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Saturday Work: Dear Jeremy: Problems at work? Our agony uncle - and you, the readers - have the answers

June 28, 2014

Jeremy Bullmore

I've 30 years' experience, but should I change career now I'm in my 50s?

I am an unemployed museum manager in my 50s with more than 30 years' experience in museums and tourism, mostly as an employee of a local authority. My strengths are in exhibition project management and visitor services but I have also worked extensively with museum, archive and gallery collections.

I am not an academic specialist but have a good knowledge of British history and historic sites and buildings. I am maintaining professional links by volunteering at my library and as a website manager for a museum consortium. I am also a trustee of a local museum. Four years ago, I left a permanent middle-management post at a major London visitor attraction as I was unhappy with the bullying management culture. I immediately found part-time work for a specialist collection. When this finished, I took on another temporary museum management role for a London borough. This finished almost a year ago.

I have had eight unsuccessful interviews for museum management or exhibition project management since.

I feel that I am much better at doing the job than talking about it at interview. I prepare very thoroughly for interviews and work on my techniques.

Should I continue on my present path or should I look at changing career? I understand that this may mean retraining, but worry that I will find myself penalised because of lack of experience, despite holding many transferable skills. I have considered freelancing in my field, but it is a crowded scene as local authorities close, or reduce, heritage services.

Jeremy says

You don't need me to remind you of the risks involved in changing careers in your 50s. If you'd always had a second career in mind, and had spent many years familiarising yourself with it, then it could well have been a risk worth taking. But, in your case, there seems no clear, identified, deeply felt ambition that could help propel you through what would undoubtedly be a lengthy and difficult transition; and with little certainty of work at the end of it.

So I'm pretty sure you should stick to your familiar subject in which you have enviable and valuable experience.

When you left your full-time job, you got two part-time positions in succession - and pretty quickly, at that. I know the last few months must have been dispiriting - but to abandon the search now could be a real pity.

I suggest you use your enforced spare time and rich experience to write not just job applications to positions of interest, but well thought-through professional proposals for different and more effective ways of doing things.

You might find that being invited to enlarge on your written proposals could turn the interview process into something much more suited to you and therefore work to your advantage.

Readers say

1/8 You might want to pay for an interview coach. At a guess, it may be that your experience intimidates some of those conducting the interviews.


* Why don't you give freelance a try? So many museums lose expertise and staff, they need to backfill with consultants. Try not to think of freelance as a last resort - it offers flexibility and variety and can be very lucrative. Bogart101

* You work in quite a small, niche field which is bearing the brunt of cuts and reductions. But you've got to interview eight times and have a wealth of experience. You are doing all the things people get advised to do: volunteer, keep your CV current, be proactive etc. You sound like your confidence is knocked but you are basically doing everything right. Keep applying. MiseryStar

* You seem to have a huge skill set, including project management - if so, that is a transferable skill. So why not make the most of that? Jacob123

I fear I may be fired as a colleague tries to sabotage my position

About six months ago I returned to a previous position after a temporary assignment in another department. I had done the scheduling and organising of the staff; tasks that were assigned to a colleague during my absence.

Upon my return, this colleague provided management with a note stating he was unable to return to his former duties and so remained the scheduler, and I would simply be the front-desk clerk. He now micro manages all my assignments, accuses me of making schedule changes when I haven't and sabotages me by failing to inform me of events or when employees are out of the office, so I look foolish in front of other staff and customers.

I have brought this to the attention of my manager, but it continues. I am actively searching for other employment but fear these "mistakes" will get me fired before I can find something else. What do I do?

Jeremy says

I wish I knew a little more about your temporary assignment to that other department. Presumably, this was at the request of your manager. But I wonder if you received any written or verbal assurance that, when it was completed, you'd be returning to your previous position? It would be helpful if you had. I find it distinctly odd that your colleague has managed to remain as scheduler simply by telling management that he was "unable" to return to his former duties.

One thing's clear. As long as this colleague is allowed to get away with such wayward behaviour, including making false accusations, your working life is going to be extremely unsatisfactory; and I'm sure you're absolutely right to be looking for alternative employment.

When bringing your colleague's failures to the attention of your manager, did you do this in writing, and with independent witnesses wherever possible? If you haven't, I'd strongly recommend you do so in future, not because I'm confident that such an approach will prompt your manager to restore you to your original job - although it just might. Its greater value would be to help allay your fears of being fired for a series of non-existent mistakes.

Your manager who seems - from his accommodating manner towards your colleague - to be pretty easily influenced, would certainly know that factual written statements would be powerful supporting evidence if you ever needed to contest dismissal. If you have an HR department, it should certainly be kept informed.

Finally, be meticulous when you itemise this colleague's failures. If he could successfully challenge just one, your case could be fatally weakened.

Readers say

* Keep a log of all of the times your colleague "sabotages" your work, no matter how small. From time to time, send an email to your boss noting the more serious examples of sabotage since the last time you contacted him.

It will be hard to fire you if you can demonstrate how your colleague is behaving. Or, if they do, you can claim unfair dismissal. If there is a union in your workplace, join it. SpursSupporter

* Toughen up. Get your old territory back. One way or another you're going to have to see him off. That's what happens when you go elsewhere for six months. Haven't you read The Prince? FrameBoy

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Source: Guardian (UK)

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