Museum Salaries Redux

 

woman hanging painting

Not to beat a dead horse, but among the many responses to our Salary Agenda was an amusing, but ultimately sobering, one from our colleague Ilene Frank, the Chief Curator and Director of Collections and Education at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS). Frank reports that she’s currently slogging through applications for CHS’s Research & Collections Associate position and for an Exhibit Developer job. In the course of reading through 200-plus resumes, cover letters and other attendant personal PR, Frank had a moment. Here’s her advice on what NOT to do when entering the museum job market:

1. Make sure you have real experience. I want to know that you have touched objects, worked with archives, maybe installed an exhibit. Book learning is not enough.
2. If your experience is mostly academic, working in libraries, research centers, explain to me why you want to be in a museum. We are that wacky cousin next to our academic library relations.
3. Digitizing a photo and placing it in an online catalog is no longer revolutionary experience. Yes, I need to know you can scan a document but talk about what digitizing means. How is it creating access? How is it improving record keeping?
4. Write a dynamic cover letter. Avoid templates. Make me want to have a conversation with you. And please do not say you will cover your relocation costs. Negotiate with me if you are offered the position. Don’t sell yourself short at the get-go.
5. Maybe it’s because I’m now a different generation than those coming straight out of school but enough with the exclamation points in your emails. You don’t know me. You may be excited, but please be professional and mature.

We also really enjoyed a link originally posted by AASLH. It’s a dictionary defining terms associated with the hiring process for those who may not be familiar with the nonprofit (or museum) world. You can read the whole piece by going here: Nonprofit Terms for Ordinary People. Our particular favorites were:

We are embarking on a new phase: Everything else we’ve tried has been an epic failure, and you will now save us.

Looking for someone passionate about the field: Applicants should be willing to accept being paid peanuts.

We value professional development: We expect you to perform your usual work while staying on top of trends by attending relevant trainings, workshops, and conferences but there is actually no budget for said activities. And don’t plan to do that stuff on the clock.

And on a more serious note, since this would normally be the post we devote to women, we must underscore that all the baddy badness enumerated in our posts and your comments about salaries are especially bad for women.  As many of you noted in an underpaid and under-resourced field, where the philosophy governing hiring is too often a variation of the old saw “We’re a non-profit so we don’t need to make money” women get the short end of the straw.  And, when you overlay that with a world where women everywhere are paid anywhere from 78 cents to 84 cents on the dollar compared to men, and you have the recipe for a storm of controversy. As Christine Engel, Chief Human Resources Officer at the Wadsworth Antheneum (CT), shared with us in a recent interview for our new book, it seems that in many museums “there’s no compensation strategy and philosophy. You have to have the intention [to make change] and the current mode in many museums is to ‘pay the average’.”

We should also point out since no one mentioned it in the comments, that the salary food chain goes something like this: white heterosexual men; queer men; queer women; white heterosexual women; black men; Hispanic men; women of color; transgender women.

 

 

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6 Comments on “Museum Salaries Redux”

  1. While I one hundred percent agree with Frank, I one hundred percent disagree with you and it is an insult to think that those stereotypes of underpaid women in the museum field still exist. I have been involved in the hiring process and nowhere along the line have I encountered “we budget this much for the position but take away X amount and give it to some other department if you hire a woman or person of “colour” (white is a colour too last I checked). Most of my colleagues are women and many are paid top of the the line based on experience and training. Also if women are under paid in any field (and I have had this stupid debate more then I can imagine) it is because they are not as qualified as their male counterparts and lack the years of experience. also don’t give me the “women stay at home to raise a family while men continue to work so they have less experience). so what, staying at home with a family or even having a family is a choice every one makes willingly so blame noone but yourselves if you drop out of the job market for 15 years. I worked through my whole sons child hood by choice and paid for it financially and maybe with some quantity time spent with them.
    nope your argument was great until you played the “discrimination” card. Evelyn a female “white” professional

  2. katie says:

    “5. Maybe it’s because I’m now a different generation than those coming straight out of school but enough with the exclamation points in your emails. You don’t know me. You may be excited, but please be professional and mature.”

    This is a bit unfair. Young people coming out of school in our digital age are told that there is a ‘negativity bias’ associated with online communication, and that overcoming it involves extremely positive styles of writing, including exclamation points. I’m not sure being ‘professional and mature’ has anything to do with exclamation points if someone is genuinely trying to convey excitement about a position/project.

    This is the type of criticism that, as a job seeker, really frustrates me. A person’s qualifications have nothing to do with the number of exclamation points they use during a short, and often nerve-wracking candidacy process.

  3. Joe says:

    Is there a source for the “salary food chain” you mention in the last paragraph? Men of color don’t even make it to the list?

  4. A couple things struck me about Frank’s advice:

    1. Make sure you have real experience. I want to know that you have touched objects, worked with archives, maybe installed an exhibit. Book learning is not enough.

    This is the age-old issue with museums and archives, right? (And perhaps the positions Frank’s specifically hiring are not entry-level, but bear with me a moment.) How do you get that experience? Unpaid internships while in grad school? This is another issue that’s come up on this blog and elsewhere in the field and is tied to the salary issue.

    2. If your experience is mostly academic, working in libraries, research centers, explain to me why you want to be in a museum. We are that wacky cousin next to our academic library relations.

    I started as an objects curator/collections manager at a local historical society, moved onto archives at non-profits and government institutions, and now work in an academic library (and in fact when I interviewed for the academic library got asked, “Why do you want to work here? Do you think you’ll be comfortable working in an academic institution after your experience?”). I don’t think it’s fair to pigeonhole people. Varied experience can be a definite asset, and yes, the applicant has to punch that up that somehow in her cover letter, but insularity can be a terrible thing.

    • You can be creative to get that internship. While in grad school I worked at a local historical society as an interpretor but on my days off, I spent time learning from the managers about collections management and archival procedures. They sponsored my internship. the university was good with it. i did this for two summers and got alot of hands on experience. after 25 years at the same institution I worked my way up to Collections manager. I did everything and proved myself. No i did not get rich and still am not but I can eat and pay off a very cheap mortgage and car.


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