Career management can mean a lot of things to different people. For some, it might be just simply being prepared to “take the next step” when the opportunity arises while others might be scouting out the next rung on the ladder before they’ve fully unpacked their things into their desk.
- how to effectively approach a promotional process,
- the importance of establishing an effective “home base” that will enable them to have an unwavering confidence when facing all the challenges of the process,
- and learn how to approach the all-important interview process.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Kimberly, you’re a new presenter for the Justice Clearinghouse community… Tell us a bit about yourself and your unique perspective on this topic.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: I am a police psychologist, consultant, coach, and trainer, and I have been working with public safety professionals for over 14 years. The focus of much of my training in graduate school involved the creation of measurement tools and since that time I have worked to enhance the assessment of both individuals and organizations. One of the areas I work a great deal in is the development of leaders (i.e., coaching, mentoring and succession planning) and helping organizations assess leadership and character qualities in promotional candidates. I believe these are the most critical aspects to assess, and many processes do a poor job in vetting out these qualities. In many situations organizations end up promoting the best test taker and not the best leader. My hope is to reduce the frequency of that occurring by helping organizations learn how to run better promotional processes and also to help prospective candidates learn how to improve their leadership and character by becoming more intentional every day in developing their “soft skills.”
In many situations, organizations end up promoting
the best test taker and not the best leader.
JCH: The promotions process is, of course, tied to career management. How has career management changed and evolved over the last 10-15 or so years in your view?
Dr. Miller: This is a complex question. I think one big change is that many professionals in the Boomer generation are retiring and this is leaving organizations with a big gap to fill in terms of both skills and wisdom. Due to the nature of public safety work, many organizations focus on just doing that is needed for the day and don’t often have the luxury to dedicate time to the long-term career development of their employees. I think for many years organizations could get away with this approach, because there was not as much turnover, but now many are struggling to fill in the gaps quickly as their most senior employees retire.
Another challenge, which I know sounds cliché is the generational differences we see in the workplace. Although informal mentoring has always existed, I think many people from the older generations (i.e., Boomer and X) feel they have much less in common and struggle to relate to Millennials. This lack of connection (that was not as prevalent between the Boomer and X), leads some to shy away from engaging, teaching and mentoring those younger professionals.
JCH: What do you think are the biggest mistakes that applicants make when going through the promotional process – especially in the Justice Profession?
Dr. Miller: I think there are two big mistakes people make. First, waiting too long to begin their own leadership development and second, trying to figure out what is on the “test” and focusing on preparing for the test “day.” Obviously, I think people should prepare, but to me this should start way before a person signs up to test for promotion. In my view, every day you are at work is your “interview” for the next level of service to your organization. Thus, I believe people should be working on their leadership, character and other soft skills on a regular basis, not waiting until right before the test to focus in these areas.
There are many ways a person can prepare (i.e., reading books, obtaining formal/informal mentoring, engaging in self-reflection about strengths and growth areas, soliciting feedback from others, etc.) and this work can happen at any time. My recommendation for everyone who wants to go to a higher level is to start now. Find someone you admire and challenge yourself to develop the skills, knowledge and abilities they possess. Work to lead from influence and be intentional about the character you show each day. If you approach your leadership in this way, you will be much more effective and successful, even if you don’t get promoted.
It is critical to remember that for every level you rise, the work changes, sometimes significantly.
…It is critical for everyone who wants to promote to get a clear picture of what life
and work looks like at the next level and ask themselves if they want that life…
JCH: A lot of applicants spend so much time trying to make themselves appealing to “get the job,” but forget that an interview process is a two-way street: that this is a time when they can determine if they want to work at a particular organization or for a particular manager? How can candidates do a better job of keeping this in mind?
Dr. Miller: I think it is critical to remember that for every level you rise, the work changes, sometimes significantly. I can’t tell you how many people I speak to in this profession who tell me they miss the “real” work (meaning the work done by the line level or first line supervisors). It is easy to get focused on more prestige or pay instead of asking yourself if you would really be happy doing different work at a higher level. I think it is critical for everyone who wants to promote to get a clear picture of what life and work looks like at the next level and ask themselves if they want that life and have the skills, strengths and abilities to be successful there.
Additionally, you make a good point about potentially having to work for someone you don’t get along with. Although some people can navigate this challenge successfully, for many others, the level of tension and/or conflict usually creates much more stress than they imagined. If promoting to the next level means you will have to work on a regular basis with someone whom you don’t like and can’t at least be professional with, it might be better to wait until circumstances change. However, if you decide to test knowing a potential conflict will occur, at least prepare yourself well, and be diligent about your interactions and your character, since that is all you can control.
JCH: Career management can feel like an overwhelming concept. How do you advise people to manage their careers, or make the idea of “managing their careers” a little less daunting?
Dr. Miller: This is hard to answer since it really depends on an individual’s goals and the dynamics of organizations. However, it is important to get clear on what your strengths/talents are and what career path best fits with those. I see many people either minimize their gifts and don’t put themselves out there enough or promote to a level that does not fit with their skill set. In either situation, there is frustration and disappointment.
I would also recommend not waiting for someone to come along and help or guide you. Take a proactive approach to your life and career goals. If there is something you want to achieve, figure out how to do it. If there is something you need to learn or practice, get the knowledge you need and dedicate intentional practice time. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. In all things be persistent, humble and dedicated. If you really want something and it fits with your talents, go get it and don’t let anything stand in your way. Lastly, be a good steward of your thoughts. Developing a positive mindset is critical for all success. Don’t let setbacks, negative comments from others or your own self-talk get in your way. Train your mind to focus on the positive, look for gifts and lessons in challenges and trust that everything happens for a reason. If you can do these things you will find that life will be much easier and you will experience more success in life overall.