Background: I applied for a position I saw posted on ALA JobLIST and was contacted about 2 weeks after the search period ended to set up a phone interview. I completed an hour long phone interview with a 4-member search committee. The majority of the questions were more about my work-related attitudes and philosophies than about my hard skill set and previous positions. About 2 weeks later, I received an email invitation for an inperson interview. After accepting the offer, I was given a set of potential dates and a presentation topic. While some interviews require you to teach a lesson, I was asked to prepare a 30-minute presentation about the role of a particular type of subject specialist in an academic library. Additional emails followed to set up my travel arrangements and meals. About a week before the interview, I was sent a formal (intimidating) itinerary. I took the time to Google search of the 20-some people I was going to meet with. Specifically, I looked for pictures (so I would be able to recognize them) and information about their job responsibilities and their interests. I was scheduled to meet with a mix of librarians, teaching faculty, and administrators over the course of two days.
I chose to drive to my interview (I was offered flight accommodations, but thought the short drive would give me a better sense of the area). My first contact, a member of the search committee, arrived to pick me up in the hotel lobby, and we completed an hour tour of some of the libraries on campus. The tour was relatively casual and more of a time for me to learn. I was told about the unique roles of each individual library and how staff members often worked in teams. I had time to ask basic questions, and some of the new information I learned I was able to incorporate into my presentation. Additionally, I took out a few points in my presentation when I realized they were not highly relative to the unique aspects of this position.
After an hour, my contact walked me back to the hotel and I was picked up by a higher adminstrator for a driving tour of the campus. It’s important to remember that the university staff are trying to sell you on the university and moving to that particular area. Feel free to ask questions about communities where staff tend to live, the cost of living, transportation to campus, etc. After driving around campus, we visited a few nice neighborhoods where many staff members chose to live. We soon arrived in town and were met with the head of the search committee for dinner. Both staff members told me about their favorite restaurants and hang out spots in town. Overall, our chats were relatively informal. They both recognized that moving to a new place for a new job was a big adjustment, and wanted me to feel free ask honest questions: Where do people live? Where is the nearest mall? What do people do for fun? Don’t feel silly, it’s your life and you should do all the research you can to determine if both the position and location are a good fit for you! This dinner experience will help you relax during the more formal interview, as you feel that you know a few friendly and familiar faces. I was dropped off back at the hotel around 9 p.m.
I suggest practicing your presentation at least twice before bed, with a timer and looking into a mirror. It is important to remember that your audience will care just as much about your presence and style as they do about your content. They want to get a sense of how you are as a public speaker and how comfortable you would feel providing library instruction. My topic was ultimately opinion-based, so I chose 5 key points and elaborated on each. I was sure to focus on aspects mentioned in the job description brought up over dinner, including openness to change, creativity, and emerging technologies.
Flash forward to the next morning:
I set an alarm extra early the next morning. It is important to leave time to check out and have your bags stored (believe it or not, there was a line to check out at 7:30 a.m.)!
I was met by 4 staff members (1 who had given me my first tour and 3 new faces) for breakfast at 7:45 a.m. I strategically ordered last, so when the three staff members all chose the buffet breakfast, I chose the same (I wanted to show that I was flexible). It is important to remember that while conversations can be casual, they are still making impressions of you. Try to be friendly and give them a sense of who you are, but avoid anything too personal or that could be interpreted in multiple ways. Additionally, this sounds simple, but try to avoid messy foods and plan on eating quickly: the majority of the meal was spent answering questions, with not much time to eat.
After breakfast, I was escorted to the room where I would give my presentation. I was ready to “get it over with,” so I could relax again. Please, please save your presentation in your email, on a flashdrive, and another backup method for good luck! It happened that the room I was in did not have a place for me to plug in my flash drive, so I had to pull it from my email. I chose to not bring formal notes, because I wanted to speak from memory and not spend time constantly looking down. While the entire staff of the library was invited (OH MY), only about 20 people came and only a few tuned in to watch live video feed. The audience included librarians from various departments, paraprofessional library staff, teaching faculty, library administrators, the assistant dean, library director, and the search committee.
After the initial introduction, I began to relax and go through my presentation just as I had practiced. At this point, your content is set; it is up to you to come across as friendly, a good public speaker, creative, passionate, and genuinely interested in your audience. I tried to make eye contact with different audience members and move around. My presentation was a mixture of things I saw as important to librarianship, current roles, potential future roles, and example of projects I had completed in my professional experiences.
While I was given 30 minutes to present, I strived to finish early to ensure I would not run over. An additional 30 minutes were scheduled for questions. Many of the audience members who asked questions began by complimenting an aspect of the presentation, which made me feel better!
After the presentation (time to breathe again), I was walked by a staff member whom I had not met to a different building to meet with about 10 members of the library staff who would work closely with the new hire. There was no formal list of questions; members introduced themselves and were each given a chance to ask me about my background, philosophies, subject knowledge, work experiences, etc.
Next, I was escorted to meet with a human resources representative who discussed health insurance, retirement, family support, criteria for promotion and ranks, professional development stipends, funds available to support relocation, etc. This was less of an interview and more of an informational session.
Still with me? Tired yet? Almost time for lunch!
I was picked up by a staff member I had met earlier and taken to meet with the assistant dean of the school the librarian would serve as a liaison to. I recognized him from my presentation earlier, so I was glad to know he had an introduction to who I am and my vision of the library. He began by telling me how supportive he was of the library and how open he was to developing creative new ways for the library to impact student learning. He listened to my ideas and our conversation shifted from current values of a librarian to potential new programs I had mentioned earlier and how I would go about implementing and evaluating them.
At about noon, I was picked up by another member of the search committee and taken to an on campus restaurant for lunch. I was joined by a professor and 2 members of the search committee. Chat shifted between casual talks (where are you from, what are your hobbies, etc.) to additional questions about my professional experiences.
After lunch, a member of the search committee took me on a walking tour of a few other campus libraries, popular areas, and beautiful view points. I had worn my comfortable heels, anticipating a lot of walking that day! He was very excited to show off the campus to me, once again reminding me they are also trying to sell themselves and their campus to you.
After our tour, I met with the library director, who I had dinner with the previous night and had seen twice this morning. We discussed logistics (when is your timeline to start if we were to hire you, how do you feel about relocating, after all you have learned are you still excited for this job) and I answered additional interview questions. The director gave more more details about the timeline of the search and estimated it would be at least 2 weeks until they made a decision.
Finally (by now it’s 3 p.m.), I had my most formal interview of the day. I knew this was coming and loaded up on coffee. They also brought my a water bottle, which I was glad to have after talking for most of the day! The search committee had a packet of questions, and each took a turn asking questions and writing my responses. The questions were a mix of what if situations (how would you balance X and Y if Z), experiences (how often do you handle x reference questions), philosophies (tell me about a teamwork situation which turned out negative, what do you see as the future of libraries), promotion (how committed are you to scholarship, professional organizations, furthering your formal education, committee work, etc). After this, I had a final one on one interview the head of the search committee. The majority of questions asked here were about my past experiences in group work and my views about myself (most proud moment, personal weaknesses, etc.) After this (it’s almost 5 p.m.), the search committee member walked me back to my hotel.
Tired after reading this? Believe me, I was tired about living it (but feeling super relieved). I returned home and sent each search committee member a personal thank you note, each discussing something unique from my encounters with that individual.