As I apply for jobs and am eventually invited for on-campus interviews (thank goodness), I have the added task of preparing for the interview presentation. Often, in higher education positions, the search committee will ask that applicants give a short presentation on a given topic. As if an in-person interview wasn’t stressful enough! However, according to some great advice from LISCareer.com, this is an excellent way to “express your enthusiasm and excitement about librarianship and to demonstrate your oral communication skills.”
I recently interviewed for a non-library position in an allied field (support staff for an academic department), and was asked to give a 20-minute presentation ‘on powerpoint.’ I was initially concerned that talking for 20 minutes about this extremely broad topic might result in something painfully boring. My first thought was how I was going to make this presentation interesting, engaging, and most of all relevant to the job for which I was interviewing.
- Using the context of the job: After conducting some initial research on the position, I found that the art history department (where the position is located) recently got a subscription to ARTStor’s SharedShelf, but had not yet implemented it for their digital image collections. Bingo! I knew that ARTStor has an excellent presentation platform, and that it would be easy to incorporate their powerpoint export functions into my overall presentation. This was the link that I needed between doing what they asked of me, while also being creative and relevant.
- Make it engaging for your audience: I knew that the search committee was made up of art history faculty, so I therefore tailored the presentation to their potential needs and/or interests. I used example images that would likely be familiar to them, and defined any library jargon that they might not use in their professional lives. Instead of making “the many functions of powerpoint” the focus of my presentation, it became a means to an end that facilitated a discussion and demonstration of the practical uses of the program in a context that could be useful to both faulty and students.
- Make it interesting: Presentations should be visually stimulating, without being over/underwhelming. The use of text should be minimal, and always follow the golden rule (i.e. NEVER EVER read blocks of text aloud from your slides as part of your presentation. If it’s there, people will read it and you do not have to waste the little time you have reading it to them). Because my presentation was for art historians, I was able to use lovely colorful images of art and architecture, juxtaposed with screen shots of ARTStor’s website. Then, I chose to open up powerpoint and give a live demo of the techniques I was talking about. I exported an image collection from ARTStor (which I had just explained how to do), rearranged content, hyperlinked some stuff, and voila! my presentation turned from static screen shots to a dynamic discussion of usable features in context.
- Be prepared to answer specific questions: Follow-up questions are a good sign, it means that your audience was interested, didn’t zone out, and they trust your authority on the subject. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t fake it. It’s best to be prepared ahead of time by brushing up on some relative material/functions that can back up your excellent demonstration.
Preparing the presentation is only half the battle, the other half is the delivery! Take the time to practice by yourself or in front of others, come up with some mock questions that the search committee might ask, and on the day of your interview deliver it with confidence.
What are some of your experiences with interview presentations? How have you prepared for vague and potentially difficult topics?