Further Questions: What are your favorite questions to ask in interviews?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

What are your favorite questions to ask in interviews? And why? If you can talk a little about the difference between what you ask over the phone versus in-person, that would be very helpful.

This is not a question, but after we’ve asked and answered questions from a candidate, we ask that they write 10 questions they have about the job or the library. We leave and give them all the time they want, they turn in the questions and we thank them, etc. I have found the questions asked reflect very clearly the concerns of the candidate and can be quite revealing.

– Kaye Grabbe, Lake Forest Library

Christine Hage - Dark backgroundMy favorite question is “If you were on the public service desk and heard a colleague give out mis-information, what would you do?”  I’m amazed at how many candidates will wait until the customer is gone and then approach their colleague.  Wrong answer!  We never knowingly let a customer leave with incorrect information.  Our loyalty is to our customer.  The right answer is to step in and say something like  “I found something different on that the other day” or “There was a recent staff memo announcing a change in that policy.”  Our goal isn’t to beat up on each other, but make sure that customers get good and accurate service.
Another question I ask reference librarians is to list their 10 favorite reference sources.  I selected 10 because it relates to the Dewey Decimal System and someone could go through and name an encyclopedia, a religious book, a social science resource, etc.  There is no right answer, but I like to see if the say the internet, or an online resource.  I seldom get anyone that can give me 10 resources and occasional get a candidate that can’t name a single resource.  Would I want that person on our reference desk?

I realize that interviews can be stressful, but so can serving the public.  Can people think on their feet?  Can they organize information in the head.  These are just two questions that help me evaluate that.

– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

The thing to remember about a job interview is that it is a conversation.  The employer and candidate should do as much as possible to get to know each other.  Would you feel comfortable working at this library?  Is the management style something you can work with?  Does the libraries commitment to public service match your own.  As badly as you may want a job, you shouldn’t settle.  Keep searching to find a good match.
– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

Laurie Phillips

Generally, in the phone interview (which we’re in the middle of right now), we ask questions that get at a few key points – do you really understand this job and connect with the work? Tell us why you want to do this kind of work. We also ask why they are interested in working at our library and at this university. We try to find out whether or not they connect with our size of institution and our learner-centered approach. If they can’t answer those questions, we don’t go further. In person, we may ask about different aspects of the job – about working in a place where you are empowered (and expected) to take leadership on projects, about being faculty, comfort with teaching.

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

It does depend on the position but I do ask everyone in the phone interview, “Tell me about a time that you disagreed with your supervisor or library administration. How did you handle it, what was the outcome?” I also ask questions that clarify if the person meets the minimum qualifications. Some applications will provide specific examples in their cover letter for some of the qualifications like the ability to work in a fast paced environment but sometimes it is hard to tell if they could work in the fast paced environment at my library.

For the in person interview, I write the questions after we decide who to bring to campus so if there were things that we need to address further, if their were any red flags in the interview on the phone, etc. I will write questions that will try to draw those things out while still asking each candidate the same thing.

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

angelynn king


I like asking the candidate for specifics about how they handled a difficult situation in the past. It tells us both what they consider difficult and how they define “handled.”
-Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

Celia RabinowitzIn recent phone interviews we have asked candidates if they used the library and/or consulted with librarians when they were in college. I have come to really like this question. Often candidates aren’t prepared for the question and the point isn’t really to catch them off guard. It is to encourage them to think about how we form ideas and plans for working with our undergraduate students. The answers are often very interesting.

In person we have asked candidates about an instruction experience, or other project, which did not go as planned and how the candidate used that experience to make changes or try different strategies. I also like to ask candidates in person at the end of an interview about identifying areas where they feel pretty confident and places where they see room or a need for growth, development, learning. I think this is a better version of the strengths/weaknesses question (not one of my favorites) because it allows the candidate to respond based on what she has seen and heard during the interview.

The difference between questions over the phone or in person probably have more to do with what we are trying to accomplish in each setting. Phone interviews need to provide a committee with a number of opportunities in a fairly short time to form some general opinions. This can be a good time to refer to specific items on a resume or in a letter and ask the candidate to elaborate. That often puts a candidate at ease since phone interviews tend to be awkward. The “why did you apply,” or “why are you interested” question works well here. An on-campus candidate is going to get that question a lot from other people he meets on campus so the committee doesn’t have to repeat it. Keep questions that might actually lead to some interesting opportunities for conversation rather than ask/answer for the in-person interview.

– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH.

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 us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

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2 responses to “Further Questions: What are your favorite questions to ask in interviews?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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