Interview Hacks

Last updated April 2015

When I first went into the library job market, I was kind of terrible at predicting what questions I would be asked, and I was even worse at forming my own. Over the years I’ve improved significantly, but there always seems to be a question or two that throws me, so I try to write down the new stuff to better prepare for the next interview. Here I’m listing questions I’ve encountered on interviews for public services/adult services/reference librarian positions, as well as a few management positions.

Questions I’ve been asked

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you decide to become a librarian?
  • What about this job appeals to you? Why do you want to work here?
  • How do you deal with difficult patrons?
  • How do you deal with difficult coworkers?
  • Think of a time you had to work on a project with a coworker who was not cooperative. How did you handle it?
  • How do you keep up with technology?
  • How do you keep up with trends in the library profession?
  • Name one new library trend that excites you.
  • Where do you think you need improvement?
  • Libraries are moving away from the traditional reference desk. Do you think reference services will still involve desks in five years?
  • As a reference librarian, how would you handle ‘floating’ in the stacks without having a desk? How would you let patrons know you’re available?
  • Are you comfortable with technology instruction?
  • What sort of programming have you offered?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you or your qualifications?
  • Think of a time you had a difficult management situation. How did you deal with it? What would you have done differently? (management)
  • In one or two minutes, explain how you would persuade a decisionmaker of the importance of early literacy. (management, children’s)
  • What is your communication style? (management)
  • Looking around the library, where do you think we could make improvements? (management)

Questions I’ve asked

  • What are the challenges facing the library in the next year? The next five years? (90% of interviewer’s initial reaction to this is something like ‘oh dear, our numerous challenges’ – whether they say it with a chuckle or an eyeroll is telling.)
  • What support does the library offer for professional development?

 

What’s it actually like to work at the place you’re interviewing? Read between the lines. If you’re asked you how you handle grumpy coworkers, it’s a red flag that the work environment probably needs some improvement. On the other hand, if an interviewer mentions a lot of professional trends, it most likely indicates that the library is forward-thinking and they’re looking for someone with lots of good ideas.

Remember: you’re also interviewing them. The interview is a time when both you and the hiring library is feeling out whether you’d be a good fit. It’s difficult to assess if you’re getting an off-site panel interview, but if you’re being interviewed at the library by the directors, take copious mental notes from the moment you pull into the parking lot and step in the building. How does the front desk staff greet you? Are they warm and friendly? How old are the structures, computers, stacks, furniture? How many patrons are there, and do they look happy? How do your interviewers greet and treat you? Do they explain their vision for the position? What about their vision for the library? Do they smile, make eye contact, and try to put you at ease? Do they appear interested in your answers? Does the interview end gracefully, or awkwardly and abruptly?

I’ve had great interviews that flowed more like a conversation and ran way over the allotted time, and then I’ve had interviews where the panelists didn’t seem interested in what I had to say (and once, abruptly left the room mid-interview to grab the coffee they left at their desk). The way interviewers treat you as a candidate is quite indicative of how you’ll be treated as a new hire.

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