I Love My Job, But...Raises, Transitioning, and Advocating for More Responsibility
presented by the New England Museum Association's Young & Emerging Professionals PAG
April 26, 2012 at the Tufts University Art Gallery
The NEMA YEPs host a series of mini-workshops each spring, evening presentations with a focus on career advancement in museums. I've attended all but one for the last few years. I'm happy to say that as of June I have been serving as co-chair of the YEPs, and am helping to plan the upcoming workshop series. This particular session was one of my favorites, for its frank discussions of important issues and for the clear engagement shown by the audience.
The speakers were Dan Yaeger, President of NEMA; Douglas Stark, Museum Director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame; and Laura Roberts, museum consultant and professor of museum studies at Harvard University. I believe the workshop is best summarized in a series of questions with their answers following.
How do you talk about salary in an interview?
Never talk about salary until they fall in love with you! Even if a job asks, really try to avoid giving salary requirements in a cover letter. Keep in mind, too, that salaries aren't really negotiable like they are in the for-profit world; museums are highly budget-oriented.
When is the best time to ask for a raise, and how do you do that?
Annual performance reviews are key. You should go into your annual review with ammunition, a list of things you've done well over the past year. If you don't get reviewed by your supervisor, then create your own annual review. Really sit down and assess your own performance over the past year.
You should also make sure to broach the subject of a raise while the budget is still being discussed - don't wait until it's anywhere close to finalized!
Keep in mind that a job description should be like any other document in a museum's strategic plan. It should be revisited and revised according to reality. If you've taken on additional duties, you should advocate to tweak your job description, and with that can come a natural conversation about more pay.
You should also get to know everyone in your institution so that you can build good relationships. That way everyone will be able to vouch for your value.
How do you seek out and ask for professional development?
Keep in mind that your boss - unless you have a really rare, really wonderful boss - does not care about your career as much as you do. His priority is the institution and himself, so you need to make the case for professional development in those terms. Offer to come back and share what you've learned from a particular workshop or conference. Even if you haven't made the offer, do so anyway! Write up summaries for everyone of anything you think was particularly useful. Remember, as you progress through your career and your job you are building political capital that you can use for things just such as this.
What do you do when people feel threatened?
This is a topic particular to young and emerging professionals, who are often energetic and eager to be on the cutting edge and can make more established staff members feel nervous. To help combat this, you should be self-aware but also be authentic. Share your enthusiasm for your work and make very sure to credit those around you for their help and advice. Sometimes, though, the institution just isn't a good fit for you - too moribund or resistant - and you will need a transition.
What do you do when you realize it's time to move on?
First, beware of inertia and fear! Job hunting is a pain, but change is necessary. On that note, be aware that the museum field is a small one; don't gratuitously alienate anyone, because they will come back to haunt you in unexpected ways. Once you've made the decision to move on, put your network into action - but make sure that you've built up your social capital with your network. (Keep in mind the "what have you done for me lately?" corollary.)
Apply to jobs even when you're happy in your job - people always interview better when they're happy. If you have a good enough relationship with your boss you can bring up the subject of looking elsewhere, but be careful with this!
Be brave enough to get out there and meet people. Don't just sit behind a computer. Build a network you can trust, and when it comes time to job hunt, assume everything will be broadcast, so be polite and discreet.
Any final messages?
Think about the messages you convey with your behavior and work and adjust accordingly - make sure the message is always under your control.
Keep in mind that career paths are not always what you think, so stay open to change and opportunity.