Further Questions: What are your personal standards for how applicants should be treated?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is:

What are your personal standards for how applicants should be treated? For example, you might make sure that all applicants are notified of your decision promptly, or you might always have water for in-person interviewees, etc.


Katharine Clark, Deputy Director, Middleton Public Library: Every library is so different with their hiring practices, but most rely on using their municipality or campus Human Resources Department and they often have standard ways of responding to applications and moving them through the process.

You could get a call that same day after an interview, but most likely will have to wait one or two weeks while other candidates are interviewed and/or move through additional screenings.

I always end an interview with letting the candidate know a rough time line of when they will hear back from us.

Unless an interview is schedule to go longer than an hour, I haven’t offered water. I have always made sure to let them know exactly which desk to go to when they arrive for interview and make sure they feel welcome as we head to the interview location.

How you treat a potential employee also reflects on their decision to take the job, so it’s beneficial to make it a pleasant experience.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My most important standard is that applicants do not feel lost in the process, particularly at the beginning when materials may arrive over a period of weeks (or longer) and the primary communication is somewhat automated and does not come from the library. We don’t have any direct communication with candidates until we have a first round pool of people we will interview by phone (or Zoom). I always want to schedule those conversations as close together as possible so the process doesn’t drag on for too long. And I think it is important to give candidates a general idea of the next steps and time frame as much as I am able. I imagine that this is true for most of us managing searches. I might not tell them exactly where they fall in the schedule but they should at least know whether it is likely to be one week or three before they hear anything.

I always send names and titles of search committee members to phone interview applicants in advance, and include as many names of people involved in on-campus interviews on the itinerary as I can. Keeping any interview experience on time is important for the candidate and the individuals on campus involved. I have been on the receiving end of people running late and then being told that I need to shorten my time to get a candidate back on schedule. Some things are always out of my control (like the Provost’s schedule) but I try to be sure candidate’s don’t feel rushed.

There is a lot about a search that is not in my control even as the Dean. The office of Human Resources and our university system HR control much of the process and the speed with which digital paperwork is processed. So I focus on the things that I can do to help shape the experience each candidate has.


Justin Hoenke, Library Director, Gardiner (Maine) Public Library: I will always do my best to keep applicants updated on the process. In my last job, I liked to send “all applicants” messages to let them know when the job closed, when we were reviewing applications, and when we were booking dates for interviews. Communication is always the best way to go! There is no such thing as too much info in this process.

Managers & leaders need to do a better job at keeping applicants as up to date and anxiety free as possible.


Anonymous: Consistency is important across the board to ensure that everyone has a fair chance and is treated equally. We always have water available to candidates. We recognize that they may need a little time on their own beyond “bio-breaks”. Communication, of course, is really important as well but some of that isn’t always in our control. The hiring process can sometimes lag for a multitude of reasons. When it does and we have the option to communicate something to candidates, we do.

In the past, we were told we could not communicate with candidates to let them know they did not get the job. What ended up happening was an email was automatically sent to all of the candidates on the day the new hire started. This is often several months after the position closed. Over the last several years, we have gradually become more humane.

A challenge that I see with cookie cutter communication is that candidates have different needs and interests and it may go beyond what they can see while they are on campus for a day. Of course, the standard is that everyone should get the same information but what if the information they want is outside of what is provided? Local candidates likely already have a pretty good feel for the area and the library but candidates who aren’t local will not.

To the degree you are comfortable, ask questions. Will I find my community here? Will I feel safe? Will I thrive? You don’t have to limit your questions to the people involved in the search. You will hopefully do some research into the area and institution/library ahead of time and you may encounter other individuals you can learn from. In those cases, you may feel more comfortable asking questions that may affect you on a more personal level outside of the more formal interview process.

For folks fielding those questions, it is in everyone’s best interest to be as honest as possible. It doesn’t serve anyone to tell someone who is looking for a big city life that your small town can offer all they are looking for. Just as it doesn’t serve anyone to tell a member of a historically marginalized community that your area has everything they ever wanted while you know your white, cishet community only WANTS to be that and it is perhaps decades away from being a reality. Be honest. If you build it, they may come. But not under false pretenses.


Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian, UConn Library: Applicants are human beings who are part of our profession, deserving of empathy and support. I often refer to the academic library job search as a hazing ritual. So much of it is terrible and doesn’t need to be. While it’s hard to change institutional processes (although it’s always worth trying), there’s a lot that individuals can do to improve the experience. While I have nearly endless thoughts about how applicants should be treated, from big picture items to something as simple as providing rest periods and beverages during a campus interview, the one I want to focus on here is communication. One caveat: because I’ve spent my career in higher education, some of this may not be applicable in other contexts.

Providing consistent, thorough, and open communication is something we owe our candidates. That starts with job ad that is concise, explains the position well, states the salary range, and tells them about our institution. It becomes even more essential when an invitation for a first-round interview is extended. Be clear about who will be doing the interview, how it will be done (e.g. phone vs. video), and provide questions in advance. Tell the candidate when they can expect to hear about second-round interviews. Do your best to get HR to allow you to notify those not selected in a timely manner. If that’s not an institutional norm, it’s an example of something you personally may not be able to change but that you can push back on in the hopes of future improvements.

For second-round interviews, communication becomes even more essential. Make sure they have a full itinerary in advance; if they’re traveling, that includes details of who may be transporting them locally during their trip. Provide an HR contact for any formal accommodations requests, and so they can get detailed benefits information. Proactively address any other logistics, including pronouns and preferred name, food allergies or preferences, whether they’d prefer a walking or driving tour if you’re showing them the campus, and anything else that can make their experience a positive one. If they’re doing a presentation, give them the prompt early so they have plenty of time to prepare, and tell them what you are hoping to learn about their skillset from it.

After the final interviews, let candidates know when they can expect to hear from you. This is sometimes the toughest time with communication, because in my experience the HR rules are very strict. But as a search committee chair, once a hire is complete, I push hard to be able to reach out to the unsuccessful candidates personally. It’s demoralizing to get that far and not get the job, and we owe applicants at the very least an email thanking them for their efforts and wishing them well.

To sum up: I treat applicants the way I’d like to be treated, not just as a job candidate, but as a person. I hope we can all aspire to that goal.


Randall Schroeder, Director, Retired: To me the gold standard of how an applicant should be treated was how I was treated when I interviewed to be the library director at a small college in Wisconsin. The college president’s assistant made sure everything was taken care of from the moment I left Michigan to when I got on the flight back. The assistant even asked seat preferences and made sure I was on the aisle. When it came time to do my presentation, I had an IT employee right there and during the presentation in case there were any hiccups with a technology system I wasn’t familiar with in the auditorium. In short, the only thing I truly had to be concerned with was showing up and my answers. If you think about it, that is really the object of the game.

On the other hand, I also learned from a disastrous interview process at a small college in Indiana that once the final interview was done, I was abandoned. Since I had been in interviews all day, I was unaware that the area was under a tornado warning, nor did anybody at the school think to tell me. If my wife hadn’t called me while I was driving my rental car back to the airport, I would have driven right into a serious storm. Instead, I took shelter in a shopping mall feeling left at the curb like yesterday’s trash. To add insult to injury, that cold front escorted a spring storm that turned to high winds and snow. My flight was cancelled and I had no place to go. It didn’t seem like the college could have cared less. Needless to say, by the time I returned home, there was no amount of money that could have persuaded me to take the job.

The moral to this story is that when I was in charge of these operations, I wanted my school to be more like the one in Wisconsin and not Indiana. To me it is a question of professionalism and respecting the people who took the time and trouble to indicate that they were interested in your position. It is never a great feeling when you don’t get the job, but being shown some professional respect lessens the pain. Even though I disagreed with the decision, I will always respect that college in Wisconsin. I was relieved that I wasn’t chosen by the school in Indiana. It saved me the difficult conversation of telling them “no thanks.”

Along those same lines, I have always wanted to be prompt in my communication. The mills of academe grind slowly but exceedingly fine. I wanted people to know what the result was. A rule of thumb that I once heard, and I don’t remember where, was to communicate with the candidates the last way you had communication. In other words, if the candidate never passed the mail/email stage, they received an email back that they were no longer being considered. In the email age, that was easy. If they made it to a phone call / zoom / on-campus interview, they got a phone call indicating their status. I figured that while the phone call offering the position to someone was usually fun, calling the unsuccessful candidates was a necessary penance. My mentor at my first college library job suggested to me a long time ago this was part of being a professional. Additionally, you never know when showing respect to other professionals would pay it forward.

At the very least, decision makers need to be empathetic to their applicants. Unless we have been very fortunate, we have been in their shoes. We should understand how they feel putting themselves out there and being vulnerable.


Anonymous: It’s important to me that all applicants are informed if they will not be moving forward. The timing varies on where in the stage they go out of the running. For in-person interviews, I do my best to tell them as much as possible about where the GPS will lead them astray, where to park, where the restrooms are, who to talk to and what to say when they arrive – anything I can think of that will help them visualize how the time between arriving at the library and sitting in the interview room will go. In the interview invitation, I also invite them to tell me anything the library could do to help make the interview a positive experience. It might be awkwardly worded, but I’m trying to give candidates the opening to ask about wheelchair access, if lighting besides fluorescents are an option, or whatever would help them to be at their best. I’m not looking for sensitive information, but if there’s something we can do to help someone be at their best, I want to give that to them. I also provide a copy of the job description, the interview questions, and a pen and try to make it clear that they are welcome to read along and make notes.


Amy Tureen (she/her/hers), Head, Library Liaison Program, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: My personal standards for hiring library workers include making sure candidates feel welcome, that they get an understanding of what both working at the institution and living in the surrounding community would be like, and that at no time does the interview feel like a test or trap. For my searches, all known interview questions are sent in advance, as are schedules and menus for possible lunch/dinner places (this way candidates can ensure they have something they like to eat without having to declare their dietary needs). I am clear that the dinner between candidate and potential supervisor is not part of the interview, but instead an opportunity to ask questions that might have arisen over the course of the interview itself or simply socialize.

We provide a special Q&A session for candidates to learn more about living in the city and also developed a candidate libguide that provides helpful information on things like local schools, entertainment options, neighborhoods, and affinity groups both on and off campus. We include this guide in all of our advertisements as well. Additionally, when candidates indicate they are a member of a historically de-centered community, we try to make sure these candidates have opportunities to have off the record discussions before or after the interview with other employees who come from historically underrepresented communities. This enables candidates to ask questions and potentially receive answers that are less filtered than they might otherwise be able to ask/receive in a mixed group or during a formal interview.

Because we are in a desert location, we provide ongoing access to water both during the interview and provide a water bottle in welcome packages that are delivered to candidate hotel rooms when they first arrive. We also build in plenty of bathroom breaks (after all, we did just give you gallons of water!) as well as quiet prep time in advance of the presentation portion of the interview. Campus tours (which we get to do while zipping around in a golf cart!) are also key, because I think it is incredibly important to see more than just the building you’ll be working in.

I also try to provide additional optional quiet time throughout the interview as well. This is a practice I picked up from a previous supervisor at a past employer and while I never needed it as a candidate, I have seen how valued it is by candidates who are introverted or who have concerns back at home (kids, pets, work) that they would like to be able to regularly check in on. I’m still working on having this process become a formal norm, but we’re getting there!


Casey Burgess (she/her), Director of Library Services, Musicians Institute, College of Contemporary Music: With all applicants (which are mainly students at my academic college), I do the following:

I give them as much information up front as I can. This includes a job description with the hourly wage and number of hours for the position as well as the employee handbook and any attendance or enrollment requirements up front. I also give them “sample” interview questions (which are the exact ones) and just ask for them to email me their resumes.

For scheduling, I try to work around their schedule and always give the option for a zoom interview as is preferred by the candidate. I provide my pronouns and as for preferred name and pronouns, in case they felt they couldn’t include that on their professional resumes.

Once the interview is over, I give them a rough timeline of events, like when I plan to make my hiring decision and how they will hear from me as well as next steps if they are hired. I try to choose a candidate fairly quickly after the interviews are conducted and I email everyone I interviewed regardless of whether they got the position or not. I always encourage students to apply again next time there is an opening.

The only thing I think I have trouble with is that often these positions open and close very quickly and I’m not the best at advertising positions. However, I recognize that it is a fairly casual interview to match the entry-level position and minimum wage it provides.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: While my personal/professional hiring standards are what I could consider “high,” I have to focus on what my organization allows/includes in their process. What that being said, I have to focus on what I CAN control and what I can’t control, and for those elements of standards I think are necessary or highly recommended but I can’t make them happen, I have to make sure I account for those elements that absolutely should be part of the process but can’t be then figure out the best way to let the candidate know what should be happening but might not be. Also, in answering this question I have to step back to pre-pandemic interviews with the discussion of “what happens in interviews next” on my “to do” list!

What I think we should/and what we accomplish

Information

  • While the general direction of “provide information” should suffice, I think the better I am at providing information that applicants should be aware of/should read, the better applicant pool and the more I can focus on the person rather than on the organization. Specifically and somewhat obviously the Library’s URL but also any specific in depth online content that provides information to provide context to their primary roles – for example – links to the instruction program outline for the organization’s classroom faculty. More in depth public library links online might be links to the Library’s strategic plan specific to future reference projects, renovated public services, special services. The key is to link the applicant to something that peers created that would be in the roles and responsibilities for the successful hire.
  • Depending on whether or not the applicant lives in the area or travels in, pre-interview content should include the mechanics of the interview – timing, parking, location issues, tips on wayfinding, any pre-travel to locations such as booking travel in and out and travel assistance. Often organizations try to minimize costs if applicants must pay upfront and travel is expensive or if the organization typically has an extended reimbursement period. Outlining what the organization can pay is often best done by providing a cap on enrollments and then minimizing possible costs such as avoiding rental cars, choosing hotels, etc. A general rule of thumb might be – the fewer dollars available for reimbursement the more the organization should prepare and make the process easy by providing information. And while some organizations think they are under no obligation to make things easier for applicants, standards should provide elements of common courtesy. Some organizations have marketing packets or media kits about the organization with cost of living, relocation facts, labor market summaries, etc. This packet is pre-designed; however, Human Resources or management personalizes the content with links to more specific employment online content or connections on benefits and salary.
  • Another category of information should be all preparation required to conduct the interview, that is – if presentations are required, technology content, availability of equipment, space issues and any resource information. Other information that might be provided on request might be names of the interview committee members, questions applicants might want answered or prepared in advance, or parameters of the vacancy such as is this a new position, did the incumbent retire, or does the successful applicant have to begin by a certain date. Finally, prior to or “on the day” applicants need to know will there be a guided tour? Are other employees available for Q and A? Can employee workspaces be part of a tour? Are stakeholders part of the interview process? Upper level management? Are timelines outlined for any pre-interview paperwork clear (answers to questions, presentation outline/handouts, creative work/authorship examples, online content submitted, references/completed application information)

Note: Virtual hiring processes often prove problematic for applicants who wish to present using an institution’s authenticated resources. And – while guest or visitor access is typically easily possible onsite or within range of the Library’s network – guests or visitors at a distance are harder to accommodate. To assist applicants, organizations can establish parameters for resources used in presentations (live vs. cached) or open access resources only or web-based content only and if they choose not to, they need thoroughly articulated instructions on access to resources for the interview – typically outlined through scenarios for presentations. Limiting content used allows for new graduates or those NOT coming from other organizations to feel comfortable presenting with those – what some could categorize as – limitations.

Environment/Ambiance

While interview spaces may be limited or may be held at central (or branch or affiliated) locations or in other institutional spaces (city halls, HR interview rooms, open classrooms) or in area commercial environments – overall issues should include does the room need to be darkened for a presentation? Do you want (and have) comfortable seating available? Are there enough chairs and – if needed – can chairs be arranged in an interview? Does there need to be a surface where attendees can write or take notes? Standards might include water for applicants (or coffee, etc.), extra pens/pencils, paper and nearby bathroom accommodations? Does the space lend itself to a lack of or no interruptions?

Processes

Life was easier when – in my opinion – Human Resources – had more control over their processes involving hiring employees. This control could create a standardized approach to letting people know when positions closed, when applicants were to be interviewed and – if they were unsuccessful – making sure respectful timelines were adhered to so – for example – if an internal candidate applied but didn’t get a position – HR could ensure that all applicants were informed before any public notices were distributed. Today’s automated processes do NOT ensure that timelines are met. Often human or management interventions take up an inordinate amount of time to make sure that applicants ARE treated equitably and the process is a respectful one. So while I can regale you with recent bad examples I won’t. Instead I will say that those interviewing should make it clear to candidates what the timelines are supposed to be, what goals are part of the process and where mistakes are made. This detail should be verbal rather than written out so that mistakes that are possible don’t become part of the process. Chairs – during the closing of the interview – should explain how the organization wants things to happen so that applicants – expecting automatic responses – are left waiting and unsure if they should contact HR, the committee or if calls, emails or texts will work and if nothing happens, where is the best place to turn.

At the very least, the process explained with possible problems will provide a context for not only successful timelines but possible fail points. Recognizing these potential missteps (hopefully) makes the organization look less like a failure in their process or unorganized or worst of all – uncaring about both existing and potential employees. Explaining this to applicants sets more realistic expectations and shows that parts of the structure that can be controlled are being controlled with – fingers crossed – improvement possible for existing and future technological innovations.

In short, it shows people care.


Thanks for reading! Comments are open and we’d love to hear your thoughts here, on Twitter @HiringLib, or wherever you like to declaim them from. If you have a question to ask, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

1 Comment

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One response to “Further Questions: What are your personal standards for how applicants should be treated?

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

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