I have been working in public libraries for 5 years, during this time I have held positions in 5 different libraries (some simultaneously) and have lost track of how many interviews I have gone on. Applying for jobs and receiving an interview can be really exciting but after your third interview in a month and you still haven’t been offered a position (woe is me) they can become a mini hell. Lucky for me I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, have experienced many interviews (good and bad) and have a boyfriend who would does staffing for a living, all of this has helped me grasp a better understanding of how interviews work. I am by no means, shape or form an interview professional but here are some of my personal insights and tips about interviewing in a public library.
Big No Nos
- Do NOT be late! – under no circumstance should you be late, run that red light if you have to! You should always be 5-10 minutes early for an interview. I personally prefer to be 10-15 minutes early to ensure a parking spot (public library parking isn’t always ideal) and to scope out the library before the actual interview. It’s good to be early and get a look around, this way you can say in your interview “Well I loved how you had x,y and z in your library.” I think I’ve only gone to a handful of interviews where it actually started on time but that is still no excuse to be late.
- Don’t bad mouth your current or last supervisor – public libraries tend to be small communities, you all end up at the same round tables and workshops, you have worked with some of the same employees and people tend to know each other by name. Not only does complaining about a supervisor or co-worker risk them finding out but it looks bad. You don’t want to be known as “that guy” who talks badly about a co-worker behind their back. Libraries are all about team players!
- Turn your phone off – I hope this is a duh one, obviously you want your phone to be off and by off I don’t mean vibrate. Turn it all the way off and give your interviewers the respect they deserve (and expect).
- No gum – this is a personal pet peeve, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a serious conversation with someone and to see them openly chewing gum. I had a discussion with someone that hires and fires people for a living and they are on the same page as me. I understand wanting good breath for an interview but opt for a mint, and if you just so happen to realize too late that you have it…swallow it!
- Oh S*%# – watch your mouth! No swearing, no obscenities, nothing that would be deemed rude or vulgar. When you work in a public library not only do you represent the library but you also represent the town, they don’t want someone who swears to represent them.
- Do your research – know what the library has to offer, look at their website, social media and anything else you can find. Make sure you know what current programs they have going and the major demographics of the town. When you do your research not only are you more prepared but the interviewers will be impressed.
- Dress to impress – I understand that libraries tend to be more laid back in attire but that doesn’t give you the green light to wear jeans and a t-shirt. You want to dress business casual, I tend to go for dress pants, nice flats, a sweater or tank top and cardigan. I know some people dress business professional and usually the reason is because it makes them feel better. My big thing is to dress appropriately and to still feel like yourself (I feel like I’m playing dress up in a blazer and heels). How you end up dressing is your call but just remember that you are trying to show the best you.
- Eye contact and smile – it can be intimidating when you have a panel of 4 or 5 people interviewing you but do not look down and fiddle your fingers! Show them those pearly whites and be confident. When someone is asking you a question make eye contact! This way the interviewers know that you’re friendly, open and listening.
- Be prepared – interviewing for a position in a Children’s Department can be an odd experience so be prepared! I have been handed a book on the spot (more than once) and asked to read it aloud. Don’t feel stupid, just go for it and own it! The interviewers feel as weird as you do about it but they need to see how you interact in a story time setting. I have also been asked to sing a song or do a rhyme, once I was told to have one prepared but another time I was asked without any warning. Have something ready, I tend to pick songs and rhymes that aren’t too common this way I will stand out from the ten other people who sang 5 little monkeys.
Have an Answer
The majority of interviews I have been on are for positions in the Children’s Department, these are the questions I have been asked most often.
- What has been your most popular program?
- Give an example of a program that did not work out well?
- When asked this question I like to describe a program and then explain how it could be done better (such as different time or day, different age group, tweaking it), this way I am showing them that yes not all programs are a wild success but that I am willing to revise them and come up with new ideas.
- Give an example of how you dealt with an unruly patron
- Give an example of one time where you had amazing customer service
- Give an example of one time where your customer service failed
- And again add how you could have fixed it.
- Why are you a good candidate for this position/why should we hire you?
- Name a recent book that you have read/name your favorite author/name your favorite book
- This question is the bane of my existence! Yes I read a lot, yes I love to read but no do not ask me this question! I always draw a blank, I can never think of a title or an author and I just freeze. I do not think I have ever properly answered this question. It is such a simple question (and yes I prepare for it every time) but every time it still stumps me. Unfortunately, I think I have it ingrained in my brain that I will automatically fail when this question is asked, so do not be like me! Prepare this question and have some books and authors memorized.
- How would you handle a disruptive child or teen?
- What is your experience with technology in a library setting?
- How do you spend down time while at work?
- How do you handle a multitasking situation? (phones ringing, patrons in front of you, child is yelling)
- What is your experience with collection development?
- What are some programs that you have done?
- What are your goals for the department this year?
- What is the largest demographic (race and age) you see?
- What is your most popular program?
- Why is this position open?
- What are the specific responsibilities of this position? (if not already stated in the interview)
- What is the first major task or project you would like me to work on?
- Are there specific goals you would like accomplished by filling this position?
- How closely do the departments work together?
- What is the work schedule? (nights, weekends, etc)
- Ask if someone can give you a tour of the library and ask questions during it!
All in All…
All in all try to build a good rapport with your interviewers. When you join a library staff you become part of a team and they want to add someone who they can see fitting in. You don’t want to get too personal with them but you should laugh and joke and turn the interview into more of a conversation. The best interviews I have ever had were not ones where it was a straight back and forth question and answer but ones where we laughed and talked. I even have had a boss tell me that I was picked over another qualified candidate because she liked my personality. At the end of the interviews you are more likely to be remembered for your outgoing, friendly personality than your answers.
Looking for better advice?
Check out Mr. Library Dude, he has a lot of great resume and interview tips!