I’ve done all the right things so why can’t I get work in heritage?

I really wanted to work in heritage, so I quite my insurance job and went out and got a History degree. I decided to also do a masters in History, which I'm just finishing.

Along the way I volunteered for the National Trust, Strawberry Hill House and an archive. I also worked two summers at The Royal Collection to gain some experience to help me get a job when I finished.

However, I've been applying for quite a few jobs recently and I'm struggling to even get interviews for positions. Is there any advice you can give me? Although I'm open to internships I can't undertake an unpaid one as I took out a career development loan to complete my master's which I need to start paying back shortly.

— Clare Skinner

Expert answers

Fiona West's reply:

The Heritage sector is highly competitive and it can seem difficult to get a step in the door.  But that does not mean it’s impossible to secure the job you want.

What sort of roles are you going for?  In the first instance you need to be clear on the specific role you want to obtain.  Then look at what the recruiter is seeking from an individual employed in that role (the job description should be quite clear on that).  Does your education and career experience match (as close as possible) to their requirements?  If not, where are there gaps and how might you plug those in order to make yourself more aligned to their needs in future?

In addition, when you write your covering statement / application letter what are you saying in it?  Applicants often talk about why a job would be good for them.  But the employer is more interested, at this stage, to know what they would gain from hiring this individual.  To give yourself an edge, it may be worth looking at providing them with details about how it would benefit them to have you on their team; linking this to the skills they are seeking and how your experience matches these needs.  This makes life a lot easier for a recruiter if you’ve clearly shown them how you meet the jobs’ needs and what you can bring to their organisation.

I note you mention the idea of internships.  It is worth noting that a number of the national museums offer paid internships; so do look at these as they may give you the chance to gain the skills and experience you need to secure a more permanent post.  These are likely to be advertised on their web pages.

Don’t give up hope with this.  You are already doing a lot of things to make yourself interesting to heritage employers (volunteering and summer work).  In addition to this you may want to see if there are any heritage networking events in your area where you can make yourself known.  The Heritage Lottery Fund have an events and networking page which may be of interest.  The Museum Association is also worth checking out for information and advice on events and conferences. 

It may take time but it is possible to secure a job in the Heritage sector.    May I wish you every success with this.

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