#AskACurator Day – FMJ edition

The official #AskACurator image for 2020 with the hashtag and relevant social media icons

Reservations of the naming of the day aside, what was it like to participate in #AskACurator for the first time as Fair Museum Jobs? The answer in short, busy and interesting!

So, what did we do? 

We used our two social media channels – Twitter and Instagram to ask people one fairly simple question: “What’s the one thing you’d change about museum recruitment practice?” We wanted to open up a conversation about realities in the sector, and enable people to go beyond the quirky objects and fun museum stories we’ve got so used to hearing about (no matter how much we love them!).

Over on instagram … 

Our insta is pretty new, and has nothing like the follower count that our Twitter does. However, we know lots of people don’t tweet but who want to get involved do use Instagram as a preferred platform. We started out the day by commenting with the question on lots of different museum posts which offered to answer questions about the day. First error! Instagram decided we were a bot and blocked commenting and posting from our account. Lesson learned – don’t copy and paste! There was a silver lining in that we could still use our Stories, so we started approaching organisations who asked to get questions via DM. We know it’s hard to monitor all the different ways people can interact and didn’t want to start messaging accounts who said they wanted comments or emails or were really doing the event on twitter. 

That said, we got some fantastic replies from organisations from around the world. What this showed us was that there really are shared global concerns about the museum workforce. If you want to see all the replies check out our #AskACurator story – there’s some great videos there too!

Over eighteen different museums from five continents (& a born-virtual museum) directly answered the question and these are their demands:

  • Raise the everyday museum worker wage
  • Empower your local communities
  • Salary transparency
  • Increase representation in the staff workforce
  • More traineeships
  • More assistant curator posts
  • Flexible career paths for everyone
  • Value the non-academic skills people have
  • Less stringent job specs
  • Focus on recruiting people with a passion
  • Paying communities for their curatorial work
  • A range of opportunities – part-time roles can be hard for early career workers to justify – likewise be open to job-sharing
  • Pay interview expenses
  • More mentorships
  • NO MORE FREE LABOUR 

On Twitter things were a lot more personal – we didn’t reply to organisations directly who invited questions (there’s just too many!), instead we relied on our tweet being seen through #AskACurator as well as by our followers who work in museums. 

One of the Twitter quotes of the day came from @mkventer: “orgs think that they are *amazing* bc they pay the minimum living wages as opposed to seeing them for what they are: floors, not ceilings”. This carries through a lot of the responses we received: doing the minimum is the start, not the end, of the process of doing better.

Check out the full responses to our tweet here (don’t forget to look at the Quote Tweets too!), and see the (long!) summary below which we’ve sorted into groups for ease!:

Pay

  • Museums should pay real living wage (this came up multiple times!), and this should be enforced through funding/accreditation 
  • Pay your interns

Job adverts and descriptions

  • Write job descriptions and person specifications that reflect the job and it’s associated skills and qualifications, and define what might be equivalent experience to a qualification. Don’t use qualifications for sifting applicants.
  • Remove ableist language – e.g lifting or standing requirements
  • Stop asking for unnecessary qualifications (Masters and PhDs mentioned more than once!)
  • Be more open to transferable skills from outside the sector
  • List the salary on the job advert
  • Cut out pointless jargon and buzzwords
  • Don’t expect experience for an entry level job – especially expecting volunteer experience which is not open to everyone

Recruitment practices:

  • Recruitment needs to be more flexible and have more inclusive practices
  • Contribute to training in CV/application writing
  • Don’t ask for a CV but still expect all the same details to be put in an online form
  • For internal jobs: all qualifying candidates should be interviewed and the decision made on merit (not length of service)
  • Blind shortlisting
  • Actively seek out diverse staff and board members – don’t rely on the standard process that hasn’t achieved results so far.
  • Be conscious of religious holiday dates when planning the recruitment process

Feedback:

  • Give proper feedback to candidates
  • Feedback to everyone who applies whether they get to interview or not
  • On recruiting freelancers: if you’ve asked someone to put time into a bid for the work, the give comprehensive feedback – not just one line

Interviews

  • Pay travel expenses for interviews fully and speedily (mentioned more than once!), and offer them upfront without expecting people to ask
  • Stop asking for free labour in interviews
  • Make the interview commensurate with the pay – e.g. if you’re barely paying living wage, don’t ask for a full exhibition design, 3 person interview and surprise bonus task.
  • More inclusive interview panels – if your panel is all white or all male, ask yourself why and change it
  • Don’t rely on standard interviews – they are artificial and don’t account for neurodiversity

Attitudes

  • Don’t assume that everyone has the privilege that you do e.g. to work for free or low-pay – this systematically excludes many people from the sector
  • Be mindful of subtle prejudice as well as obvious ones e.g. weight, accent
  • Stop the gratefulness cycle – we shouldn’t be thankful and pleased to get a job at your organisation when you’re treating us badly.
  • Volunteer management experience is people management experience
  • Nothing will change until targets are set
  • Be more open to training people on the job
  • Regional museums are a great way to build skills across museum work – don’t be a snob about expecting “big” museum experience
  • Consider something like the “Rooney Rule”: which requires American Football League teams in the NFL to interview ethnic minority candidates for senior roles (and has been adopted outside sports e.g. Pinterest, Facebook, Patreon)
  • Let go of your assumptions about geography – if people are applying for the job but live outside the area, don’t discount them (in fact, this should just be irrelevant completely!)
  • Don’t hire your dream candidate and then fail to trust and empower them do to the job you hired them for.

Looking at the responses from both it’s pretty clear that some issues are consistent: pay, transparency, diversifying the workforce from entry through to senior roles; being more flexible to needs, wants and peoples individual selves. In short most of us want to treat people well and stop doing the same old things that don’t work (except that one museum who told us everything is fine and nothing should change – to whom we say…have a think about yourself and your choices please).

There were also some other interesting discussions on Twitter which we would like to alert you to in case you missed them:

Finally, thanks so much to all the organisations and individual museum professionals who took the time out of their day to reply – you’re the greatest!

One comment

  1. I think you covered this pretty well. I have experience recruiting in hospitality and education and quite often the strongest on paper candidate is not the strongest interviewee.
    Bythe way I am a keen amateur Historian but would hesitate to apply to a museum, no degree no experience although my knowledge (of British Dark age history for instance) is extensive and has been built up through decades of reading.well done for being open to critique and good luck with NY changes you make.

    Like

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