How to Get a Job at the Smithsonian


The Smithsonian is home to some of the most valuable historic, artistic and scientific items in the country. As the self-proclaimed leader in research, innovation and discovery, the Smithsonian Institution hosted 30.3 million visits in 2012 alone. It employs experts in a variety of fields, including archivists, conservators, curators, exhibits specialists, technicians, educators, scientists and writers. Most Smithsonian employees hold federal civil service positions. The museum also hires trust position employees, whose salaries come from multiple sources, including the Smithsonian endowment.

Get an Education

  • Each job announcement lists education requirements specific to the position, but most require a degree relevant to the job’s field. The Smithsonian encourages degree programs geared toward museums, such as master’s programs in museum studies and historical preservation, museum professions or public history. Candidates can attend undergraduate museum studies programs or minor in museum studies. The Smithsonian also offers several fellowship opportunities, such as the Smithsonian Gardens Fellowship that supports thesis, independent and dissertation horticulture research.

Gain Relevant Experience

  • Most positions require candidates to have some experience relevant to the field. The Smithsonian offers several internship opportunities in units including the National Zoological Park, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History and National Air and Space Museum. For example, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's Internship Program provides experience in atmospheric, estuarine and terrestrial environmental research projects. The Smithsonian also offers a general internship for candidates with a broad interest in the Institution.

Meet the Requirements

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that any travel, background investigation, security clearance or drug screening required for employment will be listed in the vacancy announcement. According to the Smithsonian Institute, US citizenship is required to obtain a civil service position. It notes that applicants are graded using the job’s requirements stated on the announcement under “Qualifications Required” and “How You Will Be Evaluated.” Candidates whose education, volunteer and work histories contain the most demonstrated ability are referred to the hiring manager.

Apply for the Job

  • Smithsonian job openings are published on USAJobs. When candidates click “Apply Online” through the vacancy announcement, they’re redirected to the Smithsonian Tracking & Applicant Referral System. STARS asks a series of questions that assist in grading applicants’ qualifications for the position. The questions may be in true or false, yes or no, multiple choice or short answer format. After the questionnaire, candidates submit a resume and additional documents, such as a reference list, if necessary. Those with the highest ratings receive email updates when their application reaches the hiring manager and once the selection is complete.

Trust Positions

  • On the surface, you'll spot little difference between trust position employees and the federal employees working at the Smithsonian. Members of both groups often fill the same roles. Trust position employees work under their own benefits program, but it largely replicates the benefits federal employees receive. When you're studying a job listing, distinguishing the trust positions from the government jobs is simply a matter of knowing the pay plan codes. If the listing mentions pay plan AE, IL or HG, you're looking at a trust position opening. Pay plans WG, SL and GS apply to federal employees. Only U.S. citizens can hold federal jobs. Non-citizens can apply for trust positions, provided they can present documentation that confirms their right to work in the United States.

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