Hitting the softballs: Academic librarian job interview advice

Posted on 26 February 2014 at 10:36 am in Career.
I’ve got an interview Friday for an academic librarian position (electronic serials). What was your hiring experience? Any interview prep you would suggest that is unique to the academic environment? Thanks! :)

I’ve got an interview Friday for an academic librarian position (electronic serials). What was your hiring experience? Any interview prep you would suggest that is unique to the academic environment? Thanks! :)librarian-wanderer

Hi! First of all, good luck!

Going into an interview, comfort and familiarity are your friends, from wardrobe choices to the topics that will be discussed. Look professional but don’t make yourself so uncomfortable that you squirm and sweat.

While there can be some unique questions and concerns that come up in an academic environment, you’ll also get many of the same boilerplate questions asked in every job interview everywhere. For me, when I’ve been on an interview panel and a candidate flubs one of these questions — which I consider softballs — they’re out.

  • “Describe [x]# of trends in [electronic serials/ERM/digitization/technical services/academic libraries/etc.]

Be able to name trends! Be able to discuss trends! I’ve seen candidates be confused about this question. How does that happen? If you asked me about trends in academic libraries, I could name 20 before I have to take a breath.

Yet I’ve seen candidates fumble around, mumble a short response, and look up hoping the question is over and we can move on. That was the softball! Hit it out of the park. If electronic serials aren’t actually your specialty, get to looking in a few journals, or find blogs written by electronic serials librarians. Get up to speed before the interview.

  • “Describe an situation in which you [did the wrong thing/failed/could not complete a project] and what you learned from it? Be specific.”

There’s always a question like this, and others that ask you to describe specific scenarios, positive or negative, from your past work life. Have a few anecdotes in mind going into the interview so you’re prepared for this. Candidates who don’t have examples in mind before the interview starts always get flustered at this point. Don’t be that candidate.

  • What makes you want to work at [University/College]?

This is the slowest pitch softball in the game. Heck, this is a swing at a t-ball. And yet…I’ve seen some of the vaguest answers to this question (which often comes first — and first impressions are important).

If you’re asked why you want to work there, and all you can say is that you need a job and your skills matched the job description, that’s not going to cut it.

Talk about the institution — why that particular institution is a perfect fit for you. That means doing a little research in advance. Know what that school is proud of. Look in every corner of their website. Walk around the campus if you can. Read the school’s mission statement, and if the library has one, read that too. Incorporate that vibe into your response. If nothing else, even the cynical panelist will respect that you did your research.

Doing your research

Speaking of doing research, use your investigative skills and go in knowing what types of library systems they use. If you’re savvy, you should be able to figure out what ILS they use, what ERM product they use, and whether they focus on “big deal” journal package purchases from publishers or on aggregation databases, just from looking at their website. That familiarity can then come in handy when you are talking to them (it’s always odd to me when a candidate doesn’t come in with a sense of how we operate).

Also be ready to talk about how the work of the electronic serials librarians can influence other aspects of the library’s work — this, of course, can apply to other specialties as well.

Finally, does the library director or any of the librarians at the institution blog about their work? That’s another way to come in with a sense of how they operate (although don’t spend the whole interview saying, “Well, I saw on your blog [this] and [that]” — use the blog as background research, don’t keep citing it in the interview! That comes off sycophantic.)

There will probably be some very specific technical discussions. But those revolve around things that can be learned. It’s when the candidates can’t even hit the softballs that I get worried.

Originally posted on tumblr, February 26, 2014. Comments are closed here but open on tumblr.

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