November 20, 2017
By Raymond McKenzie
Interviewing for a new position can bring anxiety and dread. Far too often the fear of change keeps us from finding a new job that is more rewarding or even advancing inside your institution. Interviewing doesn’t have to be so dreadful with a little preparation, practice, and boldness.
A year ago I was ready for a change in my career. The intent was to take a few months off to paint, complete some house renovations, travel, and decide what I wanted for my next steps. Then eventually I would look for a new position that engaged my passions. It didn’t take long before something interesting came across my email….. a historic house and garden was looking for a new retail manager. Retail plus Edwardian living!
It sounded interesting but I knew nothing about gardens, nothing about this historic home, or even where the town was. I did a few Google searches to find out some general information — such as the history of the home, where it was located, some of their programming, etc. I found it interesting enough to apply knowing that I didn’t have any background in gardens or historic homes and not knowing if it would meet my needs. But hey, you have to be bold and try something new. A few weeks later I got the call, “Would you be interested in an interview for the position?” Well, yeah I was interested.
Now the real preparation for the interview began. Never go into an interview without doing thorough research on every aspect of the organization. It is also a good idea to be as knowledgeable about your interviewer as you can. These are a few of the steps I took to prepare myself:
- Pull the 990s of the organization for the last few years. You can find these online using GuideStar.
- Look at the finances of the organization to see how stable they are. Does it fluctuate wildly? Are they operating on a minimal budget?
- What are the top salaries listed?
- Who is on their board? What can you find out about these people?
- Most often the sales for the retail program will be listed. How do they compare to the attendance? If they aren’t listed, then why?
- Search news articles, press releases, etc. to find out what is going on with the organization.
- Many press releases are available online. What is the museum promoting about itself? New hires? Program changes? Major acquisition? Use their own resource to find out what they tell the world about themselves.
- News articles can share struggles that the organization is facing. Don’t you want to know potential challenges before you commit?
- Do LinkedIn searches on key staff.
- Who are the key players and what are their backgrounds?
- How long have they been with the organization?
- Do you have any connections that might give you insight?
- What does Google have to say about them?
- Make an unannounced site visit if possible.
- What does the store look like?
- How is the customer service?
- What is the product assortment?
- What is the demographic of the visitors/customers?
One of the best resources I had in preparing for this interview was my network of colleagues from MSA. They were able to give me questions to ask based on experience. I had never worked in a garden before but Janet Crockett at the Huntington Library & Gardens told me “It is all about the flowers. What is the bloom calendar?” There’s one question I hadn’t asked myself!
Once you’ve done your research, formulate the questions you want to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Found negative news articles that concern you? Ask about the situation. What are they doing to resolve or address the issues? Where do they see their biggest challenges? What are their expectations for the department? What resources have they committed to the department? Do not be afraid to ask this critical question. If they expect a state of the art store with unique product grossing $1,000,000 and they don’t give you a travel budget, marketing budget, or operating budget then you know to walk away. They aren’t committed to your success. These facts and questions will also indicate to them your level of interest and acumen. They will see that you have done your research.
Changing jobs is only scary if you aren’t in charge of your own progress. Take the time to be prepared, be bold, and find that great opportunity either inside your current institution or at the next.
Raymond McKenzie is the Head of Retail Operations at Fioli Historic House and Gardens in Woodside, CA. With over 20 year in retail, he is a professional dedicated to visitor experience, profitable buying, and audience engagement. A Museum Store Association member since 2008, Raymond has served as a member of the Program Resource Group, as Western Chapter President, and as Secretary of the National Board of Directors.