Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How I Interview

We're getting ready to do another round of hiring for a library associate position (works at the circulation desk with other assigned projects), so I'm revisiting how I've hired in the past. One thing I'll never change is that I don't look at an applicant's name until I've looked at their resume - it's one way I've found to fight unconscious bias against names that don't sound Caucasian. Another thing I'll never change is to have someone besides me (aka the boss) give candidates a tour of the building. But, as much as I like the questions we've asked in the past, I'm considering changing them up. Below is a list of the questions along with a brief explanation of why we ask them:
  1. Can you tell me why you’re interested? I'm pretty sure we've asked this because everyone asks this. I think I'm going to cut it, actually.
  2. How do you handle a bad customer service interaction? (Give example.) Students, faculty, and staff don't always act their best when they are stressed, and the person working at the front desk is the front line. I need to know that they aren't going to take it personally when people get angry.
  3. When you use libraries, how do you use them? To be honest, this is more of an intro to something I want all candidates to know - that this library is an academic department and a physical location and that we do plenty of things that are traditionally seen as student life. I want to give them a head's up about the things that aren't necessarily in the job description.
  4. How do you like to learn new work skills? We give preference to people who have either experience in a library or in a public facing role in higher ed, but regardless of what they bring to the job - there's a lot of learning for them. We need to know how to tailor what we teach to how they learn.
  5. How do you handle projects you’ve been given? This is a way to get at how they approach things when they aren't supervised. 
  6. Tell me about a previous job — what did you love and what didn’t you like? This is another question we ask as a way to introduce a topic I want to discuss, namely my management style. 
  7. How do you respond when you don’t know the answer to a question? We need people who are willing to admit they don't know everything and know how to handle that.
  8. What is good customer service? We're looking for people to talk about respect. Most of our students are first generation college students, so making sure our students feel comfortable coming in the building is important.
  9. How would you handle it if the phone rang right as a line formed at the circulation desk? Trying to figure out how they handle stressful situations - hypotheticals are good for that.
  10. How do you handle it when you disagree with coworkers? How about with a boss? This is important information, but yet again it's an opportunity to talk to them about my management style - about how I want people to let me know when I've made a mistake.
  11. What questions do you have for me? You can learn so much about a person by the kinds of questions they ask.
What do you all think? Anything you'd change? (Feel free to borrow these questions if you like them.)


  1. Hi,

    I just had an interview and here are some of the questions that were asked... interestingly, they provided the questions prior to the interview.


    Tell us about you when you are at your best. What helps bring out the best in you?

    Based on feedback from others and self-evaluation, what are your biggest opportunities for growth and development?

    Tell us about your approach to leadership. What is your leadership philosophy and style? Share some examples of when your leadership style helped you be successful and examples of when you had to operate outside of your natural style to be successful.

    During the first 12 months, what do you think will be your biggest challenges as a branch manager and how will you successfully navigate those challenges?

    What type of work environment have you flourished in? Describe an ideal relationship between you and your direct supervisor

    What is your approach when you are in disagreement with your manager? A colleague? A supervisee? What strategies do you use when working with challenging people or situations?

    What do you see as the biggest challenges and emerging trends coming to libraries and XX Library System in the next five years and how can we be prepared to meet that challenge?

    In what areas do want to grow and develop over the next five years? What type of work would you like to be doing at that time?

  2. It would be unprofessional to make that my LinkedIn profile picture right?

  3. The "why are you interested" question is so terrible. I'm chairing a hiring committee now and think I might scrap it, too.

    Some honest answers I could've given in previous interviews:
    -Because I need the $$$
    -Because it's geographically close to my husband's job
    -Because I'd like to talk to adults instead of children again
    -Actually, I'm not interested in this job but I have to do something, right?

    And aren't all of those basically none of the potential employer's business?

  4. I like asking "What's your understanding of what this job involves." because it covers some of what people are often getting at with "Why are you interested" and also makes it clear very fast if there are misunderstandings about what's involved, or if someone is really hoping for tasks that aren't a big part of the job.

    For a desk position, I'd also be talking about splits between active desk time and off-desk time, or asking about how people have done with doing projects that are broken up by interruptions. (For me, it depends a lot on the type of project.)

  5. I love the role of libraries question! I think it really gets at all of the new and exciting things we do in libraries, things that someone from the outside may not know about.