FCLIP Feedback and advice

Now that have achieved FCLIP, I can pass on some of my hard-earned wisdom (such as it is) on how to avoid all the mistakes that I made and give yourself the best possible chance of getting your portfolio through the assessment board first time (unlike me…)

I have divided this into three areas: portfolio-specific advice, general advice, and advice for CILIP

Portfolio advice

  1. Critical evaluation: It’s not enough to say you’ve done an amazing thing and to provide evidence of it. You need to reflect on what you did, how it went and what you would do differently next time. Repeatedly. On multiple documents: your evaluative statement, your evidence (every single piece of it), the PKSB, your CV, your job description and through your supporting statements. If you’ve done Chartership recently (note I said recently i.e. in the last five years) you will already know this. Forget passive voice. You need to adopt the persona of a charismatic preacher convincing the congregation that you can heal their terminal illnesses simply by laying hands on them.
  2. Supporting letters: The handbook states that you need a minimum of two. Actually, the more letters you can get to prove your case and blow your trumpet on your behalf, the better. This should be explicitly stated in the guidelines. Ask everyone that had anything to do with anything in your portfolio. Those people will say extremely nice things about you. Their words are useful to refer to when you’re on your fifteenth go at doing your evaluative statement and you hate yourself, CILIP, all library workers (even the ones you vaguely like), anyone who already has FCLIP, and you wish you’d become a nail technician/writer/professional Sims player rather than a librarian
  3. Mentor: You need an FCLIP mentor – as in, you need someone that has been through FCLIP themselves, or at the very minimum has a proven track record of getting other people through it. I firmly believe that an MCLIP mentor (even a very experienced one) is NOT sufficiently equipped to know which areas to push in an FCLIP portfolio. I’m a Chartership mentor and I don’t think that I would have had the skills to support someone doing Fellowship before I went through the process myself. Moreover, I think that FCLIP mentors need more extensive training than MCLIP mentors and that they should refresh their training every 2-3 years.
  4. Evidence: You must link it to the PKSB and I mean by putting a paragraph at the top of every single bit of evidence stating explicitly which bits of the PKSB it supports, down to the numbers. So far, so Chartership. Additionally, you need to signpost the assessors and point out PRECISELY why this evidence matters. You also need to elevate the reflection so that it provides clear evidence of higher-level management and leadership thinking.
  5. Language: forget everything you’ve been told about not putting ‘I’ into stuff because there’s no I in team. In your FCLIP portfolio you are the supreme ruler of your realm. You did a thing? Great! You LED that thing. You’re an ADVOCATE! You’re a LEADER! You’re an INFLUENCER!. Modest people DO NOT ACHIEVE FCLIP. Even if you *are* modest by nature you must pretend that you’re an arrogant so-and-so. This is hard but there’s no way round it.

General advice

  1. It’s a selling job. You’re selling yourself and your skills to convince the assessors and the panel that you are worthy of FCLIP. It’s not enough to have done lots of innovative, interesting things. You have to tell them, through your portfolio, in glorious technicolour. Repeatedly. In self-glorifying language. Activate jazz hands, a chorus line and twenty-five tapdancing musical theatre stars WITH CANES AND TOP HATS singing at the very top of their lungs about your greatness.
  2. You need to be confident about your management and leadership skills: You need to demonstrate – repeatedly – that you have high-level management skills. Don’t assume the assessors will be able to read between the lines and see that you’re working at a significantly higher level than a Chartership candidate. You have to tell them repeatedly throughout your portfolio.
  3. It’s lonely: Some candidates set up FCLIP support groups and have find them extremely useful, but I know they wouldn’t work for me because they would enhance my already heightened feelings of inadequacy. Everyone I’ve spoken to has gone through a really difficult time with it and it does feel like you’re trying to navigate without a map. If you can’t face being part of an FCLIP group, perhaps buddy up with someone who already has already achieved Fellowship but isn’t your mentor, or with someone going through Chartership. Even if you just end up sending each other Gavin and Stacey gifs on Twitter.
  4. It’s emotional: someone said that to me early on and I was surprised. However, reflecting on your career and your journey pushes certain buttons. It forces you to go back and explore complicated unresolved feelings about projects that went wrong, significant achievements, and the reality of day-to-day working life over a period of time. It also reminds you of things that you’ve done that you completely forgot about. It’s an odd sort of professional therapy.
  5. You have to want it: I had two drivers pushing me towards FCLIP. It’s the last library-related qualification I plan to do, and I wanted to reflect on what I’ve achieved so far in my career and work out my next steps career-wise. I don’t think that I would have contemplated taking it on otherwise. You need your reasons and you need to be able to refer back to them when the going gets tough.
  6. You’re allowed to find it hard: I think it’s very dangerous for anyone to pretend that it’s a smooth process because it prevents others from sharing their fears and worries. FCLIP should not be easy. It’s a significant step up from MCLIP. It feels like you’re trying to free solo El Capitan at times and I worry that the step from one to the other is too high and that the expectations are disproportionate.

Advice for CILIP

All of the above plus:

  1. Mentor or tutor? I think the line is pretty blurred in professional registration and I don’t think it’s entirely helpful. A mentor advises and a tutor teaches. I needed both when I was putting my portfolio together. I’m not convinced that a one-day course or webinar teaches anyone how to support a candidate through FCLIP.
  2. The step (or rather, the sheer climb) between Chartership and Fellowship needs to be made clearer at the outset. The woolly expectations in the handbook don’t indicate how onerous it is in terms of time commitment and sheer mental and emotional effort.
  3. Make the processes and documentation clearer. The handbook is extremely woolly and there should be a separate FCLIP-specific version. There shouldn’t be a whole host of ‘Stuff you aren’t told but are somehow supposed to know’ hidden away. It’s not supposed to be a treasure hunt.

Achieving FCLIP and what it means

Last week I got the email telling me that I have achieved Fellowship from CILIP. Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit via this blog, the Librarians with Lives podcast, Twitter or in real-life will know that it has been a journey for me to get to this point.

It feels like another lifetime now but less than three years ago I was so unwell that I couldn’t write an email or read text longer than a page. My short-term memory was non-existent and I often felt frightened and overwhelmed. When I returned to work full-time in January 2017 after a lengthy phased return I didn’t imagine for a second that I would take on something like Fellowship. I registered for FCLIP in February 2017. On reflection it was too soon after my illness but I felt that I needed a long-term goal to focus on beyond being able to get up in the morning and function effectively.

I have written extensively elsewhere on the process I’ve been through, so I won’t repeat that here. When I opened the congratulatory email I did a little whoop and then felt oddly calm. I had expected to be running around with joy (that came later) or maybe even have a good cry. It turns out that I’ve shed enough tears over the last few months. I told my family and friends first, then put the word out on social media. I’ve had so many lovely messages. On Monday I took treats into work and wrote a brief email outlining why, with a brief explanation of 1. CILIP and 2. Fellowship. Again, the congratulatory messages have been overwhelming and it’s nice to be appreciated.

The feedback from the Professional Registration Assessment Board on my FCLIP portfolio was as follows:

“Congratulations on achieving Fellowship. Having created a successful service you have been looking outward and involving the wider sector in being customers of the service. Your learning and development is clear at both a strategic and managerial level and is reflected in your successes reflected in the comments from the organisational leads’ supporting statements. The work you have done with Librarians with Lives and the number of “lives” it has touched is considerable. A growing and global community is emerging which is testament to your efforts”.

Ultimately, achieving FCLIP doesn’t really change anything. It’s more letters after my name (cheers to the person I know IRL who said I needed to do a PhD next to complete the set. NO. I mean, really. No.) It’s something to add to my CV. It demonstrates my commitment to continuing professional development. It will make me a better Chartership mentor. I’m now part of a fairly small group of people who can describe themselves as a Fellow. In 2016 I didn’t want to do my job any more. I didn’t want to be a librarian. I didn’t think I was worth saving. Achieving FCLIP has given me a forcible reminder that I have made something of a difference to my organisation and the wider profession.

When I submitted my FCLIP portfolio it felt like the end of an era. I had reflected extensively on my achievements over the last ten years, particularly building a library and information service for social workers from scratch and making it successful and sustainable. Achieving Fellowship is the culmination of a decade of work and I’m now ready for a new challenge.

 

The notion of ‘Fine’ and professional confidence

I submitted the second version of my Fellowship Portfolio last week, less than two months after the first attempt was rejected. I cannot thank Kate Robinson enough for everything she’s done for me. Short of picking me up and carrying me (which she pretty much did in a virtual sense), she’s the reason that I felt able to press the submit button again.

There was some reaction to my previous post on professional failure. I have been contacted by a few people who were a little…concerned. I was keen to reassure everyone that I was fine and that things were moving forward again. I mean, there was the day that I and went and sat in a toilet cubicle at work and couldn’t face unlocking the door and going back out again because everything felt too difficult. There was the day of the terrible job interview, where even before I went into the interview itself I was told by the person giving me the library tour that I really, really didn’t want to work there (talk about putting you off your stride; I hope they did it for the right reasons) and I walked out afterwards thinking ‘Please don’t give me the job’ (They didn’t.) There was the day where I ran a marathon without meaning to. I listened to I’m Still Standing by Elton John and Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce (Homecoming live version) repeatedly. Other than that, all fine. Nothing to see here.

Kate kept saying to me: ‘Why aren’t you showing off about everything you’ve achieved?’ I honestly thought I *had*. I won an award in 2017 and when I went to accept it the Director of the organisation presenting me with the certificate said ‘Jo is so unassuming but she does all of this amazing work’ and I thought ‘No, I’m such a show off really’. Or all the times I assume that people who I’ve met previously won’t remember me and when they do I feel like an idiot (one doesn’t like to assume…)

My immediate family are kind, humble, quiet, hard-working people. They’re not given to boasty posts on social media. They quietly accumulated qualifications but don’t discuss them. I don’t know what my Dad’s golf handicap is (I have asked, he doesn’t tell) and I didn’t know until recently that he once ran a sub-three-hour marathon. My sister got a significant accolade last year, but she asked us not to talk about it anywhere.

According to my children you’re now allowed – no, expected – to show off about your achievements to your peers. When I was at school it was incredibly uncool to be clever and social death to show off about it. Once you were labelled a ‘Boff’ (short for Boffin – a 90s Bedfordshire term?), it was game over for your credibility. I learned to play everything down. To make myself invisible. To not put my hand up when I knew the answer. I stopped taking up space. I turned self-deprecation into an art form as a survival mechanism.

At university and until my mid-twenties I became a bit of an arrogant sod. I’d learned to combine my clever academic stuff with the ability to dance until 3am in a sweaty nightclub and be the ringleader of the social gang in my part-time job. I achieved a promotion in my second library job with the caveat that I had to promise not to be as arrogant as I had been in the interview (I didn’t think I’d get it, so I went in like an absolute baller with nothing to lose.)

Having children really dicked with my professional confidence. There was the sense that I was lucky to have a job, that I didn’t deserve to achieve anything, that I should concentrate on the babies and stop having notions about ambition. Some of that came from within but there were some external forces at work too. It comes to something when, after all of this, you’re on the receiving end of a lengthy pep-talk from one of your children telling you to show off more, be brave, do the scary things and tell everyone what you’ve done and why it’s important. Essentially, everything I’ve said to her over the course of her life. Turns out that your children actually do listen to what you say after all…

There’s a disconnect between how I feel internally (I’m bloody excellent, obviously) and how I project myself on paper and in person (depending on the context, of course.) I’m now at a point where, professionally, I need to change that if I want to move forwards. I had to swallow quite a lot of awkward feelings when I re-wrote my FCLIP evaluative statement because it felt utterly alien to be writing about myself in such as self-aggrandizing way. I can big-up my library and my team and my colleagues until the end of time, but I simply can’t do it about myself with any conviction.

Once I’d pressed the Submit button on version 2 I felt curiously flat and oddly ambivalent about the whole thing. I maintain that the real achievement was pulling together a portfolio in the first place (even though version 1 was crap) so I don’t know how I feel this time. At some point (if/when I pass) I’ll write a constructive post full of advice to FCLIP candidates, but I don’t have it in me right now. I have picked a few CPD things up again: LwL is back next week, Mike and I are pulling together our workshop for the conference, and I want to reconnect with the wider profession in a fun way via LwL @ #cilipconf19. I don’t really know what’s next, but I’m already looking for the next mountain to climb.

Failure and first-world professional grief

As predicted previously, I found out at the beginning of April that my first attempt at Fellowship failed. I didn’t, however, anticipate how much it would hurt.

  1. The feedback said that I was working at the appropriate level to achieve FCLIP status BUT my portfolio didn’t reflect that. In effect, I’d gone into the exam and written everything I knew but didn’t answer the questions properly.
  2. My evaluative statement (of the three sections, only Organisational Context – the one that everyone else seems to find most difficult – was good enough) went through five versions, plus tweaks, before I submitted my portfolio. I now know that every single one of those versions was wrong. I can forgive version 1 as it was the first attempt, designed to loosen my mental block about Fellowship. However, I spent five months – hours and hours of time and effort – writing, refining and re-writing an evaluative statement that was doomed to fail.
  3. I’m at a crossroads in my career. After 10 years in my current role I’m ready to move on (I’m not spilling secrets here; they know) and I still have to write Fellowship (ongoing) on my CV.

When I was told that my submission had failed I cried. For an hour. I was given a packet of ten tissues. At the end of the hour there was one tissue left. I wasn’t just crying about Fellowship. I cried because I’ve worked so flipping hard over the last ten years, often at personal cost. I cried because my children will be going to secondary school in September. I cried because I need something to work out without having to take the hardest road possible and show how bloody resilient I am. Again. I cried because, well, I’m a bit of a dick really.

I’ve been through several stages of…first-world grief…I suppose. I was sad. Angry. ‘Sod it I’ll become a nail technician’. Furious. ‘I’m a failure at all things and I wish I could do one thing well’. Resigned. ‘I am hopeless and unemployable’. Tired. Determined. ‘I need to get over this, pick myself up, and go again’. World weary. ‘I’m shit at running/librarianing/all the things just like I’m shit at everything else’. Self-defeating. Full-on drama llama. ‘Why do I do this to myself?’ I have been advised against appealing the decision because it won’t change and I can’t see the point.

(I have extensive feedback for CILIP on the whole Fellowship process, which I’ll submit via the proper channels and might blog here about it at some stage. It *shouldn’t* be such an onerous, you-need-to-know-stuff-you-aren’t-told-in-the-handbook slog.)

At no point have I really, seriously, thought about not resubmitting my portfolio. The phrase ‘You are working at the appropriate level for Fellowship’ from the feedback has stayed with me. I have started doing the things I need for version 2.0.

  1. Mentor – I have a new mentor (Kate R) and I have a feeling she simply won’t allow me to fail second time.
  2. Supporting letters – The guidelines state that you need a minimum of two supporting letters. I now have eight (cheers Mike, Natasha, Sally, Anthony, Matt and Val, plus the original two I submitted first time.)
  3. PKSB – I had a Skype chat with Juanita and my rage resurfaced – not at Juanita; she’s amazing – but at how wrong I’d got the evaluative statement, particularly the Personal Performance section [side note: this is going to make me a shit-hot Chartership mentor]
  4. Pulling my old portfolio apart and putting it back together again. I couldn’t face even logging on to the VLE to start with because I knew how painful it would be. It was awful, especially now I know what I need to do with it (set fire to the original; start again.)

I’m now working on version 2.0 of my evaluative statement and portfolio, with all the new advice and support fresh in my mind. The ingredients are there; I just need to put them back together in the correct order. Failing Fellowship first time hurts, but it’s not the end of my professional world.

At some point this year (with a little help from my #LibraryFriends) I’ll be able to write FCLIP (achieved 2019) on my CV.