So you got the interview, now don’t blow it! 5 Tips for successful librarian interviews

I’m going to take a break from my redefinition of libraries blog posts and take some time for two posts of a completely different nature. The first is on being a successful interviewee and the second will be about what I look for in applications to get folks through the screening process. Here is the first on being a strong interviewee;

So I have been in management for most of my professional career. I have had to sit on both sides of the hiring table and I have some things to tell all you folks out there who have interviewed for positions or are looking to interview for a position. These are just some tips and tricks that I’ve learned that will help you become a better interviewee.

Be excited

1) Act like you want to be there!
I know we all get a little nervous at job interviews and it’s easy to become quiet and reserved but sometimes that can come off to the interviewers as you not wanting to be there. I can’t even tell you how many people I have interviewed who I have had to question (in my mind) whether or not they actually want to be there because they were so quiet and subdued throughout the interview. I want you to show some feeling! Show some emotion! Get excited! You got the effing interview after all!! I am looking for someone who is excited about the profession and has a personality. I can teach you the skills to be a good librarian, but I can’t teach you the personality. So if you have it, you need to show it. Anyway, if you don’t, I’ll poke you with a sharp stick.

*Here is a side note to this tip…
I used to manage an Abercrombie and Fitch and some of our interview questions were –

• If you could invite three musical artists, dead or alive, to your birthday party, who would they be and why?

• Or, if you could live anywhere in the world and money wasn’t an factor, where would you live and why?

We asked these questions, not because we care what kind of music you like or where you would live, but to give you a chance to talk about something that you are passionate about and show us that you can be personable and fun. We were looking for someone who can talk to people in a fun way and interact with us (and therefore hopefully the customers) and we want to see your personality. I’m not allowed to ask these questions in an interview setting for libraries (I’ve asked HR) so you have to show your personality through the other questions we ask. Once again… I can teach you to be a librarian, I can’t teach you to have a better personality.

2) Answer the Freaking Question!!
If you only read to here and ONLY use rule number one and rule number two you will be above something like 98.9% of the interviewees. If you are excited and ANSWER THE FREAKING question then I will want to talk to you a whole lot more. Everytime I have sat through interviews I have had people who, instead of answering the questions, told me the things that they wanted to be sure to say in the interview and are just fitting it in somewhere. I don’t really care what you WANT to say, I want to hear the answer to the freaking question! Besides, we’re interviewing for a librarian position and if you are a librarian and not answering my questions, how are you going to be answering the patron’s questions when you’re on the job?

3) Use examples
We all love stories. I love a really good story and your really good story is going to give me some depth and understanding to your answer as well as give me a stronger understanding of you. In fact, I don’t even care if your story is drawn from previous experience as a librarian, from your previous experience as a CEO of BP, or the one time you had to walk your neighbor’s dog. I have hired people who have drawn from all kinds of professional (and unprofessional) histories and have related it back to the question in a meaningful way. To me, this means that you are going to be able to bring some new perspectives/ideas from outside the bubble of librarianship to my branch and that makes me happy.

4) But not too much
Whoa! Slow down kid!! One-two examples are plenty! I have had a couple of talkers interview for positions that I have had to cut off because of the time. I don’t need to hear EVERY story that relates to the question, just one or two. And… To review, relate the story to the question in a meaningful way so that you answer the question and do it in a way that shows that you are excited to be there. Don’t be worried if someone else has a better story or that you didn’t show that you have had 37 different experiences with what we are asking about. The person with a better story didn’t tell it as well as you told yours and I can give you 37 more experiences at my branch.

Don't set a tone you don't want

5) Never say anything negative!
Saying something negative ALWAYS sets a tone in an interview room that you don’t want to have. We don’t want to squirm while you tell us an uncomfortable sob story. I know we ask questions like- What do you like least about blah, blah, blah. But that doesn’t mean to go off on a tirade about some horrible boss you once had or a bad customer or anything else negative. We are looking for what you like LEAST not something you HATE. You can say something like – Well, I know it needs to be done so I do it and do it well, but I don’t enjoy (__Insert here__) and I would rather spend my time doing (___Insert here___) because I feel that is more important because (___Insert here__). But, if you come to my interview and you answer my question with that boilerplate answer I’m either going to a) be disappointed that you didn’t come up with something new or b) just be stoked that SOMEONE is reading my blog or c) forget that I wrote this blog and not even notice.

These are just five things you can do to be a better interviewee but just these five things that I look for that will put far and above beyond so many other folks that you will most likely get a second interview. I know there are literally tens of thousands of you out there and that you have to get through the resume screening process to even think about getting an interview but I hope this will at least help you once you are in the room. Good luck out there team!

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About pcsweeney

Currently, I'm the Branch Manager of the East Palo Alto Library in California. If you find yourself to be extremely bored (and would like to be more bored) you can find all of my internet mind droppings about libraries by googling pcsweeney.
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8 Responses to So you got the interview, now don’t blow it! 5 Tips for successful librarian interviews

  1. Pingback: 10 tips for landing a job interview | the strange librarian

  2. Pingback: Looking for a library job? Hang in there! « Library Scenester

  3. Pingback: For Soon-to-be Librarians with Little Professional Involvement and Networking – Library Hat

  4. Carrie says:

    Should be “money’s not a factor,” not “money’s not an option.”

  5. Pingback: Thoughts and reflections on the library job search « Rising With The Moon

  6. ditchthebun says:

    Number 3 – so true! I thought I had blown my interview for my current job. They asked me how I respond to difficult or irate people and rather than do the sensible thing and draw on my years worth of experience as the complaints manager at a bank I spaced and told them this hilarious tale about when I was a stage organiser of a large talent quest (200+ performers) and had to break up a fight backstage between mothers because their daughters did the same song. I believe I expressed that “stage-mothers” were a horrid human sub-species all their own! Apparently this displayed my personality and they thought I was awesome & quirky and hence hired me… now a librarian at a University Library :P

  7. Pingback: Blog Series: Tips Learned From Serving on a Hiring Search Committee: The Interview | Sarah Deringer

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