Sean Halliman, gallery attendant

 22 April 2013

Sean Halliman entered heritage on a work placement and learnt skills on the job. He's now a gallery attendant, working closely with visitors – even greeting royal guests.

Gallery Attendant, Sean Halliman, provides customer service to all museum visitors - including the Duchess of Cornwall. Image: Sean Halliman
Gallery Attendant, Sean Halliman, provides customer service to all museum visitors - including the Duchess of Cornwall. Image: Sean Halliman

What is your home town?

I was born in Jamaica in the Caribbean. I now live in Hoxton.

What is your job?

I'm a Gallery Attendant at the Geffrye Museum and my main job is to help visitors.

What qualifications or courses did you do?

I was on a Performing Arts course for a year, where I got a certificate for my work. I went on to do a BTEC in Sports Science at Hackney Community College.

"I get the opportunity to do projects that look good on my CV and I've built up so many skills."

At the weekends, I attended education sessions at the Geffrye Museum, and that's when I got really interested in working there.

I applied for a two week placement through my school, when my teacher told me about the opportunity. I was working on the front desk, opening letters and welcoming people. I also tracked visitor numbers and helped the catering team set up their food stand.

There were a lot of transferrable skills that I learnt on the job. I know how to fax, shred and photocopy documents properly. Working with different departments and people developed my social skills.

I used my written English skills in the office tasks. Through the experience, I improved my punctuation and I learnt how to write and communicate better.

I continued at the Geffrye Museum part-time after the placement, as a Trainee. My head-teacher even announced it in the assembly. I helped out in the office and I managed the Quiz desk. This was where I gave young people fun tasks to do around the museum.

"It's my job to reassure visitors that everything is going to be okay."

The part-time work at the Geffrye Museum helped as I needed flexible hours. I worked full time from 9.15am to 5.15pm everyday, except for Wednesday and Monday, which I had as holidays.

I am now working full-time as Gallery Attendant.

What does your job include?

In this job, I work on the front desk and in public areas, directly communicating with visitors. I'm helping them to understand the museum by giving them tours and telling them about the collection. My job is also to help keep the collections safe and untouched.

You need to show very good customer service skills. I go to schools and events to advertise all the opportunities that the museum is offering to young people.

I get to work with young people on the youth panel advisory board. This is a group of young people who meet up in the evenings and organise youth events and exhibitions for the museum.

It's a good job as you get to work behind the scenes of a museum. You have responsibilities, like communicating with customers on the front desk, but you also get to volunteer for fun and free stuff.

What's the best part of the job?

I like to communicate with people. The main thing about working with the public is being prepared.

You can find yourself speaking to people from different countries, or people who speak different languages. To give them the best level of service, I have to talk slowly and clearly so that everyone understands.

I get to smile in my job and be myself. There are people who have problems and it's my job to reassure visitors that everything is going to be okay. When they have someone who communicates with them properly, they can be happy.

What's the worst part of the job?

When I first started and I was doing different tasks everyday, I found it difficult to overcome my shyness. When I was under pressure to talk to foreign visitors, all I could say was "hello".

I've since improved on my language skills and did a public speaking course. The training session took place on the weekend for four hours, and it was here that I learnt about good customer service.

We did presentations in front of museum staff and got advice. I got the best advice: 'Smile — if you're grumpy, they'll be grumpy'.

What are your tips for getting into heritage?

My top three tips that I've learnt are:

1. Engage with people to build up your skills

If this means you volunteer or get a part-time job in customer service, you should try it out to get the experience.

It's important to connect with the people you speak with. You're the first person they see, so you have to be happy and motivated, as that leaves the biggest impact.

2. Understand the importance of your job

The job is to work with the public and if you're unsure about the museum, they'll be unsure about it too. It's my job to reassure visitors that everything is going to be okay. 

You can achieve this by understanding your environment. I worked with a curator who told me to get a book and learn about the history of the items you want to talk about.

3. Respect your team

It is important to work as a team. Sometimes you need someone to help you.

Why is heritage important?

Heritage had a great impact on me when I was in education. I was contributing to the museum's operations while on the placement, and I was also given a voice by the youth panel. 

"I got the best advice: 'Smile — if you're grumpy, they'll be grumpy'."

It was great when our work was used in exhibitions. I was part of a digital storytelling event called Poetic Licence - Flames Reflection and our films were shown in Parliament.

The youth opportunities also gave me the chance to meet Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. I was chosen by the museum to to stand outside and greet her. There were bodyguards and police all over the place. I shook Camilla's hand and gave her a present. It was a book and mug from the gift shop.

In 2012, I was at the Tower of London and the Chelsea Flower Show.

Being involved in heritage is different. Everyone nowadays thinks that it's boring. But it's not.

I get the opportunity to do projects that look good on my CV and I've built up so many skills. Heritage is a great place for young people to grow.


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