Library Job Interviews – My Experience (including sample questions)

[2007-05-06 – MetaFilter had a great post with lots of interview related resources and discussion.]

I said I wouldn't talk about my job much on this blog but I thought a bit about the various interviews I went through to get to this point in a more general manner might be a good topic, especially with the winter semester at FIMS ending last week and many new grads going through or soon-to-be going through interviews.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I convocated last December and in the ensuing three months, ended up having four interviews and two offers.  Probably revealingly, the two interviews I feel I prepared the most for were the ones I got offers from (although this preparation isn't the sole factor in why that happened of course.)

Part of the reason I only applied for four positions is because I was fairly limited  since Shea and I wanted to be in Regina or within commuting distance.  So that even ruled out jobs in places only a few hours away like Saskatoon. (At the opposite extreme, I heard of one classmate who applied for over 50 positions!)

The interviews I had ranged in length and format but, at the core, were all very similar.  One was a phone interview followed by an in-person interview.  One had two pre-interview “tests” – an online quiz and preparation of a teaching module – before the in-person interview.  One was conducted fairly informally over lunch.  Two had fairly straight-forward written tests at the end of the interview.  Most had 2-3 people in attendance.  One had five.  I don't know if this means anything or not but I was a bit surprised to find that the majority (like 95% majority, not 51% majority) of people at my interviews were male – it's a female-dominated profession but I've heard that men are disproportionally represented in management and maybe this is informal proof?  Good for me as a male I guess but still doesn't seem right. 

How did I prepare for the interviews? I read all documentation I could find about the library, the position, and other related documents.  I familiarized myself with the staff, the library's web site, the resources they have available.  Annual reports, when I could get my hands on them, gave excellent overviews of the libraries.  (Oh, this is a good tip I didn't do at first – save a copy of the job posting when you apply for it since there's no guarantee it'll still be online by the time you get around to applying.  Related point – let your references know about the jobs you're applying for and send them a copy of the job description so they're familiar with what the position requires if they do get called.  Oh, and let them know if you got the job/which job you got at the end of the process as a courtesy.  If someone consents to be your reference, they probably know you well enough to want to know how you make out!)

I didn't seek it out specifically but one day at RPL, I came across a book called something like 101 Toughest Interview Questions which was useful for practicing.  I also tried to imagine the types of questions I would be asked, using the job description as a guide and practice my answers based on that.  I'm sure there are tons of other books on interviews/resumes/cover letters that can provide guidance as well.  Oh, and I did look up some web sites on these topics as well though I didn't make note of any good ones I found.  A quick Google search will find lots of likely contenders. 

This probably seems obvious but the same rule that works for library school assignments works for job interviews.  Figure out exactly what they're looking for then show them how you can provide that.  (It's a fault of mine that I tend to try to show them what I can offer instead of how I can provide what they're looking for – a minor distinction to be sure but important to keep in mind.)  [2007-06-10 – to put it another way, a Director I know told me “Everybody thinks the interview is supposed to be a place to showcase themselves.  It's not – it's a place to do a dance to see how you are going to fit into their organization and within their inter-personal dynamics.]

Surprisingly, I wasn't too nervous for any of the interviews.  Knowing that I had a  good lead on a job I was really interested in early (although it wasn't formally offered to me until the day I made my decision if that makes sense) was really helpful in keeping me cool as I went through the processes for the other positions.  “Be yourself” sounds cliche but is probably a good rule of thumb in this respect for the in-person interviews if you get nervous.  Another tip I just came across – for some reason, blowing lightly on your thumb is supposed to reduce your anxiety before an interview or presentation or any other stressful situation.  Something to do with breathing control. 

For the two jobs I didn't get offered, I sent an e-mail to the interviewers thanking them for the opportunity and to ask what I could do to improve my interviews in the future (aka “why didn't you pick me? )  Both were very forthright about why they hired the people that they did and what these candidates had that I was lacking – sometimes experience, sometimes certain training/courses. 

I later learned
both jobs went to former FIMS classmates. 
I've talked to one of these classmates since and she mentioned how weird it was to be “competing” with friends and classmates.  I said that I honestly thought that if
it wasn't meant to me, I couldn't be happier than to have friends from
FIMS nearby.  This person happens to be from Ontario and I'm also happy that 
Saskatchewan gets another import from elsewhere – yay!  Seriously, if I could, I would recruit all of the best and brightest new librarians from FIMS (and other schools) to Saskatchewan.  This isn't just about making our libraries better, it's about making our province better!  I'm actually surprised that more libraries don't seem to actively recruit from the library schools. 

Anyhow, without identifying which library asked which questions, I thought I'd give a random list of the questions I was asked (I always try to jot down the questions as they're asked so I can refer back to them during the interview or if I lose my train of thought) so you get a sense of what types of things you might be asked in your own interviews (some are duplicates but those are the questions to pay particular attention to as they're the most likely to get asked!):

These aren't always the exact wording – more just the gist of the question that was asked:

– what is the appeal of this position to you?
– what did you like/dislike least about your most recent position?
– what is your supervisory style?
– how would you resolve a problem between staff members you are supervising?
– how would you deal with an irate patron who claims to have returned a book that the computer says is missing?
– discuss your experience working with diverse patrons groups.
– discuss your experience working with a board of directors.
– discuss your experience working with a library that covers multiple locations geographically.
– how would you approach collection development for this position?
– what do you see as some challenges doing collection development?  How would you deal with them?
– how do you organize your day?
– discuss your experience with searching online resources including the Internet.
– how would you ensure good lines of communication with clients?
– how would you deal with an unruly client?
– what is your vision for library services and how does this tie to the core values of librarianship?
– what practical steps have you taken to prepare for a presentation?
– discuss your professional development activities over the past year.
– what was your favourite class at library school and why?
– how does your previous work experience apply to this position?
– discuss your experience supervising staff.
– discuss your experience training staff. 
– discuss your experience evaluating staff.
– give examples of reports you've written in the past.
– give specific examples of public speaking experience you have.
– what are three challenges for doing collection development for this position?
– how would you do collection development for this position?
– if offering this position, what are the very first things you would do?
– give specific examples of how you've been called upon to build consensus in the past.
– name a large risk you've taken in the past that was successful.
– talk about your writing background.
– if there was a mission statement for you, what would it be?
– what are your strengths/weaknesses?
– define web 2.0
– how would you help a patron save their work if they requested help doing so?
– what is a blog?  How can they be used in libraries?
– is Google a useful tool in the library environment?
– discuss some of the most popular resources for sharing photos and video online.
– name three ways you would make a presentation on statistics interesting.
– if a patron says they can't find information on linear algebra using Google, how would you help them?  What
resources would you use?

– what are some steps a person can take to reduce the amount of spam they receive?
– discuss the advantages and disadvantages of e-books.
– define information literacy and some of the characteristics that make a person information literate.
– what are some of the most relevant issues facing libraries today?
– how does your education qualify you for this position?
– what was your best class in library school?  Why?
– what are some of the core values of librarianship?
– discuss some issues around electronic resources.
– are their national or international standards for describing information?  If so, what are they?
– Tell us what you know about our library.
– Discuss your experiences working as a member of a team.  What role did you play?  How did you resolve issues within the group?

I guess my final thought is that it's tough to know what types of questions to ask back to the interviewers.  Is it presumptuous to ask about parking during the interview or is that something best left until you receive the offer?  (But if you have multiple offers, that might be part of your decision-making process as paying for your own parking might add $800 a year to your expenses.)  How much detail do you get into regarding salary, hours, benefits – all of that stuff – at the interview as opposed to once you receive the offer?  You need that information to make a decision but you also don't want to somehow turn someone off.  (“Well, he's acting like he already has the job.  What nerve!”)   I've heard that some people wait until they get offered the position to ask these questions then end up turning it down anyhow when it's not to their expectations so it's hard to say which is the right strategy.  I'm usually pretty forward with things so I tended to ask the questions in the interview (especially knowing that I had a few positions I was in the running for.)  Did this hurt me at least with two of the positions I wasn't offered?  Possibly. 

Comments 1

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Terri T. posted a response on Facebook to this blog post:

    as you go through your career know that NOTHING changes when interviewing. You get better at it, and you develop experience and expertise which does it make it easier. However throw all this out the window when applying for government positions. Those who take on government screening processes need to understand that what goes out there… does not always apply with the Feds.
    What do I ask back of interviewers?
    How well do you support professional development for new librarians? Do we get to attend conferences and get money? how often. The wrong answer was a shop stopper for me. What about getting professional association workon work time phone calls, emails etc? Leave salaries and benefits leave til round two or three. In the first interview if it's not clear what the salary is it is okay to ask. at the end. What is important to you? a mentor? training?- be it reference, cataloguing, YA lit? what?

    Posted 24 Apr 2007 at 2:31 am

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