Can I change careers and move into heritage?

I am 36 years old, but a few months ago I was made redundant from my office job where I had worked for 15 years. I am looking for some advice please on how I can break into the heritage sector, as my passion is English history.

I am interested in working in or for one of England's historic buildings and/or museums. My obvious question is: have I left it too late? But I am mindful also of any qualifications I may need to get (I do have a degree, but not in a related subject).

Equally, I may be able to use skills that I acquired in my last job.

Being made redundant has made me take stock and think about what I want to do next with my working life. Any tips/suggestions would be great. I would consider voluntary work, but obviously an income is important.

Thanks and regards.


— Phil

Expert answers

Fiona West's reply:

It is always possible to change careers and to successfully make a move into a new role, and in today’s modern world it should, technically, never be too late. 

To achieve it, it’s worth identifying what you specifically want to do within the heritage sector. Knowing this will enable you to identify what knowledge and skills you may need for your new career and help you consider how you can develop these if they are currently missing from your work experience.

Naturally, you will have transferrable skills from your past role. It’s therefore useful to look at what they are:

  • what did you do in your previous role?
  • what skills and knowledge did you need (or did you develop) in order to undertake that role?
  • what are you good at?
  • what interests you? Don’t forget to think about hobby related areas as many people in heritage find their passion is both a hobby and their job.

Then consider… where do you want to go in your career?

  • what are you seeking to do?
  • what do you enjoy doing and what don’t you like doing?
  • what motivates you?
  • what do you most value?
  • are your preferences (for motivation and values) 'must haves' or 'would like to have'?  For example if you know you 'must' earn a specific salary then that would impact on the roles you’d be looking at.

After that it is advisable to think about what knowledge and skills are required in the new sector/role you are wishing to move to? Look at the websites of heritage organisations and view their job vacancy pages to identify what experience and qualifications they tend to seek. 

In addition, the National Museum Directors' Council (NMDC) website has a jobs page which features a variety of roles across a number of museums in the UK. This may prove useful in order to gauge the types of roles on offer and the requirements for these.

From this, you will be able to identify what they need, what you can do and (as mentioned) where there are gaps which you need to address in order to make the switch.

Finally, many heritage organisations have volunteer programmes, covering a variety of roles, and most will have details about this on their website. Applying to be a volunteer is a good idea in order to gain experience in the sector, but to also find out whether it is the route you want to go down.

Good luck with the new career. I hope it all goes well.

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