Tag Archives: Librarian

Further Questions: Can we talk about specific interview questions?  

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:

Can we talk about specific interview questions? Do you have questions that are especially illuminating or are there well-known questions that you think are useless?


Katharine Clark, Deputy Director, Middleton Public Library: Here are three question I’ve recently started asking:

How do you handle it if your boss or supervisor asks you to do something you think is not useful or productive? How do you disagree with someone in charge?

What was the least favorite part of your last job experience? How did you try to change it?

When was the last time you offered a suggestion to improve a work environment? How was it received? Did the change occur?


Anonymous: My favorite interview question is “Tell me about a valid piece of criticism you’ve received.” The answers are incredibly telling. It avoids the fake weakness answers and also lets me know how well someone receives feedback. A red flag is if they respond that they’ve not ever received valid criticism.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

Can we talk about specific interview questions?

While we can and should, I have found that organizations expect or anticipate dramatically different responses to which questions to use, why they include them and what they expect to learn from responses. I think this is due to many factors, but I see many nuances underpinning examples. And some of these responses have to do with the geographic location of the position as well as the level of position. Examples include:
Many questions end up being trick questions such as “Where do you want to be in five years?” is a loaded question and new, middle level or more experienced level people NEVER know what to say …. does an answer such as “right here in this job” mean the person is stagnating? with no ambition?” …does “retired!” or “in my dream job on the beach” mean you shouldn’t hire them as you are investing time and money in someone already planning to leave? or the famous answer “in your job!” which many people see as cocky or even inappropriate. If pushed – I would have to say I don’t know what the right answer is and we stopped asking it 15 years ago.
“Do you value, x, y or z?” or what is the “mission of the x” – at the very least – should be answered with pat answers that reflect both the profession and the values or mission of the organization itself. So – at the very least – if they don’t answer it or can’t it is almost ludicrous and if they reflect the specific wording of the professions or the mission statement, it should be expected and tells us nothing.
Instead:

The concepts can be included but the questions should assume the person possesses these to be successful and then the question becomes “how does the applicant articulate why?” or “how does the candidate provide context?” The question might be worded as “what is the mission of x within the context of x” or “the current values of the profession are stated as x, which do you think should be worded differently or are outdated or classic? How do organizational mission statements, vision and values integrate with community or umbrella organization mission, vision or values?
You should ask for specific actions so after stating that you value something such as “our librarians are committed to EDI …please give us two examples of how you have infused or conceptualized infusing EDI into your user reference or research interviews? your collection development? the design or choices of your ideas for community programs? And they should be wording to include first time applications such as “in studying contemporary reference or research support librarian/user interactions, how is EDI infused into the process?” or “in updating materials collections, what three things do librarians look for in assessing the presence or lack of presence of current materials (or materials reflecting EDI, etc.)?
Do you have questions that are especially illuminating or are there well-known questions that you think are useless?

Useless

So reversing the order with useless first – even if the question has context!
Why our library? our organization? (I prefer that it come up naturally, rather than me forcing something less-than-genuine out of someone.)
What are you reading now? (Inappropriate and I didn’t put it on the list but it did bring my favorite answer “the want ads.”)
Where do you want to be in five years?
Why do you want this job? (The majority of answers make me angry and why they make me angry is too much to include.)

Interesting (and note I feel strongly about the question being preceded with context.)
Although managers should have a plan in place for orienting, training and overall integrating employees into the work environment, what do you do to integrate yourself into a team? into a workplace?
Librarians and library employees are always learning something new – and while there are many different learning styles and choices for teaching or training employees on new systems or processes – what is your learning style? How do you choose to learn something new? Be specific as to format, process, approach, etc.
Especially now – given the online world of business communication and extensive remote discussions – what two things do you want from your supervisor regarding communication with you or the team online or in person? and you can also provide an example of a supervisor you have had and how he or she communicated particularly well.
Many librarians say they love the job because there is something new and different every day, but there are many aspects of our users that we appreciate and some more than others. What is your favorite user group to work with? Doctoral students? First – time visitors/community members to the library? 4th graders? Small business people? And why are they your favorites?
No matter how hard organizations try, we end up with last minute work, plans, approaches during our work day/work week. What skills set do you use to be flexible in a work setting?


Jaime Taylor, Discovery & Resource Management Systems Coordinator, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts: Useless question: “What is your greatest weakness?” The answers to this are rarely illuminating, and it feels like a gotcha question or like you are trying to get the candidate to say something bad about themself. Do not ask gotcha questions! If you really need to ask something like this, you could ask, “What kind of support would you need to be successful in this role?” That’s a much more useful question — it sets the candidate up for success, and gives the position’s supervisors actionable information.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I think by now most people recognize the futility of asking the “strengths/weaknesses” question. I like to try to ask questions that can give a candidate the opportunity to tell us more about who they are. It could be “Tell us about a successful project you worked on or class you taught. Why was it successful? What about the success could or did you apply to other tasks? Or we might ask about a project or class that did not work out as planned and how the candidate used that experience in future planning.

I sometimes like to ask candidates (often for more administrative positions) what aspects of work they enjoy most and least. For public facing work scenarios can also be useful. Even when someone has not done library work before thinking through a situation that might include a response like “doing what I can for a library visitor but also letting them know I’ll have to check with my supervisor” can add helpful information about a candidate’s experience.

Overall I think this question really points to the importance of a search committee/hiring manager thinking meaningfully about what they want to learn about candidates through the interview process. Then we need to craft questions that are most likely to give a candidate the opportunity to share ideas and information that will help us assess what they could bring to the position available.


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Great question! I’ve been interviewing lately myself, so I have to say that, while I like asking situational questions (tell me about a time when…), I don’t love answering them. So many times, they are asking me to focus on negative situations and that’s difficult, but it’s about how you handle adversity. One of my favorite questions is “Why is this position a great fit for you and how are you a great fit for this position?” This is your chance to talk about why the job appeals to you, or why you feel like the position is a great fit for you and your skills. You may have covered some of this ground in your cover letter, but not everyone does. We sometimes ask about balancing collaborative and independent work, and we often ask how you approach learning something new (usually technology). Those are very telling answers! In our second round interviews, we will ask specific questions about the position and approach to the work, and we want to be sure that the person understands the position and what it entails. Terminology like one year extraordinary faculty can be confusing to someone who has never worked in an academic setting.


Anonymous: I like to use this question to gauge emotional intelligence:

Quoting RJ Palacio, author of the title Wonder, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” What is your reaction to the quote? Based on your experiences, are there times when you must choose right over kind?

It will typically flush out the “black and white” thinker types, the “rules are the rules” kind of people. For me, the correct answer is choosing right when possible but leading with kindness. Libraries shouldn’t be using their policies as a bludgeoning tool to punish people. Enforce policies, yes, but understand that there are times when you need to bend the rules.

Also, the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question is outdated and useless. We live in a society where loyalty to a company no longer exists. We can’t expect people to stay forever!


Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian, UConn Library: Since I work in academic libraries, there are typically two sets of questions: one for the initial screening phone or video interviews, and then another for the second round campus interviews. So many screening interviews focus on expanding upon the information in a candidate’s CV/resume or cover letter, when what I really want to know is the stuff that often isn’t well-represented in those documents. It’s the combination of what they’ve submitted and the additional content of the phone interview that helps a search committee make decisions about who to move on to the next round.

Following are some questions I’ve found to be especially informative during the screening interview process:

  • What appeals to you about this position specifically and more generally about working at [insert institution here]? (I know the cover letter should include this, but I find it helpful when the candidate can elaborate on it.)
  • Describe a project or initiative you’ve worked on of which you’re especially proud.
  • Can you give us an example of a situation in which you collaborated with a colleague?
  • What aspects of this job do you think would most challenge you and how would you approach them?
  • What areas of your professional practice are you most interested in developing?

When it comes to on-campus interviews, I certainly want to hear about a candidate’s experience, but also how they might apply that in the position for which they’re interviewing. For new or early career librarians, I think it’s particularly helpful to phrase questions as hypotheticals or ask them to describe what approach they think would be successful. That means, for example, asking “What approaches have you taken or might you take to make informed collection development decisions in x disciplines?” instead of “Tell us about your experience doing collection development in x disciplines?”


Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: There are some questions that end up being throw-away questions that serve more as ice-breakers than content generators. Then there are questions that are more informative.

One of them is, “What surprised you when researching our library or university?” This gives us an idea of not just what they learned but also some of the preconceived notions they started with, or may still have. Sometimes these are particularly enlightening and can give you sense of what outsiders focus on when looking at your website, and how things might be misinterpreted. It can be useful for your edification as well as an opportunity to address anything that may have been misunderstood or may need information gaps to be filled. It also tells us how they are approaching the position, the library, university, and area. Backhanded compliments do not play well.

Another good one is, “You overhear your colleague giving incorrect information to a patron. How do you handle this?” This one can be very informative. It seems pretty simple but it speaks to multiple areas at once: How do you treat your colleagues/peers? Do you feel comfortable speaking up and, if so, how do you do it? How do view information sharing with patrons? How do you see your role/authority in this capacity? How do you approach what could be a tense situation? I have heard a wide variety of responses. We want you to answer as honestly as possible.


Karen K. Reczek, Social Scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Favorite Questions
Tell me about a time you failed.
What is the most useful job related criticism you have ever received?
If three of your colleagues were here how would they describe you?
If you could change one aspect of your last/current job, what would that be?
Tell me about a time you turned something around that was stagnant or unsuccessful.
What area of your work do you think needs improvement or what skills do you still feel you need to develop?
When looking for a job what are the three most important things to you?
Can you tell me about a time when you felt like giving up on a certain job or task and why? and what happened?
Describe your best boss.
What do you know about our organization? (So many people come to an interview and CANNOT answer this. Very telling.)

Least favorite Questions
Where do you see yourself in five years (Hey most of us don’t know – how about what is your professional goal and has that changed over the years?)
What are your strength and weaknesses? (I think you can learn more by asking some of the above.)
Are you a team player? or would you be successful working with a team? (who is going to say no?!)
Are you able to handle multiple priorities at once? (again, not sure who will say, no…)


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System:

1) Do you have questions that are especially illuminating….

We have what we call the “snake question.” The question is “A parent (father or mother) and their child (son or daughter) come into the library 20 minutes before closing with a box in which there is a snake they want to identify. While helping them, three boys run through the library knocking the box off the table onto the floor. What do you do?”

There are so many experts and consultants offering candidate interview questions that we are told will help us discover something profound or significant about a candidate. Anyone wanting to do well on an interview can find these same questions online, in a book, or from a professional interview coach and learn how to answer them for success. There is a school of interviewing that focuses on asking “behavioral” interview questions. These questions are readily available and a candidate can prepare an answer for “Can you tell us of a time when you went above and beyond the line of duty?” or “Tell us about a time when you solved a problem at your job that wasn’t part of your job description.” How do I verify the candidate’s answer? The candidate’s answer can sound terrific, but has it been embellished or is it even true? I’m not sure a current or former employer will verify the candidate’s claim.

The snake question is specific. The goal of the question is to surprise the candidate, see how quickly the candidate recovers, and how the candidate prioritizes the actions necessary to respond to an unexpected situation. There are some answers that are better than others. The only wrong answer for us is to “run away.” One observation I will make is that on average only one out of one hundred will ask if the snake is alive. Almost all assume it is alive and respond accordingly.

Before thinking this is a ridiculous question and laughing, there are public librarians who will tell you they have encountered snakes in their libraries (“Bag of snakes brings new library policy in Madison County.” The Citizen-Times. October 20, 2019. https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/madison/2019/10/20/madison-county-library-policy-bans-bags-snakes/4002405002/). If a candidate is able to respond to the question in a cool, thoughtful, and reasonable way to a situation like the snake in the box, it may be indicative of how the candidate would respond to an incident as an employee.

A few observations about using this question. I can’t say it originated with me. A public library director in Eastern Kentucky found it, used it, and as a consultant for the Kentucky State Library, I promoted its use. The question has become one of my staff’s favorites to ask because of the range of reactions by the candidates. It very often serves to lighten the seriousness of the interview, making it more congenial. The candidates also like it, later remarking how it made them see our work in a different way and being totally unprepared for it.

2) Are there well-known questions that you think are useless….

Once again, this question depends on the position for which the candidate is interviewing. Possibly the most useless question is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” In light of what we passed through with the COVID-19 pandemic, can we really predict where we will be in five years?

Those seeking professional positions will tell you about career goals, often tailoring the answer to what the interview committee might like to hear. They are very unlikely to say “I’ll have quite your job by then because it is just a stepping stone in my career to a better job.” Non-professionals, such as those in circulation positions in public libraries, will often tell you “I hope to be still working for the library in five years.”

The restrictions and responses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many leaving the workplace and wanting to work from home. COVID-19 has demonstrated how change can rapidly make a response to the question “where do you see yourself in five years” today meaningless tomorrow.


Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College: I like open-ended questions that are specific to the job and institution. For example, “What interests you about this job?” tells us how the applicant sees their skills matching up with our needs, while “What do you know about us?” lets us know if they’ve done their research.

I’m less fond of old corporate chestnuts like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Anyone who has a crisp answer to that one is nowhere near flexible enough to survive in any library I’ve ever worked in.


Thanks for reading! If you want to read even more, there’s been some great discussion over on Twitter

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via creepy anonymous phone call. 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.

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Internal hiring and promotions happen 80% of the time for posted positions.

Bodleian Library, Oxford: Duke Humfrey’s library with a man studying. From Wellcome Collection via CC BY 4.0

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library

 Title: Health Science Librarian

Titles hired include: Library Information Associate, Assistant Librarian 

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

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

Job is posted for at least 4 weeks, then director and librarian take candidates based off of a rubric, phone interview with structured questions, interviewees are notified if they make second round, in person interviews, director and librarian meet and discuss candidates and select one to offer position. 

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

Library experience, customer service experience, math degree, knowledge of library systems

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

Internal hiring and promotions happen 80% of the time for posted positions. Also people have people in mind and hire them.

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?

They don’t share enough details or examples of how they have done or not done something. 

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

Yes, a quiet place is best if possible. Headset with mic helps. 

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?

Tell your story and share your experience. Explain why you want a librarian position and how your previous experience helps you. Share what you learned.

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 ask all candidates the same prepared questions. We ask staff to sit in on final interviews. We provide questions printed out at the final interview. There is still bias towards people with no library experience. We have HR collect application materials. There is an online portal and screening rubric to record ranking and decisions. 

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

Ask about the job and university environment? Ask about students and faculty needs? Ask about schedule and coordination for coverage during holidays etc. ? Ask about things you want to know? 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southwestern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10 

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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Filed under 0-10 staff members, 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, Academic, Southwestern US, Suburban area, Urban area

In an interview – quietly confident. 

A librarian in a red shirt looks at books of fruit and vegetable images
Image: Special Collections librarian Sara B. Lee selecting fruit and vegetable images from the Rare Book Collection. USDA Photo by Peggy Greb.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ School Library

Title: Library Coordinator

Titles hired include: Library Attendant

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ The position’s supervisor 

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ CV

√ References

√ Other: written key selection criteria

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Written applications submitted online; shortlisting; interview (usually with some practical component); second interview

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

On paper – thorough KSC answers, had researched our organisation, good attention to detail. In an interview – quietly confident. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Lots of spelling errors in application; or completes application process incorrectly. Shows poor attention to detail!

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

How much guidance / detailed instructions they will need on the job and in training – something you generally pick up on in their first few projects 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

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?

Not answering questions directly; not thinking about what the panel needs to find out about them

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

Honestly very similar to in-person interviews in my experience 

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 definitely take transferrable skills into consideration, so outline all those experiences. Show some knowledge of libraries too though – particularly the sort of work involved and what sort of organisations they are, not just an idealised view saying “I love reading so I want to work in a library!” 

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?

It very much depends on the individuals involved

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

Asking questions about their specific areas of interest, what projects they’d be interested to get involved in etc, helps because it helps the panel get to know them. 

It’s very popular to ask ‘what’s the culture like’ but I personally don’t think this is useful for either party – of course a hiring manager is going to give some generic positive spiel; if you have specific questions about professional development, flexibility etc – just ask that! 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Australia/New Zealand

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10

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Filed under 0-10 staff members, 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, Australia/New Zealand, School, Suburban area

Some of the best people I’ve hired had odd skills that weren’t “official” library duties, but they demonstrated qualities that I wanted in an employee. 

Sophie Smith is the Assistant Director of York Public Library in York, Maine. While attaining her MLS from Simmons College, she worked as a library assistant at the Cambridge (MA) Public Library. Professionally, she has worked at the Nashua (NH) Public Library as a reference librarian and then supervisor of teen services, and as an assistant branch manager at the San Antonio (TX) Public Library. After missing family, fall, and the ocean, she returned to Maine and couldn’t be happier to now be working in Maine. She loves to travel, read, and enjoy nature.

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

We solicit applications by email, sort into groups of “meet all requirements,” “don’t meet all requirements but have transferable skills or knowledge to support job requirements,” and “do not meet requirements and have no demonstrated relatable skills”. Depending on the number of applicants, we interview everyone in the first set, and generally many of the second as well. For part-time positions we do one round of interviews, for full-time positions we generally have two rounds–one with the hiring manager and a member of the department (may be a senior person, may be a junior person), and a second round with the direct supervisor and the director. We then discuss candidates, check references, offer the job, and then contact everyone who applied. 

Titles hired include: Head of Youth Services, Library Assistant, Young Adult Librarian, Reference Librarian, Library Clerk

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?

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ More than one round of interviews

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 took time to do research on our library and asked good questions. They were thoughtful.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

People who call constantly about a job. Cover letters that include inaccurate information (incorrect name of the library, for example). People who are unapologetically rude.

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

Their sense of humor. How they collaborate in practice. 

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: √ Two is ok, but no more  

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

Not taking a minute if they need it to answer a question. It’s perfectly fine to ask for a moment to come up with a good example! 

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

We have done virtual interviews in the past, in part due to COVID and in part due to candidates who were at a far distance. It is important to be in a space with good lighting that makes you comfortable. 

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?

Think about the duties listed in the job and clarify for yourself how your skills are transferable. Acknowledge the difference, show that you’ve really considered it, and convince me it is applicable. Some of the best people I’ve hired had odd skills that weren’t “official” library duties, but they demonstrated qualities that I wanted in an employee. 

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 post our job broadly, offer a competitive salary, and evaluate all candidates objectively before bringing them in to interview. I am sure there is more we can do. 

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

I like candidates who ask about the day-to-day culture of the library and about my experience working here. It gives an opportunity to share some of the informal aspects of the job and let the candidate assess how it would work for them. Thoughtful questions that make it clear the person has looked into what we do already and wants to know more! 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: occasionally, as needed and approved by supervisor

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? 

I have used this resource as a job seeker and as an employer and find it to be an incredibly valuable tool. Thank you for making it!

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

Smoking while with members of the search committee

A man in a cap browses a colorful book shelf
Image: Tommy T. Gobena visiting Dilla University library. From UNICEF Ethiopia on Flickr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for an:

√ Academic Library

Title: Head of Content Curation

Titles hired: Library Director; Head of Research Services; Electronic Resources & Serials Librarian; Discovery & Systems Administrator, etc.

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel

√ Employees at the position’s same level (on a panel or otherwise)

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ CV

√ References

√ Supplemental Questions

√ 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

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

As a supervisor, I generally chair the search committee for positions within my own department; and serve on other search committees as well.

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

They modeled kindness, respect, and diplomacy in their interactions.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Disrespect; talking over everyone else at a meal and not letting the search committee members get a word in edgewise; smoking while with members of the search committee.

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

How well they get along with people in the workplace from day to day, not only in terms of respect, but also in terms of how they might continually burden others with their own anxieties.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

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

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?

Trying to perform, even while in casual conversation, instead of communicating like an authentic human being.

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

Yes. They should be familiar with virtual presentation software and how to best situate their camera, lighting, etc., as well as having a strong connection (dialing in by phone for audio, for example, if their home network has bandwidth issues).

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?

Show that they’ve done their homework in researching the new library. Demonstrate that they understand the responsibilities, the environment, and the people, and what attracts them to this new role.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer

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

We have required online training in anti-bias hiring techniques from HR.

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

Ask us what we find fulfilling for ourselves here, and what we hope to see from the new person in this role in the short term. They should be familiar with our library’s mission, and our institution’s mission and values. And they should know the responsibilities and the organizational structure as described in the position ad.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

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? Or are there any questions you think we should add?

Our main challenge for the past 2 years has been getting approval to post positions. Like many other libraries, we are short-staffed due to normal attrition and not being permitted to hire replacements. The resulting double/triple workloads cause ripple effects, with the remaining people seeking other jobs due to burnout and little hope for improvement; thus exacerbating the situation. This is not limited to libraries; it’s pervasive across academia lately.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Academic, Southeastern US, Suburban area

Most people have not heard of us before applying with us

A group of four white people are having a discussion in front of book shelves. One man looks bemused.
Image: Special Collections Tour with Dr. and Mrs. Arnfield From Flickr user Topeka Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for:

√ Special Library

√ Other: government library

Title: Librarian

Titles hired include: library technicians & librarians

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ Employees at the position’s same level (on a panel or otherwise)

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

HR pre-screens initial applicants. Those deemed qualified are passed to the hiring panel (where I would be), who assess & invite ~4 candidates for interviews. References are checked and the hiring manager makes the final selection based on all the information gathered. The selection is passed back to HR, who extend the offer. 

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

Part of it was out of their control by the time they got to the interview: they had experience working with a niche type of materials our library offers. Part of it was in their control: They expressed a genuine interest in us and made the interview a conversation with give & take on both sides, both revealing the breadth & depth of their experience and knowledge and giving a small insight into what they would be like as a colleague. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Revealing they over-stretched the truth of their experience & expertise on their resume

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

It’s almost impossible to assess how they’ll *really* work on a team or on complicated projects, because that’s just not testable in the average library hiring process, and self-assessment isn’t always reliable. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only one! 

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?

Not displaying any curiosity about your potential new workplace. Especially in government hiring the questions we are allowed to ask are often formulaic and can’t be personalized for each candidate. Ask us follow up questions if you think of them. When we hand the floor over to candidates for their questions, that’s the time to really dive in and get a conversation out of us. Put together thoughtful questions about the organization – ask us about upcoming projects, recent challenges, jot notes about what we mention during the questions and ask us to expand, etc. This is another way of expressing enthusiasm about the position and getting to know the people you might be working with (and vice versa) that a surprising number of candidates forgo entirely. 

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

We do. My advice: Don’t overthink it, and keep it simple. You don’t need to stare into the camera the entire time or try to make it look like you don’t live in a house. Make sure your audio & camera (if relevant) are working, have a non-distracting (decently clean, no TV blaring, etc) background, & smile. Not that different than an in person interview really.  

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?

Take a copy of the job description you’re interested in. Highlight in one color everything you have experience in, or transferable experience in, and make notes on what that experience is to make sure it’s mentioned somewhere in your resume or cover letter. Make it really easy on the committee to see your qualifications. Highlight in another color everything you don’t have experience in, and do some research, even if it’s just passively watching a webinar. Hiring managers want to know that A) you can already do something, or B) you wouldn’t be difficult to train. Saying in an interview “I’ve never done X, but I’ve watched a webinar and worked on a committee with people who did, and I see (fill in the blank of) these parallels to Y, which I’m very experienced in” goes a long way. And it’s a step further than the majority of candidates go, which will make you stand out. It is more work, yes, but if you’re stretching for a job that’s not a clear cut match for you, I strongly recommend it. Doing this is what helped me make multiple big jumps across very different types of library work in my career. 

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?

Every time a position is filled, there is a meeting to determine A) if the position really needs a masters B) how to advertise it as broadly as possible, with emphasis on under-targeted populations. If I had the power to do so I would love to see the additional step of blind reviewing materials to reduce potential name and gender bias. Appearance bias is hard to avoid with in-person or video interviews, but we try to select diverse panels and offer pre-hiring anti-bias training that helps the panel identify internalized biases as well. 

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

Most people have not heard of us before applying with us. We know that so don’t be afraid to admit it. Ask us a lot of questions about our structure, our history, our challenges, our successes, our goals, our work culture. Really dig in. As I mentioned before, what we can ask you is often structured and limited. Your questions are your time to get all the information you need, information we will happily give even if government hiring isn’t easily structured to let us offer it outright.  

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Northeastern US, Other Organization or Library Type, Special, Urban area

Focus should be on how the candidate can make a contribution

young man and male librarian stand on opposite sides of a desk, black and white
Image: Librarian at desk with patron from The New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Director – retired

Titles hired include: Librarian, Library Assistant, Page, Division Manager, Supervising Librarian, Executive Assistant, Police Assistant

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Applications are prescreened by HR and hiring manager, finalists invited for panel interviews

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

Clearly prepared, understood the job as advertised, researched the organization and could express why they wanted to work there and why they were a good fit for the role.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Rude to HR or support staff, only interested in the benefits, critical of previous organizations or managers

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

work ethic, ability to deal with stress

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

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

CV: √ We don’t ask for this 

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

Lack of preparation, not knowing anything about the organization they’re interviewing with, not asking any questions

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

Be mindful of what’s in your background

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?

Study the desired qualifications and tie in your experience where you can

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer

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

Applications are carefully evaluated based on minimum qualifications only

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

Questions I like to hear are things like “What would you expect the person you hire to accomplish in the first 6 months?” or “How can the person you hire best help the library to be successful?” Focus should be on how the candidate can make a contribution.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100

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

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.

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I did a virtual interview this year where the candidate was playing a video game at the same time

Librarian stands at bookshelves talking to a teen
Image: Librarian with young reader in Browsing Room of the Nathan Strauss Branch for Young People From The New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Library Administrator

Titles hired include:

Librarian, Library Assistant, Clerk, Access Services Assistant, Security Manager, Library Administrator 

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Supplemental Questions

√ More than one round of interviews

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Recruitment – alternating between internal and external, screened for minimum quals, randomly selected pool of about 20 at a time sent to interview panel (3-5 people), panel interview creates a list of ranked candidates based on score, names are referred out to hiring manager based on score and location/FTE preference, second interview is done at local level (3-4 people usually), selection is made. 

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

demonstrated leadership in answers,  complete answers, good sense of humor, thoughtful and prepared (we send questions at least 24 hrs ahead of time)

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Because we send questions ahead of time, someone who is obviously unprepared (doesn’t have an answer) is kind of a deal breaker. I did a virtual interview this year where the candidate was playing a video game at the same time. Poor answers to diversity and equity questions. 

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

references, and sometimes resume – only the initial hiring panel who makes the list sees the resume generally 

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?

incomplete question answers, answers that are too SHORT. If you have 30 minutes for the interview and you are done in 10, you need to rethink the details in your answers. 

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

yes. Don’t be afraid to communicate issues you have – poor internet connection or equipment, etc.  Otherwise, just relax. We are mostly taking notes and sometimes don’t even have you on our main screen, 

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?

It doesn’t take a lot to convince me. Candidates who can show parallels are actually my favorite because it takes skill to show how you have the skills without having worked in a library before. I try to have some questions to encourage this as well – ie. Tell me about a time you had to teach yourself something complicated, how did you go about it? What did you learn? What would you do differently? – Advice – have an awareness of how the library is part of a larger system, its own type of environment – think about public access on a bigger picture level. Say more than “I love the library” – tell us what a library means to you.  ASK IF THE PERSON HAS SEEN YOUR RESUME.  I tell people if we haven’t, which isn’t uncommon, but others might not think to tell you that before the interview starts. When you answer questions, answer every part – an incomplete answer is the easiest way to rank someone lower in a large candidate pool. When you are finished with your answer, go back and summarize your answer as it pertains to each part of the question – make there be no doubt.  

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad

√ It’s part of the information provided at the interview

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer

√ Other…

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

random selection pool of applicants, training on bias. Where bias still exists – in my org it does not exist as much for race, sexual orientation, or gender – but it’s very prevalent with older age and weight. 

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

Ask what an average day looks like, how promotions occur (although sometimes asking about this can give a bad impression that you don’t want the job you’re interviewing for so be careful about your wording). Most people ask what we like about working at the library. This is an ok question. Ask what our challenges are as a system or branch. Ask what success looks like for someone in this position after 6 months. Ask what type of employee the manager finds the easiest to manage and the staff the easiest to work with.. Benefits questions are best asked to HR. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+

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

Again – answer COMPLETELY.  Talk about teamwork, problem solving, and highlight your previous work experience. We do love to hear that you love the library, but make your answer larger than that – why? What does it mean to you? What do you think it means to the public or country at large?  If there’s something specific you need – ask about it – but also be careful. For example, we sometimes have people asking about very specific schedule needs around other responsibilities (school, children, etc). Weekends and evenings are part of public library life and jobs that don’t include one or both are few – so be prepared for that. 

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 200+ staff members, Public, Urban area, Western US

Skills are transferable, so I would rather see a candidate understand their capabilities rather than have exact experience.

Headshot of Beth Walker

Beth Walker (she/her) is a Senior Librarian at the Haymarket Gainesville Library in Prince William County Virginia. She received her MLS from UNC-Chapel Hill and her undergraduate degree from St. John’s College, which is known for its distinctive Great Books program. 

She lives in Haymarket with her spouse and two cats.

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

The supervisor of the position creates a hiring profile, laying out the main duties of the position and desired qualifications/experience. An ad is created and posted. HR uses an automatic screening system for minimum qualifications. Then an HR subject matter expert additionally screens the remaining applications to verify qualifications. All remaining applicants are interviewed. The interviews are scored based on responses demonstrating skills and experience. The top scorer is sent a “ban the box” question via email, and then references are called. References must be current and/or former supervisors. If the references check out, the top candidate is offered the position. Alternates may be selected by the hiring manager, so if the top candidate does not accept the position or leaves within 6 months, then the alternate may be considered.

Titles hired include: Librarian, Library Assistant, Library Technician, Library Page

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

Provided good, clear examples in the interview of their skills, even if they did not have direct experience for the proposed questions. Skills are transferable, so I would rather see a candidate understand their capabilities rather than have exact experience.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One! Note: We accept cover letters and resumes, but mainly focus on the electronic application submitted

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?

Not providing enough details to answer the question. Also, repeating the same examples or going into too much detail about one aspect and then neglecting other areas (saying “I don’t have an answer for that” after spending 10 minutes on the previous question). It also helps to show enthusiasm for something other than “loving books”. Don’t rely only on your resume to demonstrate your skills. 

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

Have a good internet/audio setup. Otherwise I don’t really factor in setting (to the extent that I don’t even care about how a person dresses, or what the background looks like). I prefer not to have interruptions (animals, people), but you can always let me know if you are in a space that might not afford the same level of privacy as an in-person interview. 

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?

Again, skills are transferable, so try to give examples of what you have done that are similar to what the hiring manager is looking for. You may want to think outside of the box and maybe write out in advance some examples to refer to. I also accept personal life experiences as examples, even though it can’t necessarily be verified via references. Anything related to volunteer work, involvement in community organizations or church activities, or even jobs you may have had previously that were not library-related. We are always looking for people who are good interacting with other people, are able to follow instructions and relate that to other people, and have some experience with technology. 

When does your organization *first* provide 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?

Managers in our organization are required to take an Equal Employment Opportunity training every year to identify the various kinds of discrimination and how to avoid it. Hiring managers don’t see the applications until they are screened through, then all qualified candidates are interviewed. We try to score candidates based on only their responses, but obviously this is where potential discrimination can occur. Like many libraries, ours trends heavily white and female, which can contribute to implicit bias. However, hiring panels always include at least two managers and the scores must agree within a certain range. We use a competency matrix to score, so if the scores are too far apart you have to justify why the candidate’s responses scored higher or lower. 

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

Ask about the team and growth opportunities. Also, ask any questions you really want to know, because you are also interviewing our organization for fit. Since our library is a part of the county government, there can be quite a bit of bureaucracy involved, so if you are unfamiliar with that type of work environment ask about it. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Certain positions can occasionally telework, but it is mostly in person

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+ Note: Our system has 11 branches; the larger branches have about 20-30 staff, and the smaller branches around 5, supplemented by volunteers

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

Don’t underestimate your own worth! It can be uncomfortable to talk about yourself, especially if you are worried that you are not exactly qualified, but sell up everything you can think of that is relevant to the job description. Particularly in the paraprofessional positions, managers can see your potential if you give good examples of skills. If you are applying for a public-facing position, make sure to highlight any customer service experience you may have. Write down some examples of things you have accomplished and are proud of, and use it in the interview. If you are more experienced, don’t be afraid to show the full extent of your knowledge, but be willing to demonstrate that you still enjoy learning. 

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 200+ staff members, Public, Southeastern US, Suburban area