Thoughtful Answers to Questions, Especially When the Answers Surprise Me

James Bain DCL


This anonymous interview is with an Academic librarian who has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring committee at a library with 10-50 staff members.

What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?

Qualifications and experience match the key job duties
Strong interpersonal skills for dealing with students, faculty & co-workers
Aptitude for learning

Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?

Cover letters that contain serious errors, e.g. sending a cover letter for the wrong job or that misspells the name of the library
Resumes that lack dates for credentials received and/or previous jobs
Presentations that stray far off topic, that are dull, or that go long over the allotted time
Rudeness, lack of humility

What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?

Employment objectives

Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?

Non-library work or volunteer experience that is relevant to the position being applied for
More detail about specific accomplishments in previous jobs, including project work

How many pages should a cover letter be?

√ Only one!

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√ As many as it takes, but keep it short and sweet

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√ No preference, as long as I can open it

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√ No

If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?

√ I don’t care

What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?

Thoughtful answers to questions, especially when the answers surprise me
Informed questions that demonstrate knowledge about the library and the job
The candidate turns the interview into a conversation, and I can picture myself working with her/him

What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?

Long-winded answers
Answers that obviously aim to promote the candidate’s skills rather than answer the question being asked (we’re hiring librarians, not salesmen or politicians)

How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?

The process itself has changed little, but my approach has changed somewhat. Whereas we used to interview only those candidates who precisely fit the criteria listed in the job description, I now look for well-rounded candidates who possess the key skills required (not necessarily all of them), and who demonstrate an ability to learn on the job and to work collegially.

Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?

On your resume, include skills and experience that make you stand out from the rest of the crowd, especially if you’re a new grad who’s competing against hundreds of other new grads for the same scarce jobs.
At the interview, find techniques that allow you to stay calm and in control. Perceived anxiety can be an interview-killer, because it’s hard for the committee to know whether it’s “just nerves” or if that’s how you act all the time. One technique I’ve found helpful is to have a pad of paper in front of me and to take notes while the interview is in progress – it shows the committee you’re engaged and gives you something to do with your shaky hands!


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Filed under 10-50 staff members, Academic, Original Survey

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