Welcome back to Author’s Corner! This series features excerpts or guest posts from authors of books about LIS careers. In this installment, we hear from Meggan Press, who wrote Get the Job: Academic Library Hiring for the New Librarian.
In this piece, freshly written for Hiring Librarians, Meggan provides some excellent tips and encouragement for Zoom interviews.
I appreciate both her goal of broadening access to insider information about academic hiring and the quality of her advice. I think you will appreciate it too.
For more of Meggan’s insights, her book is:
Press, M. (2020). Get the Job: Academic Library Hiring for the New Librarian. Association of College and Research Libraries.
In July 2020, I published a book called Get the Job: Academic Library Hiring for the New Librarian with ACRL Press. The timing was not ideal given that the final edits had been completed in April 2020. Given the way that the world shifted due the pandemic, I welcome the opportunity to offer a brief follow-up with tips on interviewing in an era of Zoom.
Get the Job: Academic Library Hiring for the New Librarian is the quintessential primer on the job search for librarians interested in a career in academic libraries. New librarians often seek information from more experienced professionals on the subject of the academic job search. As a form, the academic job search is a very specific process that has only superficial resemblance to a job search in other fields. Much of the practical information about the academic library job search exists and is communicated in mentoring relationships and informal communication. The informal and serendipitous nature of this informal communication reveals problematic constructs in the academic hiring process. Those who are lucky and privileged enough to find a supportive and enthusiastic mentor have access to information and resources that are not available to all, and the fact that much of the information communicated in these mentoring relationships is not formally communicated furthers the privilege gap. This book attempts to broaden access to this information by formalizing much of the practical and emotional assistance conveyed in a mentoring experience so that aspiring professionals will find the comprehensive support they need to launch a successful job hunt, thrive in the interview process, and transition to a new job. Although it is targeted to people looking to enter the academic library job market, much of the content can be useful to general job-seekers, regardless of library type. This book is primarily intended for people who are hoping to become academic librarians, either as new graduates of library schools or for those who may not be finding the success they hoped for in the academic job search. Though it is predominantly intended for relatively inexperienced job seekers, the advice contained within can be useful for anyone interested in the academic job market, regardless of experience level.
Two big things have changed in academic interviewing since the pandemic. Firstly, whereas before the pandemic job seekers could anticipate needing to travel for a final interview, now interviews may be in-person, remote, or even hybrid. An in-person interview may offer a Zoom option for attendees, or some parts of the interview may be exclusively in person and others exclusively via Zoom. This presents significant challenges for candidates in keeping track of and being present for all these modalities equally or even simultaneously.
Second, increasingly interviews have become multi-day affairs. No longer confined to a one-day, 9-5, in-person interview schedule, you may find your interview taking place in 30-60 minute chunks across a week or more. This is advantageous for institutions in coordinating scheduling, but a disadvantage for candidates. Interviews are disruptive to a life no matter when or where they take place, but these days- or week-long interviews present a particular challenge, especially since as a new job seeker, you are likely interviewing at multiple places at once. Both these big changes have positives (mostly for the institutions who can make the interviews more widely available) and negatives (mostly for the candidates of whom more is expected under circumstances that already carry a lot of stress and high expectations.) Here are a few tips to help you navigate these changes:
Request a moderator and set communication expectations
You can’t moderate a chat, present, and answer live questions all at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster. Ideally, you will be assigned a moderator for a presentation or interview who will work with you to take care of these details. Clarify well beforehand if a moderator will be present so you know what to expect. If no moderator is assigned, set expectations early for the audience or committee by stating where your primary attention will be and when that will shift. For example, “Thank you so much for your time today. In order to keep my attention focused on my presentation and given the different modes of participation in this interview, I will ask you to hold your questions to the end. At that time, I will prioritize in-person questions and ask that someone in the room bring my attention to any questions that may have popped up via chat.”
Talking into the void
The very worst of Zoom is the feeling of disconnect and talking into the void. This is not a phenomenon new to Zoom; this is a very typical experience of a phone interview in the pre-pandemic days. It is easy to start talking and just not stop when you have limited feedback from others in the room. More talking is not necessarily advantageous. It rarely adds significant impact to an answer and it reduces the number of questions that can be asked, thereby limiting your ability to show the full scope of your skills. When in doubt, talk less and allow others the opportunity to follow up if your answer is incomplete or misdirected. The perennially polite conclusion, “Does that answer your question?” works for in-person, Zoom, or hybrid contexts.
Put effort into arranging the surroundings within your Zoom screen to project professionalism, clarity, and approachableness. It is well worth your time to set up a temporary Zoom interview space that can be torn down when the job hunt season has passed. Consider the height of your camera and the sightlines. If you are using an internal laptop camera, as many of us are, consider propping your laptop on a stack of books so that the camera is comfortably at eye level rather than looking up at you from below, or above. Avoid using a camera on a second monitor unless it is the camera you are looking into directly. Cameras that are not centered on the face with the eyes looking directly ahead give the impression of disinterest. It is very hard from the committee’s side to feel connected to a candidate when you are talking to the side of their head via a screen. Be sure you are visible by considering your light source and background. Backlighting, such as that from a window behind you, makes it difficult to see your face and facial expressions. You don’t need to invest in special décor to make your Zoom office seem like a television set. It is often very effective to sit with your back close to a wall and a table in front of you. Add or remove art, posters, and other décor on a temporary basis for the purpose of the interview if it pleases you. While inviting your whole interview committee into your kitchen is very friendly, it’s not particularly professional or appropriate to the circumstances. If you truly have no other choice, the blurred effect Zoom filter can help to minimize environmental distractions.
Ask for what you need
Your needs can’t be met if you don’t make them known. All polite and reasonable requests should be addressed by the committee or institution to the best of their ability. If you can’t see or hear people on the other side of a Zoom, ask them to move closer together or to repeat themselves. If an extended-day schedule isn’t going to work or is going to set you up for failure at your other responsibilities (school, work, family, likely other interviews), you have the right to respectfully request that the schedule be as compressed as possible. Carry your expectations loosely – it may not be possible to arrange every nuance to your needs – but a polite request will not be held against you.
Good luck to all you new job-seekers! I look forward to welcoming you to the profession!
Meggan Press is the Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University – Bloomington. As the administrator of IUB’s information literacy grant program, she works closely with faculty and librarians to integrate information literacy throughout the curriculum in many different subject areas. She has a particular interest in developing librarians as teachers, from MLIS through professionals, and in that capacity facilitates a thriving professional community of practice as well as instructing library school students through IUB’s program. She writes and presents on topics related to developing librarians, library instruction, and instructional design. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.