In this feature, Hired Librarians, I interview a recent successful job hunter and the person that hired her. This week I’m interviewing Mira Geffner, Program Assistant, and the person that hired here, Erika Bell, Manager of Medical Information Services.
They work at Breast Cancer Connections, providing medical information services in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here is how the library is staffed:
We are each here half-time, that’s it for the paid library staff. Other BCC staff and volunteers also help clients in the library when we are not available, and volunteers help with clerical work and special projects.
The Successful Candidate: Mira Geffner
I am a career changer and a current MLIS student at San Jose State University. I expect to graduate in December 2014.
Why did this job pique your interest?
It sounded perfect! My professional background is in patient education and advocacy. When I started library school, I was really hoping that I’d be able to continue working directly with the public, but as a librarian instead of an educator or advocate. The BCC Program Assistant job description said they wanted someone who could do research for BCC clients, contribute to the BCC blog, maintain the library collection of books/pamphlets/media, and attend weekly Q&A sessions with area physicians and patients. I had started a blog in my Medical Librarianship class, and I had experience coordinating Q&A conference calls with physicians and patients as part of my previous job. Of course as an LIS student, I do database searching every day, and had gained experience with patient-oriented and academic medical databases through my SLIS courses and an internship at a health library. Other aspects of the job appealed to me too, especially the fact that I would be embedded in a thriving non-profit organization with deep roots in the community. To be honest, the job sounded almost too good to be true.
How many pages was your resume? Cover letter?
My resume was long, nearly 2 pages. I included current academic work and pre-SLIS professional experience. My cover letter was ¾ page.
What research did you do before submitting your application?
I learned about the job from a friend who had interviewed at BCC before I did, so she was able to tell me a lot about BCC’s “personality” in terms of her interview process and the nature of her interview there. After speaking with her, I read as much as I could of BCC’s website. I wanted to familiarize myself with the organization’s programs and services, and understand its mission and history. I also read posts from the BCC blog, to get an idea of how I could contribute to it.
What did you wear?
Black slacks and a colorful top. Black flats. (I had heard from my friend that the place is pretty casual, so didn’t want to overdo it. I was aiming for dressed-for-work rather than dressed-up-for-interview.)
Can you describe your process in preparing for the interview?
I heard about the job at the end of the semester, so I was finishing up classes and an internship, and was getting ready to leave town for a week. In other words, I had less time to prepare for this interview than I would have liked. At least my resume was pretty close to being up to date, since I had applied for internships in other health libraries five months earlier. To prepare, I updated my resume with a few relevant projects I had done in the past few months, updated my cover letter to draw out the connections between my resume and the job description, and rehearsed some standard interview questions. Jill Klees, the SLIS liaison in the SJSU Career Center, was very helpful, both with shortening my resume and practicing interview skills. I also reviewed the databases from my medical librarianship class, and materials from that class’s consumer health unit. I went back to the health/medical research units from my Introduction to Reference class, to make sure I wasn’t forgetting about any important sources there, and reviewed my health literacy outreach blog and other health-related projects I had done at SLIS to refresh my memory about things that might be relevant to the BCC job. And then I spent some time thinking about how my earlier work with rare disease patients might translate to work with breast cancer patients. Finally, I did what I could to learn about breast cancer. At a friend’s suggestion, I reviewed all the terms relating to breast cancer in the National Cancer Institute’s online dictionary of cancer terms. I also read NCI’s basic introduction to breast cancer, because knowledge of breast cancer or other cancers was listed as a job qualification.
What questions did you ask?
I was interviewed by a three-person panel, and I asked them to each tell me what they love about working here. I don’t remember all of their answers, but I remember them all smiling at each other when I asked and Erika kind of laughing and saying it was really hard to know where to start because the list of things she loves about the place is so long. Erika’s boss was on the panel as well, and she told me she had been with BCC for more than 10 years, and that she really enjoys having a chance to work with and mentor people who are newer to the organization. They all said they love the women they work with. I can’t remember exactly how I asked, but I’m pretty sure I asked Erika something about how much patient education she does vs. research/providing information. I didn’t have a “right” answer in mind, I just wanted to understand something about where BCC’s Medical Information Services model fits in the world of consumer health librarianship. And I asked something about the typical resources she consults to handle client requests, because I wanted to understand if I would need to be able to search PubMed like a wizard or if she uses lay sources more of the time.
Why do you think you were hired? What set you apart from other candidates?
Well, that’s a hard one to answer. How do we ever know how the world sees us? I felt like the job – which combines library skills with an ability to assimilate and communicate medical information and interact with clients in a non-threatening way – was a great match for my past experience and my coursework at SJSU. And although I did not have the knowledge of breast cancer or another type of cancer the job description called for, my comprehensive knowledge of another disease from my previous job showed that I could learn about breast cancer and would be motivated to do so. I also think my experience providing support and information services to patients at another non-profit showed that I was a good match for the position. Even though I would need to start with the basics in learning about breast cancer, I tried to demonstrate that my perspective working in other non-profits and with other types of patients would make it possible for me to begin contributing quickly at BCC. Throughout the interview, I tried to convey that the job they were offering was exactly the job I wanted. When they asked where I see myself in five years, I said “with a Master’s degree in Library & Information Sciences, working in a consumer health library.” That was actually one of the questions I hadn’t prepared for, but I think it was the answer I gave most quickly and directly. A job like this one in a place like BCC is what I’ve wanted since before I started the program at SLIS. So the job just felt to me like a great fit, and I tried to convey that to the panel.
Is there anything else you want to tell my readers about why you were chosen? Or any general job hunting advice you want to dispense?
These are things your readers probably know, but I’m going to write them anyway: there is soooo much serendipity in the process, so don’t take things that happen in the job search too personally. Do reflect on how you conduct yourself in interviews, and think about things you would like to do differently, but try not to turn things that happen in the job hunt into a judgment of you as a person. I also can’t say enough about the importance of building and tending your networks. I attend local networking/social events when I can and go to conferences. I participate in LIS student and professional groups on Facebook and on LinkedIn, and read the CALIX and CAPHIS mailing lists (and participate very occasionally in both). I also keep in touch with internship supervisors, some faculty, and students I’ve worked with on class projects or otherwise gotten to know. I would never have known about this job but for a phone call from a SLIS friend, and I believe her recommendation influenced BCC’s decision to interview me.
The Hiring Manager: Erika Bell
What stood out in this applicant’s cover letter?
Mira’s cover letter was very well written and contained specific, concrete examples that demonstrated her professional experience and qualifications. Her passion for working as a consumer health librarian was evident in the letter. Mira was honest about her lack of experience in the cancer field, but displayed confidence in her ability to acquire those skills on the job.
Did she meet all of the required qualifications listed in the job ad? How many of the desired qualifications did she meet?
Mira met all but one of the qualifications listed in the job ad. The job ad listed “knowledge of breast cancer or other cancers” as a qualification, and Mira did not have this specific experience, but she did have professional experience working in other health-related fields.
In comparison to the rest of the pool, did the applicant have more, less, or about the same years of experience? What about for the other people you interviewed?
Mira had more experience than many of the applicants in the pool and less experience than some others. A few applicants were actually overqualified, and for that reason the job didn’t seem like a good fit for them.
What was the interview process like?
I first screened resumes and cover letters and selected a dozen or so that I felt were well qualified. These applicants were phone screened by our human resources volunteer. Based on feedback from the phone screen, we then invited a subset of the phone-screened applicants to come in to the center for an in-person interview. We conducted the interview as a team of three which included myself (BCC’s Manger of Medical Information Services), BCC’s Director of Programs and Services and BCC’s Program Associate. Candidates were asked a series of pre-scripted questions and then given an opportunity to ask questions of us. A tour was conducted upon the candidate’s request.
After our first of round of in-person interviews, we selected a candidate, who declined the position due to another job offer. That applicant happened to be a colleague of Mira’s and recommended her for the position. Because Mira was referred by this person, we did not conduct the initial phone screen in her case, and instead brought her in immediately for an in-person interview.
What stood out in Mira’s interview?
BCC’s mission is to provide services to women touched by breast and ovarian cancer in an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. Mira’s warm and compassionate demeanor stood out in the interview. She was down-to-earth and easy to talk to, and I could picture our clients relating to her very well. I could tell during the interview that her personality would be a good fit for the organization, and that we would work well together to accomplish the department’s goals. I was also impressed by the research Mira had done prior to the interview. She was familiar with BCC’s history, our programs and services, and our mission, and she expressed a clear and genuine interest in contributing to that mission. After the interview Mira followed-up with a hand-written thank you note, which was a nice touch.
Were there any flags or questions you had about this person’s abilities, and how did they resolve them?
Perhaps the only concern I had about Mira was the fact that she is currently a graduate student, and I wondered if she would be able to successfully juggle school and work. To address this concern, Mira and I discussed a potential work schedule and I gave her the option to reduce her hours when school is in session, if necessary. We agreed upon a minimum number of hours that would be essential for her to work to get the job done.
Is there anything else you want to tell my readers about why this candidate was chosen? Or any general job hunting advice you want to dispense?
Mira’s skill set and experience got her the interview, but it was really her personality that won her the job. We interviewed several other candidates with similar or more experience, who definitely could have done the job, but we did not select them because they didn’t connect with us in a way that Mira did. We really got the sense during Mira’s interview that she would be able to set clients at ease, listen to their needs and concerns, and then be able to find them relevant information to address those needs
If you’re part of a recent hiree/hiring manager pair who’d be willing to be interviewed for this feature, please contact me. Or please pass along this request!