If you'd like a career within museums and heritage but are unsure what opportunities are available, take a look at these suggestions for inspiration

There are four broad types of museums in the UK: national, regional/local, university and independent and despite salary levels being lower than in other sectors, competition for heritage jobs is fierce.

While a passion for preserving history is important it's by no means enough to secure a job in this expanding and increasingly popular field. A large proportion of museum jobs will require you to be educated to at least degree level, but even more vital than qualifications is the need for relevant work experience.

Gaining knowledge of the sector through volunteering and internships is essential for entry. You should take advantage of every opportunity to stand out to potential employers.

Admissions/bookings officers

You'll be the first point-of-contact for visitors to the museum, as admissions and booking staff are responsible for organising and managing ticketing systems for entry into heritage venues. You may issue tickets face-to-face or over the phone. Other responsibilities include greeting visitors and providing information about the venue.

While a degree isn't needed you'll stand a better chance of gaining employment if you have experience in a customer-facing role. Admin experience and proficiency when using IT systems may also be an advantage.

Archaeologist

For this competitive and rewarding profession you'll need a range of practical experience.

As an archaeologist you'll examine ancient sites and objects to learn about the past and record, interpret and preserve archaeological remains for future generations.

You'll need a degree in archaeology or a related field such as ancient history, anthropology, conservation or heritage management. Look into volunteering with local historical or archaeological societies to gain experience.

To find out more about the required skills and responsibilities see archaeologist.

Archivist

If you have a genuine interest in history and in preserving records for posterity a career as an archivist may be for you.

Archivists acquire, manage and maintain documents and other materials that have historical importance. Archives can include books, papers, maps, plans, photographs and films. A large part of the job involves making information accessible to users.

To become an archivist you'll need a first degree, followed by a postgraduate qualification accredited by the Archives and Records Association (ARA).

The minimum starting salary for qualified archivists, as recommended by the ARA is £22,443.

Discover whether life as an archivist is for you.

Conservator

Museums and galleries in both the public and private sectors employ conservators to care for cultural collections. You'll do this by applying scientific methods to preserve and restore artefacts. Work mainly involves monitoring and controlling the environment in which collections are stored or displayed to prevent deterioration.

Conservators are often employed on short-term contracts or as self-employed freelancers. The Institute of Conservation (Icon) recommends a minimum starting salary of £24,648.

You'll need a degree in conservation, although it's possible to enter the profession with a relevant qualification in the arts or sciences. Masters study will be needed if you don't have a relevant undergraduate degree.

Take a look at how to become a conservator.

Curator

You'll manage museum collections and works of art, deal with the acquisition, care and display of items, and inform and educate the public. You may also deal with fundraising, marketing, and public relations.

Responsibilities vary depending on where you work. Jobs are open to graduates from a range of backgrounds, with a good honours degree the minimum academic requirement. A postgraduate qualification is often necessary. You could find work in any of the 2,500 museums and galleries located throughout the UK.

For assistant curators salary levels can be between £18,000 and £25,000, rising to £26,000 to £35,000 with experience.

Find out more about the responsibilities of a museum/gallery curator.

Exhibitions designer

As a designer it's your responsibility to effectively communicate a story or message to exhibition visitors. Within the heritage sector designers create cultural exhibitions to ensure historical material is educational, enjoyable and accessible.

Exhibitions need to work on several levels, they must:

  • have aesthetic appeal
  • be practical
  • communicate the client’s message
  • meet limitations imposed by space and budget.

This job is open to all graduates, but a degree in architecture, fine art, graphic design or interior or spatial design is particularly useful. The University of Lincoln is the only institution to run a degree in design for exhibition and museums.

Discover more about the role of an exhibition designer.

Exhibitions officer

Duties depend on where you work but on the whole exhibition officers are responsible for planning, organising, developing, marketing, administering, producing, sourcing and maintaining permanent or travelling exhibitions for museums and galleries.

This area of work is open to all graduates with a good undergraduate qualification, but you may be at an advantage if you have a relevant degree such as archaeology, archive and museum studies, art conservation, history or education. A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, such as an MA/Diploma in Museum Studies is highly desirable.

Work experience is essential for entry. You will also need a genuine interest in artefacts, art or other cultural material, practical skills in setting up exhibitions, a lively and innovative approach to interpretation and excellent organisational, time and project management skills.

Salaries range from £19,000 to £25,000.

Read about the skills and responsibilities of a museum/gallery exhibition officer.

Heritage manager

It's your job to take on the management and conservation of heritage sites such as museums, historic buildings, ancient monuments and other properties. The job focuses on balancing the preservation of historically important sites with ensuring projects are sustainable from a business perspective.

The largest employers of heritage managers are national organisations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, Historic Scotland and National Museum Wales.

This line of work is open to all graduates although a relevant degree in history, heritage, archaeology, library and information services, education or geography may be useful. A museum work-based postgraduate qualification is not essential, although a pre-entry qualification in heritage or museum management shows evidence of commitment.

Take a look at the responsibilities of a heritage manager.

Historian

You'll need an enquiring mind and excellent research skills to be successful as a historian.

In this role you'll use documents, maps, official records and photographs. to study the past. You'll likely specialise in a specific time period, place, or aspect of history and some of your work may overlap with that of archaeologists, archivists and researchers.

Employers include university departments, museums and heritage organisations where you can use your expertise to educate the public about collections or artefacts.

To become a historian you'll need a relevant undergraduate degree. The majority of people working in this field also have a Masters or PhD.

Historic building inspector

If you embark on a career as a historic building inspector you'll work within central government to provide advice and information on buildings of national and historical importance.

You'll work with listed buildings such as churches, windmills, lighthouses and residential properties and report and advise on structures and areas of special historic, architectural or artistic interest.

Although this career is open to all graduates, a degree or HND in archaeology, architecture, history, building conservation/construction, heritage management, planning or surveying may increase your chances of entry. Although not essential, a postgraduate qualification can be highly advantageous in what is quite a specialist and competitive field.

Find out about the salary of a historic building inspector.

Museum education officer

Curiosity, enthusiasm, passion and an interest in the museum sector, coupled with strong communication and teaching skills are vital for a career as a museum education officer.

In this role you'll aim to deliver high quality programmes of learning and participation and ensure that the collections in a museum act as a learning resource for all ages. You can work at a variety of museums throughout the UK but you'll need at least an undergraduate degree to secure a job. Subjects such as education, community education, history, museum studies, cultural studies and archaeology may give you an advantage.

Where you hope to work may have an influence on your degree, for example, a qualification in fine art or visual art may be useful for the V&A Museum, a science and technology degree for the Science Museum, and an English literature degree for the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.

Starting salaries are in the region of £17,000 to £20,000, rising up to £28,000 with experience.

Find out what skills you'll need to become a museum education officer.

Museum director

Effectively the chief curator, a director manages and oversees all work carried out at a museum and ensures the smooth running of the operation. You'll supervise staff, set targets, control budgets and have the final say on exhibits and displays. You'll also need a solid understanding of business and finance.

As well as extensive experience of working in the museum sector you'll need a degree. If your museum specialises in a certain area relevant qualifications may be an advantage. Many museum directors also have postgraduate qualifications such as a Masters or PhD.

Salaries vary considerably and depend on the type and size of museum in which you work.

General museum roles

Museums, galleries and heritage sites also employ staff to work in departments such as:

  • catering - chefs, cooks, waiters and managers to operate site cafes and restaurants.
  • digital media/technology - social media officers/managers to run the venues social media accounts and editors, writers, and SEO specialists to manage the museum's website.
  • finance and fundraising - accountants, financial managers and fundraising officers.
  • HR and recruitment - to oversee the workforce, manage recruitment and encourage volunteers.
  • marketing and PR - to promote the museum and its events and exhibitions to the public.
  • retail - sales assistants for gift shops.

Find out more