Hired Librarians: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Elisabeth Doucett, whose book, What They Don’t Teach You In Library School, was featured on Author’s Corner about a month ago, suggested today’s post. Ms. Doucett recently hired a librarian who 

did the absolute best job I’ve ever seen to prepare for that interview

Today I’m pleased to be able to bring you an interview with a successful candidate and the librarian who hired her: Sarah Brown, the new Manager of Adult Services at Curtis Memorial Library, and Liz Doucett, the Library Director.  Curtis Memorial is a public library in Brunswick, Maine, with 21.6 FTEs (11 full-time and 26 part -time staff members.)
Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, ME
Note: I’d like to be able to turn Hired Librarians into a regular feature, so if you’re part of a recent hiree/hiring manager pair who’d be willing to be interviewed, please contact me.  Or please pass along this request!


The Successful Candidate: Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown
Where are you in your career? When did you graduate, and how many years of experience do you have?

I graduated from the University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science in 1996 and have over 15 years’ experience as a professional librarian. First, in an academic library at Pikeville College, in rural eastern Kentucky, in which I supervised the creation of a medical library for a new osteopathic medical school.

My second professional position was with the Tippecanoe County Public Library in Indiana. I was a reference and adult services librarian for over 10 years, working at a branch location that was a joint public/community college library and serving as Interim Branch Manager in 2003.

My current position is that of Adult Services Manager at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick Maine.

Why did this job pique your interest?

I had wanted to relocate to Maine for many years and I was on the lookout for the perfect combination of location, library and community. Curtis Library is a fantastic library whose mission and vision spoke to me. Their new Strategic Plan showed that they were community focused and proactively working on meeting 21st century community needs.

The position of Adult Services Manager was a good fit for me. I had a strong background in reference and adult services and, anticipating a move to a management level position, I had sought out management and leadership training opportunities. I was confident that with my enthusiasm, experience and skills that I would be an asset to CML and to the service area.

How many pages was your resume? Cover letter?

My resume was way too long! It was 6 pages, plus a cover letter and a page of references.

What research did you do before submitting your application?

I wanted to make sure that this was a library and community that I wanted to work in so I did research on both. For the library I looked at its mission, vision, values, strategic plan, Youtube videos, website, blog, newspaper articles, and several years’ worth of newsletters and annual reports. I also researched the staff using Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

For the community I looked at the town web site, the Master Plan for Downtown Brunswick, the Mid Coast Chamber of Commerce, Brunswick Downtown Association, and the local newspaper.

What did you wear?

I wore a gray pantsuit.

Can you describe your process in preparing for the interview?

You know how hard you study for the GRE or a Master’s program cumulative exam? I would say that I studied twice as hard for this interview. I was very excited about this position! In addition to reading and rereading (and maybe rereading once more) the library and community documents listed above, I had a 20 page document with sample questions, answers and behavioral examples. Topics included work experience, strengths and weaknesses, management and leadership style, conflict management, teamwork, customer service, flexibility, challenges and opportunities in adult services, and the future of libraries and librarians. Additionally, I made sure I was current on professional issues by reading professional journals, industry reports, and state library discussion lists.

Compiling and studying these documents really helped me to evaluate myself as a candidate, think about the role and future of libraries, get to know the interviewing library, and concisely articulate how I might fit within, and be an asset to them.

What questions did you ask?

Based on my study of the library and of the community I had many specific as well as general questions for the interviewers: about the library, programming, partners, and the community.

Why do you think you were hired? What set you apart from other candidates?

I know that all of the candidates were very qualified for the position. I feel that I was chosen because I was passionate about the job, the community, the profession, and the amazing possibilities and potential facing libraries as we move into the future.

Is there anything else you want to tell my readers about why you were chosen? Or any general job hunting advice you want to dispense?

Don’t be afraid to show your passion! I love being a librarian and I am passionate about libraries and librarianship. I was very excited about Curtis Library and the Brunswick community – and I wasn’t afraid to let that show during the interview process. Do your research on the interviewing library and the community. Be able to articulate why you want the job and what you can offer.

The Hiring Librarian: Liz Doucett

Liz Doucett

What stood out in this applicant’s cover letter?

Sarah’s cover letter was very clear and detailed as to a) how her experience made her qualified for the job at Curtis and b) the degree of passion and energy that she had for her profession. We wanted both experience and passion in the person who got this job so her clarity made it easy for us to include her in our pool of applicants. I would tell any applicant for a job make sure she does the same in a cover letter with a focus on being short, succinct and full of excitement about the opportunity.

Did she meet all of the required qualifications listed in the job ad? How many of the desired qualifications did she meet?

Sarah met all of the required qualifications.

In comparison to the rest of the pool, did the applicant have more, less, or about the same years of experience? What about for the other people you interviewed?

Sarah probably had slightly less experience than some of the other candidates. However, her high degree of preparation compensated for any short-falls in experience.

What was the interview process like? 

We went through all of the resumes received (about 40) and picked out a pool of six candidates. The interview committee (three librarians plus the library’s assistant director and the manager of technical services) then conducted a group telephone interview with each candidate. The final three candidates were invited to the library. Each candidate interviewed again with the interview committee and I then interviewed each one individually. Additionally, the final candidates had bagels and coffee in a large group format with anyone on the staff interested in attending. The candidates were given tours of the library and then went out to lunch (informally) with 2 members of the interview committee. It was an exhausting process for the candidate and the interview committee but by the end it was very clear as to who we were going to hire.

What stood out in this applicant’s interview?

Sarah came to the interview amazingly well-prepared. She had researched the community of Brunswick and Curtis Library and the staff that worked here. She knew by name which staff person did what job in the library. She had ideas about what she would like to accomplish at Curtis. She understood our strategic goals and already had a sense of what she could contribute toward achieving those goals. I have always prided myself on being prepared for job interviews and I can honestly say that Sarah far surpassed any job interview I’ve ever done. On top of that she was very passionate about her work which is refreshing and exciting when you are interviewing for a senior position.

Were there any flags or questions you had about this person’s abilities, and how did they resolve them?

The interview committee was a little worried that we had so few concerns about Sarah’s abilities – we felt like we must be missing something! Happily, Sarah has lived up to our expectations and continues to be a hire for the library of which we are all proud.

Is there anything else you want to tell my readers about why this candidate was chosen? Or any general job hunting advice you want to dispense?

When you interview for a job, I would suggest the following:

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Look at every piece of information you can find about the library AND the community in which it is situated. A prepared candidate is very impressive.
  2. Practice answering sample interview questions out loud. You don’t want to memorize an answer but you do want to hear yourself speak out loud. It will help you figure out the topics which you are comfortable discussing and those about which you are less articulate.
  3. Come to an interview with suggestions and ideas. They might not be “right” for the library but they demonstrate that you are willing to put in time and energy and thinking into get this job.
  4. Don’t be afraid to tell interviewers why you want this job. Passion goes a long way in terms of convincing interviewers that you are the right candidate for the job.
  5. When you get to the end of an interview, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer if you have addressed all of their questions and concerns. You don’t want to leave the interview without having done everything you can can to get that job!

Just to reiterate: If you’re part of a recent hiree/hiring manager pair who’d be willing to be interviewed for this feature, please contact me.  Or please pass along this request!

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1 Comment

Filed under 10-50 staff members, Adult Services, City/town, Hired Librarians, Northeastern US, Public

One response to “Hired Librarians: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

  1. “Don’t be afraid to tell interviewers why you want this job.”

    I think the tricky part with this is separating the real reason you want the job from what is professionally appropriate. Often the person wants the job because they need a job and any job in their general field is exciting. Or they badly want out of their current position and are at the interview to see if the new place has the same problems they are trying to escape. These aren’t the kind of answers one can give, so the person has to come up with half-baked reasons.

    Additionally, while it is natural for the hiring committee to want a candidate to want the position, the interview is an exploration process. The candidate may be interested, but with reservations, and the interview can change the reservation to passion for that particular job. Often, there simply isn’t enough information available for a person to develop a strong emotion for a specific job or library before the interview.

    As to researching the library staff before the interview, I did that, too. I often found that the library or staff have a very small online presence. Once, after stressing over sending an interview follow-up email to one person whose email address could not be found, after getting the job, I discovered that some of the staff do not have any sort of online presence.

    A person can do all kinds of research and still come to the interview knowing little about the library if all the information is kept in local paper records and never digitized or the online records are outdated or password protected. I’ve even been some places where it is standard to not write things down, but rather pass information along verbally. How would an outside candidate get access to that information? My point to people who hire is, just because you know the information is available, that doesn’t mean it is available to someone outside the system, so be realistic about what you expect.

    Oh, and be kind to the candidate and let them see the committee’s names in writing, especially if someone has a non-standard spelling. I’ve been to plenty of interviews where the only way I knew people’s names was when they introduced themselves at the beginning of the interview. If I hadn’t frantically scribbled something down to jog my memory, I may not have been able to remember their names during the interview. Even then, many times I was guessing because it was a name I never heard before and I was trying to decipher an unfamiliar accent while writing the previous person’s name.

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