I'm fairly certain that I already know the answer to my question, but I wanted to run it by the MT community to confirm my thoughts on the situation.

I have excellent relationships with everyone I work with. I have great relationships with everyone, peers and higher ups. I talk to them about things that matter to them and know their kids names and even ask how their son/daughter is doing at their [thing they like to do or mentioned recently] (because I actually care and like to know what's going on with my colleagues). I spend a good amount of time building and maintaining my network and have connections all over my government run institution.

I got a job in the Accounting department of a public educational institution after getting my BA in business administration. I received a small promotion after about 3 years (the economy was awful and I wasn't getting laid off so I was happy that I was getting promotions).

In addition to my normal work, I took on the responsibility of designing and developing a new digital document storage and retrieval system. I was told that they had tried to make the system work by being able to store and retrieve documents with multiple search criteria but were having problems finding all the relevant criteria. I was able to determine all the best criteria and use that to optimize the system. I also came up with alternate ways of searching for documents if specific information was missing or the information being searched for was not normally stored because the information was attached to the document by an outside source.

Once I was promoted, my replacement was supposed to continue refining the system to be better and keep up with new requirements for searchable fields, etc. 3 replacements after me (and 2 people before me) were unable to understand what I had done and could not make any headway on the system.

In my new position I developed a system (from scratch with software already available to the district) to track accounts payable invoices through the complex government approval process (it's very labor intensive but it's the way it has to be done). It allowed me to reduce my time spent on low value tasks like filing by 99% (filing was about 50% of the position before I came along) and allowed me to provide excellent service to anyone looking for information because everything I ever needed to know was a quick search away. The system was amazing compared to the old system of putting people on hold while I dug through a file cabinet and read post-it notes stuck to invoices.

My software was eventually rolled out to the entire accounts payable department. The software allowed the department to save a significant amount of time on menial tasks, and saves the institution $70000 annually (sadly, more than my salary).

Long story short, I have excellent relationships and have held two positions and hit two homeruns on two attempted major projects. That's not to say I didn't do other things to improve the quality of department output all along, those were my two "big" projects.I'm also a leader in my department and take the lead on various other department projects and create a highly effective team environment.

After about 5 years I completed an MBA with a concentration in Organizational Leadership.

Here's my question. Why have I been passed over for promotions 3 times?

Some facts about the government hiring process that you need to know before you make any comments.

  1. Interview questions are set before the interview (this is the policy for all interviews) and all candidates are asked the same questions.
  2. Generally the hiring process starts (once eligibility is confirmed based on resumes and application information) with either a screening exam or supplemental essay questions. Then a “panel interview” is conducted where 2 or 3 people who hold positions determined to be “higher”. All it really means is they are in the “accounting” tree of positions and make more money than they one they are sitting on the “panel” for. They have no special training and someone else makes up the questions. They evaluate and score the answer. The score from the “panel interview” and screening test are combined to a composite score and the people with the top three scores are given a final interview with the hiring manager.

The three times I have been passed over were all by the same hiring manager (the one who hired me on initially and promoted me once).

The hiring manager, let’s call her Candy makes up all the interview questions and all the screening test questions.

I didn’t go to school for accounting but I have a working knowledge of how it’s done and I got by without ever being “stumped” or even had to ask for help by an accounting issue in my 6 years at this facility.

Every single question on tests and in interviews were very specific to accounting. Even a manager position managing the Accounts Payable department (that I saved 70k annually for) had every single interview question (except for one question on supervisory experience which was not broad enough of a question to talk about my leadership education and experience at an acceptable level) tailored to be what I call “acct 101 questions”. They never, ever come up in real life and are hard to answer for anyone who isn’t specifically an accountant. The best example I can use are the type of questions that professors gave in my undergrad classes that weren’t really relevant to anything, they were just random questions from the book to see if the student read the book…they were Candy’s “are you an accountant” questions. The reason I mention this is I recall a quote from a very old MT episode where Mark said that if you’re hiring someone to do a job and manage others, the only thing that matters is how well they manage others. In this case it’s accounting and managing others, they only focused on the accounting rather than the right thing to focus on.

It seems to me that Candy at least (potentially the entire organization) is one dimensional. They appear to think the only thing that matters is Accounting.

Does saying Candy is one-dimensional sound reasonable?

I believe that label is justified. What does everyone else think?

I realize that no matter the issue, the solution is to move on and I have begun looking for an employer who understands and appreciates my many, many areas of talent.

Kevin1's picture

Hi Kevin,

Seems disheatening.  Have you, with a pleasant, friendly and open demeanure, asked Candy what you need to do in order to be promoted? 

Kind regards


kevin_cross's picture


I have sat down and let Candy know that I'm interested in being promoted and that I would like to know what I need to do to get promoted. Her response is always the same. She will say something like, "you need to score well on the test and panel interview to make it into the top 3". She acts like she has no control over the process. She has control, there are clearly questions she made up (I can tell because I can identify her writing style.I have even spelled it out in front of her by saying that questions X, X, and X were not relevant to the job, yet she asked them, I said she could have asked a question about work ethic, or saving money, or improving the 50 year old (not a joke) business processes. She said yes, but you should know those things.

I have actually spelled it out to her and she doesn't ever disagree. She will defend her decision and agree, but when it comes time to make another decision, she does the exact same thing as the first time.

She often talks about how people can be great for positions regardless of their educational background, but when it comes time to hire she makes comments like "at this level the candidate should know [Candified textbook fact]. The more I think about it, she comes off as completely one dimensional. I think (and I'd bet Mark and Mike would agree) that almost (key word, almost) any time a manager says the candidate needs to know a specific fact they are greatly limiting their candidate pool. Also remember, the things Candy says candidates "should know" aren't actually things that are required to be done by the job so it's arbitrarily limiting the candidates, in my opinion, that's no more acceptable than limiting candidates by gender, sexual orientation, or skin color.

I stand by this statement: The best person for an accounting position is usually not the person with the most accounting skill.

I realize how bad the situation is and I'm looking for new employment because I want to work where they appreciate my contributions.

Kevin1's picture

Hi Kevin,

I'm not going to suggest that the process is not unfair in all the ways you have described.  I'm going to assume it is and agree with you that it is heavily biased in a certain direction.  i.e. "Every single question on tests and in interviews were very specific to accounting."

It would seem then, that you also know that in order to do well in this test, you would have to take a pure accounting course to gain the required knowledge to blitz this test.

Horstman's 9th rule:  Embrace reality. 

Your options appear to be

1) Continue to be 'right' about the test being 'unfair' and continue to miss out on the promotions

2) Obtain the necessary skills by taking the necessary courses so that you can blitz the test.  'wrong' but 'effective'

3) Take your skills and experience elsewhere

There may be other options too.

Kind regards