Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Full-Day Academic Library Interview, From a First Timer's Perspective, Part 2, by Alex Barton


In my first post, I described the full-day interview process at an academic library from a first-timer’s point of view. At the end of my post I promised to let you know the results of the interview. The hiring committee has now made a decision, so here we are.

At the end of my day long interview, they had let me know that they’d make a decision in two to four weeks. About four weeks after the interview, I heard back. More precisely, I heard back right after I followed up with them via email right after the four-week mark. Within the hour the head of the hiring committee sent me an email asking when it would be a good time to call. Nerves aflame, I let her know that any time was fine.

She was very nice as she explained that they’d offered it to another candidate and the offer had been accepted. She made a point of letting me know I was one of the top contenders and then she wished me luck with my career and sounded genuine as she spoke. That was a nice touch, the call; I expected an email given how much of the coordination took place via electronic communication.

As it happens, a letter was already in the mail. A considerably colder letter. No “best of luck in your career” at the end, just “thank you for your interest” and “regards.” It certainly did not give me the impression that I was a strong candidate. It is safe to say that the phone call provided a soft landing; the letter did not. On the whole, I felt a bit deflated.

But then I started to wonder: did I get a call because the committee intended to both phone and send letters to all candidates? Or because the content of my email made it clear that I had yet to receive the letter? Whatever the reason, I am grateful that I had the chance to speak with the head of the committee. I took advantage of that chance: I offered congratulations for finding the best fit and my gratitude in general.

So, why do I think I wasn’t offered the position? And how do I feel about it? My reflections:

This was my first full-day interview and I think I had a few missteps. Even if they weren’t outright fumbles it came through loud and clear that I was new to the industry and particularly new to the liaison role.  As I speculated earlier, there were probably a number of candidates with more experience than me. I imagine that’s who they hired.

I think my presentation was fine, but if I can offer any advice to any new professionals it is this: even if it is your first time, do not obsess over your presentation. I’d been warned by my colleagues not to do it and yet I did. As I said in my first post, I was given six days total to prepare for my interview; I spent about 30 hours on the presentation alone. This in addition to working full-time and prepping for a three-hour guest lecture I had committed to prior to being called for the interview. I know it’s hard to walk away from your PowerPoint slides, but if you don’t you will not have the time you need to review possible interview questions and come up with your answers, scenarios, and any questions you might have for them. The presentation takes up only one hour of the day. And it’s a long day.

Here’s the one other thing I need to mention: Looking back, I now see that several red flags went up and stayed up right from the start. While I am unable to offer specifics, I do suggest you read Joe Hardenbrook’s post on this blog, “Interview Red Flags,” for some general ideas. I honestly don’t know if I would have accepted the position had they offered it. This might make other new professionals gasp in dismay – “Wait, you would turn down a job offer?!” – or they might think that this is a case of sour grapes. It’s not. In fairness, I am lucky to be employed and I do like my job. It is a contract position (as opposed to a more permanent one) that might be coming to an end, but there might be opportunities. More importantly, though: I had to trust my gut. I did not have a good feeling.

I don’t wish to sound negative about the whole experience. The members of the committee, and other staff, were very nice people who treated me well throughout the day. Besides, I am thrilled that I had the chance to have a full-day interview at an academic library and I know that I can only improve from this point.

And I think I have: I had an interview for a similar position at a different institution a few days ago. Like this one, it included both an interview and a presentation component. But there’s no question I felt much more confident about it and not a single red flag went up. Fingers crossed they feel the same way about me.

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

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