my regular part-time schedule for the final week after Christmas as this would be a relatively quiet time for the shop.
My line manager agreed to my request as I had given her plenty of notice. As a result, I had enough time to finish all of my assignments, and achieved the highest grade of distinction level for three out of four of them.
I could go on with more examples for more skills, but I think you get the picture.
Of course, the above examples are specific to me – but each and every one of you will have developed transferable skills over the courses of your lives which will be appropriate to museum work.
Do you work as a visitor services assistant? Then the chances are you will have to deal with unreasonably upset or angry members of the public. You will have demonstrated strong verbal communication skills, but also a diplomatic approach and an ability to manage stakeholder expectations – essential qualities for all sorts of other museum roles. You will also see first hand how objects are exhibited for a public audience, and what works and what doesn’t. That will be really important if you want to work in interpretation, exhibitions or as a curator. Were you involved in running a university society? You probably know more than you think about administration and project management. Are you a parent? Then you probably have a strong understanding of children’s educative needs, multitasking and budget management. Have you ever been a carer? Then you may have valuable insights into the needs of less able museum visitors.
If you ever think you don’t have the skills you see as criteria on a job specification, then think of your wider life experience outside of museums. Unless you are being asked for a very specialised skill, the chances are you will have them in abundance.