Career Strategies for Librarians
Deconstructing the Interview Process at a Small Academic Library
by Kathryn Johns-Masten
So you’ve jumped every hurdle and triumphantly landed your first job interview at a small academic
library. As I recently went through this process, I’ll share some of my experiences and give you advice
that may help prepare you. After passing all of the “tests” and getting called for the interview, I was not
sure what to expect from the interview itself. Knowing what to expect will reduce your stress and
increase the likelihood of a great interview. Looking back on my interview schedule, the main themes
were eating, interviewing and presenting. I will elaborate on these three themes, giving you some inside
information on the presentation, the day-long interview, and, in my case, multiple meals.
Food for Thought
The food component of the trifecta included dinner the night before the main interview, lunch with a small
group, and a break with all of the support staff during my day and a half interview.
Dinner with library faculty the night before the main interview can be a pretty relaxed affair. There may be
a brief cocktail hour while people are arriving, which serves as an icebreaker where light questions are
asked and you have time to interact with potential colleagues. While they are learning about you, make
sure that you are asking them questions too. Let your personality shine through; show them who you
are in this non-threatening setting. You may want to eat a small snack before arriving so you won’t be
starving while trying to make small talk. As always, remember that even though it may not feel like the
interview, you should still be in interview mode.
For me, meal two was a break with all of the support staff. The group was very friendly, although I could
tell that they had not seen my resume and knew very little about my background. These members of the
staff can tell you a great deal about the library itself and the day-to-day tasks that go on there. The
happiness and longevity of the staff are good indications of the type of work environment at the
organization. The group I met with agreed that they enjoyed working at the library and seemed happy in
their jobs. We had a lively discussion about recent changes in the library, and they were a great
resource for information about the area to which I might move.
The highlight of lunch was eating with three current students and only one search committee member.
This was an easy way to get to know some students and ask them what they thought of the college,
library and dorms. Students have a different perspective, and while I’m sure they were on their best
behavior, it was great getting to meet them. You must be prepared for any number of different
combinations of people to eat lunch with you. Some of these people may only meet with you at this
lunch and not get the chance to attend the interview sessions themselves.
The duration of each interview session will vary depending on the person or group in attendance. You
will usually be given an interview schedule in advance that lists the meetings you’ll attend within and
outside of the library. You may meet with the library staff, library director, the library faculty, the search
committee, the vice president for academic affairs, and human resources representatives; depending on
the size of the college and position you are interviewing for, you may also meet with the president of the
college. If the position includes supervisory responsibility, you should also meet with the people you
would supervise if you got the job. Learn about what each person does for the department and find out
more about the nitty-gritty of their jobs. You need to get a picture of what the department is like to decide
whether or not you want the job if it’s offered to you.
Remember that some people will meet with you more than one time. For example, you will meet with
other librarians, and there will be a couple of librarians on the search committee. Some group meetings
will consist of 5 or 6 people who will all ask you questions, while others may have one person ask a list
of questions, and after you answer them, the other attendees ask questions. You must be ready to talk
to a combination of large groups and single interviewers throughout the day. I enjoyed this variety, rather
than attending only group interviews, because the single-person interview provided a chance to
concentrate on one person while giving an answer.
Many interviews in academic libraries include a presentation ranging from 20-40 minutes in length
followed by a Q&A session. The topic is usually given to you, sometimes in the form of a question or
general topic. The people who attend the presentation may include library staff, the search committee,
librarians, and sometimes college faculty. Be prepared to say you don’t know the answer to a question;
it’s better to say you don’t know than to make up an answer. Be ready to be asked directly how you
would implement something new, or how something would work at this college. You can say you are
unsure of the issues at the college; however, you can make a suggestion with a disclaimer that you are
not sure how it would work on this particular campus. Make sure to have someone else listen to your
presentation in advance, and talk to librarians and professors who can give you ideas and advice.
As important as it is to prepare and practice your presentation, it is equally important to think about the
questions your presentation might elicit. Actually knowing about your topic and discussing it with real
people prior to your presentation will show that you really did your homework. During the Q&A you will be
asked many questions, some of them easy and others more probing. This requires doing a thorough
literature search. Make sure you talk about new cutting-edge technology to show that you keep up with
current trends. Remember, your audience will be hearing 3-4 other candidates talk on the same topic.
What are the Interviewers Thinking?
During the hiring process, the search committee will rake through resumes, conduct several phone
interviews, and will probably do 3-5 in-person interviews. It is important to remember that they picked
you; they want to talk with you and learn more about what you can offer them. Never apologize for not
having a particular experience – admit you don’t, and continue on with the interview. It is far worse to lie
and then have the interviewer ask you a specific question about an area such as cataloging that you are
unable to answer. Stand out from the crowd by being you and not being sorry. Your main goal should be
to answer questions honestly, with confidence and an optimistic attitude.
Parting Words and Some Tips
Be on time.
Remember that you’re interviewing from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave.
Look at the web page of both the college and library.
Find and read the mission statements of both the college and library.
Get a good night’s sleep before the interview.
Prepare for both the interview and the presentation.
If you are given free time during the day, make sure to walk around the library. If you are interviewing for a
serial librarian position, go see what the serials area looks like; check out reference materials for
biology if you’re interviewing for reference librarian in biology. Free time gives you the opportunity to
further investigate the library on your own and gives you time to collect your thoughts and relax.
I hope this article has helped to demystify the interview process so you have a great interview. Good luck!
About the Author:
Kathryn Johns-Masten is the Serials and Web Resources Librarian at Siena College near Albany, New
York. She graduated from SUNY Buffalo in May 2004 and previously worked as a Library Assistant at
University of Rochester.
Article published Nov 2005
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