Further Questions: Can we talk about feedback?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

Can we talk about feedback? Is your organization able to provide feedback to applicants who are not hired (after they have been interviewed–not ones who never make the cut)? Why or why not? Oftentimes applicants ask why they did not receive the job only to receive vague answers or be told that the information is confidential. This can be frustrating but there are many reasons why this occurs, so learning about the process might help. On a related note, if feedback cannot be provided what is your advice to job seekers wishing to become stronger candidates in the future?

Jessica OlinI’ve got to be honest, in the two years I’ve been a director, I’ve never had anyone ask why they didn’t get the job. That means I don’t know whether or not I’m allowed to give that kind of feedback. However, I can give advice to job seekers on becoming stronger candidates without direct feedback:
First, make sure you’re hitting all the standard marks like sending a follow up thank you note – handwritten if there’s time, but even an email is a nice touch. It’s such a cliche, but the little things can make a big difference.
Second, check in with someone who is more experienced in the field before the interview as part of your prep. So many questions I ask and have been asked are standard things like “why do you want to work here?” and “why do you want to leave your current job?” You can prep for those, and run your answers by that more experienced librarian/friend.
Third, check in with that same more experienced librarian/friend after the interview. Did the committee/interviewer ask any unexpected questions? Talk it over, both the unexpected questions and the answers you gave. This will help you in the future.
Finally, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said this to aspiring librarians who are job hunting and who have asked me for help: don’t forget you’re interviewing them as well. Come in with your questions for them, and listen carefully to the answers. Not only will it impress your prospective employer/coworkers that you are curious about them, but it will also help you feel a bit more like you’re in the driver’s seat. Nervousness has sunk many an interview, and feeling a bit more control can help you stay calm.
– Jessica Olin, Director of Parker Library, Wesley College

J. McRee ElrodHiring for us is based on the successful submission or original MARC records in a .mrc file.

If the records or the file are not well done, we do say what was wrong.


– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Laurie Phillips

I cannot provide feedback until the search is over. To anyone. In fact, we had an internal candidate who didn’t make the initial cut and I wasn’t allowed to speak to him about why. I will soon, though. For my most recent search, I did offer to speak with those who were interviewed but not hired. One took me up on it and we had a great conversation about how we viewed his interview and what he had taken away from his interview (he is quite insightful, so he was spot on in his assessment). The other, who said she would want to talk to me, did not. I have not generally had people who didn’t make the cut ask me for feedback. I am very careful in providing feedback to those who ask.  I have to provide a reason for non-selection in my applicant summary, so I suppose I could do that, but I would probably have to refamiliarize myself with their materials because there is often a 3 month lag between application and hire.
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Melanie LightbodyI would love to give feedback to certain candidates.  My experience is they don’t ask.  I only remember one time.  She asked and I told her the truth.  That said, our HR and Risk Management would likely prefer we wouldn’t provide feedback because that may open us up to a possible legal proceedings  There also may be local policies regarding providing that kind of feedback.


To be a strong candidate, I’d advise the following:

  • Show specific interest and research in our particular library
  • Don’t ever denigrate previous colleagues or supervisors
  • Even if optional, provide a cover letter
  • Show openness and enthusiasm for the job and the library … and our profession.

– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County

Celia RabinowitzThis is a tough one to answer.  Often an organization’s Human Resources department (for the library, the campus, etc.) may have very clear guidelines about how much (or how little) discussion is permitted with candidates who are not offered a job after an interview. There are valid legal reasons to limit that kind of conversation.  And sometimes vague answers are the best a hiring manager can offer.  Hiring one candidate over another on the basis of experience (if that is listed as a required or preferred qualification) is something I think I can talk about with someone who did not get an offer.  If we base some of our decision on that elusive “fit” which was the subject of a question a few weeks ago, my response to an inquiry might be vague.

In general I have always been counseled to be honest, brief, and as vague as possible when providing feedback.  Try asking directly how you could have been a stronger candidate instead of asking why you did not get a job offer.  That might not always work either,  but it is a more positive and forward-looking question and might elicit more useful responses.

– 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.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.


Filed under Further Questions

2 responses to “Further Questions: Can we talk about feedback?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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