Further Questions: How do you determine what questions to ask in an interview?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

How do you determine what questions to ask in an interview? Is there a standardized set of questions for each candidate, or are questions personalized? Does your organization have policies on this to create fairness and equity in the hiring process, or is this not a consideration?

Paula HammetWe ask the same questions of every person interviewing. From our position description we determine our criteria for hiring. Once we have our criteria, we create questions that will address the criteria. Then we map our criteria to questions and vice versa. All questions must map to a criterion, and all criteria must have associated questions.

All of our questions must be approved by HR before we are allowed to view any applications. We are allowed to ask followup questions on-the-fly, such as “Can you give us a specific example of what you just described?”
Employment laws are fairly specific about the types of question you can ask and what you cannot.

– Paula Hammett, Sonoma State University Library

Christine Hage - Dark backgroundI have some standard questions I ask all candidates and then some more customized questions that relate specifically to the job being discussed.  Here are the questions I used for a recent posting of Manager of Adult Services. Questions 1, 2,7, 8, 10, 11,12, 13, 15, 16 are asked of most candidates.  I am particularly interested in 11 and 12.  We value all questions so a question is a question.  I’m surprise how many candidate will not answer contest questions, not that we get that many.  I don’t want employees that decide if a question or person is worthy of receiving library service.  On question 12 I want to know if they are committed to serving the customer or protecting a co-worker.  I don’t want anyone to leave our library when we know they have been given mis-information.  Question 15 gets some interesting answers.  Few people can name 10 resources.  Ten is a magic number because I’d like them to think through the Dewey Decimal System (one encyclopedia, one philosophy, one religion, etc.).  There are no right answers, but it is interesting to hear not be able to list even two resources.  How about the Internet?

Anyway, here are the questions I have used recently.

  1. What do you know about our library?
  2. Tell me a little about your work experience.
  3. Describe the skills and personality characteristics you possess which apply to the needs of this position.
  4. If you could have made one constructive suggestion to management, what would it have been?
  5. How would you describe your management style?
  6. Have you ever had to build motivation or team spirit with coworkers?  Tell me about the situation.
  7. How would you deal with a staff member who is not complying with library policy?
  8. How would you ensure that the library’s customer service standards are practiced by all employees?
  9. What experience have you had with assessing service quality?

Follow-up:  From your experience, what assessment tools or methods were the most successful and why?

  1. How would you deal with an irate resident that comes to you complaining about poor service he/she just received?  (You could use other options in place of poor service)
  2. Tell me about an occasion when your performance didn’t live up to your expectations.
  3. If the library administration or board made a decision that was unpopular with the public, how would you handle their complaints?  What if you also disagreed with the decision?
  4. What does the public library of the future look like?
  5. Do you think reference librarians should answer contest (trivia) questions?
  6. What would you do if you heard a colleague give out incorrect information?
  7. Tell me about a time you made a bad decision, describing how you minimized the damage and what you would do differently next time.
  8. Do you have any ideas about handling the large number of multiple copies that result from buying to meet high patron demand?
  9. If you had to provide reference service from only ten resources, which ten would you choose?
  10. What two accomplishments would you like to be remembered for at the end of your career and why are they important to you?

– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

The questions vary depending on the job. For most paraprofessional positions we have a set of basic questions we use. When the library interviews for a specialized position-such as a children’s literacy coordinator or a collection development manager, then the hiring committee will submit questions to be considered based on the position and the organization’s needs. The questions are vetted by HR and the best ones make it to the interview. Once we submit the questions, we have to ask each candidate the same ones. We also have to keep track of their responses, score them and keep all the paperwork for 6 months. HR requires this in case someone requests the score sheet or wants to know why they weren’t hired. I think our process is pretty fair; by the time candidate resumes are sent to the hiring committee, everyone is pretty much on a level playing field. Everyone has the same minimum level of experience, so we can skip that part of the interview and go straight to the position specifics.

– Margaret M. Neill, Regional Library Branch Manager, Main Library, El Paso Public Library

Celia RabinowitzSearch committees I have served on have always been able to create their own phone and on campus interview questions. The primary restrictions are that we ask the same questions of all candidates and, of course, that we do not ask questions about anything off-limits from an EEOC standpoint.  We can then add questions about specific aspects of a candidate’s experience, and if a candidate mentions something we can follow-up.

Every search committee on our campus has a session with someone from Human Resources who reminds us of the process and gives advice on creating questions that are open-ended and fair.  Candidates also spend time with many other people and groups, so the feedback from those people is very important since they have a bit more latitude in conversation than the search committee does.

While this might sound choreographed (and can sometimes feel a bit like that), it usually works pretty well.  There is enough space around the standard question list to get more detail or pursue additional inquiry if needed.
– 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: How do you determine what questions to ask in an interview?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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