First steps into the heritage sector: Searching for Jobs and Volunteering

Applying for jobs can be one of the most challenging obstacles to face after graduation, and in sectors where vacant roles are limited, reality can be harsh. However, all hope is not lost. This post will provide some helpful suggestions to aspiring archivists, tour guides and curators, in getting started in the world of heritage.

First, a disclaimer. These tips are based on advice and guidance given to me over my years at university and have helped me to secure numerous roles (both voluntary and paid) in archive and museum positions. Aside from this guide, The University of York also has resources to aid students in the application processes. In particular, the University of York Archaeology department's Instagram (@uoyarchaeology) has a wealth of links where you can find more about individual careers talks through interviews with professionals, guides from the department and assistance on where to look for vacancies.

Making yourself known

This tip is useful for those seeking volunteering experience, and for those wishing to express interest that is not tied to a specific application. Perhaps the best (and simplest) piece of advice I ever received concerning careers in heritage is to make myself known. This can be through numerous avenues: engaging with organisations and people on social media (more on this later), handing in CVs, and sending emails to introduce yourself. This does not mean you should bombard companies and individuals with countless emails to prove your enthusiasm; less is more, and professionalism is key when you have your first interaction with a potential employer.

Approaching organisations can be extremely daunting, and due to the vast amount of correspondence larger companies receive, it would not be surprising if you get a late (or no) response. As disheartening as receiving no responses may be, the more you reach out, the higher the chances are of your application being reviewed. Another way of getting to know heritage companies is through site visits, asking some simple questions at the front desk concerning volunteering opportunities that may arise. Showing enthusiasm for the role in person shows your passion and commitment to the position, but it goes without saying that this only applies to specific circumstances and companies where an in-person interaction is possible (or appropriate).

Using social media to your advantage

For those of us who use social media, there are multiple platforms built for both professional and personal purposes. Social media can be used to not only put yourself out there but to look and apply for positions within the heritage sector.

LinkedIn is a platform designed to promote, celebrate, and advertise opportunities for professional development. Many large heritage and archaeology companies now have a social media account on the site that is used to promote new research and job positions. Active engagement with new material is an important quality in new prospective employees, showing that you know and care about the company you are applying for. Posting achievements on the site, or even aspects of research that are of interest to you, is a way to engage with the world of work that you want to become a part of, even if you aren't in it yet! Connecting with your peers on LinkedIn and building a network of connections is another way of seeing what opportunities are available, and is a wonderful way of keeping up to date with news and new positions in the heritage world.

Job boards

As obvious as this tip may seem, a pitfall that many people come to is an over-reliance on job boards. Within heritage and archaeology, it is not always necessary for companies to post their positions on external websites, primarily due to the vast number of applications they receive and the CVs they have already on file. This is where the first tip ‘making yourself known’ comes in especially handy. Being able to approach employers having already introduced yourself shows your dedication and enthusiasm for the role.

Heritage teams, typically, are small. This only reinforces the importance of making yourself known to the employer and their team as much as possible when positions become available, as they fill up quickly.

For those looking for jobs in heritage and archiving, the Leicester University Jobs board is a great way to get started, but it is always worth checking individual company websites.

The takeaway messages of this short guide are:

  • Do a thorough search for what you are looking for, and don't be over-reliant on the most obvious job posting boards
  • Don't be afraid to contact employers and professionals in the field, especially if you have questions related to an advertised role
  • Brush up on your skills in the meantime i.e., is there anything that applications repeatedly ask for that you might be lacking in, such as experience with certain software or cataloging systems
  • And finally, against all odds, try to stay positive. Roles in the heritage sector are rarer than we'd hope for. Asking questions, applying, and putting yourself out there is your best chance of starting your journey    

Best of luck with your applications!

Author information

Laura Sharp
University of York | las620 [at]