ISSUE 7 | VOLUME 2 | 2008

April 17, 2008

In this Issue:

A Day in The Life

Tip Time:
Working with a Recruiter

Employment Practice FAQs

Career Talk:
The Counteroffer


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Dear Readers,

With the arrival of spring, many of us are looking forward to the change of seasons, and also to the American Association of Museums meeting in Denver at the end of April. And it appears that change is finally in the air at the AAM as well, with a program that demonstrates a strong focus on the museum as workplace, something we at Thomas & Associates have been exploring for years. The place where you work should be a dynamic environment that lives and breathes based on the energy, motivation and commitment of employees, and one that fulfills its obligation to provide you with opportunities for growth and development. How refreshing to see an AAM program packed with sessions on managing change, personal and professional accountability, and discussions on the many facets of leadership as they pertain to arts and cultural organizations. To me, this reflects a heightened awareness that long-term growth and success depends on providing more than jobs – it means ensuring that people are fully engaged and committed and that they see their futures growing along with the organization.

At Thomas & Associates, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how museums are managing workplace change in this climate of rapid museum building and expansion. We are in the midst of conducting a survey about how museums are planning for growth. This project is being spearheaded by Jitendra Arora, a Fullbright Scholar and former student of mine from the Museum Studies program at New York University. The focus of the survey is how expansion has affected the museum workplace in terms of mission, staffing, salaries, and where museums will look for qualified staff in the future. We will be presenting some preliminary findings of this survey at the upcoming AAM meeting in Denver in a session entitled Developing Museum Leaders from the Field: The Salary Conundrum. We encourage you to attend and to check back with us at in May to download a summary of the results of this survey.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol (1928-1987)


Geri Thomas, President

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Working with a Recruiter

Do… be frank with a recruiter about how you are seeking employment and where you are looking. Recruiting firms and candidates gain nothing by covering the same ground twice; let them know if you are already interviewing elsewhere or through other agencies and where you are in the interview process. Most important, tell the recruiter whether you are anticipating receiving other offers in the near future.

Don’t… treat an interview with your recruiter as a “casual” meeting. The recruiter is also looking to grade your presentation skills as a whole: s/he can’t do that if you show up wearing your gym clothes, or use language that is unprofessional. Remember: if you would consider wearing something to the beach, it probably is not appropriate to wear to an interview.

Do… make sure to call the recruiter that arranged an interview with a client immediately after that interview, as soon as you can find a landline and some privacy and quiet. The recruiter is going to want to hear your impressions while they are still fresh in your mind with the understanding that any serious questions may require a bit more time to formulate.

Don’t… dismiss any hesitation you may have felt or questions you might have had after the interview as unimportant. If something about the interview seemed troubling, unexpected or simply confusing, let the recruiter know and ask if they can provide answers, context or a solution.

A Manager's Perspective

If you are responsible for supervising others, here are some tips for completing annual performance appraisals for your direct reports:

• If you are unsure of where and how to start, begin with a printout of the employee’s job description. Are they doing the job they were hired for? Where are they falling short/ exceeding?

• It is both appropriate and expected that you will seek input on your direct reports from other employees with whom they interact regularly. This can be done in person (always the best way) or via email (where you send out a request for input with specific questions). If the input you receive is not aligned with your own experience, seek out the individual who commented and have an in-person conversation. If your direct report is not well regarded by their colleagues or team-members, it is important that you understand where there may be a disconnect or interpersonal issue.

• Be as specific as possible in providing examples about your employee’s performance – whether positive or negative. And be careful not to confuse personality traits (such as high energy or shyness) with work performance.

• When all is said and done, the annual performance evaluation should not include any major surprises for your employee – if there are, then you should re-evaluate your own performance as a supervisor. Providing your direct reports with regular, constructive feedback about how they’re doing is one of the cardinal responsibilities of a manager. Do not make an annual performance review the setting in which to dump a load of negative feedback that you’ve been storing up.


A snapshot of how different arts and culture professionals are shaping their careers.

With an uncertain economy ahead, it’s important to start thinking more strategically about your career and how you can optimize your professional growth and development – either within the organization where you currently work, or with another organization. Change should be guided by a personal plan – not just by the desire to earn a better salary.

With an MFA from a prestigious institution in the Northeast, Suzanne began her career as an entry-level curatorial associate with a small, not-for-profit historic building museum in the New York metropolitan area. In three years, she’d received two promotions in title with modest advances in salary, but was frustrated by what she felt was a lack of professional growth and recognition – especially compared with friends from school, some of whom were making nearly twice her salary. With the retirement of the organization’s executive director and new leadership coming in, Suzanne felt it might be time to move to the for-profit side of the industry, perhaps with a specialized gallery or auction house.

On advice from a trusted friend, Suzanne submitted a resume and cover letter to a well-known recruitment firm who specialized in the arts and culture industry. During an initial face-to-face meeting, the recruiter candidly advised Suzanne to consider whether she really wanted to walk away from the equity she’d built in her current position – or whether the imminent arrival of a new management team could be a real opportunity for her. The recruiter suggested she consider how to reposition herself as a loyal employee and capable leader who could help the organization grow, and thereby land a compensation package that was better aligned with her ambitions. The recruiter recommended that Suzanne develop a personal Career Strategy Map, with specific, quantifiable career objectives and a realistic timeline for achieving those objectives.

At the recruiter’s suggestion, Suzanne scheduled some personal time to map out her plan. She began by writing down where she was today, and where she wanted to be 3 – 5 years from now. Suzanne then articulated her umbrella strategy for getting from where she was today to where she wanted to be: “Build my interest and growing expertise in Colonial American furnishings into a commercially valuable asset for a prestigious auction house”. Next, she mapped out the specific steps she would need to take, such as optimizing the opportunities within her current position; building her profile within the historic building museum community; and finding a mentor within the auction-house industry who could help her better position herself for a move. Finally, Suzanne wrote down the three or four things she could do to solidify each of these steps. For example, to optimize her current opportunities, Suzanne decided she could become the champion for the poorly documented collection of artisan-crafted Colonial American furniture that was stored in the attic of the historic building museum where she currently worked. This would allow her to demonstrate her value to the organization’s new management team, and provide a reason for interacting professionally with high-profile experts outside her organization – therefore supporting her goal of seeking a mentor.

By the time Suzanne finished her personal Career Strategy Map, she was feeling optimistic and excited about her next steps, and took a few more minutes to sketch out a plan to present to the new executive director, culminating in a special exhibition. Within 10 months, Suzanne had submitted and received an enthusiastic response to a proposal for an article about collecting American Colonial furniture from a prestigious arts and antiques journal. This article provided an excellent opportunity for her to publicize the museum’s collection while she continued working with the museum’s new director to put together a special exhibition for the fall.

Increase your understanding of standard employment terms and practices.

My employer has sent out a company-wide email announcing that an annual performance review process will be starting this month. This is a first for me – what should I expect?

Most arts and culture organizations have adopted formalized performance review processes in which all employees participate on a yearly basis. In general, all employees are evaluated on the same schedule, regardless of start date. This is done to simplify and streamline the process of awarding promotions, salary increases, and performance-based bonuses, which are – or should be -- part of the organization’s annual budget.

Standardized performance evaluation forms are completed by both the supervisor and the employee. In larger arts and culture organizations, the supervisor may be required to submit their evaluations to a representative of the human resources department for review and approval prior to discussing it with the employee. This pre-review process is in the best interest of the employee, as it ensures that the review is balanced, and objective.

The supervisor should schedule a formal meeting to discuss your performance evaluation with you. You may prepare for this meeting by completing a self-evaluation of your performance, using the same form as your supervisor. Typically, the form will include several sections: general characteristics (such as punctuality, attendance, dependability, interpersonal relations), job responsibilities (based on the specific job function you perform), and goals to be achieved. Within each section, your performance may be rated on a multi-point scale. A typical 4-point scale is: 4-Exceeds requirements; 3-Meets requirements; 2-Needs improvement; 1-Unsatisfactory.

The performance evaluation generally includes a place for you or your supervisor to provide comments on specific aspects of your performance. It is reasonable to expect that these comments will include examples of when and how your performance in the workplace met, exceeded, or did not meet the organization’s standards.

After your supervisor has gone over your performance review with you, take a moment to compare his or her evaluation with the self-evaluation you had completed. If there are multiple and substantive differences, you should discuss these with your supervisor – particularly if his or her rating of your performance was substantially lower than yours. Such differences suggest a lack of communication about expectations and responsibilities, and should be a red flag that something is awry. Your supervisor usually will ask you to complete a section of the form acknowledging that the review was discussed with you, and to provide your comments – you should not feel pressured to do this immediately, and it is perfectly appropriate to ask for some time (a day, or a weekend) to complete and return the signed form. Be aware that annual performance evaluations become part of your employee file, and you should be circumspect and professional in your comments.

If you work for an organization in which there is no formalized annual performance appraisal process, don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor to provide you with feedback on how you’re doing. Schedule a meeting, with plenty of lead time, and go through the steps we’ve described: start with a copy of your job description, and draft a memo to your supervisor that tells him or her how you think you’re doing. List the accomplishments you’re proud of, and include a section that discusses areas where you would like to develop new skills or competencies you possess that you feel are being under-utilized. Your supervisor should appreciate your initiative and drive!

Your career questions and issues answered.

“After nearly 5 years with my current employer, I decided to pursue other opportunities, and after a 3-month search, was offered a position with a larger organization that promised a better salary and long-term growth opportunities. When I resigned, my supervisor presented me with a counteroffer that included a promotion and raise. Now I’m uncertain about what I should do.”

--Auction House Associate, Boston

The short answer is: “Don’t ever accept a counteroffer.” In a recent article in National Business Employment Weekly, Paul Hawkinson, a highly respected writer specializing in employment and recruitment, wrote: “During the past 20 years, I have seen only isolated incidents in which an accepted counteroffer has benefited the employee.” Before considering a counteroffer, think about the following hard truths of the workplace:

  • You had to resign before your current employer offered you a raise, promotion, or better work situation. Making a counteroffer is clearly a defensive move and is about what’s best for your employer – not necessarily what’s best for you.
  • There is a very high probability that the circumstances that have led to your considering a change will repeat themselves down the road.
  • By resigning, you have sent a clear signal that you are unhappy with your current situation. Accepting a counteroffer could affect your future opportunities for advancement, and even tag you as an unhappy employee with questionable loyalty to the organization. A Wall Street Journal survey showed that within 18 months, 93% of employees who had accepted counteroffers had left.
  • Inevitably your decision to leave will reflect poorly on your boss; by countering, he or she is seeking to save face – but may also be stalling for time to find your replacement.

Our best advice is to be accepting of the possibility of a counteroffer, but be prepared to say “no”. Write a resignation letter that is courteous, professional, and unambiguous. If your supervisor sends signals suggesting your departure is going to be devastating to the organization, offer to help train your successor or to make yourself available to answer any questions that emerge during the transition. Do not feel guilty about leaving – it is, after all, your life and your future, and it’s up to you to make the most of both!

NEXT ISSUE: GALLERIES: The Good, Bad and Not so Ugly

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