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Whether you're an undergraduate with a mapped out 20 year career plan, a recent graduate who's just a bit unsure or someone who's always fancied a career change getting that first job can seem like an impossible task. It's far from impossible but it's all about the preparation.

We've put together some hints and tips about getting yourself in the best position possible to land that first rung on the ladder. And that's the first tip...

  • Remember this is only the first step

This is your first job don't expect to be running the V&A straightaway, everyone has to start somewhere. Have realistic expectations, that's not to say low but be realistic. Look at the role profile, are you hitting at least 50% of the criteria? If not have a serious think if you're right for the role.

It's also not forever, if this is a junior position you're not expected to remain in role for more than 2 years usually less. You're there to learn, get all important experience on your CV and to move on. When you're no longer learning something new or doing something new to add to your CV it's time to check out our jobs page.

  • It's never too early to do your research

Before you even start thinking of applying for anything research role profiles, find out what sort of jobs you're interested in and what the selection criteria is. This can help you tailor your experiences to what your potential new line manager is looking for.

  • Make every experience count

I've heard so many times that "all the jobs want experience and how can I get experience unless someone gives me a job?"

Well that's fairly easy to answer. Make what you do do count as relevant experience, this does not mean embellishing your CV. This is never a good idea, trust me I've interviewed and appointed too many people and at least one candidate always tries it. The truth comes out, either at interview or in their probation period.

What is does mean is look behind what the role profile is asking for. What is the skill they're looking for rather than the situation. Look for ways you have either done that or can do that.

For example many people have part time or holiday jobs. Rather than accepting the one with the best staff discount think about what it gives you long term. What skills can I gain from this job? Maybe it's selling, hitting targets, working as a team or leading a team. Experiences are what you make of them and it's that which starts to separate out the normal from the exceptional candidates.

  • Money, money, money

Sorry I don't mean the salary, it's what you'll be expected to make or raise as part of many arts and heritage jobs.

The reality is there is never enough money in arts and heritage and financial support from donors, legacies, grants and commercial activity is vital. Some larger organisations have specialist teams to work in fund raising but a lot don't. Gaining any experience you can in generating income is very beneficial to a CV. Whether that's running the local village fete, writing a funding application for a society, working in the university call centre to generate alumni support or having an active sales job. What you need to need to demonstrate is an ability to get people to literally buy into your cause.

Even in large organisations you might not be doing the actual recruitment of donors or members but you'll be expected to entertain them at some point or have input into funding applications. Demonstrating these skills early can make you stand out from the crowd.

Once you've got a budget you'll then be expected to manage it. So any experience of making sure the pennies and pounds add up is also a plus. Maybe that university role of the Canoe Club Treasurer will come in handy after all.

  • Volunteering

Volunteering is amazing, but don't forget everyone else is doing this too. It gives you experiences you're just not going to get anywhere else and also allows you to make contacts. Just don't let this be the only thing you've done.

Organisations are changing how volunteering can work as they're appreciating more and more that the standard volunteer profile has changed. You don't need to commit to an afternoon a week for the next 40 years anymore, drop in sessions and signing up online is becoming more and more common. They also will pay expenses so apart from your time and energy it shouldn't cost you anything.

As with everything you'll get out of it what you put in so make the effort. You're usually working with staff who love (and I mean love their jobs) if you're passionate about it too many possibilities open up.

Look for internships and and academy positions too, these are usually competitive but are very worth the time. They usually require more commitment than a volunteering role however they give you much more. It's usually structured with objectives set by you, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Expect to be interviewed for all volunteering roles. This is unlikely to be a formal interview but you will be interviewed to make sure this is right for you and the team you'll be working with. You may also depending on the role require a criminal records check so don't be offended if you're asked for this, it is standard for some roles.

Most importantly, treat your volunteering as a job. Be professional and demonstrate that you're part of the team, you might be asking your volunteer manager for a job some day.

Lots of opportunities can be found here

  • Know what you're talking about

Keep up to date with the latest news from the sector, we've compiled what we think are the best articles to save you time hunting.

Visit as many places as you can that are similar to where you want to work, to give you a head start or give you an idea of some of the things to look out for check out our reviews.

  • Academics

Don't worry if you don't have an MA or PhD in a niche area of museums management, to be honest this is rarely actually required or an insurmountable issue. What you've actually done is far more important than the piece of paper hanging on your parents wall. Having said that an undergraduate degree is usually a requirement for a lot of jobs. If you're unsure phone or email the recruiting manager to discuss how vital this is.

If you need a specialist qualification to do the job a lot of organisations are prepared to support you while you work. This can range from compressed hours to allow for academic study time, help with fees or on the job training. This doesn't even need to be in the area which your job is, many people in unrelated areas such as Business Support have trained to in Land Management or done Conservation MAs with the support of their managers and colleagues.

Don't forget, academics is always only the first step in any career. Don't rush off and apply for an MA or similar without finding out your options first.

  • Your application

Once you've got the experience you need you're ready to start applying.

Give yourself enough time. This is a career you're creating and somewhere you'll spend an absolute minimum of 37.5 hours a week, usually more so give it the the attention it deserves.

A tailored CV to at least each type of job you're applying for is a minimum, if you have time for a specific one for each job even better but this isn't necessary until you're a bit higher up that ladder.

However a tailored covering letter addressing the points in the role profile is a very good idea. Be clear when you're doing this and use the same language they use in the role profile to signpost that you're hitting their criteria. Remember the person reading your application has either already read a lot of them or has a lot more to read and this is in addition to their usual job so make it easy for them.

Get someone else to proof read it and then again, then once more. Mistakes such as spelling and grammar are rarely forgiven, mistakes such as the wrong organisation name in the cover letter (yes, I have received an application more than once with this) are never forgiven. Apart from the basics what makes sense to you might not make sense to the rest of the world.