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January 10, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Human Resources Voodoo: How does one land a supervisory position without ever having really supervised anyone?

Managers are, at least practically speaking, made and not born. I'd like to be made into one. I work for a large government entity. I'm hoping to avoid having my resume shuffled into the pile to be shredded, but I'm not sure how to do that.

Problem One: All the positions at this institution that would be a promotion for me involve supervision. Fine! Great! I like people! I would put the SUPER in supervisor. Only, I don't currently supervise anyone. In fact...

Problem Two: My only supervisory experience is... useless-ish. Eight years ago, while in an unpaid position working on a political campaign, I supervised 25 college interns as well as seemingly endless groups of volunteers (mostly union members). I don't include that experience on my resume for a lot of reasons. It was eight years ago; it is political and therefore a potential lightning-rod; it wasn't a paid position; it was for a candidate whose campaign went down in memorable, embarrassing flames. I'd be comfortable sharing that experience in an interview where I could provide some context or good humor. I'm not terribly comfortable putting it on my resume just so that some Human Resources Drone can see management potential in me. Furthermore, it doesn't even meet the "two years supervisory experience" that are listed as "required" for the position.

Should I contact someone in the department directly who might then contact human resources and ask that my application be sent along up the chain? Could I do that under the guise of an "informational interview," and try to get them excited about the possibility of my application? Should I start my own lemonade stand and/or super-villain lair on the side and hire a henchperson? Do I hold a seance and attempt to contact Peter Drucker for his endorsement? Do I sit in my current position until my department decides to promote me to a manager sometime toward the dawn of the next century? Am I thinking about this the wrong way? Do people just lie their way into supervision?

tl;dr: I don't have (much/great/useful) supervisory experience on paper. How do I convince someone that I'd be a good supervisor?
posted by jph to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In my case (also a civil servant, hit the glass ceiling of "you can't be a supervisor without experience but you need experience to be a supervisor") I volunteered outside of my worlplace in a role that supervised others. It gave me real-world experience and something for my resume. On my resume I do not distinguish between paid and non-paid work (because they both should have the same skill-building value).

Most supervisors I know got their first supervisor job by showing potential. Are there committees you can participate (ideally Chair) to show leadership?
posted by saucysault at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are in a governmental position, you must have some sort of administrative experience and responsibilities. Have you ever administered any programs, been responsible for ensuring things get done, or had to ensure that people comply with stuff? That's supervisory work, even if you aren't in a direct supervisory role in the sense that you are somebody's boss. If you've ever had to get people to do something, then you've had some supervisory experience.

Maybe talk to people who have been in the role that you have been in, and find out what supervisory experience they had when they were promoted into it. You may find out that the supervisory experience is not the traditional experience that you are worried about.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Eight years ago, while in an unpaid position working on a political campaign, I supervised 25 college interns as well as seemingly endless groups of volunteers (mostly union members). I don't include that experience on my resume for a lot of reasons.

(I used to be an HR tech/media guy. Now I pick my toenails on the beach and pontificate a lot about it.)

That experience you are hiding is great, relevant experience, and it should be on your resume. It doesn't matter that it was volunteer based, and eight years ago is recent enough. When asked about it in your interview, you can talk about how unruly and unreliable college students are, and how clever and responsible you were in keeping them productive. Big score.

(Bonus tip: Interviewers want calm, mature, responsible adults for supervisory roles. So be as calm and thoughtful/measured as you can be in your interview.)

If it's the "union" part that makes you want to leave it out (unattractive to your current employer maybe?) write around it.
posted by rokusan at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2012

Option for your resume "volunteer coordinator for a Get Out The Vote effort. Supervised 25 volunteers, managed day-to-day blah blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc..."

When asked what campaign, you either talk about it, or you say, with a smile, "I can't win on this one, because it was a political election and I don't want to risk offending anyone. But I will say that it was a great experience that reinforced my supervisory and project management skills, by blah blah blah, etc, etc etc.". If pressed for affiliation (like they share their affiliation) you could say something like. "well, it also taught me that not only do I love supervision and project management, I do not love electoral politics. It's necessary, but has equal potential to change people's lives and create disappointment."
posted by vitabellosi at 12:26 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

My experience was in a private business, but I took the lowest job on the ladder and worked extremely hard to convince my bosses I was worth promoting. If you make yourself stand out through day-to-day reliability and decision-making, and if you report to someone directly who wants to see you succeed, you can move ahead.

It sounds like your situation is quite a bit different, but the principle is similar: you need someone who has seen how you work to vouch for you.
posted by tacodave at 3:58 PM on January 10, 2012

Are you applying through USAJOBS or your local HR? Are you applying for jobs within your department or local organization?

I ask because if what you're applying for is fairly local then letters of recommendation stating that you're ready for a supervisory position are going to go a long way and will be very helpful. If not, they still won't hurt.

Regarding your experience; list everything. They just need to know that you can deal with people. The union bit is just a funny aside and might even be helpful to you. Any experience with unions is helpful to sups and you'll eventually get a bunch of training on the subject anyway.

Finally, OJT counts! Has your boss been mentoring you, teaching you the ropes, will he or she write a letter stating that they have? If you're ready to be a sup, you must have learned it somewhere. (If you're not comfortable with that, ask and get some mentoring and training.)

FWIW, I've been a civil service sup since '05 and nothing makes me happier than helping promote folks who deserve it! You sound like you're well on your way. Good luck and keep applying!
posted by snsranch at 6:06 PM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: Good questions snsranch!

I've learned via my mentor that the institution tends to prefer longer, cv-style resumes to the one-page standard resume that we all know and love. That makes me feel more comfortable about including the older experience in some careful way.

I'd apply via our in-house HR mechanism, so while it wouldn't be something as huge as USAJOBS, it's still a pretty large infrastructure where it is easy to get shuffled into the wrong pile. That said, you're right that there is still a lot more room for the personal touch that could make the difference.

I'm a state employee. In a "Right to Work" state. So unions are considered pretty toxic by the predominant culture here. The only training anyone gets on unions here is: "We don't have them. We don't want them. They're evil and will cause your children to become gay communists." That said, I work in a fairly blue industry, in a fairly blue city in a giant sea of red. So while mentioning unions specifically is probably not a great option, discussing the actual work (scheduling and handling logistics for hundreds of daily volunteers) is probably just fine.
posted by jph at 7:47 AM on January 11, 2012

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