Further Questions: Do you require any sort of presentation or demonstration of skill?

This week I asked people who hire librarians:

Do you require any sort of presentation or demonstration of skill during the hiring process?  What are you looking for?  Is content or delivery more important?

Cathi AllowayWe have asked recent hires to do a storytime (children’s librarian) and tech gadget training session (adult services/reference staff).

They have been VERY revealing.

We look for the ability to choose appropriate content and for someone who has a lively and engaging presentation style.  Content and delivery are of nearly equal importance.

– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library
Emilie SmartWhen we were looking for a librarian to handle the Reference Dept’s social media, I required a writing sample.  I provided some information about one of our databases and asked each candidate to write a brief (no more than 2 paragraphs) article suitable for a blog post and gave them 30 minutes to complete the assignment.  I was looking for a well written piece that was engaging and made the database sound interesting and fun.  Since I provided the content, the delivery was more important.

I don’t usually require a skills demonstration; however, I do appreciate candidates who provide examples of their work.  Candidates who are proud of their accomplishments and want to show them off are often great staff members who make meaningful contributions.
– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

One of my positions requires a written exercise (the given prompt is something like, you get a last minute call from the Senior Citizen Center; they want an hour-long program on Email Basics, to be presented in a week).  Applicants have half an hour.

The content of the exercise is important and technically what the applicant is judged on.  And that information is important: how they would structure the program, if they think to promote in any way, what their prep time looks like.  However, what I really want to know is:

1.       how does this person think (in what order do their thoughts come out, what steps do they take first, etc., and does that clash horribly with mine) and

2.       can they edit their own work.  I think being able to proofread what you yourself have written is pretty important; it means, if you’re under a deadline and no one is around to double-check the press release, I can trust you’ve done it properly and the library won’t be embarrassed by any unfortunate typos.  If you can’t write both well and fairly quickly, what can we expect as far as quality when you’re emailing information to patrons?

For my position as a department manager, I was required to do two presentations (one on myself, my experience, etc., and one on a topic of interest to the public).  I think this was just a more complex form of what I’ve said above, and appropriately so, as my position oversees Adult Programming.  Can I speak coherently for an hour?  Can I sell myself?  If I can sell myself, I will be able to sell the library to the public.  Am I in touch with what will be of programming interest to the public?

Other positions in our library require a live story-time as part of the interview process, and our shelving positions require a timed alphabetization of a full cart.  With these and similar skill demonstrations, we’re looking for the existing skill level.  How much training will this person require on this subject?  Is this a teachable skill?

– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian, Neill Public Library, Pullman, Washington

Laurie PhillipsYes, we always ask for a presentation. Partly, this is because all of our librarians are liaisons and will end up teaching (with some mentoring, not thrown to the wolves!) and we want to see the person’s presentation style. As for content, we look at that, too. We try to choose a topic that will demonstrate that the person knows about or can research best practices regarding a particular question in the area where they’ll be working. We most recently hired a Collection Development Librarian and one of her first tasks was to explore new e-book vendors and models, moving us forward in that arena. The topic of the presentation was “Discuss the challenges and potential solutions to the ebook conundrum for academic libraries, both from the library’s perspective and the user’s. Your audience will be library faculty and staff (and possibly some teaching faculty) who know very little about this topic.” We didn’t say what the conundrum was, so they had to figure that out! We also use it as an opportunity to invite library faculty and staff who are not part of the hiring committee to meet the candidate and see what they have to offer.

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

Yes! We do require a presentation for all professional positions. The search committee generally decides the content of the presentation and the search committee chair will notify the candidates of the topic.

For entry level public services librarians we typically ask them to provide a 20 minute library instruction session so we can have a good sense of their teaching skills. In this case, delivery is important! We want to see how you interact with students, your active learning skills, and how you respond to questions.

Most of our candidates are asked to present on a topic relating to the major function of the position. These are 45 minutes long with 15 minutes for questions from library staff. We are looking for candidates to respond to the topic the search committee asked them to cover (this may seem like common sense, but I would not mention it if I had not seen this mistake frequently). This presentation has much more to do with content, but delivery is also important. One major thing we are looking for is how well the candidate researched the institution because this shows your interest in the job so information in the presentation should be tailored to the specific library. We are looking for a well-organized presentation with clear points addressing the topic. If the presentation is well organized, it will not go over the time allotted and it will also not run several minutes short.

Library staff submit feedback to the search committee on the candidates presentation and the search committee use this feedback in their hiring recommendations.

– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries

Samantha Thompson-FranklinYes, we require all our on-campus candidates to do a presentation as part of their interview.

We are looking for style and delivery and how they structure the presentation (do they incorporate active learning into the presentation) more than the actual content of the presentation.

All of our librarians are required to do some instruction as part of their job, so it’s important for us to hire folks with that skill set.

– Samantha Thompson-Franklin, Associate Professor/Collections & Acquisitions Librarian, Lewis-Clark State College Library

Marleah AugustineI recently was on the hiring committee for hiring a children’s librarian, and we did require interviewees to do a quick (three minutes or so) “storytime” reading. We looked for their ability to “go with the flow” during the interview, since they weren’t expecting the task, as well as their reading voice and interaction. We then had a couple of candidates back for second interviews and asked them to prepare a 30-minute storytime and then had them do that in front of a group of children and parents. We also asked them to prepare a craft program within a particular budget amount (but did not require them to purchase anything).

We also recently hired for a PR position and in that case, interviewees were asked to provide a book review that they wrote. This gave an idea of their writing style and voice.

In both of these instances, delivery is more important than the content itself. Content does play a role, and if you have two candidates who knock the delivery out of the park, content can act as a way to determine which is the best fit. Content should be age-appropriate and appropriate to patrons being served.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Sherle Abramson-Bluhm
I oversee acquisitions units and we are dealing with materials in many languages.  We have asked candidates for positions that focus on particular languages to do some sort of proficiency test, for example we have tested transliteration skills in Slavic and Asian languages.
 This is a written test and so delivery is not an issue, but the outcome can be the ultimate factor in the decision of who we hire.
– Sherle Abramson-Bluhm, Head, Print Acquisitions, University of Michigan

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Thank YOU for reading! When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands on your head, or on the trigger of a comment?


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public

3 responses to “Further Questions: Do you require any sort of presentation or demonstration of skill?

  1. Kate

    Also, it demonstrates the ability to think on your feet, to plan a response, and how well prepared one is for the job. I’ve seen all kinds of responses from an obviously unprepared person, to one who read her responses. I want staff to be able to speak well and knowledgeably.


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