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Sun, Jan. 19th, 2014, 06:32 pm
stephani673: Interview tips and misc.

I have an interview on Wednesday for a public reference position. Although I have an MLS, the bulk of my work experience has been teaching [a subject with a strong research focus] at a university. My qualifications seem to be fit pretty well and I've been perusing sites for common questions, but I'd love to get a bead on what to expect from this interview. Types of questions, level of formality, materials I should bring (copy of resume, paper, pen, etc.), and what on earth I should wear -- any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. For those of you in admin, do you have any pet peeves or things that interviewees do that bug you?

This is a perfect job and perfect location for me so I want to put my best foot forward. Thank you in advance!

Mon, Jan. 20th, 2014 12:53 am (UTC)

Yea for getting an interview! (I'm right there with you, I have two this coming week!)

For both interviews, I'm wearing nice black pants, a button down shirt and a suit jacket. It's probably a little more formal for both interviews than I need to be but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

I'd check out the blog hiring librarians on what to wear though it definitely varies so much from person to person.

As for questions, I'm right there with you. I'm not sure what to ask or what they're going to ask me (the job description was pretty vague).

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 03:24 am (UTC)

Oh, good luck to you!

Good to know about the clothes -- I was debating a jacket, pants, and more casual shirt vs. a sweater, pants, and the same shirt. (Actually, I have about 4 different contenders so I can change my mind a thousand times.) It's black pants/jacket with a royal blue shirt. I'm a little concerned that it's all too dark.

I was checking out Hiring Librarians for the interview questions, but I'll look more closely for clothing tips.

Best of luck to you this week :)

Mon, Jan. 20th, 2014 02:08 am (UTC)

Common questions I've been asked for reference jobs: tell me about a time you failed, tell me about a time you had to deal with an angry/upset customer, what books have you read lately, what is your favorite online service or tool that the library offers, why do you want this job, why are you the best candidate for this job?

Also, be sure to have questions for them. My go-to is "what did the previous person in this job do well that you'd like to see repeated? Is there anything you'd like to see this position do that wasn't done previously?"

Spend a lot of time on their website. Know their vision, goals, mission, etc. We've been really big on our goals lately and in my last 2 interviews I was asked something along the lines of what would I do to help the library achieve the goals, or which goal did I think the job was relevant to, etc. Familiarize yourself with their catalog, programs, online services, research tools, etc. Be prepared to give some kind of hands-on demonstration, such as giving a reference interview, looking something up in a database, etc. Obviously you don't need to go into the job already knowing how to do everything expertly, but be familiar with the most common reference and readers' advisory skills.

My pet peeves for interviewees:
- inappropriate attire (the last girl I interviewed showed up in a partially-backless sweatshirt with a lace top and a neon green bra) - personally, I wear a suit skirt or suit pants and a nice button down, and simple low heels. A full suit is probably a little over the top since it's not a management position.
- clearly has done no research on the library or position (some people show up and are basically like "what is this job again? what would I do?")
- provides single word answers or can't give examples. It's always best to If you get asked for an example of something you've never experienced, say that and then tell them what you WOULD do theoretically. Like, if they say "tell me about a time you dealt with X" and you've never dealt with X, say "I've personally been fortunate enough to never be in that situation, but if I WERE dealing with X, I would do A, B, and C." And no matter WHAT the question is, give a fully developed answer. The correct answer to "tell me about a book you read recently" is NOT "The Book," it's "I recently finished The Book. I really enjoyed [insert smart-sounding thing about the book]." And the answer is never, ever just "yes" or "no."
- cell phones. Make sure your phone is off before you go in. Or better yet, leave it in your car, just to be 100% positive it won't ring while you're interviewing. I've actually had candidates TAKE PHONE CALLS while in interviews... don't do that. :p
- bad "why do you want this job?" answers. Obviously, don't say "better pay" or "better hours" or something that's not related to the actual functions of the job. And for the love of Dewey, do NOT say you want the job because you love to read, you love books, or it seems like a quiet place to work. I'm sure you wouldn't say anything that silly since you already work in a library, but an astonishing number of people seem to think you really do just sit around in a quiet building reading books all day. :p

Good luck! :)

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 03:43 am (UTC)

Thank you so much for the detailed response! This is going to be tremendously helpful.

Since a suit is a little much for the interview, is it a large faux pas to overdress for the position? I live in a small city that has few choices for clothes and it's been difficult to find *anything* that looks professional. I do have black pants and a black jacket that work together, but I haven't been able to find a casual jacket to go with the black pants.

The "correct answer" points you've brought up are incredibly helpful. It can be very difficult to evaluate how you sound in an interview or if you're giving the best answer.

In your opinion, would it be a good option to discuss how much I enjoy research as an answer to why I want the job? I have an MLS, but I'm transitioning from teaching (traditional, hybrid, online) to library work. Teaching is nice, but I love the research side of academia. I genuinely enjoy searching for answers and learning things about a wide variety of topics. Beyond that, my favorite part of teaching was teaching my students how to do research and to see when a student discovered how much fun it can be to really delve into a topic. I don't want to sound cheesy and I don't want to veer off from their expectations, either.

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 04:03 am (UTC)

I don't think a suit would hurt your chances of getting the job, just that it isn't necessary to drop a few hundred bucks on one if you have something else appropriate. But if you have to choose between over- and under-dressing, always go for over!

I would definitely mention both of those things for an answer to why you want the job, especially how much you enjoy helping others research/teaching others research skills. That way you can subtly let them know you aren't trying to run away from your current job, just trying to get a position that emphasizes your strengths and passions.

Edited at 2014-01-21 04:04 am (UTC)

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 10:51 pm (UTC)

Okay, that makes sense and a good way to put it, I think. Thank you :)

(I'm getting so nervous!)

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 11:01 pm (UTC)

Don't be nervous! You're obviously putting a lot of time into preparing, which will be obvious in your interview. You'll be great. :)

Mon, Jan. 20th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)

Seconding everything everyone else has said, and adding this: if it really is the perfect location for you, let them know. Libraries (at least the ones I've worked for) hate dealing with turnover, and knowing that the person interviewing has some reason to stay at that location long-term can be a huge plus. I'm pretty sure the main reason I got my first full-time library job instead of the other people interviewing was because I grew up in that town (I was living elsewhere at the time) and had family ties there. Ditto for my current library job--my husband has tenure at the same university, and I made sure to slip that in so they'd know I had every reason to stay there.

Also, always bring a few copies of your resume, just in case.

Edited at 2014-01-20 04:17 am (UTC)

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 03:49 am (UTC)

That's great advice about the location. This library was my second home as a kid and I volunteered there for several years, although I don't think anyone in the current admin knows me (and vice versa). It's my community library and my family is here so I've been watching with great interest to see when they have jobs available. I volunteer next door to the library and pick up my CSA down the street -- it would be phenomenal to work there.

Thank you for your response! :)

Edited at 2014-01-21 03:54 am (UTC)

Mon, Jan. 20th, 2014 12:54 pm (UTC)

Since it's a public reference job, have a few authors memorized. One of the questions I was asked was "A patron has read all of Danielle Steel's books. What other author would you recommend?" You can change 'Danielle Steel' for almost any other popular genre author. Make sure you have alternate authors in your mind. If the job is specifically adult or youth services, be prepared for questions about children's and YA authors too.

I wholeheartedly agree on the research the position comment. Read their website (every page, even admin, contact us, policies, etc) and if they have a program newsletter, read that too. Before your interview, walk around the library, get the lay of the land, see what special collections they have, even talk to some of the staff. If there are any special programs or initiatives going on (makerspace is a HUGE one right now for a lot of public libraries) find out about it and you can comment on it in your interview.

Most public libraries want you to be enthusiastic, passionate, creative, and friendly. If you are those things, it will come out in your interview :) Good luck!!

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 03:54 am (UTC)

Oh, excellent advice about memorizing authors. In my own reading, I stick with a few specific genres so it would be helpful to do some research on romance, for example.

"Most public libraries want you to be enthusiastic, passionate, creative, and friendly. If you are those things, it will come out in your interview :) Good luck!!"

Thank you for this. I'm researching to get ready, but I think I'm getting stuck on the small stuff. In your experience, do they do a lot of role-playing reference in interviews?

Thank you for your response! :)

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 01:08 pm (UTC)

Some of the interviews I've done involve a bit of role-play, like I mentioned about the patron having read all of Danielle Steel and asking for a new author. Another question might be "You're alone at the reference desk. The phone is ringing, someone needs help with the photocopier, and there is someone in front of you waiting to ask a question. How do you handle it?" This is where research into policies and/or observing staff might come in handy :)

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC)

Okay, this question keeps coming up a lot on interview prep sites. I've searched the library's policy pages, but nothing there is giving me a hint on how to handle it. My first instinct is a first-come, first-serve approach, but the fact that there are three different types of problems makes me think something else is probably at play and I'm a little lost as to what that factor is. The other variation I saw is:

"Picture this: It is 5:00 PM and you are relieving the day shift. You are the only reference librarian on the desk and the following are waiting for help. In what order would you answer them and why?
a. A young child with a homework assignment
b. A trivia question; the contest is on now.
c. A woman who has just read Jannette Dailey's latest book and wants a recommendation for a similar book
d. An elderly couple wanting advice on how to do their genealogy.
e. The city manager's office is on the telephone."

Since it's the end of the day, I'm inclined to answer the city manager's call first to see if it's an emergency and because it's a phone call. Then take the name, number, and requested information to call back. The thing about the trivia question is confusing -- if it's a contest at the library that is happening at that moment, the assistance is needed in some aspect of managing the event, and I can provide it quickly, then I'd likely handle that next.

The woman with the book request should be able to be handled quickly so she'd be third. I'm loathe to take a child's request over an elderly couple for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the ability of older folks to stand and wait. At the same time I've worked with older folks before and, with the number of resources online, genealogy advice can take a long time. I think I would be inclined to get them started on the computer, handle the child's request, and come back to the older couple when I was done with the child to offer additional suggestions and assistance.

Do you think that's a reasonable answer or am I missing something vital here? (I thank you again for your help. I truly appreciate it.)

ETA: I know that proper etiquette at many places puts priority on patrons who are physically at the desk, but given the potential for urgency with a city manager, does that change?

ETA2: I just realized that I didn't answer the other side of the trivia question one. If someone is asking the answer to a trivia question for an ongoing contest, I would suggest some places to find the answer, but not answer the question myself.

Edited at 2014-01-22 12:21 am (UTC)

Wed, Jan. 22nd, 2014 02:41 pm (UTC)

Questions like this are asked not only to see how you handle a lot of questions, but how you manage yourself. I would likely start the answer with "I would see if there is another reference librarian available to help" as some libraries have back-up staff off desk to handle lines. It depends on the size of the library, but it's unlikely you'd be the only person there (although it is possible)

If not, it's a tough call. Remember you can always say to people, like the parent of the young child and the elderly couple, that you're alone on desk but will get to them in a moment. I think you answer sounds good :)

There is no right answer to scenario questions. The interviewer just wants to make sure you go about your duties in a professional way.