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How do job interviews at college and university libraries differ? Two recently hired librarians, one from a college and the other from a university, reflect on their interview experiences.
What was the day of your interview like?
Paula: My previous librarian positions were not tenured. For those jobs, I interviewed and did a presentation. It was over in a few hours. When I was shortlisted for a tenure-track position at the University of Lethbridge last summer, I was surprised when I received my itinerary and realized it was going to be an all-day affair. I still had to prepare for an interview and a presentation; however, I also had a meeting with the University Librarian, coffee with the staff, lunch with the librarians, a tour, and dinner with two search committee members.
Fiona: In my experience, the interview process was very similar for both permanent and contract positions at college libraries. The initial panel interview lasted about 1.5 hours and included a 15-minute mock instruction session, for which I had been given the prompt beforehand. A follow-up interview happened about a week later.
How did you prepare?
Fiona: Mainly by planning the instruction part of the interview. I knew that instruction would be a big part of the position, so demonstrating both my approach to teaching and my knowledge of the context and resources was important. I also read both the college and the library’s academic and strategic plans, and generally explored their websites so that I could both ask and respond to questions.
Paula: I maintain a file of possible interview questions and answers, so I revisited that document and revised my answers based on the position. I’m pretty comfortable with interviewing and presenting, so I focused on strategy for the other events of the day. I reviewed the Faculty Handbook and the library and university websites to learn more about the local environment so I could ask questions, too. Shortly after I was hired, we posted another librarian position and it fascinating to witness the process from the other side. I was most impressed by the candidates who came prepared with questions and discussion points of their own. It demonstrated interest in the position and engagement in the profession.
Who did you interact with during the interview process?
Paula: Prior to the interview, I had a lot of email contact with the University Librarian’s administrative assistant. During the course of my day on campus, I met many different people. My first meeting was a one-on-one with the University Librarian. The search committee was composed of faculty members from inside and outside the library. I interacted with Library staff members at the coffee break and during the question portion of my presentation. I also had lunch with the Librarians. Later, I found out that every staff member was invited to send their comments to the search committee. So it’s important to be respectful and give people reasons to want to work with you.
Fiona: College library interview panels vary and might include your future supervisor (who could be a co-ordinator, manager, or the library director), a faculty member from the liaison area, the departing librarian (if the position is available due to a maternity leave or retirement), and possibly a library technician. The second interview will bring you into contact with upper administration either at the library (director) or the college level (vice-president academic). I didn’t interact with many library staff during my interviews, and didn’t actually see the library I would be working at until my first day at work because I was interviewed at the main campus and the position was based at another campus. If you are given a tour of the library, be prepared for a surprise meet and greet with the library director (if they were not on the panel).
Do you have any other advice?
Paula: Wear comfortable shoes. I’m not kidding! My interview day lasted almost 12 hours and included a tour. I knew by looking at my itinerary that I would be tired by the afternoon and I was right, but at least I wasn’t uncomfortable. You know yourself and what you need. Sometimes small details can make a big difference.
Fiona: Be yourself and remember that, even in a tough job market, this interview is also a chance for you to figure out how well the job fits with your career goals and ways of working.
Paula: One more thing: if you are not the successful candidate – and yes, I’ve been in this position – ask the search committee members what you need to do to improve. Also, write down the interview questions and your impression of how the day went while it is still fresh in your head. Use all of this information for critical self-reflection to help you next time.
Paula Cardozo is a Librarian at the University of Lethbridge. She can be reached at paulajeancardozo[at]gmail.com
Fiona Inglis is the Outreach and Instruction Librarian at Mohawk College. She can be reached at fiona.inglis[at]mohawkcollege.ca.