University of Alabama's Moundville Archaeological Park, provides some advice for public history students based on his survey of 38 public history practitioners.
Bomar's concludes that entry-level museum and heritage site professionals prefer administration skills over collection management skills. He adds: "the two highest rated competencies were interpersonal relationships and professionalism."
To summarize, our nation’s museum leaders feel that we need public
history and museum professionals with leadership ability who can
utilize technology, work well in groups, communicate effectively, and
engage the community. I am not at all suggesting that you should not
develop skills related to collections. Every single competency rated by
museum leaders in this study, including the collections management
items, had a score indicating at least a basic level of knowledge or
ability is expected. The point is that even if you plan to go into
collections work, you should gain experience and training that develop
your skills in these other areas, especially communications and
We have all heard discouraging stories of entry-level positions in
museums and heritage organizations that have several hundred qualified
applications. Rather than being overly discouraged by stories of the
difficulty of landing a job in public history, students should recognize
the challenge and respond by strategically developing their skills.
Work on real-world projects, either through coursework, internships, and
student employment that not only serve to develop these skills, but
result in a tangible product that can become part of your portfolio. For
team projects, volunteer to take on a leadership role. Most states have
humanities councils with fairly simple grant programs. Consider working
with a heritage site to write a small grant proposal for your project.
Employers will be especially impressed if you found funding and
developed and managed a budget. Imagine going into an interview and
taking out a smartphone to show an app that you developed for a historic
house museum, a teacher’s field trip guide that you developed, or
photos of an exhibit that you organized. Be prepared to give examples of
how you led others on these projects and explain how your project
impacted the community.