My museum career string of dead-end jobs is over. It will take me a while to be okay with closing that chapter. After all, I thought it was my dream job for more than 10 years. But I’m ready to do something different. If only I knew what that was. Last time I posted here I was thinking not about possible career paths but about immediate job prospects. A necessary consideration given that I’m typing this in pajamas thanks to my current unemployment. But I also think a lot about my future career – what I want to be when I grow up do next. There are a lot of things I think that I’d like to do. Things I can do. Writing and editing, for instance. Photography and photo editing. Baking. Web design. But what I can get hired to do? That’s another story.
I’ve taken an inventory of my existing skill set: googling, instant messaging, and procrastination. Okay, so I guess my work in museums did develop skills and abilities beyond those, when I think about it. As long as I think really hard, anyway. Research, writing, public speaking, planning, database administration, project management…But identifying those skills is one thing. Figuring out how to get employers to take note of my museum experience is another thing entirely.
Take writing, for instance. Writing (and the accompanying research skill set that enables me pull together the content to write about) has been, by far, the major component of my work for…I don’t even know how long. For the past 6 years continuously, but even my first job out of college was to write, edit, and layout all the museum newsletters, brochures, and marketing materials. My last job title was, well, Writer. But the only time I see jobs in publishing or writing, they are looking for someone with a degree in English or Journalism. I’ve written website copy, brochures, newsletters, social media campaigns, grant applications, press releases…and, oh yeah!, museum exhibits. Over the years, I’ve written tons of different kinds of materials for highly diverse audiences but it feels like I might as well toss those years of experience out the window when it comes to jobs that list degrees I don’t have even when I match all the other qualifications. Sure, I could provide a portfolio, I guess. But mine consists of tight little 100-150 word labels, which is a highly technical skill in and of itself but evidently does little to impress upon the general reader how much work goes into crafting them, nor the research that goes into their content. (You try transforming highly complex scholarly information into an approachable and engaging narrative written for general audiences using 125 or fewer words per label on deadline and let me know how it goes.) I can’t provide my personal blog (read by my faithful audience that fluctuated between zero and two) as a portfolio of my talents. I’ve said “fuck” and “shitballs” on there, people!
My degrees are in history and anthropology. Useless, really. Okay, fine. I don’t really think my degrees are useless – I think they have served me well in landing short-term employment in jobs that pay poorly and provide no benefits. But they also helped me develop a ton of skills & abilities. Historians rely on a journalist’s skills – the ability to research using a wide variety of sources and critically examine the claims and biases of all sources – and the writing chops of an English major to tell the stories of the past. And I’m really good at all of those things. But since employers don’t see “English” or “Journalism” when they check my resume against their minimum qualifications, I don’t think my resume and cover letter make it past the recycling bin. Especially in this economy when even folks who match the minimum qualifications get weeded out because there’s always someone else with more directly relevant experience.
I feel like I need to stumble upon someone who could serve as my ambassador to potential employers. Someone who understands the skill set I bring to the table. When you work in nonprofits like museums, you wear a lot of hats, which has afforded me the opportunity to code and design websites and put my Adobe Creative Suite skills to use in developing and designing exhibits, catalogues, newsletters, and all other manner of whatnot. But try as I might, I can’t get anyone to notice that my work experience is directly relevant to any publishing or writing job because I lack the specified credentials. If I decided I wanted to go into web design, I could send a portfolio of the websites I’ve done, but since I don’t have a web design certificate or degree, I’d run into the same problem I would with publishing and writing jobs.
Figuring out which experience I even want to take with me to my next career is tough, too. Take database administration, for instance. I did a TON of database work in museums – collections management databases, development (read: fundraising) databases, membership databases – TMS, re:Discovery, Argus, PastPerfect, Access, Crystal Reports, and so many more – but I’m not interested in doing database work. I left collections management to go into exhibit development because I was sick of sitting at a computer staring at databases all day. And, even if I wanted to do database administration, “real” DBAs would take issue with hiring someone whose background/degrees/job titles weren’t in computing.
My work experience feels so unbalanced. On the one hand, I found my M.A. to be simultaneously required for my work in museums and yet totally and completely unnecessary for the tasks that were assigned to me in my museum jobs. On the other hand, I don’t have the degrees needed for the work I’d like to be doing. And I’m still not clear on what that is, anyway. I guess if I could dream up any job that I wanted, it would be to work as a blogger (writing my own blog, not writing SEO crap for some realtor or for about.com). But as far as I know, the only ways to get paid as an individual blogger are to a) write stuff & b) make sure folks are reading it, and last I checked, well, let’s just say I’ve got a long way to go. Hmmm. Maybe I should take a crash course in SEO – ha!
Somehow I lucked into figuring out how one can have both a good amount of work experience directly relevant to jobs I’d like to do and exactly the wrong credentials for the same jobs. I’m not asking to go into a totally new career at a highly advanced level – I’d totally be willing to accept a lower-paying job in publishing or writing just so I could get started as long as there’s a possibility that I’d advance as I brought my skills and abilities to bear on whatever new career I choose.
As I think about all this, though, I also think that I don’t really have the luxury of carefully orchestrating a career transition. Thanks to sudden unemployment, right now what I need most is to find a steady paycheck before this baby gets here. After baby’s here, I’ll worry about what I’d really like to do with my career…It seems likely that more short-term work is in my near future while I try to sort out my long-term career goals.