30 March 2008

Tips and Bits:: Interviewing for a public library position

So you're finishing your MLS. As you're trying to get all your assignments in on time, you know that you also have to start applying for every library position under the sun.

The easiest part is the application process. Sure, it's time-consuming, but you can set your own schedule, do it in your pj's, and choose to either obsess or be all zen about it. If you never hear from them, you can obsess for a bit but still move on.

Interviewing is entirely different. You're so much closer to the promised land, but it can be so much more nerve-wracking. It's a very personal thing, selling yourself to people who can give you the green light or give you the ax. You can't force the outcome you want but you can definitely do everything you can to prove your worth.

  • Prepare to show that you've been wanting this your whole life!
    Or, at least, that this isn't just some decision you made on a whim. If possible, volunteer at the library where you want to be hired. Of course, this isn't always an option. In that case, do something else! Start your own blog detailing your thoughts on your chosen field. Do a one-time program at a local community center. Write a kickass article and get it published in a journal or website. Show that you got it where it counts!
  • Get to know your best friends, librarians and the library.
    People talk about networking incessantly for a reason. It works. Knowing the right people goes a long way and can get you inside tips on jobs that haven't been posted just yet. Before you interview at the dream library of your choice, check it out. What is it known for? What can you contribute? Do you have any ideas for making some aspect of the library more user-friendly? Is there something that you think is absolutely brilliant? Keep track of these things. Not only will this prepare you for your interview but you'll get to become a more informed librarian.
  • Make yourself ready to do a brief booktalk or whip out innovative ideas.
    Sure, booktalks are not everyone's idea of merry fun, but you can still ace them. Know your resources. Look for websites or YouTube videos that give you an idea of how others do it. Talk it over with your classmates/colleagues/BFFs. You might also be asked about what kind of programming you are capable of. It's not always enough to simply mention video games or Twilight proms. Let your personal interests show here. Whether you love crafts, music, or movies, design a rough draft of an event you'd like to be in charge of.
  • Know the facts.
    It's all about supply and demand, baby. Are you applying for a position in a small town where there aren't many librarians with degrees? Or are you trying to get hired in a city with its very own library school? I know a young woman who was hired as a library director without even having her MLS because there were no other candidates in the town where she lived. On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone with substantial library experience can go months and years without getting hired if there are many other librarians in the area.

  • Let go of the interview funk.
    Going on an interview is kind of like going on a date. Just because you go on one doesn't mean that you're going to be a perfect match. Just because you want to start making some money doesn't mean that they're the right employee for you. Don't give your interviewers all the power and you're likely to relax more. Easier said than done, I know. Just do what you can. You're a jewel and you definitely belong somewhere.
  • Dress like you own it already.
    Going on a reference interview? Work that power suit. Want to be a teen librarian? Try mixing business casual with youthful flare. Be comfortable but look responsible. For more advice, check this one out.
  • Embrace the stumpers!
    Rare is the interview that doesn't give you a difficult question. Don't panic! It's okay to not know all the answers. Don't immediately think, "Aw @#@$#%!" Take your time (within reason), work it out, salvage what you can.
    At an interview for a teen position, I was asked, "Who is the next big thing in teen literature?" It was sort of like a "Who will dethrone J.K. Rowling/Stephenie Meyer?" type of question. I blanked out. I could only remember authors I didn't like so much. I thought of a couple on my drive home and wanted to drive back so I could peek in their office and exclaim, "Oh by the way!" Yes, I blew this one big-time but I don't think the interview was decided by just this one question. You bet that I will always remember it and always try to have an answer, in case someone asks me again.

  • Interviews are not a walk in the park for interviewers either.
    I was once told, "Make them laugh. If you do, you have them in the palm of your hand." Uh, this isn't necessarily true, but laughter does help all involved. I've been on various interviews in several cities and they've all been different. Some interviewers are warm, and others keep their distance because they don't want to give you false hope. Don't let the feel of the atmosphere hamper your opportunity to shine. Make eye contact frequently, and if you're in a panel interview, don't ignore the library assistant. They're all people and social rules of the considerate kind still apply.
  • Be patient.
    I know. It's agony waiting for a reply. Few things in the world suck more than that. Still, be chill. Let it happen. Stay positive. I kicked serious library booty at one of my recent interviews but heard nothing for a while. Friends asked me about it and I was already telling them, "I never heard back from them." Next Monday morning, I got a really good phone call from their HR department. So it happens when it's supposed to. Not a second earlier, unfortunately.
  • Spread the good karma, people!
    In the social world of librarians, nothing grates me more than a librarian who doesn't pass on the good stuff to the newer generation. If someone shows interest in the library profession, see what you can do to make them feel like they're choosing a pretty sweet career. Become a mentor or just give out some precious pearls of wisdom. Let's make sure that people who want to become librarians have a network!
  • It's all about perspective...
    If the interview got you the job, rock on. If not, then you might want to consider thinking about what went wrong. In some cases, the "wrong" had nothing to do with you. Maybe there was someone who was a better fit, for a reason that you didn't know about. Maybe they already had someone in mind. Maybe they're promoting someone who is already inside the system. That tends to happen with some full-time positions. The part-timer who has been working for their department for awhile is pretty much the best candidate. No matter what the reason is, work on your interviewing technique. Chances are you'll be better the next time around when the better job opens up.
  • ... and it's all about evaluation.
    If you really want to improve, get the guts to call up the leader of the interviewing committee. Do it when you've gotten the anger out of your system. Be calm and friendly. See if he/she can give you a short summary of some of the things you can work on. In all your obsessing over the job, you might have missed something. Knowing for sure will help you accept the outcome and get you prepared for that future most excellent librarian position.
  • Do your best to see the positive and get proactive.
    I've been to interviews where I thought they'd be silly not to hire me. Ha. Ha ha ha. Yeah. Those didn't always work out. I'd totally take it personally and avoid those libraries because I felt they wronged me. This was absolutely pointless.
    In terms of general life desires, there have been things I've wanted that, honestly, would have been bad choices. There is no guarantee that any job one applies for would be the dream job. So if it didn't work out, there's probably a reason for it. You never know what kind of seed is planted when a door closes on you.
  • This is the time for your ultimate adventure!
    So it didn't work out. I know some people with their MLS who are disappointed by the lack of jobs they can apply to. "People kept saying that there were jobs everywhere but I can't find a single thing," they say. Well, it could be because they don't have enough experience or they haven't networked with the right people. It takes time and effort to work on these issues, but they are so worthwhile. So go out and make it happen!
    It's also normal to want a job at the library that's a ten-minute drive from home. Alas, it doesn't work that way. If you can, apply to other cities, other counties and states, other countries even! Go beef up your resume. Go meet people. Do it while you still can!

I don't claim to know all the answers but I can share what I've learned over time.

Good news for teen librarians. Maybe. Some librarians can be relatively young so there might be some more turnover than in other library concentrations. So keep your resume updated and keep scoping out choices. Go to ALA conferences if you get a chance and go to the job center booths. Go to the expected job search sources but try new ones as well. You know what resource I've found to be extremely useful? MySpace Jobs. I've found some pretty sweet job postings there. Who knew?

Other good news for teen librarians. When talking to a New York Times Librarian of the Year about choosing between public or academic libraries, she confided, "Being a teen librarian will keep you young." I don't know about you but that's a pretty nice selling point for me.

On that note, give it your best, let the petals fall where they will, and learn everything you can about what it means to be a wicked awesome librarian. May the force and the library gods be with you!