I responded to a survey for Hiring Librarians recently, and my response was published yesterday. I always learn a lot from Hiring Librarian posts, although it is frequently of the "what not to do" variety, so I recommend clicking through and looking around at what I said and what others have said.
Three notes before I get into what I mean by fit, and how I've learned to test for it:
- I know 'fit' is sometimes a way for people to hide their biases. This has been and will continue to be an issue in academia and libraries in general, one of which I am very aware. What I'm talking about is organizational culture and organizational values.
- I have experiences with looking for fit from both sides of the interview table, and this post is informed by all of those experiences.
- I know it might sound dismissive for me to advocate looking for fit in your job search. After all, here I am comfortably employed, right? But the truth is I have made the mistake of taking a job just to get the experience and been unhappy as a result. I've also turned down an opportunity, at a time in my life when I was feeling a little desperate to find a job, because I didn't think the fit was right. (In both cases they were lovely people, great schools, just a bad fit for me.)
Anyway, in no particular order, here are some of the questions I ask myself/the interviewer(s)/the interviewee and things I look for when interviewing.
- As I mentioned in my response to the Hiring Librarians survey, I pay attention to what kinds of questions am I being asked? There are lots of ways this can play out, but here are some examples... An interviewee asking "What's your favorite thing about working here?" shows me that they are curious about the culture. Conversely, an interviewer asking something like "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?", and doing so seriously, worries me.
- Are people smiling? Of course they are going to smile when they face you, but try to see their expressions when they don't notice you looking.
- How risk averse/risk seeking are they? This can be hard to tease out, but asking questions like, "How do you like to keep up with new developments in the field?" or "How comfortable are you with taking on new projects?" can help. Remember: this is about fit. If you are a risk taker, that's what you want for an employer. If you are risk averse, likewise. You just want to avoid being the person who likes cutting and/or bleeding edge who is working for a long tail organization.
- Is there joking going on? Personally, I like to be able to laugh at work. I spend way too much of my waking life at my job for it to be constantly serious. I think a lot of people feel the same way, but I know not everyone does. From the interviewer perspective, I look to see if the person laughs at my jokes. Yeah, I get that sometimes people will laugh as a way to kiss up, but I've learned to look at someone's eyes to see whether or not the smile extends there. (It's hard to fake a genuine laugh.)
- Do our politics match or at least come close? No, I do NOT look for this from the interviewer's perspective. Politics are a DO NOT PASS GO DO NOT COLLECT $200 situation if you are the interviewer. However, if you're the interviewee... it could be a make or break kind of thing. For example, I decided not to apply for a job based on the fact that the school was hosting a Republican Presidential debate series.
Two other pieces of advice: read Joe Hardenbrook's piece, "Interview Red Flags," which has lots more suggestions of how to interview your interviewer; and consult GlassDoor.com, which has reviews by employees and interviewees of employers (I've never looked for a public library in their database, but I've rarely not been able to find at least a couple of reviews of colleges/universities).
How about you? How do you judge for fit? Or, if you've never thought about it before, how do you think you will in the future? If you've never thought about it before, you really should. I've been that proverbial square peg trying to fit in a round hole, and it really never works.