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Ready for Growth? Get Proper Experience First

By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:00 AM

I am 34 and have been working in the library system for over nine years. I am currently a corporate librarian, but also have academic experience.

I want to move forward with my career and manage a library, but only have two years of supervisory experience. And even then, I was head of a small department within an academic library (it only had three full-time and three part-time workers).

My current position isn't helping either since I am a solo librarian. I do, however, train other employees and coordinate services for at least three other offices.

Because of my lack of experience, I don't get the job offers or interviews for [senior level] positions. With that said, how can I gain this experience without having held those positions? How I should present myself in resumes or interviews?

You are facing a dilemma shared by many workers trying to advance a career in management: You need managerial experience to get a job, but can't seem to get that experience because no one will hire you.

No one automatically becomes a manager. Somewhere down the road, most managers were able to transcend the experience gap. The typical ways are through education (being trained for management academically or within an organization) and promotion (filling a departing supervisor's shoes after proving yourself as an employee). And sometimes even an outside applicant without the experience will secure a management job based on their apparent potential -- or who they know.

It sounds as though you're on the way to accumulating the experience necessary to achieve your goals. However, you aren't quite there yet. And it seems to me that you are overreaching a bit with the types of jobs you have been applying to. Perhaps, you'd like to be in charge of a 30 person staff. Given this scenario, you will need a few more years of experience as a junior manager. As the head of a library, my guess is that you'll need a great deal of experience not only managing people, but also budgets, facilities and external relationships.

At this point, your first priority should be to get back into a job supervising people -- even one person is better than no one. Pick a job within a larger library organization, where you'll have room to grow professionally. As part of your interview process, be sure to ask direct questions regarding their opportunities for advancement and don't be afraid to share some of your ambitions.

And remember not to downplay your two years of managerial experience. Having six direct reports whether part- or full-time is a respectable number. Before applying to positions, make a list of your achievements and strengths as a supervisor. This should better help you reflect those attributes in a confident manner.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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