You could accidentally have a pet arrive in your interview, which will always be a bonus for me

Headshot of Ben Van Gorp

Ben Van Gorp still feels like a fairly new Librarian, but has spent the last 4 years on various hiring panels and committees for his suburban/rural public library system. Currently a Manager, IT & Digital Experience his portfolio includes managing early career librarians through his library’s internship programs and ideally transitioning them to full-time and meaningful work in public libraries. 

Dad of two kids under three and two cats, he is a firm proponent of flexible work and supporting those early in their careers to improve our profession.

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

A hiring manager creates and sends posting for approval and selects a second management/admin to sit on interviews. The hiring manager vets resumes alongside the second manager/admin and selects candidates to interview. Interview guide created/updated by hiring manager and collaboratively approved by second. Several questions sent to candidates in advance. Interview questions scored, alongside items like fit. Once the first choice for the position is selected, references are requested, then assuming no issues arise an offer letter is given.

Titles hired include: Library intern, IT Intern, Digital Literacy Specialist,

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ A Committee or panel

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Other: Program outlines/pitch

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Cover letters and CVs are good to get in the door, and efforts to research what the library is doing, adding some design elements (especially if the position involves marketing), are also good, but I think the most impressive candidates wow with their prep. They know their good examples from their work history and don’t overuse them. They have their plan going in and the confidence is visible. This is particularly evident during things like program pitches where even a bit of extra research can elevate your work. Similarly, asking follow up questions, or even asking questions in advance, show you are interested in learning whether the position makes sense for you. If you are happy with the role, you are more likely to perform the role better for us.  

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Lack of awareness of what the position entails, particularly if connected to the phrase “oh I’m not really interested in that.” Lack of experience in an area isn’t always a problem especially if there is a willingness to learn, but an off handed dismissal is usually a red flag.

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

Possibly career expectations in more of a long term view. Sometimes a job is a stepping stone or a way to pay the bills and that is perfectly valid, but knowing if say a person wants to eventually be an admin, or a community librarian, or a collections manager can really give me a better idea of what they identify as interests. Knowing their long term interests match our interests in the position is a huge plus.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more

CV: √ We don’t ask for this

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Being afraid to ask clarifying questions or making clarifying statements. I do not expect every manager to have the same priorities as I do, and clarifying questions can sometimes provide insight into what the committee is looking for. As an example, I personally think expecting policy knowledge from applicants is unrealistic, but I’ve been on hiring committees where referring to policy was scored much higher. Candidates who asked about policies in place fared better in these cases, because they were showing a deeper interest in the question. It also has the benefit of giving you time to respond and ensure you are responding to the question in your best way.

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

We do, and I will always support it as well. However, you are missing out on in person body language, so clarity and amped up responses are sometimes required. Also you have to be comfortable and confident in asking clarifying questions, as connections fail, lag happens, and your hiring committee may have as bad a connection as we do in rural Ontario. Personally I don’t think cameras are absolutely required, but being on camera does help with communicating. Also it means you could accidentally have a pet arrive in your interview, which will always be a bonus for me as an interviewer.

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Disclaimer: I have not been on a hiring committee for a manager level or Librarian level position, so I will be answering for people relying on non-library work. 

I am process driven, so showing areas where processes were improved will always be valuable experience in my mind. Particularly for my system, demonstrations of initiative, like a successful idea pitch are always good experiences. Finally, for people entering public libraries any customer experience is valuable experience. More important to me is having an awareness of the duties of the chosen role and then connecting your work history. Best advice is to reach out, using mentoring programs or resources like alimb.ca to get a better idea of the expectations for this kind of position outside of just divining from the posting.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

We are a smaller library system, so there are many areas for improvement. Our biggest development here is providing some questions in advance. This really helps remove nerves and lets people plan and prepare their best response, and I will continue to push for all questions to be sent to prospective candidates. We also do rely on  seconds vet resumes with the hiring manager and having seconds score with the manager to ensure different viewpoints, but I am fully aware that still allows for institutional biases. That said, we are showing improvement in this area in the past 5 years, and hopefully we will soon see anonymizing and randomizing of candidate information. 

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

Day in the life questions are always good, as are favourite parts of the system or library, but asking about library initiatives and plans tend to be the most productive. Most of my hiring is in programming roles, so asking about upcoming programs and initiatives not only lets us brag (we do all love to brag), but gives you a window into our priorities.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Canada

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50

Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author?

In Canada the library world is small, so making connections, even cold emails using resources like alimb.ca are incredibly valuable. More often than not people will go out of their way to support/promote you, and having your name being recognized as someone seriously looking at roles in your system will always give you a leg up.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not trying commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Canada, Public, Rural area, Suburban area

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