We had someone use thinly veiled racist language during an interview which absolutely shut it down.

Black and white image of librarian sitting at circulation desk while a reader browses bookshelves behind them
Image: Librarian at desk and reader at bookshelves From The New York Public Library

This interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Director

Titles hired: Adult/Teen/Youth Librarian, Department Managers, Assistant Director, Custodian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Pretty traditional: Resumes are received by HR, HR forwards candidates to hiring manager. Hiring manager and assistant manager of that department select and interview candidates. Library Director reviews candidate pool with hiring manager to make sure a viable candidate was not skipped over. Hiring manager brings chosen applicant’s resume to director where starting salary is discussed and an offer is made.

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

On paper, I like to see directly relevant experience. This can be something like a decade of teaching in schools in an applicant for a school outreach position, etc… It does not have to be “library” experience.

In person, being friendly and approachable is always the most impactful. This is a service industry – if you can’t at least fake being nice in an interview, there’s little hope you will be nice to angry patrons.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Not many, we had someone use thinly veiled racist language during an interview which absolutely shut it down.

I’ve had people lie directly on their resume regarding positions/experience – we don’t bother even contacting them. The library world is too small for that to work.

If you had a bad separation from a library just be honest about it. Good hiring managers know that terminations happen and it is almost never solely an issue with the employee.

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

Long term positivity vs negativity of a hire. The interview can show you someone on their intentional best behavior but you will never be able to determine if that person will become a toxic center in a department until it happens.

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?

Pretending to know everything or dodging a question they don’t understand. If you aren’t familiar with an interview question topic be forthcoming. Show me you are interested in learning and that you are confident in admitting what you don’t know. We can teach someone willing to learn – I can’t do much with someone who is hiding behind a façade.

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

We no longer conduct virtual interviews. This is such a poor method, but I understand its necessity on a case-by-case basis. I would make sure you treat the environment you conduct the virtual interview in as a business-professional setting. Assure there will be no interruptions – book a study room at a local library if possible.

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?

We actively seek out real-world experience that can be brought to libraries. A candidate should be able to show they understand the position they are applying for by drawing direct connections between the desired job duties and their direct experience. “The daycare center also dealt with disruption and squabbles between grade schoolers, we handled it by performing XYZ. This is the approach I would bring to any disruption during a program/play area.”

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?

Administrative review of the candidate pool, direct conversations with hiring managers why certain applicants may not have been selected to interview. Debriefing of managers by administration regarding interview performance and the manager being required to actively defend why they chose a certain candidate.

We investigated blocking out names on resumes/cover letters to avoid bias, but it was clunky and often our applicants rely on their specific positions/experience and references. We also hire directly out of the community for many of our positions and if a patron had a good reputation among the staff this information was more important than preemptively assuming managers were selecting based on someone’s name.

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

I don’t think there’s anything a candidate ‘should’ ask. For some of the higher librarian positions it is good to hear questions regarding the specific duties and expectations of the position (how often is outreach expected, do we serve all schools in the area, etc..)

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Outside of having direct knowledge of someone’s work performance (ie, internal candidates) the next most valuable element to have is a reference from a previous supervisor. I don’t think the importance of this can be overstated. I want to know first-hand how your previous bosses characterized you as an employee. This goes well beyond skills/experience – I want to know if your personality and work ethic were considered a benefit to an organization or a detriment.


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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 50-100 staff members, Midwestern US, Public, Suburban area

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