Can performance beat experience?
April 14, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

How should I prepare to apply for a promotion?

I work in IT for a fairly large undergraduate college. My manager is finishing a graduate degree at night and planning to vacate his position roughly two months from now. I want his job but I'm clearly the underdog -- a few other people are qualified who've been there ten years longer than I have and have served as Interim Manager while he's been away.

To overcome the incumbency factor I need to be firing on all cylinders. I think I can argue the recency and relevancy of my education outweighs the experience of other candidates, and write a cover letter to knock socks off. I got a two rung promotion a year and a half ago on the basis of education, past supervisor's recommendation and interviewing strength, and this position would be around 1.5 rungs up.

From my perspective, my biggest challenge is that I'm relatively new and young and don't have strong relationships with people likely to be on the hiring committee, and most potential references will be applying for the position as well. Judging by the current manager's background, I have the education and professional requirements. But I don't think I can rely upon a supervisor recommendation to bump me over the fence, since there's other coworkers he's known longer than me and likely to favor.

What I'm struggling with is where to draw professional references from. Although I work in IT for a college, helpdesk shields me from a lot of interaction with the rest of the college. I've only met three faculty in person, and only briefly. I keep in touch with a number of college IT employee across the state, but we've never worked together, or only as classmates.

I can find all sorts of information about getting interviews with another company, but little about preparing for internal promotions and interviews. Any additional advice on the subject of internal positions and college IT or public service hiring would be appreciated.

But mostly I need to know, where do professionals draw the line in references? Is there an etiquette for asking coworkers to be a reference for a position they might be applying for? Where should I focus the two or three months I've got to produce quality references? Faculty, coworkers, other?
posted by pwnguin to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Go ahead and apply, but honestly, you started preparing for this about 1-2 years too late. You should have already been knocking it out, serving as interim manager for your boss, and networking with the people that would be on a hiring committee. It sounds like you're panicking because you're finally realizing this.

A more realistic approach would probably be to a) apply, b) hopefully interview, c) graciously accept whomever is promoted to be your new manager, and d) talk with them about what they need you to do to make them look good. The easiest route to getting this position is being a big part of the reason your boss moves up, and having him pull you along to help continue the trend.
posted by bfranklin at 10:42 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how it works in an academic setting, but every internal job I've applied for, I haven't provided references. The hiring manager usually knows who they trust to provide an opinion and will go talk to them. I would find it odd to be asked to provide a reference for a colleague who was applying for an internal position, even a promotion.

You mentioned that you had been promoted two runs a year and a half ago -- does your current job provide any leadership/management experience? I would expect that to be the biggest issue for you -- moving from an individual contributor to a manager is a significant step, and if I were the hiring manager, I would want to see evidence of leadership experience and ability. That's not something you can learn in school.

In addition to bfranklin's experience, which I think is very good, I would also suggest talking with your current manager -- does he see you as a viable candidate for this position? If so, he can give you some interview tips. If not, he can give you some advice as to what to work on.
posted by elmay at 10:53 AM on April 14, 2010

Response by poster: There's no way I can serve as interim manager, as I'm currently part time hourly and the position is fulltime salaried; the college normally hands these positions out to people who are qualified on paper while they perform a serious search. I know of two interim managers within the institution passed over for the permanent position. A third would be par for course.

On the subject of promoting my manager: due to being a collegiate institution, formal degrees and higher education are stronger requirements than usual. No matter how hard I push, I can't 'get' him a promotion with the organization if he doesn't finish his Masters. I'd classify the position as the current holder performs it as team lead for a group of six people. Moreover, the dude makes more than the director who came in a few months before I started.

I'm not delusional, I know pulling this off will be hard and is atypically fast. I'm not looking for ways to guarantee an unlikely proposition; what I'm looking for is advice on improving my odds even just a little. I like this place and would prefer not to leave, but I can't sit around in part time positions with no benefits much longer. If I had a FT position in the normal corporate world, I think bfranklin's advice would make more sense. Certainly, it's not the first time I've read that advice.

It sounds like each organization is unique and so the best approach may be to ask my manager and his manager how I can improve my outlook and who would normally serve on the hiring committee.
posted by pwnguin at 1:14 PM on April 14, 2010

Absolutely. If you're looking to move up, networking with the people that can help you is key. And while education is somewhat different than the corporate world, a lot of things are the same -- relationships are still key for moving beyond base level positions.
posted by bfranklin at 1:53 PM on April 14, 2010

Response by poster: Of course the day I post this would be the day his wife gets the transfer she wanted so they don't have to move and he stays in his job. Waste of a question, but at least keeping quiet about it didn't encourage anyone to hide the news from me.
posted by pwnguin at 5:17 PM on April 14, 2010

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