Whether identifying an “old master” painting, appraising Ming Dynasty ceramics, or researching and organising a sale of rare stamps, anyone working for an auction house soon discovers there is far more to the job than the simplified public image of intoning “going, going, gone” and bringing down the hammer. As Alexi Fung, managing director of Bonhams in Hong Kong, is quick to explain, the firm has six departments – Chinese painting, modern and contemporary art, wine, works of art, and jewellery and watches – and the specialists working in each can have very different academic backgrounds and training. The auction house hires fresh graduates, who start on the first rung and experienced people who have worked in related industries. “The main thing we look for is passion,” what you are doing and are committed to keep learning.” Founded in 1793, Bonhams is one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. Especially during the auction season, part-time and temporary staff are taken on to support specialists. Some subsequently stay on to become junior specialists, having the opportunity to work with some of the most knowledgeable people in their areas and to gain a fuller understanding of how an auction house operates its business. For anyone considering this route, knowledge of art or prior experience in the field is not a must, but it is a big advantage. Most important is total commitment, integrity and an interest in learning best practices. “Our senior specialists are always willing to share their knowledge and experience,” Fung says. Andrew Simmonds, associate director in the consumer practice for Harvey Nash Executive Search APAC, notes that senior positions at auction houses are generally divided into specialist and business management roles. The former involve responsibility for putting sales together, which requires expertise in sourcing and accurately valuing works under consideration. For the latter, qualifications in business management can be helpful, but industry experience often counts as much. “For senior specialist roles, knowledge of the market is crucial, as are contacts,” Simmonds says. “For top management and strategic positions, experience of a comparable industry or specific understanding of a particular geographical region can be important and transferable.” Simmonds adds that for roles in commercial galleries, contacts and industry knowledge are as useful as business qualifications.