Library job hunt quirks: the interview

This section talks about interview prep for academic library jobs in particular. The short version? Expect a really long day.

Duration:

Interviews for academic library jobs (and most professional independent school jobs) tend to be a very long day. This is especially true for library positions (as say, compared with teaching positions) because you have to meet people from a whole bunch of different areas of the school.

In general, my interviews have included:

  • The library search committee
  • Other members of the library staff, if not on the search committee
  • A tour of the school and library
  • Time with the technology staff (especially if the librarian is in the information services/technology department, or will be spending time interacting with them.)
  • A collection of faculty members
  • Time with whoever oversees the larger department/area (head of the division, head of school, head of the library)
  • A presentation class of some length.

And generally, if there’s travel involved, there are also meals with the search committee (or some combination of them): dinner the night before, lunch during the interview day, etc.

Expect to walk a lot – as I said earlier, my interviews generally covered better than 5 miles during the day. If that might be a problem for you for health or other reasons, find a way to ask about it gently. Same thing if you need a break at a particular point for a quick snack, etc.

Presentation:

Most positions of this kind will ask you to do a presentation. That might be 20 minutes, it might be 45 minutes, it might be “Talk about this thing you created”. You might get given a topic, or you might get to pick from a list.

If you get to pick, pick something you’re passionate about, and where you think you can approach the topic in a way that is a little unusual. It’s perhaps a bit more work, but it’s also a lot more fun. (And you’ll stand out more.)

One thing I spent  a lot of time on was figuring out what they really cared about in terms of educational process. Were they focusing on the use of technology? I would use technology. Were they in the middle of a ongoing project around assessment? I’d use some quick assessment methods during class, and include something in my notes about how I might look at larger assessments. I’d often write up a page (and print a few copies) talking about how I planned my presentation, and what I considered in designing it. Because accessibility is important to me, I’d often include a few notes about how I was considering that (making materials available in multiple formats, color choices, etc.)

Supporting material:

Generally, the people interviewing you will already have lots of copies of your resume and cover letter handy – but you may want a few extras. You will also want handouts for your presentation, and any other information that might be handy. (For example, if you know you might be asked to teach an information literacy course, you might have a sample syllabus or at least a list of topics you’d want to cover, and some idea of how much time each one would get.)

Interview structure:

The interview structure is usually lots of conversations with 1-5 people at a time, but you may have other things crop up (like talking to whoever shows up over a school’s break time…) It can be really hard to remember what you said to which group of people, so making a few quick notes can be helpful.

I liked to prep notes of what I particularly wanted to talk about with each group – something like “Technology: highlight that I’m comfortable learning new programs, have a lot of experience with [whatever programs they’re using]. Ask if they’ve explored [thing that seems to solve a problem for them that I’m familiar with.]” or “Talking to parents: ask what they’d like from the library, and how their kids are using it now.”

Social aspects:

One weird thing about day-long interviews is the amount of casual conversation you need to make – and at the same time, a lot of normal conversational topics may reveal things you may not want to discuss in an interview (religion, family, medical history, etc.)

I generally made sure I had a short list of things I was happy to talk about that were good conversational topics. These included:

  • 2-3 recent non-fiction/job related books, and 2-3 ‘for fun’ reading books. (I read a lot, but some of my reading is nostalgic comfort reading, some is escapism, and so on. That’s usually not what I want to talk about in the interview, so it’s easier if I have a couple of titles I am happy to talk about in detail.
  • What people like about that area/school/region/whatever.
  • Common hobbies. I have lots of interests but the two I talk about readily in interviews are knitting (because, okay, lots of librarians knit), and online/computer gaming (in ways that lead me to talk more about narrative and problem solving skills than other aspects.)
  • I was also prepared to talk about why I blog, since I use it as part of my professional development/look at what I can do. I talk about how I learn stuff by talking to people outside my own head, about how it’s a way for me to track what I’ve learned and experienced, and how I like sharing information with others – all things that fit well with most library jobs.
  • Pieces of my background that give me at least some insight into the job/area/whatever. (For independent schools, that included the two years I was a student at one. For my new job, that was having grown up and spent time in northern New England, and the fact I missed skiing and the ocean, and so on.)

Also, make sure you feel comfortable with your table manners, general etiquette, etc. Miss Manners is my go-to on such things.

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1 comment to Library job hunt quirks: the interview

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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