I am so excited to present this guest post by Megan Hodge and Nicole Spoor. They have conducted and documented some excellent research which answers the question on every interviewee’s mind: What do hiring committees really want? (I mentioned them in the Library Literature section of my Resource Round-Up post).
Finding Evidence-Based Strategies for Interview Success
We were thrilled to be invited to write a guest post for the Hiring Librarians blog. The hiring process is a subject near to our hearts, having recently graduated from library school and been on the job market ourselves. That was actually the impetus behind the survey we conducted last spring. We discovered that while there is tons of information out there on writing good resumes and cover letters, there is almost nothing in the professional literature, even on blogs (aside from personal anecdotes), on how to succeed in a library interview. We decided to close this gap in the literature by conducting the aforementioned survey. We targeted librarians who had served on hiring panels for entry-level public or academic librarian positions since December 2007 (when the recession started, which we figured may have made hiring processes more stringent). Out the 430 responses received, 305 respondents were employed in an academic library, while 125 worked in a public library. Over half of the respondents had served on hiring committees for over six years and 80% had served on hiring committees for at least one year.
Qualifications and Experience
We asked our respondents something that plagues many job applicants: should I even bother applying for this great job even though I don’t have all of the requested qualifications? Unfortunately, our respondent pool confirmed that the job market is especially tough for new librarians by overwhelmingly (over 86%) stating that candidates who do not demonstrate having all of the required qualifications in their resumes or cover letters will not be considered. Exceptions might be made, however, for diverse candidates or ones in possession of special skills (so bone up on your tech skills!), and for library school students nearing completion of their degree.
When asked to describe the importance of personality/attitude and institutional fit, both were rated as “very important” by over 70% of our respondents. This affirms anecdotal reports that hiring committees believe personal compatibility is more important than a skill set, as the latter can be taught but camaraderie with future colleagues cannot.
Competencies and Character Traits
We asked hiring librarians to rate a few competencies on a scale from very important to unimportant. Approximately three-quarters of the respondents rated customer service skills and communication skills as very important, with almost 100% of respondents rating them both at least important. Familiarity with technology used in the library was rated as at least important by about 80% of the respondents.
When asked to choose the three most important character traits, hiring librarians answered that intelligence was the most important and enthusiasm was close second. Some respondents pointed out that relevant character traits can be different depending upon what type of librarians they are trying to hire. For example, attention to detail is much more important for a cataloging librarian than a reference librarian.
The Interview: Preparation and Performance
We also asked what candidates should know before coming to the interview. Many respondents emphasized the importance of doing research about the institution and position: carefully reading the position description and familiarizing oneself with the institution’s website and social media presence. In order to really impress the hiring committee, though, you have to use those librarian skills you learned in school. Find recent newspaper articles about the library and bring them up during the interview. Do a citation search on the hiring committee members and casually drop references to their research into conversation. Most importantly, candidates should be able to answer the question, “Why do you want to work at THIS library?”
We also wanted to know whether there were questions hiring committees felt candidates should ask—but didn’t. Several respondents noted that many candidates don’t ask questions at all, and that this reflects poorly on them. Asking questions shows that you are interviewing the library just as much as it is interviewing you, making sure it is a good fit. Some job seekers may feel asking questions makes them look like they cannot do research, but this is not the case. The largest number of answers to this question was that candidates should ask questions about what it is like to work for the library/institution and about the position’s day-to-day activities. One of the most interesting questions we asked was “What is the most impressive thing a candidate has ever done or said in an interview?” Many respondents emphasized the over-the-top nature of what candidates had done. For example, invest time coming up with innovative ideas, such as creating a mock-up of what a library’s blog could look like, before (and regardless of whether) you are hired, or create a detailed plan of how you plan to grow in the job or solve current problems with the library catalog.
We asked respondents to share advice that they might have for new library school graduate competing against more seasoned librarians for entry-level positions. Many responses had to do with having enthusiasm. One person commented that “brand new librarians can be the person to beat. They bring a fresh energy and standpoint.” Many other responses encouraged candidates to work hard to make a connection between their skills and experiences and the job. As one respondent said, “…connect the dots for us.”
Applicants need to put their best foot forward, because “personality plays a bigger role than most people think.” Another respondent said, “We are trying to find somebody who is a good fit for our library,” reinforcing the idea that personality plays a large role in the interviewing process. It is clear that it can be challenging to interview for a new position, but those just entering the library field should not give up hope. They just need to find the position that is the right fit.
We hope you find this information useful! If you’d like to see the full results of our survey, they were published in volume 113, issue 3/4 of New Library World (if your institution has a subscription, you can read our article online here).
Megan Hodge is currently an assistant branch manager for Chesterfield County (VA) Public Library, the Leadership Director for the ALA New Members Round Table, and the chair/co-founder of the Virginia Library Association’s New Members Round Table Forum. She graduated in August 2010 from the University of North Texas and landed her first (current) professional position after a year and a half on the job market, having worked as a paraprofessional in circulation during that time. She tweets at @mlhodge and blogs at bluestockinglibrarian.wordpress.com.
Nicole Spoor earned her Master of Science in Information Science in August of 2010 from the University of North Texas and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. A former middle school teacher, she has been the Information Resources Librarian for the William R. and Norma B. Harvey Library at Hampton University (VA) since 2010. Follow her tweets at @ardentlibrarian.
*Edited 6/26/2012 to correct volume number in citation