Further Questions: Do you include role playing, presentations, or skill demonstration in an interview?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

Do you include role playing, presentations, or skill demonstration in an interview? What are you looking for? Is content or delivery more important? Do candidates prepare for this ahead of time or are they spontaneous?

Petra MauerhoffFor any management or professional librarian positions we always include a presentation component in the interview process. The candidates are always advised of the presentation topic, duration and other parameters in advance.

We evaluate both, content and delivery and often bring in other staff to act as the audience for the presentations. All our librarian positions have public speaking/presentation components as part of the daily responsibilities and we need someone who can be comfortable presenting to a group of strangers, even in high pressure situations. We love seeing humour used during the presentations or always appreciate it if the candidate is able to somehow establish a connection with the audience, rather than just delivering content in a stiff manner.

We do not enforce the use of visual aids or slideshows as part of the presentations, all that is left up completely to the candidate.
The presentation makes up a large part of the evaluation, but we have hired candidates whose presentation was less than stellar, if we saw potential overall.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System

Paula HammetWe usually require a 20-30 minute presentation for tenure-track librarian positions. All library faculty and staff are invited, and occasionally, a faculty member from outside the library will attend. Candidates will usually have at least a week to prepare before the interview.

The topic prompt will vary depending on the position. For a position with a lot of instruction of first-year students, we may ask the candidates to prepare a 20 minute session on evaluating information geared towards freshmen. For a web services position, we might ask them to think about where web services will be in five years (to which technologies and trends should we be paying attention).

Content and delivery are both important. We want to see how people organize their presentations, how comfortable they are with the technology they choose, how they think on their feet as they troubleshoot problems or take questions from the audience. Are they engaging with their audience and encouraging active participation? Are they speaking about their topic at a level that’s appropriate to the audience and the time allotted? Do they utilize effective graphics and style to convey their points?

Through the content of the presentation we want the candidate to demonstrate current thinking on the topic, the ability to hone their information into an effective presentation, and a willingness to push beyond the familiar.

Ideally, we would like to see a presentation that is interesting, innovative and inspiring. At the very least we want to see competent and confident speaker who has something to say.

For most positions we also ask candidates to meet with the Library Faculty (8-10 people) and lead a 30 minute discussion on a topic of their choice. Some have send us a provocative article to read ahead of time and then we discuss the concepts. Others use the time to ask more about the culture of the Library and how it operates. Others may have questions they haven’t yet asked about they position, the Library, the campus or the area. This discussion allows us to get to know the candidates a bit better and gives them a better idea of who we are.

– Paula Hammett, Sonoma State University Library

We do not include role playing, presentations or skill demonstrations in our interview process. We do ask situational questions (What would you do if…?), but we don’t require candidates to prep anything beforehand. Very generally speaking, I give people a lot of leeway during an interview for being nervous. It’s not how they say it, but what they say that’s really important.


From personal experience: I applied for a job once in an academic library that did require a presentation. The interview committee gave me a general topic and asked me to prepare a Power Point presentation to give to the university’s library staff. It was very intimidating. That whole experience-it was an all-day interview with at least five committees plus the presentation-was a bit like running a gauntlet. But I will say this, once I survived that, all other job interviews seemed pretty tame in comparison! It never hurts to polish your presentation and public speaking skills, they can come in handy during an interview. Except for the part where you imagine everyone in their underwear in order to relax. Don’t do that!

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

angelynn kingWe usually ask librarian candidates to do a short teaching demonstration with the search committee acting as audience. We are most interested in platform skills; content can be learned on the job. If you can engage your audience, communicate ideas and procedures clearly, start and finish on time, and come across as knowledgeable and approachable, you can probably teach anything.

– Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

Laurie Phillips

We ask our candidates to do presentations. We don’t do role playing or demonstrate skills. By asking a candidate to do a presentation, we’re looking for their understanding of the content and perhaps some innovative ideas that could serve them well in the position. We’re also looking for someone who can speak in front of others because the ability to make a presentation, whether it be as a part of teaching, committee work, or professional activity, is extremely important to our work. So I would say we’re looking for content, but we’re also looking for communication style and comfort level/skill with public speaking. We give candidates a presentation topic so we hope they’re preparing ahead of time!

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

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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1 Comment

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One response to “Further Questions: Do you include role playing, presentations, or skill demonstration in an interview?

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

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