Further Questions: What’s the Best Way to Practice for Interviews?

This week’s question is again inspired  by a reader.  Thanks to this and all of the rest of you readers for being inspiring!

I asked people who hire librarians:

It seems a bit wrong to apply and go through the interview process when not interested in a job, but how else can one get practice interviewing?  Toastmasters and public speaking classes are helpful but not quite the same skills required for a presentation and interview – talking about oneself, and thinking on one’s feet.  Any suggestions for gaining the skills to really impress you in an interview? 

Cathi AllowayIdeas:  Ask friends and families to practice interviewing with you, even if they are outside the library field.  They can at least practice a mini-interview if this is a daunting favor for them.  Find out if they have had any good or bad interview experiences, from either side of the desk.

           Practice eating out with strangers, if you can.  If you have a chance to attend a social event that forces you to mix, mingle, and do small talk with people you don’t know, it helps you practice how to think on your feet and have the appropriate etiquette for an interview setting.

           Use your alma mater’s career center.  All of the MLS or MIS programs should allow you access, as an alum, to a career center where they have resources to help you practice.
           Try to book a non-interview meeting with a library director or supervisor.  I did this early in my career to explore options as my family was considering an out-of-town move.  I would ask questions such as:  “Where do libraries post vacancies when they have them?  What are some of the best libraries I can try to work for?  Are there any I should avoid due to under-funding or mismanagement?  Are there non-profits in the area that would be a good fit for me?  What is like to live/work in this neighborhood/area?”  These pre-move interviews ended up resulting, down the line, in jobs.
            Contact your state library organization (hopefully you are a member) and see if there are mentors and/or library supervisors willing to practice interviews.
– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library

Both my department and our library as a whole are chronically understaffed; if I discovered we had spent staff time considering and interviewing a candidate who had no intention of taking the position, it would really frustrate me—and ruin that person’s chance of ever interviewing with me again.  The time spent going over resumes and applications, ranking the candidates, and shuffling staff schedules so the committee can be together for a few hours to conduct interviews is a big investment of staff time on the part of the library; those are hours I could have spent doing collection development, creating programming, helping at the reference desk, or training the person we actually hire.

If someone at my library or in my area wanted to practice interview with me at another time—lunch, the weekend, etc.—I’d be happy to look at his/her resume, give the interview questions, and say how that person would have stacked up in the final ranking.  Something informal like this would probably be much better for the interviewee, anyway: I’d be looking specifically at how they answered the questions instead of focusing on if the person is right for me/the job/my library; the feedback would be immediate instead of after a week or more when we are done with all the interviews.

– Anonymous

Laurie PhillipsAbsolutely do not go through the interview process just for the practice. We are all busy professionals and please do not waste our time if you’re not interested in the job. To prepare for the interview, ask your placement office for commonly asked interview questions or ask professionals for their list. But, if the interviewers are doing their jobs well, they should be asking you questions about how you fit the qualifications. Look at the qualifications and the environment. How would you illustrate your qualifications? For example, if they mention a collaborative environment, be prepared to talk about projects or work you have done in collaboration with others and how you handled the group dynamic. If you can only talk about work you’ve done by yourself, the committee will notice. Do this exercise for each of the qualifications stated in the ad. Maybe even use ads for jobs you haven’t applied for as practice.

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

This advice could be generalized but I am writing it from the perspective of a public library administrator. Look online and in books for really tough questions. Practice interviewing with a friend. If that friend is also a library professional or even a manager in another field, all the better.

Also, scour a library’s website and look for clues about what the institution values. And do not neglect looking for the library’s budget online.  Think about how things are allocated. Think about questions that you could be asked based on what you see in the library’s online presence and in the library’s budget.  This research will also likely help you generate thoughtful questions of your own.

– Christy Davis, Library Director, Klamath County Library Service District 

I’m not opposed to applicants going through the interview process unless they absolutely, positively know they don’t want the job. But if they aren’t sure or just don’t think they want the job I don’t have any problem with them interviewing. A good interview or learning more about a particular position can change someone’s mind. It’s also good networking, for both sides, assuming the person is interviewing within his/her area of professional interest.
As for your second question, about interviewing skills, there are no Secrets to Getting a Job Offer. A good interview depends on so many factors that I’m not sure where to begin. I’m also more likely to be critical of the employer’s interviewing skills than of the interviewee’s skills, unless the latter is blatantly flaunting rules of common courtesy. Nervousness, the wrong socks, a little late, etc. are not grounds for crossing someone off a potential hire list. I also encourage applicants to contact the interviewer(s) afterward to find out why there wasn’t a job offer. My tips: Preparation, preparation, preparation. Read and reread the job description, prepare answers to potential questions, and focus, focus, focus on the job you are interviewing for, not the job you want it to be.
– Laura J. Orr, Law Librarian, Washington County Law Library
J. McRee Elrod
I agree it is wrong.
I would suggest asking a mentor to practice with you.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Thinking about it, I’m not sure how helpful practice interviews really are. From a public library perspective, which is the kind of atmosphere we have. Practicing presentations for a tenure-track academic position is different. But we’ve certainly hired people who were nervous and stumbled and generally uncomfortable. And we’ve rejected plenty who were confident and polished. It’s the content of the answers, not the presentation.

There are specific kinds of answers that are certainly count against a candidate, such as going off on a tangent about a total jerk supervisor. But since you’re never going to be told what those bad answers were, I don’t know how doing extra interviews will help.

– Kristen Northrup, Head, Technical Services & State Document Depository, North Dakota State Library

This is how I look at jobs I interviewed for where I did not get the job offer!

Unfortunately, the interview is the best practice, but, if you can find a mentor who is willing to practice with you, or find a friend from library school and you can help each other practice. Find some interview questions online and just start running through them. I have also heard of individuals practicing in front of a mirror, but I haven’t tried that myself. If you can go to professional conferences, network, meet hiring managers, and ask them what kinds of questions they ask at their interviews. Most of us will be willing to dish out a few questions you could practice with.

As far as a job presentation, you can practice on your own, but it is always best to get a few friends who will be honest with you and give you pointers for improvement.

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

We only invite for interviews candidates in whom we have a real interest, and expect that the candidates we invite only accept if they have a genuine interest in our organization.  We will know if you are just using us for practice, and won’t like it.  Should you ever apply for a position here that youare interested in we will remember, and your application will not be seriously considered.  If you aren’t really interested in a position you won’t be convincing in an interview anyway, so the approach seems of questionable value even were it not of questionable integrity.

What impresses me in an interview is the person, not the slickness of a presentation.  It’s not about self-promotion on the candidate’s side, or ambush questions on the interviewer’s side.  It’s about making meaningful connections between the organization’s needs and a candidate’s experience and qualities.

Being thoroughly prepared is critical to your success in an interview.  Learn all you can about the position and the organization, and think about what you learn in relation to your experience and who you are as a person.  Get sample interview questions from the web and write out answers to them; the process of writing will help you articulate your ideas and sharpen your insights.  Then read and re-read those answers – perhaps even aloud – add to them, refine them, and get comfortable with them so you have some practiced language to use at interview time.  Read some articles, attend webinars or other professional development events, and talk to colleagues about your ideas to give you practice expressing them and get you more actively engaged with current issues and trends. You might also get a friend to do a practice interview with you; wear your good outfit, sit in an unfamiliar office, and treat it very formally.

All of this can help make what you know and believe and have done come to mind more readily and fluently when you are thinking on your feet, make you more confident and persuasive, and demonstrate that you are serious about the work and the particular position.  I want to hire someone who has ideas, who thinks, who cares, and who has a good work ethic; those qualities will impress me, self-promotion or showmanship will not.

– Ann Glannon, Associate Director, Wheelock College Library, Boston, MA

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.com.

Thank YOU for reading! My heart is fine, fine, lonely comments.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public, Special

3 responses to “Further Questions: What’s the Best Way to Practice for Interviews?

  1. I remember seeing one position (I believe it was in Colorado) that stated they would pay the candidate’s travel expenses if selected for an interview: (a) if no job offer was made, or (b) if a job offer was made and accepted. If the position was offered but not accepted, the candidate had to pay one’s own travel expenses.


  2. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  3. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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