For the last couple of years I’ve been working towards submitting a portfolio for acceptance to the register of CILIP Fellows (the highest level of professional registration for library and information professionals in the UK). I submitted my portfolio in June, and a few weeks later found out I had been unsuccessful in my application. As you might imagine, initially I was gutted. I’ve been very fortunate in my studies and career so far and have had a lot of what you might class as success. This felt like a huge failure. I felt my application was strong so to receive the news that it had been unsuccessful came as a blow. I’d been involved in helping establish the new assessment criteria during my secondment to CILIP in 2013, so I felt I understood what the assessors were looking for, and I felt my application met the criteria. I was disappointed not only by the result but by the fact that I hadn’t fully understood what the assessors were looking for. I also initially felt like I’d been judged as not good enough and that definitely had an impact on my professional identity.
After dealing with the emotions, I revisited the feedback to see if I wanted to resubmit. The feedback suggested I’d need a full rework of the portfolio after collecting further evidence, so I decided not to do so. I’d actually already mentioned to my fabulous ‘Fellowship Five’ action learning set (a mutual support group of five of us working towards Fellowship) that if I was unsuccessful I wasn’t sure I’d resubmit because I felt I’d done all I could. This still stayed true when I got the results and read the feedback.
A brief side note on the feedback for others who might be working towards a level of Professional Registration (skip to the next paragraph if this isn’t relevant to you!). Whether or not you meet the criteria in your writing is essentially a subjective process, and it was clear in my feedback that there were some differing opinions. For example, one comment mentioned that I needed more time to establish my work as a freelancer, whilst another commented that they would have liked to see more focus on my previous roles (e.g. a letter of support from my previous line manager). I therefore wasn’t sure what I would have focused on if I was to resubmit. If you have changed roles during the process it can be tricky to know how to represent this and reflect on each fully. This is one thing I fed back to the assessors and I believe is being discussed so hopefully there will be more guidance on this in future. Many of us have a number of different job roles and more of a portfolio style career, so I think this will become much more common and we need to make sure our contributions at each role can be recognised as well as our overall career progression (some of my freelance work utilises skills I developed in my previous job roles for example). Doing all this in enough detail to demonstrate significant impact to the profession without putting in everything you’ve ever done definitely makes it a challenge! Hopefully there will be further guidance on this in future.
My biggest learning came when I realised that I’d actually already gained what I’d wanted to with CILIP Fellowship. One reason I decided to pursue Fellowship was to help me reprioritise and plan my future development. CILIP Chartership had been incredibly useful in this way, and I was looking forward to embracing a similar process for Fellowship. During the process, I was able to identify my priorities and it was actually after a meeting with my Fellowship mentor that I realised I wanted to be self-employed. I hadn’t known this was what I wanted to do until I had this discussion, but the process of reflecting on what I had achieved in my career so far and what I wanted to do next helped me realise I wanted to follow a slightly different path.
I continued to work towards Fellowship as I transitioned into self-employment and continued to update my development plan as my development needs changed (things like strategic planning and budgeting suddenly had much higher importance than when I was working as part of a larger organisation!). Although I didn’t use evidence from all the development work I did during this period in my final portfolio, it was helpful to have the structure that encouraged me to focus. It helped me recognise what things to dedicate time and energy to, and what not to dedicate time and energy to in order to make more space.
I also collected a number of different pieces of evidence which demonstrated the impact of my work. Some I already had (such as feedback on training I had delivered), but some I made a particular effort to collect as part of Fellowship (e.g. supporting letters and testimonials). This was incredibly helpful; of course it’s always a bit of a confidence boost which is never a bad thing, but it also helped me tune into what other people’s perceptions of my work are, and the things that deliver the most value to them. This was beneficial in supporting reflection on my personal brand and understanding where I deliver most value and in terms of helping with future planning (doing more of the things that deliver most value!).
As I was processing this, I realised the output didn’t mean that much to me. Sure, it would be nice for my application to have been successful. It’s an extra thing to add to the CV and my postnominals would have changed, but those things aren’t as valuable for me as what I got from the process of planning my development and building my portfolio.
I therefore won’t be re-submitting my CILIP Fellowship portfolio. I’m currently focusing my professional development on my coaching and really enjoying it. However, I do still highly recommend CILIP Fellowship (and other levels of Professional Registration) for supporting professional development of those in the library and information sector as well as working towards a level of professional recognition.
I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a few months now but it’s taken a while for me to fully process and reflect on things. Now it’s time however to close the chapter on CILIP Fellowship for me and share my journey. I hope this experience is helpful to those working towards a level of CILIP Professional Registration. I also hope it might help you embrace your learning from what may sometimes be seen as a ‘failure’, and to recognise that sometimes the process can be as important, if not more important, than the outcome.
On a related note, this video is a fantastic reminder of this in relation to our life journey:
If you are working towards a level of CILIP Professional Registration, I wish you all the best and regardless of the outcome, I hope you are learning from the process.
If you have ever experienced ‘failure’ can you reframe it so that you can truly appreciate the learning from the process?