Job searching is never a pleasant or an easy experience. My master’s program requires that I complete a twelve-week internship, so my summer job search was geared towards work in a museum, heritage site, archive, etc. Here are some tips while job hunting in the public history sector.
Funding will always be an issue. Many internships in the public history sector are unpaid, or the salary is determined by how much external funding the organization receives. In the public history sector, be prepared to volunteer to gain experience, or be patient while waiting for potential employers to receive grant approvals. This is frustrating for individuals who can’t afford to work for free (myself included). I heard from one small gallery that said they would love to have me, but only on a volunteer basis. I also met with the director of a small museum in downtown London, who had applied for government funding to hire two summer students; unfortunately, he was not going to hear about his funding approval until the beginning of May. I like to secure my options as early as possible, and May was too long for me to wait for a potential opportunity.
A willingness to relocate and access to transportation are advantageous when looking for jobs in the public history sector. Since jobs can be few and far between, the ability to relocate is often crucial, even if the location isn’t entirely desirable. While having to relocate entirely is necessary in some cases, another point to keep in mind is that many heritage sites are located in inconvenient places (for example, London’s Fanshawe Pioneer Village is situated outside London proper and can only be reached by car). Owning a vehicle and being able to commute greatly increases your realm of potential employers.
I had official interviews for two positions this summer, and while they were very different in nature (one being a phone interview with a huge institution, Library and Archives Canada; the other, an interview with the curator and manager of a small museum, the Oil Museum of Canada), they had a common thread. Both the large institution and the small museum asked what skills and interests I would be bringing to the job. Prepare a good response for this question, and keep in mind what you personally will bring to the job and outline your major skills. This is a chance to differentiate yourself from other applicants, and make it clear why you should be hired.
Job hunting is never easy, and public history presents its own unique challenges. I hope this blog post has outlined some of the best approaches to adopt while looking for public history jobs. Thankfully, I have secured a position with the Oil Museum of Canada for the summer. So there is hope in the public history sector! I look forward to writing more blogs about my internship experience.