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Career Strategies for Librarians
Surviving the Campus Interview Presentation
by Robin Ewing

Interviewing at an academic library often resembles a marathon. In addition to a series of meetings with
different constituents, most academic libraries require you to give a presentation during this endurance
test. Use this presentation, sometimes called a job talk, seminar, or research presentation, to express
your enthusiasm and excitement about librarianship and to demonstrate your oral communication skills.
As Shively, Woodward, and Stanley (1999, p. 523) state, “Your goal should be to show that you are
addressing an interesting issue, have a competent and innovative way of addressing the issue, and are
able to put your work in the context of larger concerns.”

All employers seek candidates with effective oral and written communication skills. Can you think on
your feet? Do you have stage presence? How do you handle difficult questions? Libraries use the
interview presentation to assess these skills (Heiberger & Vick, 2001). The presentation also provides
an opportunity to evaluate your potential for research and publication.

Topic

Sometimes you will be given a topic for your presentation. This topic can be vague and may be phrased
as a question. The vagueness is usually deliberate and allows you to shape your presentation to your
strengths and interests. Your assigned topic could be something like, “Discuss future trends and
challenges for academic librarianship.” If you’re interviewing for a position as an instruction librarian, you
may be asked to give an instruction session on a particular resource or topic.

What if you’re not provided with a topic? Modify a presentation that you’ve done for work or for a
conference. Review the programs of recent conferences for topics. Recall what subjects generated
flurries of messages on the discussion lists you follow. Examine the tables of content of journals in
librarianship and related fields. Consider the recent posts on the blogs you track. Ask colleagues for
their thoughts on the field. Use the presentation to demonstrate that you keep up with current literature
and discussion. A cautionary note: Don’t post your presentation topic on discussion lists or blogs and
ask for suggestions on how to approach the topic. Yes, this does happen. A member of the search
committee or another candidate may read that list or blog. Academic librarianship is a small field and
such unprofessional behavior will be remembered.

In her blog Caveat Lector (http://cavlec.yarinareth.net/), Dorothea Salo (2005) recommends “working up
one or two presentations in areas of interest to you (as always, picking a ‘hot topic’ in your field is a good
idea), because some places will let you decide what you’re going to present.” Be careful with hot topics
such as Millennials that may have been overexposed. You need to add something new to the
conversation.

Preparation

To prepare, you will need the specifications for your presentation. How much time is allotted for the
presentation and for questions from the audience? Whatever you do, don’t go over the allotted time. The
schedule for most campus interviews has little room for flexibility. Who’s going to be in the audience?
Most libraries will invite librarians, library administrators, students, and campus faculty to your
presentation. What is the room like? What presentation software and hardware will be available for you?
Frequently this information will be given to you with the invitation to interview. If it’s not, however, limit
yourself to contacting the search committee one time with all of your questions (Statz, 2003).

Once these questions are answered, you can prepare the content of your presentation. Just as you tailor
your cover letter to the position you’re applying for, tailor your presentation to the library and institution.
Integrate the information you’ve learned about the library, institution, students, librarians, and faculty into
your presentation. For general information on presenting, see Ewing (2004), Statz (2003), and Germano
(2003).

Preparing for an interview presentation requires a few extra steps. Heiberger and Vick (2001, p. 159)
recommend developing a “cocktail party length” version of your talk to share with people unable to attend
your presentation. If you prepare handouts, they must look great. Remember that the presentation is a
chance to evaluate your communication skills. Bring more handouts than you’ll think you will ever need
and carry them with you if traveling by plane to the interview. If using PowerPoint, consider making your
presentation available on the Web so people can review it later.

As with any other presentation, practice! You must stay under the time you have been allotted. In addition
to practicing your delivery, practice answering questions about your presentation, your work experience,
and your goals. Many of the people in the audience will not be members of the search committee and
won’t be as familiar with your application materials. However, they will be asked to evaluate you as a
candidate.

Presentation

Once you arrive on campus for the interview, ask to see the room being used for the presentation. Look
for potential problems with lighting or acoustics. Verify that your PowerPoint presentation works. On the
day of the presentation, most libraries will schedule a break for you before your presentation starts. If not,
ask for a break or go to the bathroom. Use the time alone to gather your thoughts.

Before the presentation starts, circulate and greet the people attending. Introduce yourself to anyone you
haven’t met. The presentation may be the only time you see some of these people. Reach out to them.
Distribute any handouts that you have. Once your presentation starts, don’t stand behind the computer or
podium. Interact with your audience and engage them in the topic. Relate the presentation to what you’ve
learned about the library and institution during your interview. After the presentation, thank the audience
for coming and brace for questions. As mentioned earlier, expect to answer questions about more than
just your presentation. The questions allow you to share more about your experience, opinions, and
aspirations.

A Final Thought

More than practicing your presentation or researching the library, rest is your best preparation.

References

Ewing, R. L. (2004, November). Presenting with confidence: 10 tips for librarians. LIScareer.com.
Retrieved May 31, 2005 from http://liscareer.com/ewing_presentations.htm

Germano, W. (2003, November 28). The scholarly lecture: How to stand and deliver. The Chronicle of
Higher Education, p. B14.

Heiberger, M. M., & Vick, J. M. (2001). The academic job search handbook (3rd ed.). Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press.

Salo, D. (2005, May 6). Public speaking. Blog entry. Retrieved on May 14, 2005, from http://cavlec.
yarinareth.net/archives/2005/05/06/public-speaking/

Shively, G., Woodward, R., & Stanley, D. (1999). Strategy and etiquette for graduate students entering the
academic job market. Review of Agricultural Economics, 21, 513-526.

Statz, S. R. (2003). Public speaking handbook for librarians and information professionals. Jefferson,
NC: McFarland.

About the Author:

Robin Ewing is Assistant Professor and Reference Librarian at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
She received her MLIS from the University of Oklahoma in 2001.

Article published July 2005

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.