Further Questions: What’s the Best Way for Someone to Get Promoted in Your Organization?

This week I asked people who hire librarians about promotions and internal candidates:

What is the best way for someone to get promoted in your organization? Are there any particular indicators that show you when a staff member is ready for more responsibility? Do internal candidates have to follow the same application procedures as external candidates?  Any other advice for succeeding when you’re already an employee?

Marleah AugustineIf there are open positions, we definitely will look internally if we have qualified candidates. Recently, we added a second tier of support staff (we had Librarian Assistant I, which is more of a clerk position, and then added Librarian Assistant II, which includes duties with more responsibility – programming, more specialized projects) and first looked internally for candidates. Make no mistake – this is not an easy task, especially since people who don’t get the job must continue working with the person who did get the job.

The best way for someone to get promoted (and to show that they are ready for more responsibility) is to go above and beyond in their current position. Bring me an idea for a new program, or a new way of doing things that would improve service. Show that you have an excellent working knowledge of what goes on “behind the scenes”. Ask questions that show your eagerness to learn. Do not just sit back and continue working at a mediocre pace and with mediocre quality and then expect to get chosen for a higher position. Do not say things like “That’s not my job” and then expect to get chosen for a position where that would be your job.

For us, internal candidates do follow the same application procedures – completing an application, then doing an interview. Internal candidates may have a leg up simply because I already know them and know how they fit in with the rest of the staff. That being said, sometimes it is necessary to bring in a fresh viewpoint from outside the organization.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Laurie PhillipsThis is a tough one. Promotion is a whole different thing from being an internal candidate for a faculty librarian position and I’m not sure how this ended up together in one post. To answer the first question, we recently promoted/upgraded a staff member from university staff (hourly, non-exempt) to administrative staff (exempt). It was clear that she was both capable of and interested in new and more challenging responsibilities. We had discussed new ideas for her position from the beginning and she even helped us develop the new position and job description! As for librarians, we are a medium-sized fairly flat organization so it’s difficult to be promoted even if someone is ready for more responsibility, although that’s what happened to me. Instead, we try to give people more opportunities for leadership and see how that develops. We do a lot with changing job descriptions and titles as a person grows and develops.

Now, as for the second part, yes, internal candidates must go through all of the same application and interview procedures as external candidates. Because we are faculty, we must conduct national searches and cannot just “promote” someone from extraordinary faculty to ordinary (tenure-track) faculty except for under very unusual circumstances (it has happened twice in the past 25 years or so). We did it this year but we had to request an exemption from the provost. The person was such a great fit for the new position and was doing such an incredible job that it would have been a waste of time to conduct a national search and she was recommended by a unanimous vote of the library faculty. A person may have a better chance at being hired in a national search if he or she is already working within the organization (say, part-time or in a temporary librarian position) but it can also backfire if the person has not done a great job or has not shown a lot of interest in getting involved with the organization. When we did exclusively phone interviews, we actually phone interviewed internal candidates, even if they were in the building, so they would have the same experience. Since we started using Skype for interviews, we decided to interview our one internal candidate in person because it seemed artificial to make him Skype us from elsewhere in the building!

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Marge Loch-WoutersIf you are looking for promotion within the organization, look for ways to go the extra mile to show what you can do beyond your job description. Look for CE opportunities (webinars, workshops, local conferences) and consider attending –on your own dime.  Look at your institution and suggest positive changes that improve services – and then be willing to pitch in to make the change happen.  Find a manager outside your department who is familiar with your work and ask, in confidence, for feedback on their perception of you as an employee. You can often discover areas that could use some strengthening.  Don’t be a whiner or a back-stabber. Work a little extra to show you aren’t a clock-watcher.  These are all signs to me that an employee is ready for the next step.

We now ask our internal candidates to follow the same procedures as external candidates.  In the past, when we didn’t and promoted people because they had seniority or “deserved” it we were mostly paid back with people either out of their depth or lacking vision, motivation or so lackadaisical that we questioned our sanity for offering the promotion. They had truly reached their level of incompetency.  Now that all candidates have to go through the same rigorous process, the buy-in from internal candidates has sky-rocketed and people know they have to earn any promotion by being consistently excellent.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Emilie SmartIn our system, internal candidates do have to follow the same application procedures as external candidates if they are seeking a promotion; however, the library has the option to request a list of internal applicants only — and we often use this option before considering external candidates.

When considering promotional candidates, I look for evidence of increasing responsibility in their work histories.  We have a large system with plenty of opportunities for movement, although that movement may not be promotional.  Candidates who are willing to move around the system in order to get broader experience are often the best candidates for promotion.  Willingness to do jobs that may not fall into their professional preferences show me that they understand that higher level employees need to be able to get the job done, no matter the job.  In my department at the Main branch, promotional opportunities are very limited.  I always tell my best staff members to transfer out to a branch if they want to move up.  This advice works well on many levels — it positions current staff members for promotion to department heads and branch managers; it gets the most experienced reference staff into the branches  (I’m the Reference Services head), improving services all around; and it allows me to get new personnel in to train and move out.

In my own department, I encourage staff to take on extra responsibilities if they are interested in future promotion and I keep an eye on how they do their work and handle extra duties.  Staff members who see problems and offer solutions or handle problems (correctly) without waiting for a supervisor always look better as candidates for promotion.  I also encourage staff to pursue training and continuing education.  Those who make the effort look better as promotional candidates.

Staff members who demonstrate initiative in all aspects of their work will be the candidates who get the interview and, possibly, the promotion.

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

We are an egalitarian group without hierarchy.  A cataloguer who produces error free records will be taken off review, and might be asked to revise others’ work (which would be renumberated).

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

I know they’re ready when they come to me with new ideas or they ask for more responsibility, especially after they’ve successfully completed a project.  I love it when a current staff member shows the initiative and the knowledge to propose a project or procedure that impacts the library as a whole, but even if it affects their present assignment, I’m impressed.  I have an employee who tells me that she wants to attend this class or learn this duty or try this new procedure.  It doesn’t matter if an employee fails, it is the attempting that counts with me.
We have promotional only opportunities as well as open application positions.  All other things being equal I do favor someone who has or is working for us in some capacity, especially when we already know the person is a good fit.
– Melanie Lightbody, County Librarian at Mendocino County Library

Colleen HarrisOur job postings are always posted internally first, which is nice for existing staff and librarians in case they are interested in a change of duties. In terms of ‘when a staff member is ready for more responsibility’ – this is an interesting line to walk, since you have to take into account both the desires of the staff member, the needs of the library, and the requirements of their position. Our library is very good about reviewing position descriptions annually, so if duties change, we rewrite the job and request reclassification as necessary. Our org chart changes constantly given that we are a change-friendly library, and we have changed titles, had people change positions, and shaken things up to allow room for growth when we can and when appropriate for the Library. I will note that this has *not* been the case at many academic libraries I have worked in, so this may be a unique case.

In terms of succeeding when you are already an employee, you should always keep in the forefront of your mind that not just the quality of the work you do but the relationships with your colleagues that you maintain is critical. As someone who holds my current position after previously working in a different position at the same library, I can say that while the benefit was that my colleagues knew my good work and work ethic, they were also privy to all the downsides of working with me that would never have been evident in a new environment at an interview (for instance, that I am a crabby early morning person!). Thus, any benefits of being an internal candidate can be offset, if you’re not careful.

My advice is to treat your candidacy for an internal position just like you would a ‘real’ job interview – be professional, ask pertinent questions. It will be appreciated by colleagues that you appear to take it seriously, and it keeps you in a good light when it comes time to compare you to other candidates.

– Colleen  S. Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor, Lupton Library,University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Thank you as always to the above for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and you would like to share your opinion in this segment (or otherwise), please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

And thank you for reading!  Comments are one of my favorite things, so go ahead and let us know what you’re thinking already!

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2 responses to “Further Questions: What’s the Best Way for Someone to Get Promoted in Your Organization?

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