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How to Prove Your Qualifications in One Interview
By Tory Schendel Cox
Fortunately, I have been steadily employed as a museum professional for 8 years. Nonetheless, for as many contract, temporary, or permanent jobs I received, the amount of rejection letters almost triple my obtained positions. However, I gained a new perspective from each experience and managed to learn something regardless of the end result. Nevertheless, due to my last interview, I wanted to share a strategy that has consistently resulted in my hiring.
As 2019 was approaching, my gallery position was ending and the grueling process of job hunting was upon me. Spending days and nights applying for anything museum related, I came across a job that caught my eye—Virginia G. Schroeder Curator of Art in big beautiful black letters scrolled up my screen. Perplexed at how this fabulous job could end up on a search engine, I clicked on the details to learn more. After reviewing the job description, I was hooked. This is my dream job. I needed to apply. Once the required materials were submitted, my heart stopped. Although I reviewed my application more times than I would like to admit, I was convinced I made a mistake and would never receive an interview. However, I was wrong. I submitted the application on Sunday at 4:15 AM and an email graced my inbox at 12:20 PM inquiring about an interview. I almost fell out of my chair.
With six days to prepare, I began to strategize. While learning about the institution’s rich history, diverse collection, and interesting staff, I came to the conclusion I needed to tangibly prove my research, creative, and personable skills. Therefore, what better way to show creativity and research than a self-created binder with sections covering: the job description and expectations, future exhibition and community plans, and the AAM accreditation process (as it was referenced several times in the job description). I filled each section with relevant pages of information, highlighted lines and sections that I wanted more elaboration, and jotted questions in the margins. Additionally, I had a copy of my most recent, grant funded, original research paper on hagiography in a booklet ready to leave with the Executive Director. Although I felt confident in my strategy, I was nervous as to what her reaction would be.
On the day of the interview, I drove in early to tour the museum and gain a better perspective of the objects in the collection. Because of my staff research, I noticed the Executive Director standing behind the counter. I could not help but smile and she seemed to know why I was doing so. Once we made our way to her office, it was time to implement my strategy. As I sat down at the table, I took out my notebook, the binder, highlighter, and pen. As I put on my glasses, I started with the job description and the conversation took off. Three-and-a-half hours later, we covered everything in my binder, from front to back, and every highlighted and written question. Neither one of us realized how much time elapsed until an announcement came over the intercom. As we wrapped up our final thoughts, I left her with my neatly packaged research paper and she walked me to the front desk. Two weeks later, I received a phone call. She offered me the position and I still cannot fully express my gratitude.
As noted in both publications, Museum Careers: A Practical Guide for Students and Novices and A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career, while preparing for an interview, it is important to be cognizant that every candidate applying is probably as skilled, educated, and possibly experienced as you. Therefore, it is your duty to set yourself apart from the other applicants. Since we are in a profession where you are expected to be creative, try your skills out in the interview. Think of ways that you can tangibly produce or do something that embodies the major points in the job description. Do not be afraid to try something a little different. If your methods are questioned, defend them. Let the hiring manager know the job description carefully created by the institution warranted this type of action.
I learned of other museum professionals who implemented similar strategies during their interviews: an Education Curator brought a self-made activity applicable to the museum, a Collections Manager brought in a toy to demonstrate proper handling and cataloging, and a Membership Officer took the hiring manager into the lobby area and began engaging with the public. These creative yet small things will leave a lasting impression on the hiring manager. With the competitiveness of our field, we only have one opportunity to prove our skills and vitality to the organization. Therefore, if you have the credentials, take the risk and do something innovative—part of your salary will depend on your creativity. I hope you find some inspiration from this blog and good luck on the transition from emerging to professional museum worker.
Tory Schendel Cox is the Virginia G. Schroeder Curator of Art at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science. Since 2010, Tory has served the arts community cross-county and abroad. Notably, she has performed curatorial work for Newfields, IN, formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IN), Indiana State Museum (IN), Death Valley National Park (CA), and the National Museum of Archaeology (Greece). In addition to her work, she has won a variety of academic awards and scholarships for her research in iconography and hagiography. She earned a B.A. from Indiana University of Indianapolis and is finishing her M.A. in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is community oriented and continually seeks opportunities for partnerships and collaboration projects. You can connect with Tory on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.