Further Questions: Can You Explain What “Fit” Is?

This week I asked people who hire librarians to define the most amorphous of candidate qualifications.  My question was:

Can you explain what “fit” is and why it is important in hiring a new employee?

Barbara Stripling“Fit” can be defined in a couple of ways, and both are important in determining how well a candidate will flourish in a particular work environment.  First, fit applies to the candidate’s qualifications for the job.  Does the applicant have the educational background, skills, and (sometimes) experiences that will enable him or her to quickly get up to speed in the new job?  If, for example, you are hiring someone to plan youth programming, but the candidate has no training in children’s or young adult services, then you have to think carefully about whether the candidate has the flexibility and drive to learn quickly and adapt previous training or experiences to youth services.  If the candidate has not pursued children’s services because he or she doesn’t like to work with children, then that lack of “fit” will spell disaster for all concerned.

The second instance of “fit” is tougher to define and even harder to discern during the interview process.  A candidate must fit comfortably into the culture of the organization.  I have found that, by asking candidates questions that get to the heart of their beliefs and passions (e.g., Why does this position appeal to you?  What do you hope to accomplish in this position?), I am usually able to tell if a candidate would feel comfortable with the underlying vision and culture of the organization.  This aspect of fit is essential, because every person in an organization makes decisions constantly (about how to respond to a patron or solve a problem or just perform a task).  If those decisions are guided by an intrinsic set of beliefs that match the organizational culture, then the new employee will be able to contribute successfully to the whole organization.

– Barbara Stripling, 2013-2014 ALA President, Asst. Professor of Practice at Syracuse University iSchool, Former Hirer of School Librarians

Petra MauerhoffA good “fit” means that a candidate will be able to comfortably be part of an organization’s culture. Ideally, good “fit” means that personality conflicts are kept to a minimum and the adjustment period for the new member of the team is quick and easy. It also means that the new team member is easily able to represent the mission, vision and values or an organization and that the existing team is comfortable with having him/her on board.
Of course it also means that the skill set of the new team member fits with the skill set required for the position and the flexibility to adapt to each position’s special circumstances.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System

Marleah Augustine“Fit” definitely comes into play when I am considering applicants. An applicant’s qualifications and experience must show that they are suitable for the position here at the library – in some cases, previous employment does not show any organizational or customer service experience, both of which I am primarily looking for with applicants. If their job experience does not “fit” with what I’m looking for, I’m not likely to interview them. I also have to consider how well applicants will fit with existing staff. This is pretty touchy, since some of this deals with personality, but it is still an important factor. Sometimes in an interview, you just get a vibe from the applicant and you can tell whether they would fit in with staff or not – and of course, this can be misinterpreted and you may end up being surprised by someone you didn’t expect or hiring someone who doesn’t fit at all. All in all, I think “fit” is a lot like obscenity – you know it when you see it!

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Terry Ann LawlerFit is tough to describe because it might change according to staffing levels, current staff member abilities, and ‘holes’.  Here’s an example, I might have a whole staff of crotchety old timers who hate change and are overly negative (I don’t! Just an example!) and when I’m hiring I am looking, of course, for someone who is positive, creative and likes change.  But, the ‘fit’ part is when I’m also looking for someone who everyone else will also like.  So, in this example, I might pick someone who is of similar age or temperament to the overall group so that their positivity will be viewed as energizing rather than threatening.  If i picked someone too young they might be treated derisively or thief ideas be dismissed because if their inexperience.  This is an overly broad example of something that can be very subtle and difficult to view as a hiring manager.  In another situation I might be looking for someone very young with a more low key attitude.   Needless to say, if you don’t get the job because of ‘fit’ you might have really not liked that job anyway.  In most cases, it is very acceptable to call and ask for feedback from the HR department.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library


We have no such concept.

I hope such a concept is not used to hinder minority and new immigrant employment.


– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Colleen Harris“Fit” is hard to define and easy to notice when it’s really right. Essentially, ‘fit’ is a measurement of how well a candidate’s goals, personality, energy, communication style, and general self-presentation mesh with those of the hiring organization and with the position they’re looking to fill. (For instance, interviewing for an instruction librarian position and mentioning that you hate being in the classroom or interacting with the public indicates poor fit between applicant and job; on the other hand, a candidate who declares their desire for transparency and coordination may find a more restrictive, hierarchical library is not a good fit for them.)

More and more I see libraries attempting to address fit in their job ads, either through using a playful tone in the ad that might warn off more serious folks (or vice versa), or noting the desire for an ‘energetic’ candidate, or one who “demonstrates enthusiasm for X” in their required and desired qualifications, which is an attempt to get at the fit question.

As to why it’s important in hiring a new employee, hiring a person is like a shorter-term marriage commitment. There are responsibilities and mutual dependencies that happen between a staff member and an organization, and if the fit is poor, much like a poor match in a marriage, it can make both parties miserable. An assessment of fit is trying to get at whether the hiree will be happy in the organizational environment. I’d note that the best organizations will craft specific questions regarding fit and won’t leave it to impressions or assumptions; interviewees should do the same. (For instance, if cooperation and teamwork are important to you, have some prepared questions that subtly get at whether the institution is very siloed, which might mean it is not a good fit for you.)

I’ll add that “fit” is hard to get at. Many academic libraries get three tries at measuring applicants on this – in the cover letter, the phone interview, and the in-person interview. Even then, it’s an amorphous concept and can lead to HR troubles. Many of the libraries I’ve worked for (academic libraries at public universities) design their candidate rubrics that the hiring committee uses to address fit in terms of the job description and qualifications, which reduces the possibility for assumption and discrimination. (This way, if they note they want an energetic and enthusiastic person, and a candidate sleepwalks through the interview, they’re being fair in giving that candidate a low score for that requirement.)

– Colleen  S. Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor, Lupton Library,University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Laurie PhillipsFit means that you will work well in the type of organization that is hiring and that you mesh well with the people there and the work style and ethic and the philosophy of the organization. I know that’s long and complex but it is a complex concept. We are a happily team-based organization where almost everything we do is with others or for others. We would not hire someone who could not work well with groups. If something seems off about how the person interacts with us as a team, that’s a red flag. It’s especially important that the person can relate well to both faculty and staff colleagues, as well as teaching faculty and students. Excellent communication skills are a must. We are a “pitch in and do it” kind of organization so if someone seems reluctant to work in that environment, they’re not a good fit. We expect people to take leadership, even in entry level positions, and to grow and thrive in the organization. We ask very specific questions of both candidates and their references to get a sense of how the person would fit in and work in our organization. I hope that also explains why it’s important!

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Thank you as always to the above for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and you would like to share your opinion in this segment (or otherwise), please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

And thank you for reading!  Comments are always open, in order to make it easier for you to comment.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public, School

3 responses to “Further Questions: Can You Explain What “Fit” Is?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  2. Zuz

    I am sorry but I think it is wrong to hire based on age (such as young or old). This can also be illegal and age discrimination depending on the situation. I also do not think hiring should be based on who the team will like. As professionals we should be able to work with all kinds of different people and that would include ones we do not like. It would seem to me that employer’s should hold their teams to those professional standards.


  3. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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