|"Gerbils - Schimmels" is a Creative Commons licensed picture by benmckune.|
Despite my long history in public libraries, I have only recently been a part of the hiring process. I was promoted to manager of a growing department in the library where I've worked for the last six years. For the first time, I've been asked to sit in on interviews for other departments, as well as conduct interviews for my own department. I have even interviewed candidates over Skype while on maternity leave.
What I have noticed during this introduction to hiring is that the pool of candidates is varied and talented. It’s impossible to hire everyone, so if you’re looking for a library job, it’s even more important to say the kind of things your prospective employer wants to hear (so long as it’s the truth). You can’t just be a good candidate – you have to be the best candidate.
David Zincenzko’s Eat This, Not That! series makes it easy for people who are watching their weight to make quick eating decisions. In the same vein, here are some Say This, Not That situations to help you make quick interviewing decisions.
What do you know about Smallville Public Library?
“I think it’s great that Smallville is the top-rated library in its population category according to the HAPLR index. The library is positioned well with the community, and patrons say it’s one of the best around.”
“I saw on the electronic sign that you were having some sort of program about gerbils. I like gerbils.”
Here is a secret: I can tell when you haven’t done your homework. If you are scrambling to answer this question, as in this “not that” answer, I’m marking it down. In any interview, you should always research the company where you have applied. The library is not an exception. If you think a library job is the type you can just walk into and do without any prior research, you are wrong. If anything, you need to do more research before applying at a library. Our spidey-senses will sniff you out if you don’t.
What are your short-term goals?
“In the short term, I want to work at Smallville Public Library. I feel that I would be an excellent candidate for this position because my skills fit exactly what the Library is looking for.”
“I want to get married someday and have children. So this job would be great. I wouldn't have to do anything too hard.”
There are several things wrong with the “not that” answer here. First, when an interviewer asks about your goals, s/he wants to learn about your professional goals. Bringing the personal into the interview may seem like a way to build rapport with the interviewer, but in reality, it is a distraction and takes the focus off the job. The “say this” answer shows that you are driven and motivated to do well at this specific library. Second, you should never make an assumption about the job you are applying for, especially a negative one. Calling a position “easy,” even if it’s a shelving position, is the number one way to irritate a public librarian. After years of defending ourselves to our friends and family by explaining how we don’t read books all day, we don’t want to do the same with a job candidate.
Why do you want a job at Smallville Public Library?
“Smallville Public Library is one of the best in the area, and I can bring a great number of skills to what seems like an already strong team. I can help increase circulation, improve workflow, and overall contribute to the efficiency of the library.”
“I've always wanted to work in a library. It seems like a nice, quiet place. And I just love to read.”
If I hear one more person say that they want to work in a library because they love to read, I think I will scream. Corollary: when someone says they want to work in the cataloging department because they want to see all the new materials when they come in. The interviewer does not want to hear what the library can do for you. She wants to hear what you can do for the library. And once again, you’re making assumptions about the job when you say the library is quiet. Our department may be busy and noisy, and we’re not looking for someone who likes quiet – we’re looking for a people person who is focused on customer service.
I can’t guarantee that following these rules is going to get you a job, at my library or any other library, but I also know I’m not alone in the pet peeves I've listed here. I hope it will give you a start towards placing yourself in that top spot on your interviewer’s list.
Cari Dubiel is the Computer Services Manager at Twinsburg Public Library in Twinsburg, Ohio. She has two blogs of her own: a personal blog, Walking Identity Crisis, and an official Twinsburg Public Library one, The ABC Book Reviews: A Beth and Cari Production. This is her second post for Letters to a Young Librarian; the first was “Give ‘Em What They Want: How to be a Great Public Librarian.”
Great advice! Especially the last one; honestly, a good half of the candidates I've interviewed for various positions talk about how great the job would be for them rather than the other way around. I'm amazed at how often that one trips people up.ReplyDelete
And I go along with the adage "hire personality, teach skills."ReplyDelete
People get nervous during interviews though. It happens. Not everyone has the perfect answer to every question. We're all human. An interview is a pressure-cooker situation to begin wtih, knowing that you have to be perfect in everything you say and do just makes it worse.ReplyDelete
For example, I know a very qualified, experienced, and well-respected librarian, who, when interviewing for a job, was asked where she saw herself in five years, and answered, in a moment of Temporary Stupidity..."In a house, with a dog." Obviously, she didn't get the job.
Also, I find that a lot of interview questions are designed as "gotcha" questions. For instance, almost every job application and interviewer asks "Why did you leave your last employer?" Well, it wasn't because it a dream job! It's a like a challenge to come up with the biggest B.S. answer possible because saying "I didn't get along with my manager" or "I didn't like the work environment" or you know, any reason that someone might really leave a job, is the kiss of death.
Those are fair points, Rob. I try to design my questions so that they're not "gotchas" - I understand that questions like that are very difficult to answer, especially in such a high-pressure situation. I'm not going to count out someone if they make one or two little oopses. I tend to go towards "hire the personality, teach the technique" - if the personality seems like a good fit, I'm willing to work around other considerations. However, I see a lot of candidates make blundering errors like these that make me think I wouldn't want to work with them. If they can avoid those errors, they're going to look a lot better in the long run.ReplyDelete
This is a great, informative post. Thank you! I'm new in the industry (after years in another one) and I work in an academic library; when I was called in for an interview here I asked a mentor of mine for suggestions. One thing really stuck out for me. She said I should answer as many questions as possible in the context of three things: the institution itself (in my case, the university), the library in particular, and the patrons. This really worked for me and actually calmed me down a bit.ReplyDelete
Thanks! That is great advice!Delete
"Why do you want a job at Smallville Public Library?"ReplyDelete
"The interviewer does not want to hear what the library can do for you. She wants to hear what you can do for the library."
This seems like a gotcha question to me. They're asking me why *I* want to work there, and expecting me to turn it around and make it about them instead. If they want to know what I can do for the library I'd rather them ask me that question, not pretend they want to hear about my interests so they can put an X by my name for responding to the question as they asked it.
So thanks for that tip, I would have flubbed that one if I hadn't known the secret handshake to get past it. Only problem is, I still don't know how to answer it.
"You're one of the best libraries in the area!" Well, truth is there's a very finite number of libraries that can actually apply to. We all know the truth that I'm not allowed to say: I'm desperate for a job and I'll take anything." But if "I want to work in [the type of job they're offering]" doesn't cut it, what does? I mean, I can say "I want to work in instruction and I have a talent for it." The second half of that spins it a bit to what I can do for them, but the start, "I want to work in instruction," is pretty much the same as saying "I'll take any instruction job." Right?
Can anyone shed more light on how to handle this one for those majority of times where we're not applying to the best library ever? Because if I ever get another interview (not that it looks promising), I'm sure it's not going to be a library that I have any super-special interest of being in other than "you're offering a job I want." And that is the reality for the vast, vast majority of new/new-ish librarians. This is not the kind of profession where we can "write our own ticket" and cherry-pick the exact job we want. We're desperate and we need to apply to any place that'll have us. How do we get past this question without lying?
Thanks for these tips. I knew most of them at one point in time for interviewing, but I haven't had to interview anywhere in almost 12 years. So the reminder about studying up on the library itself and not going in with no knowledge is very useful.ReplyDelete