Career planning – how a five-year plan can help

When my manager at the time suggested I write a five-year plan in 2012, I couldn’t help but cringe. It just seemed such a “management” thing to do. However, I thought highly of my manager and their commitment to CPD, so I knew they wouldn’t ask me to do something they didn’t think would be useful.

Here I share my experience of creating a five-year plan and what I got from the process.

How you do it

The first thing to do when writing a five-year plan is to write a job evaluation. This involves writing down the main parts of your role and sorting them into one of two columns or lists – “things I enjoy” and “things I enjoy less”. The idea being that you think of ways you can steer your career path towards the things you enjoy and away from the things you enjoy less.

Based on the job evaluation I came up with a list of goals for the next 5 years, prioritising them according to importance and giving myself a timeline for achieving them. After a couple of years, my manager and I went back through them and were both pleasantly surprised by how many I had achieved. Next year – five years after I first wrote it – I intend to go back through it fully to see what I’ve achieved, how and why I haven’t achieved some things (e.g. where my interests and aspirations have changed).

The approach I took was based on a combination of these three approaches:

One thing to bear in mind is that you don’t have to be ultra-specific about your five-year plan. You can look more generally at the types of tasks you like doing rather than the specifics of your current job. That way you can repurpose it if you change roles, move sectors within LIS or move out of the LIS sector.

The idea of a five-year plan is to give direction to your professional development, it is not designed to restrict you to only those activities. I find it works best when viewed as a dynamic document, open to change. So when reviewing your five-year plan, not achieving a goal isn’t a sign of failure – there may be reasons why you are no longer interested in that goal.

And your plan doesn’t have to be for 5 years if that feels like too much. You could write a shorter plan for say 18 months and review it sporadically to see how you’re progressing and if you want to change things. This can be particularly useful if you have any milestones that it would be useful to work towards.

What might you get out of it?

Similarly with the process of CILIP Chartership, it made me think about myself as a professional in a very holistic way. CPD and skill development is often focused on essentially making you better at your current job. So that made me think about what kinds of things I was interested in and what things I was keen to develop within my role. The evaluation formed the foundation for my appraisal objectives in that and subsequent years.

It’s by no means a silver bullet. It can’t change what you get paid etc, but it can help to give a feeling of direction and with that an element of control. I tend to feel like if I know where I want to go, I’m more likely to get there. It was also helpful when I started getting itchy feet at two years in to my role – I looked back at the evaluation and realised that the things I wanted to do long-term were being delivered in my current role and that I didn’t want to change jobs. It also helped me to define some of my goals, which are not necessarily the same as most people’s. The next logical step for me is management. But the process of writing a five-year plan helped me to identify that line management was not something I specifically aspired to.

This enabled me to focus on developing in other ways. I defined this as horizontal, rather than vertical, development. Once I knew that I wasn’t too interested in vertical progression through the organisation, I could think about the ways in which I wanted to broaden my skillset and the remit of my role. After 3-4 years of broadening and changing my role, it became clear that my job title and job description needed to change to reflect what I was actually doing.

When thinking about management, over time it helped me to identify that I am interested in many of the pastoral elements of management and some of the procedural ones, but not all of it. This enabled me to incorporate these elements into my role, through project management where I lead project teams. During the project I am responsible for managing the workload of the project team members and ensuring their welfare, in collaboration with them and their line manager. This aspect I enjoy. The pastoral side, in particular focusing on welfare, is something that comes fairly naturally to me and is of interest – I like to make sure that everyone is ok. I am also interested in coaching aspects of management, which I satisfy by positioning myself as someone who various people (within my organisation and externally) feel comfortable in discussing their career plans with. I also mentor candidates undertaking CILIP professional registration, this gives me the opportunity to coach others through their professional registration but also provide coaching on general career aspirations and direction.

So although a five-year plan feels like the most “management” thing to do, it can be a useful exercise. Just ensure that you do it in a way that works for you, to inspire and encourage you.


Reflective practice as a useful everyday tool

Image credit: Skip

I recently attended the CILIP New Professionals’ Day. It was my second time presenting at the event and this year I got to stay for the whole day, to enjoy the other presentations and chat to people.

At lunchtime I got chatting with Ross, who had been to my talk the previous year, about professional confidence and professional development. Our conversation turned to Chartership and reflective writing. Ross described how – as a naturally reflective person – the process of reflective writing for Chartership can seem a bit mechanical and arduous. He also described how many of us can feel uncomfortable with talking and writing about ourselves, it can feel a bit self-indulgent or navel-gazing. I understand all of these sentiments is because I have had exactly the same thoughts and have heard them from others. We discussed how I had found reflective practice practically useful in improving my practice.

I developed my reflective practice skills whilst doing my Chartership, and have refined them over the years through application at work and in supporting Chartership candidates as a Candidate Support Officer and now a mentor. I have seen how reflective practice can be really useful in everyday work.

Top tips for reflection

The main principles I use when reflecting on anything are:

  • Don’t over-reflect – sometimes at the end of a project, an exchange with a user/customer/client, etc, all that is needed is for you to take ten minutes to have a think about what went well and what could have gone better. To be a reflective practitioner, you do not need to undertaken an extensive reflective exercise. Use your judgment and reflect as much as needed.
  • Don’t just reflect when things go wrong – there is a difference between reflecting and ruminating. It is not self-congratulatory or arrogant to think about what went well and why. Reflecting when things going well enables you to replicate those circumstances in future to maximise the chance of success, just as you reflect on things that don’t go well to stop them happening again.
  • Protect reflection – incorporate reflection into your practice. Whether that be wash-up meetings at the end of projects, keeping a reflective diary or just having a chat with a colleague while the kettle boils. Find and make the time for reflection.
  • Focus on process – if you are uncomfortable with looking at your own performance, focusing on the process of what you are reflecting on can help you to get some distance and enable you to reflect. This can also help with this…
  • No blame – blaming people doesn’t help. It doesn’t change what has happened, makes people afraid to admit mistakes and is cruel yet ineffective at achieving change. This does not mean that you have to be obscure by not naming people who are responsible for things not going well, but you can do this in a way that does not induce guilt but helps them to reflect on what happened and why. On the flip side, if someone has done a good job, champion them!

How reflection can help

I previously worked on a very challenging project, where quite a few things went wrong. It was not a pleasant feeling. I am used to having generally happy clients.

So what did I do about it?

At my workplace we always have wash-up meetings at the end of projects as part of our project management process. The project team discuss what went well and what could have gone better. Then we share three key learning points with the whole team. In this case it was a large project, where a lot of small things had combined and accumulated to lead to things going wrong. So I knew it was going to be challenging to unpick the things that we all could have done differently.

I wrote down rough reflections immediately so that I wouldn’t forget things, then I went back to this list a few times to add to it and refine it. Some things that I wrote down immediately afterwards when I was still emotional – feeling angry and frustrated – I then deleted after I had cooled off. With time and perspective I realised that those things weren’t important.

I prioritised my reflections as I reworked them, so I thought about which of my points were most important and would have the biggest impact.

I celebrated what went well, as well as what hadn’t. This was an important emotional step for me, as it enabled me to realise that the project hadn’t been an unmitigated disaster and helped to rebuild my professional confidence.

So did it help?

In a word: yes. The lessons that I learned from reflecting on that project I immediately implemented in a subsequent project which went really well. Obviously there were lots of other circumstances that contributed to that project going better, but the changes I made in my practice definitely helped. For example in the earlier project we had only scheduled a draft, feedback, then final draft. For many projects that may be sufficient, but not when working with complex health topics that are open to interpretation and different perspectives. Because that earlier project dealt with an amorphous topic, our understanding of the project and that of our client had diverged as we got further into the project. We had regular catch up calls, but the draft came as a shock to them. So when I was working on the subsequent project (again a complex topic) we sent the client regular interim deliverables, that were sections of the report etc. This meant the client to know exactly where we were going with the project, the style we were using and our interpretation of the topic. As a result, we made small adjustments along the way rather than having to do a total rewrite as we had to on the previous project.

That’s just one example of how the learning from reflective practice can help you to improve your practice. If you have any experiences that you’d like to share or top tips, I’d love to hear about them in the comments or on Twitter (@ellyob).

By the way, the project that went badly ended up going well. We did a mini reflection when things went wrong, identified what had happened, came up with a plan for how to turn it around and implemented those lessons learned within that project. So reflection doesn’t always have to be after the fact!

Primary careers conference

The primary careers conference, organised by the Knowledge Quarter, saw nearly 200 pupils from schools across Camden and Islington come together for a day of learning about careers. The theme was “steps I take, marks I make”, the idea being to communicate to the children the range of career options open to them, how they can take up those opportunities and inspire them to want to, by each of the speakers talking about why they are passionate about what they do.

I shared the stage in the afternoon with three amazing women: Chrissie Giles, Emily Jost and Merlin Evans. All of us had different, but overlapping, stories to tell and I hope that the audience found what we did inspiring. Everyone was so passionate, interesting and funny. It was slightly intimidating going on after Chrissie who had made brilliant use of props to have the audience cheering, laughing and screeching with disgust.

In addition to speakers, the event also included numerous stalls and workshops, where the children could learn about crafts, careers in Science Technology Engineering and Maths, compose news stories and lots more!

The organisers are still working on the write up of this year’s event and a video montage, to find out more go to:

Since starting the CILIP Leadership Programme I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can all inspire each other within the profession and beyond. A particular passion of mine is inspiring children in inner city communities – having grown up in one myself. The adage about the “poverty of aspiration” is in my opinion inaccurate. However, there is a small grain of truth there. Growing up I knew about many of the obvious careers, but there were plenty of careers I didn’t even know existed, let alone how you would go about pursuing that career. Hence I was pleased to be asked to be part of this event, which was about opening the audience’s mind to the possibilities open to them, complemented by concrete advice about how to get there.

I ad libbed a lot of my speech – I’d expected to have a lecturn to put my notes on and didn’t, which meant I had to go from memory as my A4 sheets weren’t easy to hold and read. So a practical learning point – if going to an unfamiliar venue, ask these kinds of questions.

Here is what I’d planned to say, what I actually said was a slightly rambly approximation of this text.

Steps I take, marks I make

Hello everyone, my name is Elly and I am a Senior Analyst working in healthcare. In my job we research different health topics so that we can make sure that patients are being given the best treatment and the government doesn’t waste money on treatments that don’t work.

I was asked to come and talk to you today by the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals, which represents librarians and information professionals like me. Their work includes running courses so that people like me can learn new skills and campaigning for libraries, which is important at the moment as many of them are closing.

Today I want to talk to you about how I have got to where I am now in terms of my career, in particular about transferrable skills, and the way in which I feel that my work contributes in some small way to making the world a better place.

Steps I’ve taken (Transferrable skills) –

I grew up in Tottenham in Haringey, so not far from a lot of you. I went to local schools which at the time were very poorly performing. But with my own determination and the support of my family and some amazing teachers, I did well in my GCSEs.

My first job was right here at the British Library! I worked as a library assistant with Rare Books on Saturdays. To give me some more money while I was studying.

When I decided that I wanted another job, I thought “I like working in this library, so I’ll try another”. I didn’t intend to become a Librarian. But because I found that I enjoyed helping people to find the information they need, I decided that’s what I would do.

I did an English degree. A lot of people at work are surprised by my background – they expect me to have medical qualifications. And this is what I meant when I mentioned transferrable skills. These are skills that we build up but that aren’t necessarily linked to a particular subject.

For example, my English degree gave me skills that I use in medical literature. So the approach I use to analysing a medical article are the same skills I’d use to analyse the meaning of a poem during my degree.

What you’ll find in the future is that employers often just ask for qualifications – GCSEs, A-levels or a degree, they don’t always specify what those should be in and that is because they are often interested in these transferable skills.

And linked to that I would tell you not to box yourself in in terms of what you can do or let anyone else box you in. I’ve always thought of myself as “not a maths person”, it was my weakest subject at school. But now for my job I’m having to learn and relearn maths. And the big challenge I’ve had is in changing my own attitude not in actually learning the skills. Your learning doesn’t end when you leave school and don’t stop challenging yourself.

Marks I make

I’ve had quite a few careers in my head that I planned out in every detail, what course I was going to do, how I was going to get there etc. These ranged from wanting to be a person who answers 999 emergency calls, to being a criminal barrister. A break-through moment for me was realising that the common theme of all of the jobs I thought I might want to do or have done, was that I wanted to help people.

The other realisation was that I could make a small difference that has a big impact. So it’s not necessarily about being the next Nelson Mandela, or someone who makes a once in a generation impact. Whether that was helping stressed out students to print their essays on time or now helping doctors and nurses to treat their patients using the best treatment, both of these roles have value and help people. For me it is about finishing every day and feeling happy with what I’ve done and achieved in that day.

Being passionate about what you do is very important. I originally signed up to study Psychology, I wanted to be a psychologist working in prisons to try to help understand why people commit crimes and help them to not commit more crimes. I think the moment that really changed everything for me was suddenly realising that I was interested in psychology, but it wasn’t what I wanted to study for the next three years of my life. When I thought about what I was really passionate about and was good at, it was English literature. So I switched my degree with only three months to go until I started university. Following my heart in that way is something I have never regretted.

So as closing remark I would say to you all, be passionate about whatever you do and be brave enough to follow your passion. That will make you happier and more fulfilled. I wish you all the very best of luck and every happiness in your future lives and careers.

Values based leadership

As part of the CILIP Leadership Programme, all of the participants were tasked with watching a 3 minute video about a particular aspect of leadership, then to feed back to the group about the video and our reflections on it. The video I selected was on Values Based Leadership.

I have always been cynical about leadership and management theory, because a lot of it seemed to be theorising the obvious then getting a book deal out of it. However, the experience of being on this programme has taught me that there is a lot of valuable information. An additional benefit is that the people designing the programme have read a lot of leadership theory, sorting the wheat from the chaff when selecting course materials, so I have found that what we’ve learned about so far has been useful.

Here is my summary of the video on Barrett’s theory of Values based leadership and a reflection on how I will use what I learned in my practice.

Video summary

Values based leadership – developed by Richard Barrett – is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The theory is that people have needs and even when satisfying their higher level needs, they can have anxieties about their low needs being met – even when they superficially appear to be met.

Barrett’s seven stages of consciousness are mapped against Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Maslow Barrett Definition
Self-actualisation Service Living a life of service, at ease with uncertainty, wisdom, humility and compassion
Making a difference What difference and positive impact you can make on the world
Internal cohesion Finding a meaning in existence, reconciling our basic physical needs with our higher emotional ones
Know and understanding Transformation Finding out who we are and what meaning we attach to our lives, this is crucial for being a leader
Self-esteem Self-esteem A sense of personal worth
Love and belonging Relationships Feeling safe, respected and loved
Safety Survival Satisfying our physical needs – such as warmth and adequate food.

Barrett’s theory states that at every stage of consciousness we make conscious and unconscious decisions to satisfy these needs. It is also characterised as a journey through self knowledge and self realisation to enable you to have a self identity based on who and what you care about, which colour all of your interactions – both personal and professional.

Transformation is the crucial step for becoming a leader because it is the stage at which we reflect on why we believe what we do and – not necessarily reject previously held beliefs – but take ownership of them, rather than them perhaps being inherited from our upbringing and environment. This step enables us to become authentic leaders.

My reflection

Although I did A-Level Psychology, I had forgotten much of the detail of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and I was interested to be reminded about how low down on the hierarchy of needs relationships come. That our need for respect and safe relationships is only one step up from our need to feel a most basic level of physical safety.

When discussing ‘making a difference’ the video stated that this is largely dependent on your ability to collaborate with others with a similar world view. I found this interesting because this isn’t about agreeing with your colleagues about politics, religion or anything else, but about having a common vision that you are working towards. You can disagree on everything else, but if you share the vision for your organisation, then you can succeed together towards that vision. We all know that we need to engage our stakeholders and communicate our vision, but I hadn’t thought about it in these terms of finding that common ground for success.

I can now see why you have to go through the ‘making a difference’ level ‘service’ level. Until you are clear on your own view of what you want to contribute to the world then you cannot cope with uncertainty, because coping with uncertainty (especially in the short-term) requires you to have longer-term assurance of where you are going. Again, this may sound like an impossible thing to achieve, but I can see using Barrett’s principles in discrete areas of my life – for example ensuring I’m meeting these needs in a project team. Therefore you don’t have to think of it as having absolute, unflappable certainty about your role in the world, but just the chunk of the world you are currently thinking about, which makes it far more achievable.

These points have led to me to reflect on what I will change about my own practice in order to help to meet these needs in the people I am leading.

What I will change about my practice

Relationships – I will ensure that anyone I am leading feels safe and respected in the team. Safe not just in a basic physical sense but also in terms of security, for example by clearly laying out roles and responsibilities, praising them for good work so they know their position is secure.

Vision – in order to align the needs and views of individuals, I will ensure that the vision we are working towards is clear to everyone and is regularly restated. For example by reiterating the final deliverables of a project at each project meeting to ensure that we remain focused on achieving those.

Personal – I consider myself to have a good level of insight, so the majority of my learning and reflection from this exercise is in how I will lead others. However, it has led me to reflect on how I am led. I have to deal with a lot of uncertainty in my work, for example projects led by other teams or clients who do not clearly articulate their vision, therefore my work has to change to meet that changing vision. This video has made me understand why – although I do not mind some uncertainty – I do not like such fundamental uncertainty because it undermines my understanding of my sense of purpose within a project. Such uncertainty causes me anxiety in ‘relationships’ because I worry about not meeting people’s expectations because I am not clear on them. It also inhibits my sense of ‘making a difference’ (which is personally very important for me) because if I do not understand the purpose of the project then I do not see how it – or in turn I – make a difference. Understanding this anxiety makes me more confident to ask colleagues and clients for this certainty, because it reassures me that it is not just me being a worry wort but that it is an important need to enable me fulfil myself.

Additional resources:

Slideshare presentation by Richard Barrett –

On being brave

On day one of the CILIP Leadership Programme, we heard leadership stories from CILIP’s CEO Nick Poole, President Jan Parry and Director of Professional Services. All of them recounted occasions where either they had taken a chance or someone had taken a chance on them. I found this message really inspiring at the time.

Recently I have been working closely with our Business Development Manager to put together a proposal for a large project with an important client. I have worked on many proposals before, but never anything quite on this scale. It was exciting to work on the proposal, as it required bringing together my knowledge and experience of a range of research methods to come up with a proposal that would meet their needs.

I was very happy to hear that we were awarded the project. I was even more thrilled when I was asked to Project Manage it and to act as technical lead on several components of the project. As with the proposal, I already have the skills and experience necessary to fulfil these roles but it is the scale of the project that made me somewhat apprehensive. Since being asked to be part of the project, I have oscillated between elation and terror at the prospect of taking on the project.

The words of Nick, Jan and Simon rung in my ears, making me realise that this was one of those chances on my own leadership journey. This inspired me to have the professional confidence to say yes to being part of the project. It also gave me the personal and professional confidence to acknowledge my trepidation and admit my feelings to colleagues, which was a really important step. As soon as I verbalised these feelings, various colleagues rallied round to give me advice, offer their support and remind me that I have a talented team to call upon as part of the project – I am not solely responsible for everything.

So the moral of this story is: be brave and take a chance!

CILIP leadership programme day 1

The CILIP Leadership Programme cohort. c/o Luke Stevens-Burt

The inaugural CILIP Leadership Programme kicked off in Liverpool with a face-to-face training day. Jo Alcock, the Programme Co-ordinator, introduced us to the programme and told us a bit more about what we’d be doing, support throughout the day by Luke Stevens-Burt, of CILIP Member Services. Also there was the CILIP’s new CEO Nick Poole, CILIP President Jan Parry and CILIP Director of Professional Services Simon Edwards. It was great to see such senior CILIP representation there. The day had been organised to coincide with a CILIP Council meeting specifically so that we could meet Council Trustees. The clear message coming through – from their presence and what they said about the programme – was that this programme is important to CILIP and that its staff are happy to see it happening. For example Simon said that he had wanted to develop such a programme for a long time, having benefitted from a similar scheme himself, because it would help to develop the leaders of the future within our profession. As I said, the programme is in its first year, so Jo begged our forgiveness if anything doesn’t go to plan along the way (I doubt it will, with her in charge) and told us that we should give our feedback throughout so that it can be refined and improved.

When we went around the room and introduced ourselves, we all said who we were and where we worked, as well as why we wanted to come on the programme. There were lots of common themes that came up and I was pleased that my own motivations – learning how to lead whilst in non leadership roles and in distinguishing management from leadership – were shared by many in the room.

What makes an effective leader?

The first part of the day consisted of some theory, we discussed around our tables what makes an effective leader. When our groups fed back to the whole group there were a lot of the same answers coming from different people, such as communication, integrity, consistency, clarity of vision and approachability. There were also some interesting things that I’d not thought of, but when they came up I immediately thought of leaders I know and admire, such as developing others and providing them with opportunities, especially in terms of succession planning – ensuring that there are good leaders within the organisation and the profession to follow on from them. When we looked at a list of what attributes could be said to make a good leader, none of us said that leaders were only those at the top or have it in their titles, leadership is a quality that transcends job titles and roles. Personally I felt that leadership is a combination of genetics and learning. I have met leaders who have inherent leadership qualities, who you might describe as “born leaders”. I have also met people who have learned how to be good leaders. Both are equally effective and not necessarily mutually exclusive – a “born leader” can still learn and improve, and learning may bring out someone’s natural leadership qualities.

Leadership styles

We also learned about different styles of leadership, situations in which those would be appropriate and examples of that leadership style. For example autocratic leadership is good in a crisis situation, when decisive action is needed and perhaps there isn’t time for consultation, etc. However, it can alienate staff if used long-term. This style also makes the organisation reliant on the leader, which can be dangerous for the organisation as you don’t build in succession planning Steve Jobs and Alex Ferguson were both given as examples of this style of leadership and both exemplified the issue of succession planning. Authentic leadership was the final style we discussed and is linked with emotional intelligence – Goffee & Jones – the tagline of which is “be yourself, more, and with skills”. It involves knowing where you stand, building trust and being true to your values. It takes strength of character as your values may be at odds with your values at times. Talking about abstract leadership styles in the context of real-world situations and examples helped me to see the benefits and drawbacks of each style. The main point I took from this discussion is that they are not mutually exclusive, it is not about choosing your single style of leadership. A good leader uses different styles of leadership for different situations as appropriate, creating a hybrid style. For example there may be times when you can be a democratic leader who consults staff, gathers their opinions and uses those to inform a decision. Whereas in another situation it may be that a tough decision has to be made and consultation cannot change that, therefore you may have to be an autocratic leader who takes the decision and explains it clearly to staff. This relates to the qualities of leaders we discussed earlier – good communication, clear vision and integrity (in this case not consulting staff if ultimately the consultation won’t change the outcome). Another point that came up was that sometimes leaders have to adapt their leadership style outside of their comfort zone for the benefit of those they are leading.

Sharing leadership stories and leadership experiences

Nick Poole

Nick said he never set out to be a leader and didn’t realise it was a journey until he was on it. When in a junior position he talked to lots of people to find out more about what they did, what made them passionate about what they do and learn about the range of opportunities. He not only sought CPD opportunities in his jobs but in committees as well, for example financial management, which he learned a lot about through working on committees. Although lots of elements go into leadership, his apt phrase was: leadership without figures is a pathway to failure.

Nick also talked about the need for positivity to create a can-do culture, there are lots of challenges in workplaces currently due to the broader context. But you have to believe in a better future, then make others believe in that vision, create opportunities and remove obstacles to make it happen. Nick echoed that communication was a key skill in leadership – as we had earlier in the morning. He said that your staff feeling ownership of strategy is important because achievement of the mission is dependent on your staff feeling involved with it.

Nick also said that your personal integrity is part of your professional integrity and central to your successful leadership. An example he gave was in creating an inclusive culture. For example if you involve yourself (however tacitly) in behaviour such as inappropriate jokes in the workplace, it can damage people within your organisation and ultimately undermine you. On a more personal note, Nick said that it is important to look after your mental well-being by not having your life revolve around work. This is important for you as an individual but also an instance of leading by example because you need to encourage your staff to have this balance to avoid burnout etc.

What Nick said about leadership by example – being the person that you would like to inspire you – really resonated with me. When starting fellowship, part of my motivation was to encourage more people to do it. Hoping that they’d see me doing it and think that they could too. When asking friends of mine (@Jaffne and @Preater) to look over my blog post on Professional Confidence this was something I struggled with. It felt self-important to say it, but then my friend pointed out that it was leading by example and that I should have the (irony alert) confidence to say so.

Jan Parry

Jan has learned a lot by observing people and not just in the workplace. She shared her personal experience of having a stammer as a child. At times this had really knocked her confidence and prevented her from wanting to speak up. Jan learned to manage her stutter through acting lessons, which made me think that we should be open to different ideas and approaches to developing ourselves – especially seeking expertise outside of the profession. Another example Jan gave was from working on the Hillsborough inquiry, where felt listening skills were going to be very important and did a short course in counselling.

Jan got involved in local politics and was very inspired by working with her then MP,  Baroness Shirley Williams. She observed the way that Shirley and others prepared for big speeches, difficult meetings etc, in order to pick up skills and techniques. For example one person she worked with struggled with nerves and would shake, so he would bring his a travelling lectern with him because it gave him something to hold onto and made his shaking less noticeable. If I have printed copies of my slides when giving a presentation, I keep them on the desk or lectern for this same reason. Jan encouraged us to have a think about how we present ourselves, for example if you’re going into a difficult meeting – how will you sit, etc. I often prepare for client meetings by running through scenarios and conversations in my head, particularly if I think there may be points of contention. I hadn’t thought about body language as much, so I will consider that in future. I know some basic techniques from recruitment training I’ve had (e.g. not sitting across the table but around the table, keeping open body language) but I think I may look into this more.

What came through was that Jan was always keen to seek out opportunities and thinking about skills gaps. She also urged us to observe good and bad elements of leadership.

Simon Edwards

Simon stated that he was a reluctant speaker to some extent because of his own feelings of imposter syndrome. His first job in a public library, which developed his passion for libraries. Wherever he is on his journey he keeps that in mind and advised that we all do the same and remember where we come from. Early in his career, he had a very set plan. Then opportunities came up that superficially deviated from that plan, but actually led to him achieving his goals much sooner than he’d expected. The moral of the tale being: be open to opportunities!

Simon raised that it is important to recognise and acknowledge what we do. In that many of us will be using leadership skills and working in situations where leadership is required, eg change management, but may not realise it. Simon also encouraged us to get involved with networks, committees etc as these are a great way to build up your experience beyond your day-to-day job – a suggestion also made by Nick and Jan.

Simon shared the tip of mapping out your journey – what has your career been so far? What have you done so far? This can help you to recognise your achievements to date, take stock of where you are and start to think about where you want to be – and what you need to do to get there. A few years ago my manager made me write a give year plan. I was sceptical, thinking it was management theory gone mad, but I found it a useful exercise. It wasn’t a rigid plan, but it gave me a sense of direction and meant that I could plan my CPD in a co-ordinated way. Crucially it also meant that I was thinking more than one year hence, which few workplace appraisals ask you to do

Simon also urged us not to be afraid to take risks and gambles – they can be hugely challenging but equally hugely rewarding. Library and information professionals can adapt to different situations and job roles because we have such a broad skill set. In addressing imposter syndrome Simon says that you have to remember that you’ve been chosen for a reason, so you should believe in yourself. Equally, imposter syndrome can be used positively because it makes you check yourself and think about what you’re doing, because you don’t arrogantly assume you are right! Simon gave us a way to manage your imposter syndrome which was to identify as your role, rather than as an individual, when going into challenging or difficult situations. So take on that role – similarly to Jan’s experience of acting classes. I liked this idea and will try it out, I think distancing yourself from the situation can help you to think of solutions by depersonalising the situation. As with the other speakers, Simon recommended seeing what you do or don’t like about others’ leadership style and think about why and how you’d like to implement those qualities. He also suggested seeking others’ feedback, such as in 360 degree appraisals, and in different situations – for example by asking the people we’re doing our projects with to give us feedback. I usually seek feedback about my performance when a project concludes – from the client, immediate colleagues, colleagues from other departments and any external experts we have worked with. However, I hadn’t thought of doing so with my colleagues on the leadership programme – but I definitely will!


Our lunch break coincided with that of the CILIP Council so we had an opportunity to chat with them. Gary Birkenhead was on our table, he told us lots about the role of CILIP Trustees and what skills we could gain by volunteering. It was nice that Gary and the other Trustees were all genuinely pleased to meet us and – like Nick, Jan and Simon – were excited about the programme. I enjoyed meeting Gary in particular as he used to be Chair of HLG, I’ve heard him speak at many conferences and follow him on Twitter so it was nice to meet in person. It was a great idea to use the lunch break for networking beyond our group.

Professional Knowledge and Skills Base group discussion

In the afternoon we went through our PKSBs in small groups. We talked through what we the areas we wanted to focus on and how we could achieve it, then the group offered additional suggestions for CPD activities. This was a great way to get to know people a bit more, understand their aspirations for the programme and to get loads of ideas for CPD. I was encouraged to hear that out of my group of 5 people, three of us were currently doing Professional Registration of various levels.

Group projects discussion

The penultimate section of the day was breaking into our group project groups to discuss the aims of the project, its outputs and how we would achieve the aims. My group’s project is for the Cataloguing and Indexing Group (CIG) who want to understand the demographics of their membership and benchmark them against the wider CILIP membership. This will help the group to understand their members’ needs better and ensure their membership offer can be taken up by all members who want to. Ultimately they want CIG to be leaders within the profession, so they need to discover barriers and find ways to overcome them. Then we will develop a toolkit for member networks and special interest groups to base their equality and diversity policies on.

A representative from CIG had travelled to Liverpool specifically for the meeting to discuss the project in person. We also connected via Skype with a member of the CILIP Diversity and Equality Group. Interestingly he said that in an ideal world that group shouldn’t have to exist because members of each committee should have responsibility for ensuring diversity and equality is embedded in their committee. It shouldn’t be a fringe, special interest, but something that we have a collective responsibility to address!

Programme overview

The final section of the day covered an overview of the programme, which was useful as it covered the planned content of the face-to-face training and the group project timelines.

Considering that I left the house at 04.30 and spent the day (9.30 to 17.00) in the training day it is a testament to the content of the training day and the stimulating company that at the end of it I was feeling excited and energised. Although I will confess that I was very tired by the time I got home at the end of that 18 hour day…

Professional confidence and ‘imposter syndrome’

Togetherness, c/o Steve Bridger

This blog post is about professional confidence, or rather a lack thereof. This is something I hear a lot of people in the library and information world talking about. In particular the concept of ‘imposter syndrome’.

What is it?

The term ‘imposter phenomenon’ or ‘imposter syndrome’ originated in a 1978 article and is the manifestation of a lack of professional confidence. People feel like they are in some way a fraud – such as feeling like they are not as good at their job as people think they are. Consequently they fear being “found out”. It can be fleeting, related to a particular task or happening only when you feel otherwise lacking in confidence. Or it can be something that pervades throughout one’s professional life.

Imposter syndrome arises from genuine feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence. The purpose of this blog post is not to deny, disregard or minimise those feelings, but to explore imposter syndrome. I have to declare from the outset that I do not like the label ‘imposter syndrome’. Mainly because I’m not sure how helpful it is. Is it the case putting a name to pre-existing feelings helps people? Or does putting a name to those feelings, particularly a “syndrome”, to some extent become a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophecy? It reminds me of an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Bernadette says that her employers have both created and cured a condition in the same week. I’m not trying to dictate whether or not that term should be used. But I think there are some conversations we should be having about how helpful it really is as a term.

My main concern is that by “syndromising” these legitimate feelings we unquestioningly accept them. If you are feeling lacking in professional confidence, isn’t it useful to ask why? Stopping to ask “why” then leads to questions of how to address and reduce those feelings of discomfort. By accepting the term, we accept the circumstances that create those feelings and do nothing about them, potentially holding ourselves back.

Why does it happen?

There is no single cause of these feelings and discussing such a multifaceted issues does requires speaking in some broad brushes, so I beg your indulgence. Without getting into librarian stereotypes, the profession has historically tended to be dominated by quieter, introverted and perhaps passive personality types (not necessarily in all aspects of their personal or professional life). I do not know if this continues to be the case, but I wonder whether the legacy is that as a profession we are not as willing to or skilled at recognising our own skills? Equally, the historically high number of women within the profession is also a contributory factor. Women are generally not conditioned to be confident or assertive, especially in professional matters. When we do exhibit these characteristics we can be labelled “pushy” and “bolshy”, a convenient way to quash professional confidence. There are structural reasons for inequalities such as gender pay gaps, but the fact is also that men are more likely to ask for a higher starting salary or for a pay rise. Whilst we need to break down the structures that perpetuate inequality we also need to, at a grassroots level, create a professional workforce that recognises and champions its own skills. So is it any wonder then that in a predominantly female profession we have a professional culture of not bigging up our own skills and knowledge?

How many times do we hear great opinions, views and advice being undercut by self-deprecating phrases like “but that’s just what I think” or “but I’m no expert”. More often than not, when I hear such conciliatory terms it is from people who I would consider to be an expert! This extends to other forms of self assessment such as CILIP’s PKSB. A while back I posted a rather tongue in cheek Facebook update stating that the difference between me and many of my fellow professionals was that I would rate myself a 4 on an area of expertise. Note: I am not saying I am better than anyone, merely that I can and will acknowledge my areas of knowledge and expertise. I hear of so many people, who I would consider experts, rating themselves as 2s or 3s. It makes me wonder what they think someone would have to do to be a 4?! And would they ever be able to rate themselves as an expert?

What are the consequences?

People lacking professional confidence is something we’d all like to remedy at an individual level, but what consequences does it potentially have for the profession?

In workforce terms, people who lack professional confidence may be less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities. If you already feel out of your depth, you’re hardly likely to take a chance on a new job or promotion which would potentially exacerbate those feelings. This could lead to very competent candidates not applying for jobs, then jobs being given to the best candidate out of those who apply rather than the best candidate out of everyone who could potentially have applied. This would not be good for the profession – we want the best people for the job!

Library and information services are more threatened now than they have ever been. We as a profession need to promote our services, as well as measure, evaluate and demonstrate their value and impact. But, to be blunt how can we advocate for and campaign for services if we don’t even have confidence in ourselves? I would argue that we need to have individual confidence in own professional knowledge, expertise and value, if we are to communicate the value of our services to the people funding them.

I also have some concerns about the impact of a lack of professional confidence on the voices that we hear at conferences, running courses and dispensing advice. I am not certain that these are necessarily always the most knowledgeable people, but rather those who are willing to put themselves out there whilst those with less professional confidence do not feel able to do so. Seeing the same names on publicity materials for professional events might perpetuate and exacerbate the feelings of a lack of confidence, meaning that the potentially valuable contributions of those knowledgeable people are not shared with the wider profession. This is another consequence of a lack of professional confidence, but am not attributing the blame for that situation to those people who have the confidence to speak up.

How can we resolve it?

So how do we build up our professional confidence? How do we empower our fellow professionals to say “I’m really good at what I do” or “yes, I know a lot about that topic”?! There is so much expertise within our profession that is going unrecognised by ourselves, so many great ideas that may not be being heard because of a lack of professional confidence to speak up.

Unfortunately I do not have a solution to neatly wrap up this blog post with. However, I have seen examples of how, collectively, we can help to build up our professional confidence. I have just started CILIP Fellowship and, after various Fellowship-related conversations on Twitter, have ended up being part of a small, self-formed group of Fellowship candidates offering mutual encouragement and support (much like the Twitter Chartership chats). All of the people in this group are capable of Fellowship, but we didn’t all believe it all of the time. Undertaking Professional Registration requires that you have a mentor, which I think is an added benefit of the process. Alongside formal mentoring, there are lots of ways in which we can informally mentor each other by listening, offering advice and sharing experiences. I had reservations about starting Fellowship, I wondered if I was ready, if I was contributing to the profession enough, if I could do more if I needed to. Without the support of Twitter friends and my mentor, I might have talked myself out of it. One of my motivations for starting Fellowship was also to encourage capable people to have the confidence to do it. Fellowship is often perceived as remote and unattainable. Having looked at the assessment criteria, I believe that there are far more people capable of doing Fellowship than are currently. I would like people to feel motivated by seeing me doing Fellowship and to think “if she can do it, so can I”.This is a case in point, I wasn’t sure whether to include this last section, I didn’t want to appear self-aggrandising and like I was setting myself as an inspirational figure. Then I spoke to some friends and got them to have a look over this blog post, both of them said that was an important point to make, that to want to be a role model isn’t about pushing yourself up at the expense of others but about bringing others along with you. To build up our professional confidence, it is important that we all support, encourage and inspire each other.

So in conclusion, whether we call it ‘imposter syndrome’ or not, professional confidence is something we all need to work collectively to address and remedy in both individuals and the profession.