Launching Your Cultural Heritage Career in 2015
As we move into the New Year, career planning is often at the forefront of folks thinking. I have posted before about career opportunities in the cultural heritage sector. In the guest post below Ariana Carella offers some solid advice on this process. I first met Ariana as the enthusiastic and very helpful voice at the Information Center of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Over our couple years of phone and email contact, I came to know Ariana as an articulate, passionate, and solution-driven individual. Although a loss to the AAM, I was certainly not surprised that one year ago Ariana was hired as the Membership Manager of the environmental advocacy group Rachel’s Network.
In the past, Ariana shared her resume and application cover letter with my students as examples for how they might craft their own application package. Below, Ariana responds to my question of how to make an individual’s application package stand out from the other 100 or more an employer receives for desirable positions.
Getting Noticed in the Job Seeking Process
When I was working in the American Alliance of Museums’ Information Center, I read articles about job-seeking for consideration in the online Career Management Resources library. Most of the materials I read were lengthy essays or narratives, which can be hard to synthesize into a resume. The resource library is a great reference tool, but the articles usually didn’t address the heart and soul of applying for a job, that an effective job-seeking process should be a personal one.
Throughout my career, I’ve had conversations with people in the museum community who have shared insights about managing their careers. Below are some of the tips I consider important, which can be used alongside other job-seeking resources:
- Research, research, research. It is essential to research a prospective employer to give you a sense of the organization’s culture, mission, and how you fit might in. Go to the website, read annual reports, and talk to former and current employees. You can also review the organization’s financial viability by looking up their 990 tax form on Guidestar. The more you learn about the organization, the better you can tailor your resume and cover letter to demonstrate your compatibility. If the only tailoring you’re doing to your cover letter is changing the organization’s name, you are not doing enough work. Your resume and cover letter is the beginning of a conversation you will have with a potential employer, and it is fairly evident to those reading a stack of resumes who has or hasn’t done their homework. In some cases, after doing some research, you may decide an organization is not a good fit for you or your career goals.
- Your resume is not a complete representation of your career. One tip I received early on: you will need two resumes during the job application process. The first one is a comprehensive resume, which includes every aspect of work you’ve ever done, including volunteering, certifications, etc. The second resume is what you actually send. Use your comprehensive resume to curate the story you want to tell your future employer. Does the job you’re applying to require strong research skills? Which experiences demonstrate that? Do you see any trends in your qualifications and experiences? In my case, I wanted to tell a story of a person with a strong customer service ethic, so I pulled out aspects of my work history from a varied career, which included working at a bank, at a student union, and AAM. The key is to make it easy for the people reviewing your resume to do their job. That may mean leaving out projects you cared deeply about, but aren’t relevant or important enough to share with this particular employer. Put on your HR hat and consider your resume from their perspective. Don’t make them struggle to draw connections between your experience and the work required for the job. Do the work for them!
- Your resume is not your cover letter. The two pieces work in tandem with each other, but they should never be the same. My resume aims to prove why I’m qualified for the job; it’s a catalogue of relevant tasks, responsibilities, achievements. My cover letter is an opportunity to explain why I’d be a good fit for the organization. For instance, in my resume, I may state that I helped launched a new website as part of a Web team, listing a variety of associated tasks (e.g., copyediting content, managing data migration). In my cover letter, I could then build on that story and say that my experience on teams makes me a good fit for the small nonprofit I’m applying to.
- One-on-one conversations. I cannot stress enough the importance of mentorship and one-on-one guidance. Whenever possible, meeting with someone to discuss your skills is 100 times more helpful than any available online resource. You may have strengths you don’t know are strengths. You may not feel comfortable speaking about those strengths with confidence and conviction. An outside perspective can help illuminate the things you do best and the things you are most passionate about in your work. And these conversations can also help you prepare for the interview, allowing you to practice speaking assuredly and effectively about yourself. Reaching out to my network of former colleagues and Professional Network leaders about my goals helped me structure my thoughts for my resume, cover letter, and interview. Contacts from my network graciously shared their resumes and approaches with me, and their samples helped me finesse a good format and style. Moreover, in opening up a conversation with them, these contacts were then aware of my skills, and when they heard about jobs that may suit me, passed along those opportunities. In some cases, they had the ability and inclination to put in a good word, where they had their own contacts.
The process will take a lot of hard work and time, but simply crossing off items from a resume-writing checklist is not enough. At the end of the day, your job is where you are going to spend most of your waking time. Clarifying what work you like, where you want to work, and what skills you want to develop may seem like a waste of time or too “squishy” and introspective. But doing this hard work will allow your strengths and personality to shine through in every aspect of the job application process. This preparation is the infrastructure of your career pipeline.
I couldn’t be where I am without the help of many people, who contributed different aspects to my job-seeking process. More often than not, people truly want to help you succeed. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. So, I encourage you to speak up, reach out to your network, and ask for guidance!
You can contact Ariana via her LinkedIn Page.