Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Questions to Ask When Eyeing The Captain's Chair

A friend of mine has become a prime target for headhunters looking for library director candidates, and so wrote to ask for advice. They aren't sure if they want to sit in the captain's chair just yet, but it's a possibility. So they wrote to me, asking for my opinion about questions to ask and red flags they should watch for when interviewing for library director positions. That friend is in academia, like me, so that's the bias of this blog post. If there's enough interest, I'll happily seek out a public library director to write a similar post.

  1. Do your research on the institution. I like GlassDoor.com, but if it's a small enough school they might not have a lot of ratings so also consider asking friends you trust if they know anyone who works there.
  2. Comb their website like crazy and learn everything you can about them. Especially look for their Clery report and for the things they don't say (like student/faculty ratio).
  3. See if AAUP has said anything, good or bad, about them. It's especially important to look if they've been censured.
  4. Also look to see how they are doing with their accreditation(s). Different regions report to different bodies - and the US Department of Education has a still decent website to determine who covers where. But you'll also want to look deeper, especially at professional programs. The American Bar Association visited my campus recently to look at our paralegal program.
  5. There's a big, neon warning that I ignored in the past: I didn't listen to my gut. I knew the place was bad, but I let my excitement about a move up get in the way of listening to my instincts.
  6. Make sure to ask all the normal interview questions like, "How will I know if I'm successful after the first year?" and, "What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the successful candidate?" but also pay attention to the questions they ask you. I've learned you can hear what they didn't like about the director who left if you think about their questions for a second. Example, "How do you institute change? How do you make your decisions about what to change?" can be code, depending on their tone, for, "We want someone who isn't going to change anything" or, "I hate it here and want you to change everything."
  7. The adverts are also going to be telling. How long is the ad? Super short is just as worrying as super long. Also, are they looking for the mythical unicorn? 
  8. Ask about the budget. How big it is and how decisions are made about what gets spent. Be sure to save this question for the appropriate person - the provost or whoever is the boss of the library director. If they won't tell you numbers, whoa that's a bad sign.
  9. Finally, look around you. Look at the people - is the group diverse, or pretty uniform? Look at the students - do you see a lot of them in the library? Do they seem happy? Look at the infrastructure - are the buildings in good repair? Is there decent parking? 

I know I'm forgetting something, but these questions and this approach helped me so very much with my most recent job search. In the past, if I'd taken the time to listen, I'd've heard the robot from Lost in Space warning me - "Danger, Jessica Olin! Danger!" But now? Now I feel like I get to ride a fire-breathing unicorn pretty much every day at work.

For those of you who are also in some sort of administrative position in libraries, what did I miss?

1 comment:

  1. For #9 - particularly about what's happening in the library: realistically know if you're someone who wants the challenge of changing/improving a less-than-rosy situation or if you are better in taking something good and moving it to great. There is power in both of those approaches, but it helps to know which of those is your jam. (If you're the former, good news! In a few years you might also get to be the latter!)