Across the Table: Interview Tips for Both Parties

During my short time in the LIS field, I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed for various positions and interviewing others for positions within my own library. While related, they both require a different approach.

Interviewees:

Ask for clarification. Interview questions are meant to learn about your personality, your skills, and your ability to communicate effectively. Many times, and especially after numerous interviews, words within questions get mixed up or end up with more emphasis than intended. Take a few seconds to process before responding or even repeat the question back to the interviewers. This will ensure that your understanding is correct and inform how you respond.

Be ready to ask questions. When asked if you have any questions for those in front of you, take advantage of the opportunity to see if it’s a place you want to work. How did they support staff during the pandemic? Does the library have any major projects coming up? Are staff required or encouraged to take continuing education courses and webinars? What’s a major issue in the community and how is the library working to address it? This time, usually at the very end of an interview, can provide you with more information about the organization than countless days of crawling through webpages and social media posts.

Observe the staff. This may seem odd, but observing staff while you wait for your interview can provide information about the work culture and how staff interact with patrons. These details may be unknown to those on hiring committees, or they may be painted differently than what you observe. Do staff members look happy? Do patrons look happy? If you’re really concerned about this, you may even scope out the library days before to get a better picture of the workplace. At my current job, I almost withdrew my application after a negative experience with one staff member who later became a coworker.

Interviewers:

Get rid of coded language. “Right fit” exists in many discussions throughout the hiring process, but what does it mean? For BIPOC jobseekers, that can (and usually does) mean “you don’t look like us.” Bemi Idowu, account director at Wimbart, states it clearly: “Saying someone is not the right fit may seem innocent but, at its heart, it can be a sinister statement that tells people that they don’t belong.” See the reference down below for the full citation, as I was only able to view the full text through the NewsBank: Access World News database. How can we as current and future managers work towards removing this picture of the ideal (and white) coworker before applications even start coming in? This also applies to any individual who faces discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, gender identity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, ability, language, age, sex, national origin, size, or other marginizalied identity. The world is changing and the LIS field needs to keep up.

Craft better interview questions. Some questions, particularly those that look for “correct” answers, can be a waste of time. This may mean moving away from standard questions, or at least updating questions to reflect the changing work that libraries do. Have newer hires tell you which interview questions were awkward or proved to be difficult to answer. Questions that relate to a library’s individual policy and procedures are also terrible, as they only categorize individuals into “rule follower” or “rule breaker,” and many libraries encourage staff to use informed judgement in the greyer areas of procedures.

Back to “right fit.” Even if you hire someone that seems like they will mesh well with the rest of the team, what’s to say the team won’t change tomorrow? Trust your team to learn how to work with others and encourage them to take advantage of each other’s strengths. Can you tell how much I hate how “right fit” is used in the interview process? 

This post in no way encompasses everything there is to know about being interviewed and being on an interviewing committee. It’s also broad with a lot of my public library experience and heavily influenced by my time as a restaurant manager at a country club. Make sure to shift your approach to fit your needs, the library type, and the needs of the library.

Reference:

Washkuch, Frank. “It’s time the industry stopped telling us we’re ‘not the right fit’.” PR Week (USA), sec. Opinion, 10 June 2020. NewsBank: Access World News – Historical and Current, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=news/17B87CD3E7941480. Accessed 2 Apr. 2021.


Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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