Career Strategies for Librarians
Interviewing at Academic Libraries
by Laurel Bliss
When I got the call for an interview at what would turn out to be my first job as a librarian, I was surprised
that they wanted me there for half a day. I wondered what on earth could we talk about for 4 hours. As it
happens, many interviews at academic libraries are full day affairs, and can stretch well into the
evening. These interviews usually have three main components: meetings with individuals and groups,
a presentation, and lunch.
The bulk of your day will be spent talking with people. Most likely you’ll meet with your prospective boss,
the staff of your particular department, the university librarian or director, the head of human resources,
librarians from other departments, and, of course, the search committee. You should get a schedule
ahead of time, which gives you a chance to research all the names on the list. Even knowing a little bit
about each person will help you ask intelligent questions and show that you care enough to have done
Think carefully about the questions that you might be asked. You’re going to hear the usual ones over
and over again: what interests you about this job? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How have
your experiences prepared you for this job? When it’s your turn to pose the questions, consider your
audience. The university librarian will have a different perspective than the staff in your prospective
department. Librarians from other departments can tell you what the general atmosphere is like at the
library, and can answer your concerns about moving and living in the area. The search committee has a
good idea of what they are looking for in a candidate, and your supervisor will have the clearest picture of
all when it comes to what s/he wants in a new employee. Take advantage of their knowledge and find
out as much as you can. You need to figure out if you’re right for the job as much as your potential
Your hosts may ask you to prepare a short presentation on a specific topic. Expect a crowd; often the
entire library staff will have been invited to attend and submit comments on your performance. This
sounds excruciating, but it is actually an excellent occasion for you to show your stuff. If you’re lucky and
get to present in the morning, it gives people something to discuss with you for the rest of the day.
However, unless you’re a consummate extemporaneous speaker, be over-prepared. For instance, at
the presentation for my current job, the computer wouldn’t turn on. Forget all the PowerPoint and web
browsing I was going to show! I would have been a nervous wreck, but I’d practiced so much I knew I
could do it without equipment. We ended up switching rooms and I did my presentation as planned, but
I got a lot of points for appearing cool under pressure. Be sure to leave plenty of time at the end for
questions from the audience.
If you’re there all day, your hosts are certainly going to feed you. If you arrive the night before or plan on
staying over that evening, they may even arrange for you to have dinner with a member or two of the
search committee. While lunch is a chance for you to refuel after a long morning, remember that you’re
still on an interview. Does it matter what you order? Well, I’d avoid food that might splash onto your
clothes or get stuck in your teeth. Have dessert or coffee only if others do, and stay away from alcohol.
Don’t let what you’re eating be the focus: this meal is a golden opportunity for you to shine in a social
situation. You can let your personality show a bit more, as you chat with your potential colleagues and
pick up useful information to help you survive the rest of the day.
About the Author:
Laurel Bliss is Assistant Librarian at Princeton University’s Marquand Library of Art & Archaeology.
Article published Feb 2004
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