Spotlight on Researcher Development: Pursuing a Career in the Heritage Sector

On 9th May, we welcomed a number of professionals from cultural organisations for a workshop on ‘CVs and Cover Letters for the Heritage Sector’ as part of our Heritage Pathway series of training opportunities for students and researchers. We were delighted to have a full house for this event, but if you couldn’t come along, fear not! We’ve collated some top tips shared during the workshop by our generous colleagues: Jess Wolinski, Director of Sales and Marketing at Compton Verney; Alice Purkiss, Oxford’s National Trust Partnership Lead; and Charles Pugh, Consultancy Manager and Curator at the National Trust.

In addition to the links provided in-text below, browse the panel on the right for further resources.



1. Build your network

All of our speakers emphasised the importance of building your network, even if it doesn’t generate any immediately tangible results. It will never harm you to know people! Chat to people at conferences, on research trips or at heritage locations and swap email addresses, then follow up with a friendly email that includes a ‘call to action’ such as a specific question, an invitation to lunch or coffee, or an opportunity to collaborate. Don’t ever assume that people will not be interested in talking to you!

One thing you can do right now: (well, three actually). Sign up to receive notifications about next year’s Heritage Pathway sessions, in which you can meet professionals from a wide range of heritage organisations: send a blank email to Get business cards printed, either online or via the University (yes, students can order them too!). Read the Careers Service’s pages on networking.

2. Make direct approaches

Prospective applications are invaluable in demonstrating your proactivity and genuine interest. Connections via existing contacts can be helpful, but don’t rely on your parents, friends, colleagues, or supervisor to make approaches to organisations on your behalf – do it yourself! Identify organisations whose work genuinely interests you and then contact them to ask if there are any opportunities available, whether that’s paid work, an internship, or volunteering on a one-off or regular basis. Make sure you include details of your availability and types of role you are interested in. If you are given the option to meet a recruiter or to have a chat about a potential opportunity, ensure you take it!

One thing you can do right now: look at this example speculative cover letter and adapt it for an organisation of interest to you.


3. Gain experience

Unpaid internships are rife (and notorious) in the heritage sector, but they are not the only means through which you can gain relevant experience. Volunteering is flexible and fun, and can be done at a one-off event or on a regular basis over a longer period. Consider running your own project with an organisation by making a speculative approach and identifying a discrete work-project that aligns with your skills and can be done in the time you have available. Remember that working with a smaller organisation can often bring great benefits: you will often have more opportunity to undertake a wider range of tasks, to be involved in a project from end-to-end, and to interact with staff at all levels. Don’t overlook your local museum, archive or conservation trust when looking for work experience – smaller organisations often offer the best volunteering experiences.

One thing you can do right now: spend an hour doing some online research into heritage organisations in your local area, and identify one key contact for each.


4. Alignment of values

Our presenters spoke fervently about previous roles that they loved or hated. Almost without exception, they identified in hindsight that their feelings about these roles stemmed from an alignment or mis-alignment of their own personal values with those of the organisation and those required for the role. Take time to research the values of an organisation before applying for a role with them. Follow them on social media, look on their website for a ‘mission statement’ or ‘aims and values’, but also poke around the website as a whole looking for general, overarching themes. Ask colleagues and contacts what they know about the organisation, or contact someone currently in the organisation and invite them for a coffee and a chat about what it’s like to work there. When deciding to apply for a job, think about the values inherent in that role and whether they align with your motivations– if person-to-person contact is important to you, will you find a Social Media Manager role fulfilling? If altruism is important to you, will you enjoy marketing and branding roles? Look at the applicant profile of a role that you’re interested in and draw out the values or motivations required in the ideal candidate. Are these important to you?

One thing you can do right now: have a look at pages 14-17 of the Careers Compass workbook and identify your top 8 values and motivations. Use these when identifying roles of interest.


5. Any experience can be relevant

Don’t wait until you have found your ‘dream job’ before making any applications. The heritage sector comprises a huge range of diverse roles, and there are many routes across and between them. Commercial roles such as sales of images and reproductions, branding and marketing, or events management give you an invaluable insight into the financial operations of organisations in the heritage sector. This knowledge underpins a huge range of other roles, whether curatorial, educational, or managerial. As one of our speakers put it, “everyone needs to understand what keeps an organisation afloat”. Work experience in other sectors is also highly valuable, and transfers well into heritage roles at many levels. Don’t assume that you have to start at the bottom of a heritage organisation and work your way up!

One thing you can do right now: One of our speakers identified three themes that are common to all heritage organisations: diversity; boosting audience; and making money. Map out how these themes cut across a range of roles, using (for example), the Heritage Alliance’s jobs board, and record some specific examples of your experience that speak to these themes.

6. Tailor, tailor, tailor

Satisfy your desire to be comprehensive by keeping a ‘master CV’ detailing every achievement, experience and training you’ve acquired since your adolescence. Then file it away and don’t ever let anyone else see it. Your success at securing an interview for a role depends on your ability to tailor your CV and cover letter to that role, and that role only. Ensure that you address the specific requirements of the role, using the role description and applicant profile, and providing specific and relevant examples from your own experience. Remember that any experience can be relevant if you can make it so, using evidence and enthusiasm. Show, don’t tell; use active, positive language and remember to use ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ if it was your own achievement!

One thing you can do right now: do a CV audit. Remember that CVs for professional (rather than academic) roles should be 2 pages maximum. If you don’t currently have a professional CV, draft one now, using this guidance as a starting point. If you do have an up-to-date professional CV, adapt it to a role in which you are interested, using the applicant profile and role description.