I try to avoid using the word “fit”

Headshot of Alison Armstrong

Alison M. Armstrong is the Collection Management Librarian (CML) at Radford University in Southwest Virginia. 

She has been at RU since 2007, beginning in a paraprofessional role in collection development and cataloging. She began her role as CML in 2011.

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

For Librarian positions, we have a Library Personnel Committee and the hiring committee may involve the LPC and the position’s supervisor. (Sometimes the configuration involves some members of the LPC and some staff members who would be supervised by the position.) They conduct the hiring process and make a formal recommendation to the Dean of the Library. 

Staff positions have a less formal group and involve peer colleagues and the supervisor. The supervisor makes the final decision. 

Titles hired include: Archivist (2), Instruction Librarian (2), Resource Sharing Librarian (1), Dean of the Library (1), Collection Assistant (3)

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel 

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ A whole day of interviews

√ A meal with hiring personnel

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?

They clearly did their research on the university and the library and are engaged in the process. They are genuinely interested in what we are talking about (or at least pretend to be), knowing that, since we legally can’t ask personal questions, we are limited to fairly superficial conversations. 

Showing their personality and personal connections. It helps when making decisions to feel like you got to know the person you will actually hire, not the person they think you are looking for, or someone so bland that you couldn’t identify anything about them later. 

How they treat others – especially how they address and treat staff members. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Someone who didn’t “do their homework” and take the time to learn about the university/library as well as the surrounding area. Coming in with a preconceived idea that once it is corrected, they can’t shake. Expecting something unrealistic (goes back to doing their homework). Disinterest due to either deciding during the interview that this is not the place for them or deciding they are clearly the best candidate and not making an effort. 

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

My glib answer is, whether or not they are a jerk and how well they play with others. 

I try to avoid using the word “fit” (based on the Core Best Practices for Academic Interviews – check out this webinar) because it can be used as a way to say “people who look like me”. Diversity is important. 

There is something that is close to “fit”, though, thinking about “do this person’s expectations and goals match the direction the library is going in?” “Do they have champagne taste while we have a beer budget?” Which is really, “will this person be happy here/Will they thrive here?” because one person’s unhappiness/dissatisfaction can make a load of other people unhappy, too. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more 

Resume: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant 

CV: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant 

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

I am guilty of this: not going into enough detail and assuming they know your background/experience by the words in your documents. This is your opportunity to shine and tell them and, maybe not bore them with details but be passionate about what you bring to the table, your experiences, and what you have accomplished. (Don’t assume they did a close read of everything and retained it all; everyone is busy.) This is your opportunity. 

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

I have not been involved in any virtual interviews on a hiring committee but I can say that a messy background is distracting, as is a blurred background-void that your body/head/hands keep disappearing into. It is something to keep in mind for everyone involved. The candidate is making judgements about the situations they are put in and what goes on via a remote interview just as much as in person. 

And, I think 10 years ago I would have been worried about a dog bark or a doorbell – holding my breath that no one would find out that I was a person, who lived in a house. I think now, we recognize that these things are outside of our control – while you don’t want the dog barking to continue (or the doorbell ringing), these things aren’t that big of a deal. 

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?

For Librarian positions, it is about having the degree. 

For non-library to library work, there may be parallels. Working with spreadsheets, attention to detail, working with others, customer service, communication skills. Talk about your experience and what you do in your current/past positions and what you have learned. Tell me/show me that you can learn. Show me that you are interested.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ Other: The salary range is provided as part of the interview and negotiated after the offer

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

I can’t speak to current practices by the Committee.

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

In addition to getting a pretty clear picture of the position, a clear idea of the University and the area. Asking what we are looking for in a candidate can give a candidate a way to see if there is alignment with them and the position. You may learn that what they are looking for is not something you can or want to be.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: We can telework on occasion upon request with approval from our supervisor and requires a list of work tasks for that day. 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try 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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2 responses to “I try to avoid using the word “fit”

  1. SJC

    Which is really, “will this person be happy here/Will they thrive here?”

    –Interesting that the interviewer talks about the problem of “fit” but still asks questions like this. Who are they to decide that that the interviewee won’t thrive in their environment.


  2. Pingback: Hiring Better: Core Best Practices for Academic Interviews | Hiring Librarians

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