Hack the Job Interview

It’s almost graduation time for many students and job searching is in full swing. Although I’m new to the library science program, I have worked for many years managing teams and people. One of my duties is to conduct interviews and I’ve had some memorable ones.

I won’t go over resumes/cover letters here. If you need some help with this, here’s a great post about CVs. For this piece, I’m assuming your resume was duly impressive and your cover letter was magical. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be worrying about phase two of the job search: the interview. Here are some ways on how make yourself stand out- in a good way. These aren’t big secrets but I’ve interviewed people again and again who have made these mistakes. This information is broad and can apply to many types of jobs, for information about specifically academic job interviews check out this piece from January.

Be prepared

  • Show up on time or a few minutes early. If you’re very early, wait in your car or take a walk around the building. No one wants you lurking in the lobby for an hour.
  • Bring copies of your resume with you and bring a notepad and pen. Even if you don’t end up writing anything down they’re great for keeping your hands occupied if you’re nervous.

Be Neat and Well Groomed

  • Dress appropriately for the interview. If you’re not sure it’s better to over dress than show up in sweats. Or flip flops. Don’t wear flip flops. Ever.
  • Skip the cologne or perfume. You don’t want an interview cut short because you’ve given someone a migraine or a sneezing attack.
  • Leave your sunglasses in the car instead of around your neck or on top of your head.
  • Give yourself a quick once over before you head in. Extolling your amazing attention to detail while your shirt is buttoned up wrong or your fly is open could be embarrassing.

During the Interview

  • Try to relax. Yeah, I know, easier said than done. Keep your head up and your hands still. Remember to breathe. If you’re very nervous, remember that acting confident can help you feel confident. The person or team interviewing you wants you to succeed. They need someone to fill that position and they’re hoping it will be you. They didn’t bring you in to interview to waste your time or theirs. If they are hostile and rooting against you, you know it would be a miserable place to work.
  • Confidence is not arrogance. The person interviewing you not only wants to find out if you fit the job specifications, she also wants to know if you’ll be a good person to have on her team. I interviewed one young woman with a great resume. Every time I asked her a question about how she would fulfill certain work requirements she would roll her eyes, thump her fingers on the table, and say “Oh, well, really, anyone can do that so I don’t think it’ll be that hard.” Guess who didn’t get a call back?
  • Often you’ll be interviewed by a panel or team. Make eye contact with everyone as you answer their questions. And it’s eye contact, not a creepy staring contest.
  • Ask questions if you have them. You’re being interviewed but this is also the time to figure out if this is a company you want to work for. Don’t ask questions that could easily be answered by a quick glance at the institution’s website. This goes double for library science majors.
  • Don’t lie. Don’t lie. Don’t lie. If you say you’re in an expert in ArchivesSpace when what you mean is you saw someone use it once you have a problem. Lying will turn an interviewer against you and it’s hard to come back from. An experienced interviewer can sniff out a lie faster than you can say “Well, what I meant was…” No candidate will fill all requirements perfectly. If you’re weak in a skillset be honest and say how you plan to strengthen that area.
  • Following up the “don’t lie” mantra is the tip to answer honestly. By this I mean you might not be outright lying but rather giving an answer you think the interviewer wants to hear. If your dream job is being alone with your stacks of rare books don’t say how much you love public outreach when the very thought of it makes you cringe. If you get the public outreach job you’ll be miserable and back in the job search hunt in no time. As much as employers want to hire someone for the job, they want to hire the right person so they won’t be doing it all over again six months later.
  • If they ask “What is your greatest weakness?” don’t say, “My greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist and want everything done right.” Don’t be that person.
  • During the interview you might realize the job isn’t what you expected and isn’t one you want. That’s okay. That can even be great. Interviewing for a job you don’t want takes all the pressure off and allows you to relax and be yourself. If the job itself is a bust, you’ve still gotten great practice at interviewing and learned something for next time. Stay professional and be upfront about what you’re looking for. That job might not be for you but one might open later that is and if you’ve made a good impression you could get that call.

Post Interview

  • Even if you’re done with the interview, you can still blow it. One of my colleagues finished interviewing a candidate and walked him to the office door. From the window she saw him walk to his car. The one he had parked across two spaces in a crowded lot. She put his resume in the shredder. It can’t be said enough- no one wants to work with a jerk.
  • If you want to follow up the interview with a thank note or email that’s fine. Pay attention to contact instructions. Emailing Amir with benefits questions when you were told to email Joyce won’t win you any favors. At least with Amir. Don’t send daily updates or berate your interviewers for not recognizing your talents and hiring you instantly.

Don’t be a jerk, be honest, be yourself. You can do this!

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