Let’s talk about identity, transferable skills, life after museums, and thriving.

THE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF INDIANAPOLIS | PHOTO: NATHANIEL EDMUNDS PHOTOGRAPHY

It’s now the end of June and we’re watching helplessly as the second wave of #museumlayoffs is hitting our community and impacting thousands, many of whom are dear friends, colleagues... ourselves. This post is inspired by others who have had the foresight to share their stories, wisdom, and offers to help. I am in no way the first.

Last summer, after over 9 years serving at my museum in various positions, I left my career as a museum social media manager. In 2019 I applied to 48 non-museum jobs. FORTY-EIGHT. I’ve learned a lot about believing in myself, my skills, my value, and my true ability. I’ve now lived nearly one year “on the outside.” In that time I was rejected 18 times, turned down offers 4 times, contracted with three times, hired twice, fired once. I learned lessons, turned into a bad ass, gathered smart people around me, and built my own successful digital marketing agency that has now grown to an incredible nine-person team.

All this to say, you can do this. Whether or not you take a similar path to mine, there are certainly lessons I’ve learned that you can take with you into your next chapter.

It’s jarring when you suddenly have your museum job title ripped from you. There’s a period of loss, even grief. Accept this. You’re not being dramatic. You worked your ass off in that job, and for next to nothing.

But know that the title doesn’t define you.

  • Your friends and colleagues will not suddenly forget the work you’ve done during your time at the museum. You did that, and can still be proud of it, whether or not you still have the title.
  • You get to decide how involved you want to be in the museum field from now on. Want to step away completely? Sure. Want to stay plugged in and engaged, no matter where your path takes you? Do it!
  • Your skills don’t disappear because your title did. That brings us to the next thing I learned…

All of that stress your way-more-than-40-hour-a-week museum job caused you will pay off. Promise. (Hopefully it will literally pay off and come with higher salary too, because you deserve it.)

Get over the idea that your “museum experience” is wasted time.

  • Really, your time in museums can be resume gold. It’s just all about how you present it, both on paper and verbally in interviews. Get confident about transparently and concisely explaining your transition out of museums. It’s okay. It’s a freaking pandemic. You’re a bad ass.
  • Across every department, museums produce the hardest working, resourceful, deep thinking, mission-driven multi-taskers. Consider what specific and broad skill-sets you now have that can be applied to other roles. Then hone in on your four strongest, finding specific examples and quantifiable results that came out of these skills during some of your proudest museum moments. Live and breathe these examples for your interviews.
  • Check out this Museum Hack article on why museum employees make great hires. It can inspire you as you consider some of your own transferable skills. Redesign your resume in a format that best shows off your skills and successes, rather than the jobs themselves. This article from Glassdoor can help get you started.

When you leave a job that you love at a museum, the options can seem really dizzying. Or also limiting. Here are just a few of the amazing things that could happen in a life after museums.

  • Apply your same skills in a for-profit job surrounded by nice people who are doing challenging, fun work. Make twice as much money doing it.
  • Add up those years of non-profit experience; earn a higher-level and better paying role at a non-profit that can better support your skill set.
  • Join a broader consultancy where your focus is on your area of expertise, advising organizations beyond museums.
  • Build your online brand around your niche passion and skills. Establish an LLC and begin freelancing for non-museum projects.
  • Consider local or online universities where you could do adjunct teaching for certain programs or classes.
  • Write about your experiences. Publish your thoughts. Don’t be limited by your association with your organization.

You’re surrounded by friends and colleagues who wants you to succeed — whether it’s within the field, peripheral to it, or outside of it. And right now, we’re all in this together. Take a deep breath. Then share your status and your particular skills with your networks as publicly as you can. Let people help you. Get connected.

Remember. The challenges inherent to the museum field have prepared you to be the most bad ass of bad asses. You’ve got this. And you will thrive.

Co-founder @1909Digital. Online community + social media + digital marketing strategist. Teaching @JHUMuseumStudies. #musesocial #glamwiki