I Really Admire People Who Can Speak Intelligently about Weaknesses and Past Mistakes

Poster, New York Public Library, n.d.


This anonymous interview is with a librarian who hires for a Special library and Archives.  This librarian has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring committee. The organization has 0-10 employees.

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

Enthusiasm, good communication and interpersonal skills, genuine knowledge of the institution (please know who I am, what we do, and what I’m interviewing you for!)

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

If I ask for an MLS or equivalent, please have one. Also, don’t try to lie about having library or technical experience in your application or to my face. Because I probably know more about that topic than you, and you’re probably not a good liar.

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

Objectives. They make it look like you have no applicable experience. Your objective should be for me to hire you, and I know that because you applied for the job.

How many pages should a cover letter be?

√ Only one!

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√ Two is ok, but no more

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√ .pdf

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√ No

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

√ Other: We have a system. Don’t try to submit outside of the system, I won’t look at it

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

Have a personality. Show your sense of humor. Speak intelligently about pertinent topics related to the job. Relate past experiences to the questions I ask. Don’t be afraid to talk about mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve learned from them.

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

This may be weird, but I really admire people who can speak intelligently about weaknesses and past mistakes and use them as examples of acquired skills and knowledge. If I ask you about a misstep or a weakness, don’t BS me. If you can’t admit you aren’t perfect I don’t really want to work with you.

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

We have much higher demands for candidates, including an emphasis on presentations and/or real-life problem solving exercises.

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

If you are being interviewed, the search committee already likes you. Please remember that and try to relax! I see interviews as a platform for you to shine. I don’t WANT you to fail. Reveal some of your personality, I don’t want to work with boring people. Make me laugh. I’ve never hired someone who hasn’t made me laugh in an interview.


Filed under 0-10 staff members, Archives, Original Survey, Special

6 responses to “I Really Admire People Who Can Speak Intelligently about Weaknesses and Past Mistakes

  1. “I really admire people who can speak intelligently about weaknesses and past mistakes.”

    This statement alone makes me think I would like this person. Assumed modesty irritates me, but people who intelligently consider mistakes and make a plan for moving forward give me hope when I’m losing sleep over the latest mistake.


  2. Bonnie

    I know it’s because of the types of questions, but when I read these posts it sounds as if candidates for library positions are losers. I would love to hear from hiring librarians what percentage of candidates interviewed made mistakes like dressing inappropriately, lying on the resume or in the interview, acting or speaking rudely, not learning about the library or barely saying a word? I would think it would be more likely a question of fit or that they are looking for someone to stand out from the pack. Do we really present ourselves in such a poor manner most of the time?


    • dmzz

      Thank you. I cannot believe there are even adult human beings who would wear dress anywhere close to inappropriate for a job interview. Honestly, I don’t even know why this question gets asked, I have literally never met a person who didn’t know how to dress for an interview. I absolutely love the advice of speaking intelligently about your past mistakes. “Talk about a mistake you made and how you handled it” would be a much better interview question than “what is your greatest weakness?”


      • I think we hear about people who dress inappropriately, act and speak rudely, are shy and reticent, etc. etc. because these things are easier to point to than the more nuanced things, but also because they *do* happen frequently. There are many different standards of dress, behavior, etc., and there are many more people who don’t realize how they come across, or freak out in interviews, etc.
        There are also just a lot of people who don’t have good job seeker skills. I work in public libraries and see a lot of individuals who really struggle with this.
        To be honest, I kind of can’t believe that you can’t believe that people dress inappropriately.
        Maybe it’s a good opportunity for somebody to do a formal study…


  3. Bonnie

    I haven’t done hiring in a long time, so I don’t know what is happening now in terms of people being properly prepared. On the few occasions that I was involved, I don’t think dress was ever an issue. That’s why I asked about the percentage. I’m sure there are people who dress inappropriately, but is that most of the people who show up for an interview, an occasional person, or is it really rare? Should someone focus considerable energy on that? Would an interviewer really reject someone who was wonderful in so many other ways, if they didn’t totally agree on the outfit choice. I’m not talking about someone showing up in short shorts. But how many would really show up in short shorts? Maybe in your experience, you are surprised by how often they do.


    • If you read the individual responses (the What to Wear ones, not the ones from the original survey, which is what this one is), you do hear from many people who say that outfits don’t matter, or that they only remember what people are wearing if it’s truly horrendous. I think that is probably the majority.
      If you look at the results (https://hiringlibrarians.com/2012/10/18/stats-and-graphs-235-responses-on-what-candidates-should-wear/) you can see that the majority answers are often some version of “probably this, but other things are ok”
      Personally, after conducting the survey I changed what I wear to interviews, and I worry less about if I’m appropriate. I wore jeans and a t-shirt to work for ten years, when I worked in grocery, and so most professional wear feels overly formal. I feel like I’ve been able to pick something that’s appropriate, and I’ve also learned that you’re right, it’s not a life or death choice.
      I think the other errors – rude or inappropriate behavior in an interview, bad cover letters/resumes, are much more serious and maybe a bit more frequent.


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