Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Full-Day Academic Library Interview, From a First Timer's Perspective, Part 1, by Alex Barton

The position I hold right now, my first, focuses on e-learning information literacy initiatives at an academic library. For this position, I had a single interview that ran about an hour and the total hiring process took about three months from application to offer. Up until now, that was my only experience.

I submitted an application some months ago for a liaison librarian job at a different library. (Note: all identifying details, including my name, have been made vague or changed outright to keep things anonymous.) I was contacted for a phone interview with the hiring committee about seven weeks later, and then, shortly after that, I was invited to a full-day interview at the campus. Hurray! My first!

Some librarians new to the profession may or may not know this particular drill, so here it is: the full-day visit includes a teaching demonstration, a panel interview, tours, a talk with human resources, as well as some informal meet-and-greets with various people on campus. This, and the phone interview, amounted to the polar opposite of the hiring process for my present position. It was new; it was scary; I needed help.

I've often found interview advice or anecdotes comes from veterans of both sides of the table. While this advice has been invaluable, I'd yet to read about experiences from new librarians who just went through the all-day interview process for the first time. But here I am in that position, so, as a big fan of this blog, I’m filling the gap. Here’s how my experiences went:

Like a good librarian, I prepared for the phone interview and by the time they called, I had a lot of notes spread out across my desk. We got started: there were three people on the hiring committee, each of whom asked three or so questions. I’ve listed most of them here. You will see they are a combination of what I would call standard-issue with some specific to the position:
  • What do you see as your teaching techniques and how do you measure success? 
  • What is your experience with collection development? 
  • What are the methods and tools you use for competing demands? 
  • Describe a project where you collaborated with colleagues. 
  • A problematic assignment in your subject area keeps popping up at the reference desk. How do you approach the instructor to address the assignment? 
  • What do you see as the current and major trends in librarianship?

The interview lasted about 90 minutes and, at the time, I thought I had done pretty well. It seems that the feeling was mutual, since they asked me to come for an in person interview shortly after. During the conversation in which they invited me to visit, they let me know what the day would look like. I received the agenda and the topic for my teaching presentation a couple of days later. As I’ve already mentioned, the agenda was absolutely packed. The information they provided to help me design my teaching demonstration was similarly detailed:

Dr. Jane Smith has invited you to give a 50-minute library instruction session for her 2nd-year Sociology course. The major assignment is a literature review on some aspect of consensus-building in not-for-profit organizations. The professor would like you to teach her students how to:
    • find articles using discipline-specific databases
    • understand and properly utilize controlled vocabulary
    • recognize and understand different types of scholarly articles
    • evaluate sources
You are to design a lesson plan for this 50-minute session to give to the panel, and come prepared to present a 20-minute excerpt, with the audience members acting as your students. The physical space includes a projector and internet connection only, no lab.

My elation at making it past the phone interview gave way to panic, primarily about the teaching demonstration. I had less than a week to build the lesson plan, complete the PowerPoint presentation, and write the script for the portion I would present. In all, I’d say I spent about 30 hours on it.

On that day, I arrived on time and met with my official escort for the day, who was also one of the committee members. [Editor’s Note: If you are coming from a long distance, the interviewing institution will typically pick you up at the airport, put you up in a local hotel, and drive you around.]  I was given a bit of time to caffeinate and prepare for my presentation. When the audience arrived, I began. I gave the 20-minute slice with an initial preamble about the choices I’d made. After polite applause and a few questions from the audience members (who had their student hats on), I was told that each attendee would fill out an evaluation form and submit it to the hiring committee.

I had a quick break and then it was time for the panel interview with the same people who interviewed me by phone. There were a few repeat questions with some minor variations, but there were plenty of new ones:
  • What sorts of scholarly resources would you consult for [subjects a, b, and c]?
  • What do you consider effective ways to reach out to faculty who are resistant to an information literacy component to their courses?
  • A student approaches you and wants to know about self-medication and the frontal lobe. How do you begin?
  • Please describe an element of service excellence and provide an example from your own experience.
  • What is your philosophy of modern librarianship in an academic context?
  • How would this position fit in with your short- and long-term career goals?

I tripped over a couple of questions (and initially drew a complete blank on the first one) and very likely rambled throughout but on the whole I felt fine.

After another quick break it was time for lunch with the committee and other library staff. This turned out to be a smaller crowd than I expected, with only one member of the committee there, and it was primarily intended for small talk.

After lunch I spoke with a higher-level library representative who filled me in on assessments and competencies for librarians at that institution, especially as they are considered members of the faculty. Interestingly, although this position is a contract one, not only would I receive health benefits, sick days, and vacation days, I would receive funding and “research days” for a variety of professional development opportunities (courses, conferences, papers, and so on).

Then it was a campus tour with my escort, after which I talked with the human resources representative about general nuts and bolts like pay schedules, benefits, and institutional policies.

After a meet and greet for coffee-and-cupcakes with various drop-ins, I was cut loose with promises to contact me 2-4 weeks later. And now I wait.

How do I think I did? Fine, but not outstanding. As the minimum experience required was indicated in the job ad in months, not years, I’m sure there were quite a few candidates like me. Also, given the current economic climate, quite a number of people with more experience probably applied, as well. Bearing that in mind, I’m very happy that I made it past the first round and won’t be devastated if I’m not the successful candidate. Well, I say this now. Since this is going to be a two-part post, I’ll let you know how I feel after I hear the committee’s decision.

Alex Barton (a pseudonym) is an e-learning librarian at a university in Ontario. She worked in book publishing prior to her current position.


  1. I've been through three of these now -- two in which I didn't get the job, and 1 that led to my current position, which is my first professional placement.

    I was surprised by the rigor of your presentation guidelines and panel interview. Besides being interviewed 3 times, I've also sat on 4 hiring committees, and I've never heard of anyone asking the candidate to name subject-specific resources or demonstrate such a specific one-shot. (In one interview, my instructions were, "Teach something aimed at freshmen for 20 minutes.") Then again, if the job is closely tied to liaison duties, I suppose it makes sense that you demonstrate your expertise in that subject area!

    Thanks for sharing your experience - good luck!

    1. I agree about the subject-specific resources, Elizabeth. When I saw that in the draft, I got all aggravated on the author's behalf. I got a couple of questions like that in one of my earliest professional interviews - a phone interview in that case - and it left me with a bad feeling about that institution. They didn't call me for a follow up interview, but I would have turned them down if they had.

  2. I went through my first all-day interview about 6 months ago (didn't get the position, which was a disappointment but I view the interview as great experience). My two cents of advice for all-day interviews is choose your lunch carefully - something energizing! I was draaaaaging through my last two interviews. Minor detail, but important.

    1. I also think about the post that Joe Hardenbrook wrote for this blog a while back when I think of the full day interview:

  3. Your day sounds similar to mine, but my campus visit was spread over THREE days. A dinner the first night, a full day with my presentation, meetings, tours, and another dinner, and then the full official interview the morning of the final day.

  4. Hi, thanks for the post. I am responsible for managing human resources at my library, so I want to give you an HR perspective about the questions asked during the interview. From my perspective, I don't find the questions out of line with the position (although without seeing the position posting/description, it's hard to make a definitive comment.) Asking an applicant for specific knowledge of resources is appropriate for a reference/liaison related position. According to the original post, the experience requirements were stated in months, not years. Asking a question that directly related to the knowledge and skill level of the position was not inappropriate-and it could be a way for a more knowledgeable and experienced candidate to distinguish him/herself.

    Can you share why you feel the question would have left you with a bad feeling about that institution?

    1. Kathy, since Alex Barton is actually a pseudonym, s/he won't be able to answer. I can tell you that in my case, the job ad specifically stated that people fresh out of graduate school wee especially invited to apply. Also, from my current perspective, there is a huge array of resources and databases for each field and there's no way I could be familiar with all of them. Subject specific resources are dependent on the institution. General approaches are more important in my mind.

      Hope that helps.

    2. Hi Jessica, Thanks for the response. I agree with you about an array of resources that could be used to answer the question. From an HR perspective, there might not be one "right" answer to this question-however, what hiring managers and search committees might want to see what resources the applicant named and how they responded to the question. If someone is applying for a subject liaison position, an applicant should be prepared to know the most useful resources for that discipline. I hope this is helpful to job hunters.