A Public History Newbie's Thoughts on Everything and Nothing

Public History. Comments. Questions. Sarcasm. Maybe Some Hippie Rants.

Notes on Getting a Job in Public History: Tips from the National Council on Public History in my Voice


*The tips are not organized by any means so have at it* As I was looking around this room and so many of my young peers are buried in their phones. I kept trying to catch people’s eyes but no one engages so I kept typing away on my computer, too. A modern circle of awkward. Eventually I just get up and walk over to another young museum worker and strike up a conversation. We came to network but are mostly glued to our phones.

This brings me to the point that when going on an interview, leave your phone in the car. It is too much of a distraction so it is best to merely leave it tucked away. This is the best way to avoid fiddling with it while waiting, when you should be mentally preparing.

As far as your ego is concerned: the Rank of the institution you attended does not always matter, nor does just having a degree in a certain focus. In many situations the university that you went to is not key to the hiring process. So, do not ride on that fact to get you in the door or hired.

Your program director, and your Capstone/ Thesis advisor (if not the same person) should be your best friend. Be sure to have an open door in a respectful way- meaning be respectful and build a professional academic relationship with them. You are their legacy learn what they have to offer and in turn serve as a respectful young professional. Your advisor and program director may know about job openings ahead of time and will certainly be able to guide you to resources and people to get you.

Keep track of your skills and accomplishments. You can do this by having a portfolio ready, or even as simple as jotting down your accomplishments on a Word Document as they happen. It is easy to forget to do this when we have such busy lives but take the five minutes to explain a problem you solved, or a by-law you edited, a meeting you organized, the talk you gave, or a rare object you took the lead in acquiring, ect…

Try to get published, in local papers-anywhere. Do unusual things to distinguish yourself. This includes if you build a website or blog; back up the information and print a PDF of the website if possible. Any time your name come up in newspapers or magazines, take a photocopy and keep that in your portfolio too.

Dress professionally. Do not try to be fashion forward at the interview, stay standard, classy, polished and have business cards. If you don’t have a “history realm job” to put on a business card, then make a card that features your school, contact info and maybe a LinkedIn site URL. Vista Print has cards that are fantastically cheap so there is really no excuse to not have a card available- it is a confidence booster, too.

Sign up for the NCPH or AHA. The reasons are self-explanatory. Network like it’s going out of style. You WILL meet new people to work with, especially at conferences so try to able to have a give and take. And listen when you meet new people. A lot of people, especially academics are trying to self-promote so fiercely that we are formulating an answer or bragging point while the other person is talking. Take a deep breath and listen. *

Remember the meaning of helping people.

It is very much who you know. Just ask! Small museums are great starting points since you will have to try new/skills. This will offer up transferable skills. Highlight what your responsibilities were.

Preparing for the Interview USAJOBS is a great job source for help in getting into the federal jobs. Some will pay off your student loans.

Move if you can, but also be realistic in where you apply so that you don’t get put out when you don’t get a position. In other words, don’t plan on being able to move to your dream job right away, and if you do not get it you have to you’re your head up high and “keep on getting on.”

Research them ahead of time and bring questions that show that you are interested. Reflect on interviews that you have done before and what you can do better than what you have done before.

Bring your hardcopy resume to look prepared and in case they have written on their copy it is nice to be able to hand them a fresh one if they desire it. Never forget that your resume is fair game so be ready for questions regarding any aspect of what you have shared.

Slow down when they ask you a tough question. It is just fine take you time to really answer their question instead of rambling. Memorizing is silly. It looks bad, be real instead.

Act quickly when it comes to state or government job postings. Sometimes they shut the page after the first 300 applications. Fill out everything on the job application and have it in by the deadline. Even if there is a line that asks for a fax number, which you probably don’t have, put “Not applicable” in the space. Be prepared for the interview, with personalized information.

Include that you have the skill traits they require. Soft skills such as communication, collaboration, being able to talk at public events are desired as well. Stories resonate well in cover letters. That can be included in your cover letter. Perhaps that is a new fad for crafting a cover letter that is digestible to hiring staff.

It is Okay to ask, when they will have a decision. If they did not give you the job, maybe you can ask them for some feedback on how your interview went. In a way you are also interviewing them. If the people do not seem financially stable (ask around discreetly), or have staff that you do not think you will compatible with then you can say no.

Be sure to do a handwritten note. This distinguishes you, makes you different. Do it! My story regarding a note is that I made sure to buy a “thank you note” right after my first big volunteer interview. I had it all set to mail out but then I got the position and began that same week so I sheepishly handed the note to the older supervisor who would be guiding me. She was overjoyed about it and kept that simple card on her desk the entire time that I was there. Seriously, always send a physical card, whether you think you will get the job or not because it may just be the deciding factor for the hiring staff.


Author: greengoddesshistory

Public History Masters Student. Museum Director. Trail Runner. Gym Lover. Dove owner.

3 thoughts on “Notes on Getting a Job in Public History: Tips from the National Council on Public History in my Voice

  1. Thanks for posting this! Some of the things you posted I never even thought of doing. Great ideas and overall essential things to know for the job hunt!


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