Ask a public historian: Mike Hollander

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Mike Hollander with Kermit the Frog. Photo credit: Image courtesy of Mike Hollander.

Hollander with Kermit the Frog. Photo credit: Mike Hollander

Mike Hollander is currently the acting museum director at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. He has been at the Wisconsin Historical Museum for five years and in his current position for nearly a year. Previously, Hollander was an associate curator at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for four years, followed by two years as exhibitions manager at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. He has a BS in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in public history from Loyola University Chicago.

What was your career trajectory?

After graduating college, I was positive I wanted to work in politics, not necessarily as an elected official, but working for the legislature at some level. It didn’t take long to realize that I was wrong. I started to look at other options. I volunteered at a museum to see if I was interested in it, and was hooked. I decided to pursue a graduate degree in public history. One of the requirements of the program was an internship, and I chose to intern at the Museum of Science and Industry. I was fortunate enough to be involved with a great project–the U-505 Submarine exhibition. When my internship ended, I was kept on as a part-time employee and then moved to full-time associate curator. After four years at MSI, I took a position as exhibitions manager at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. After two years at CAF, my family relocated to Wisconsin and I took a part-time position as financial assistant at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This led to a full-time position as business manager and eventually museum deputy director. When the museum director was promoted, I was put into the position of acting museum director.

If someone wants to be “you” what advice would you have?

First, learn a variety of skills, particularly financial and project management. If you have a particular skill, and the need for that skill goes away or changes, it is good to be able to shift into another area. Also, there are skills and knowledge that can be used in a very specific instance and others that can be used universally. I know a lot about the U-505. That’s great when you work at the Museum of Science and Industry, but not so much at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. I also know how to manage a budget, which can be used at any organization. If you can help out anywhere within your organization, you will make yourself invaluable.

Second, be open to the opportunities in front of you. Maybe you really want to be an archivist but there is a museum educator position available. Learn how to be the best educator you can be and other opportunities will open to you (or maybe a new path that you didn’t know about).

What is your favorite question to ask in interviews and why?

Tell us about yourself. This is usually the first question I ask. It gives people the opportunity to start the interview by telling me something they should know very well and hopefully makes them more comfortable and less nervous. The right answer is the one that gives me insight into the interviewee. It can be anything. Their personal story, their personality, their education, their work experience. I want to know if this person is a good fit with our team.

Any good resume tips specific to the field?

Some of this is specific to the field and some of it is general. First, take the time to put together your cover letter and resume. Get rid of all misspellings and extraneous words. Read your cover letter and resume aloud to yourself before you send it. If you can, have someone else read it. Second, it is really easy to identify an applicant that is firing off generic resumes. Find out about the organization you are applying to. Spend time combing through their website. If you can, make time for a visit. Then make your application as specific to the position as you can. Third, make your work history relevant to the position. The visitor experience is extremely important in the museum field right now. What have you done in your previous work that has improved someone’s experience? What did you do to help someone, whether a co-worker or the public? How can you apply your experience to the duties that are listed in the job posting? Finally, and this is the hard one, what can you do to make the organization you are applying to successful?

~ This post is part of our series “Ask a Public Historian,” brought to you by NCPH’s New Professional and Graduate Student Committee. Follow the committee on Twitter at @NCPHnewgrad. You can find more “Ask a Practitioner” posts here.

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