Surviving the All-Day Interview
16/08/2013 § 8 Comments
A sizable number of library students graduated in May or over the summer, and many of us were then faced with the prospect of finding that perfect job. Hack Library School has tackled other sides of this topic before, with Madeline’s post on the quick-turn after graduation, and Joanna’s post on eResumes, among others. I wanted to add my perspective after landing a number of all-day on-campus interviews for other jobs and collecting advice from many friends and colleagues I greatly respect. In true librarian fashion, I’ve synthesized their advice and built my own list:
1. Prepare to repeat yourself!
All-day interviews often run from early in the morning (sometimes even the evening beforehand) until mid-afternoon or later. You’ll meet with committees, colleagues, and constituents throughout the library community, who will often ask you variations on a few core questions, making it difficult to avoid repeating the same information. I’ve found it helpful to write a list of things I wanted to make sure I mentioned throughout the day. Then, as long as you’re covering something from the list, it’s okay to paraphrase things you’ve covered earlier in the day with a different group. More importantly, you won’t leave the interview thinking, “Oh no! I spent six hours and only told them about one facet of my interests!”
We’re librarians. We’ve gone to graduate school to develop excellent research skills, whether to answer tricky reference questions or sleuth out the information needed to catalog that pesky first edition. There is utterly no excuse for ignorance when it comes to the institution where we’re interviewing. While I’m not suggesting you need to know the intimate financial details of the university, or know the exact shelf location of their call numbers, spend some time on the university website, the library’s webpage, or even on wikipedia. Learn about the institution that you might call your professional home, and assess your impressions. Could it be the right fit? (More on that later.) Additionally, know your audience. If you’ve been sent any information about the committee, check the staff directory or Google the names to figure out what they could be interested in. If you’re interviewing for a position on a team, can you tell who else will be on that team? Do you want to work with them? Have they been publishing? Have you read their works? If you’re giving a presentation, how should you contextualize it for your potential coworkers? The more you know, the better off you’ll be.
3. Don’t be afraid of caffeine!
All-day interviews may not feel that long. Often, the interviews will only take a few hours, broken up with a tour of the library, time walking from place to place, a possible presentation, etc. That said, I’ve found that at the end of an interview day, my brain would like to be done working. As the adrenaline fades away, it’s easy to start making mistakes. To help prevent that, if you are a fan of caffeine, it can help a great deal to drink a can of soda or a cup of coffee over lunch. The boost it provides should perk you up for the afternoon. Beware of jitters, though–if you’re prone to negative reactions from caffeine or too much sugar, disregard this advice!
4. Use moments of rest!
All-day interviews are marathons, not sprints. Be especially aware of your energy level throughout the day–it’s vital to have as much energy greeting the student committee at 4pm as you did meeting the committee seven (or more!) hours earlier. As mentioned above, you’ll likely have a few breaks throughout the day, as different committees gather, or as you walk from place to place. Those little breaks are your ticket to a great interview! Use them. Collect your thoughts, review your notes, or simply take a few deep breaths to re-center yourself in the moment. Many people get noticeably nervous during interviews, and interviewers expect it. If you can spend an extra thirty seconds from time to time to calm any nerves you have, you’ll present strongly. Obviously, there’s a good bit more to landing a job…but impressions do matter. If you can be calm-and-collected at all times in the face of chaos, you’ll shine above those who can’t.
5. You aren’t the only one being interviewed.
Impressions matter. Full stop. However, interviews are a two-way street. Yes, hiring committees ask probing questions, but so should you. If you’ve done your research, you should know what to ask that’s specific to the interviewing institution. More generally, Jenica Rogers has compiled a truly excellent list of questions on her blog, Attempting Elegance. At some point, possibly many times, you will be asked if you have questions. You should always have questions, and don’t be shy, either. If you notice that the library is short-staffed, ask about the hiring plan. If you can’t see the vision at work, as what projects will be the focus over the next three years. Most importantly, ask what you need to ask in order to decide if you’d accept an offer. I’ll admit, I’ve left interviews in the past with serious concerns. Yes, it’s important to find a job–but it’s more important, in my opinion, to find a job you won’t hate or leave quickly. First jobs are rarely lifetime commitments anymore, and entry-level jobs come and go. However, taking a job only to discover that it’s a bad fit–especially if the fit would have been obvious if you’d just asked a few more questions–wastes everyone’s time.
These were my “top five” pieces of advice, but there are dozens more! For those of you who have gone on interviews, what would you add to this list?