Saturday, August 20, 2005

20 questions

Earlier this summer, I interviewed for a rural library director job. I didn't get it, but the interview was a great experience. They asked really good questions. The best part is knowing that next time I interview for that type of job, it won't be the first time. And it's reassuring to know that I can handle the tough questions. It was actually a lot of fun, for a job interview.
  1. Tell us what attracted you to the position of Library Director at this library and what specific qualifications you feel you could bring to this library?

  2. Are you familiar with how a rural county library is operated?

  3. Because our library staff is part-time, scheduling flexibility is a must. Tell us about your experience setting work schedules, your views on staff support as well as how to acknowledge work well done.

  4. Describe your supervisory or management style.

  5. Because so many tasks are required of a single professional in a small library, the Director must delegate tasks to get the job done. Explain to us how you might accomplish the goals you have for the library by using the paraprofessional workers.

  6. Grant writing is an essential element in accessing additional dollars for special programs. Explain your experience in grant writing or grant implementation.

  7. We are fortunate to have a very active Friends of the Library organization. They are present in a small corner of our building every day from 1 until 4 o'clock selling donated books that have been screened by our library director first and also books that have been weeded from the collection. Tell us about your experience working with volunteers.

  8. Currently we are developing a policy on audio books, CDs, DVDs, and videos. Where would you start considering our space situation? In addition, how would you go about collection development as well as evaluating our current collection?

  9. Our library circulation system is Winebago (a better system for schools); we are looking at Dynix -- tell us your experience with systems. How about web page maintenance?

  10. We are fortunate to have a very supportive library district. In 2003, the district voted to tax themselves the maximum allowed by the state for library districts. Tell us about your previous experience with budgets.

  11. How do you visualize your role in the community? What organizations do you feel are beneficial to library growth?

  12. The Board of Trustees and the FOL are beginning to dream about a new facility. How do you see yourself as director helping to make this dream a reality?

  13. We are very proud of our library. We feel we offer a pleasant working environment, a committed staff, a lively Friends group, and the Board of Trustees is devoted to the expansion and enhancement of the library. Are you interested in committing to a year contract, offered after a six month probationary period with salary negotiations each year?

  14. If offered this position, when would you be available to start?

The board was really nice. It felt more like a conversation than an interview. And I really appreciated how they gave me an opportunity to learn more about them. I spent a lot of time talking to an anthropologist friend of mine, (half jokingly) profiling the board to decide what I should wear to the interview. I didn't want to walk in looking like an applicant. I wanted to look like their library director.

I also kept all of my comments about their library positive. I'd looked at their stats from the state library and read the board's minutes for the last year (gotta love the Internet), and there were a few red flags. Twice the state average per capita spending, but half the average circulation, for example. But I decided I wouldn't be critical (which is HUGE for me). These people love their library. How much goodwill am I going to generate if I walk in and start insulting everything? Maybe I would have done better if I could have been critical in a constructive way. I didn't get the job, after all.

Some of the questions were like six or seven questions at once. Luckily, they were all written down so I could refer to the question and make sure I'd addressed everything.

My advice? Don't try to anticipate the questions and prepare answers for different scenarios. Just prepare really good answers and pick and choose from them as appropriate.

I made the mistake of preparing for particular questions once. Really, it's not too hard. I find that most libraries ask the same types of questions. But this time, they threw something at me that I hadn't expected. I was completely flustered and flubbed the question. I just couldn't figure out what the question meant. It was a telephone interview, so there wasn't any opportunity to read body language, and any back and forth clarification just became awkward. But I think what really killed me on this one is that I'd spent so much time preparing for every possible question that when they came up with one I hadn't planned on, I couldn't think quickly enough to respond on the fly. Fortunately, libraries tend to be a little forgiving, and I still got the job. But I learned my lesson.

In the director interview, I think I flubbed the first question. But you have to tell yourself that's okay, and just move on. I hadn't really warmed up yet, and I managed to cover everything that I should have said in later questions.

When you prepare answers, think of what you want the hiring committee to hear regardless of what questions they ask. What are your greatest accomplishments? What are you most proud of? How do you feel about the profession? What's your take on some of the big picture stuff? This isn't a multiple choice test where you can get all the right answers. It's about building a rapport with your future co-workers and finding out whether you're a good fit. Just telling the committee about how you prepared a budget report in response to their question about budgeting isn't going to do that. Being enthusiastic and expressing your professional values might do it, though.

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