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Interviewing – On-site

This is the third part of the series I’m writing about interviewing. The first was Interviewing – Cover Letter, and the second was Interviewing – Phone Interview. As I said in the other two topics, I’m not an expert, but I’d like to share what I know, gleaned from my own experience, stories and advice of mentor-librarians, blogs and articles I read before I went interviewing, and things I know from having interviewed people in the business/engineering world. As always, if you have quibbles, let’s quibble them out in the comments. :)

The first thing that really distinguishes the on-site interview is that it’s exhausting. Seriously. I’ve only done one-day on-site interviews, but I’ve heard tales of two-day marathons. I can only imagine how those must be. Regardless, do not schedule anything for the day after your on-site interview. At least, not anything really important (like another interview). I slept through almost a full day after mine. (I also caught a cold on the plane each time, so there you go.)

Sometimes, they’ll give you a day to see the town/city, as well as the day(s) of interviewing. Sometimes, they won’t. If you’ve got the time, definitely take advantage of it to look around, and prepare ahead of time for that, as well–one day to determine whether or not you’d like to live someplace? That’s a tight schedule. So pick and choose what interests you ahead of time. Travel guides for most states, if you’re in the US, should be available at your local library, or via ILL. Also, Wikitravel can be your friend.

Back to the business of it, though. The presentation is arguably the cornerstone of the day. (Maybe I just think so because that’s the part I’m most nervous about and the part that takes the longest preparation time. But it’s also the only time some of the library staff will have to meet you, which definitely adds to its importance.) I have quite a lot to say about presentations, though, so I’m going to save all of that for the final post of this series.

The same advice about doing lots of research–even more than you did in preparing for your phone interview–goes, here. Hopefully you found out things during the phone interview–and took notes, so you can look them back up–that will help you dig deeper and get better information. See what kinds of things your committee has written about, either by finding their CVs or by doing a search in Web of Science or other citation tool (even Google Scholar might do). Find their blogs, if they have them. Go through the same process as you did for the phone interview, but dig deeper. If you can avoid being surprised, do.

The interviewing day, aside from the presentation, feels like an exercise in endurance. There will always be several interviews, with several different groups, though the exact structure is different between institutions. You will be asked certain questions multiple times, sometimes with a few of the same people in the room for both. (If I had a nickel for every time someone asked “Why did you switch from engineering to librarianship?”… :)) I had something like three meetings with different iterations of my search committee, plus one with my would-be work unit (this could be reference, instruction, systems, cataloging, collection development, or liaison librarians–any group with job functions similar to the one you’re interviewing for) and one with some administrator-level folks, at one interview; at another, I had a meeting with “whoever wants to come,” a meeting with my search committee, a meeting with my would-be work unit, and a meeting with the dean.

There’s usually a meeting with an HR person–they just want to tell you about benefits. Don’t be unprofessional, but this is a low-pressure thing; they aren’t interviewing you, just informing you. Note from the recently-employed: you should probably pay attention; I was too jittery to really take in much of the HR talk when I was interviewing for the job I eventually got, and I regret that. There’s also usually a lunch–sometimes a lunch and dinner–with some potential future coworkers, and this tends to be more casual and fun; again, don’t go crazy unprofessional, but it’s not really an interview, either. You can get some fantastic off-the-record information at these lunches, which is nice, and, yes, they’ll get some off-the-record information about you, too. It’s a good time to find out how much you’ll really enjoy working with these people. And don’t kid yourself: you’re interviewing them (and, thus, they are trying to impress you), too.

I don’t know how true this is, but someone told me that the in-person interview is just about “fit”–would you and these people make good coworkers?–because the competencies and such have all been covered in the CV, calls to references, and phone interview. They already believe that you’re capable of doing the job; they want to see if they want to work with you. … Like I said, I don’t know how true it is, but I thought I’d throw it out there. I did get a fairly high number of “technical” (that is, knowledge-of-librarianship and knowledge-of-technology) questions at one interview and very few at another, so maybe it depends on the institution. Be ready for either. Your committee could be convinced, but other librarians might need the assurance of asking you things themselves, as well.

And have a whole slew of questions ready. It’s going to happen, no matter how many you prepare, but it’s tough to say “Actually, all of my questions have been answered.” It’s tougher before noon, I bet. Maybe have some questions like “What is your favorite thing about working here?” or “What do you see as the challenges facing this position?” so that you can reuse them on new people you meet. And–this is key–don’t just ask about benefits, parking, and the like; ask about the position and its responsibilities, about your coworkers’ positions, about relationships between departments, etc. It annoys interviewers when all of your questions seem too shallow, and benefits questions all go to HR, anyway.

And, if you can, have fun. It’s OK to make your interviewers smile. It’s definitely OK to smile, yourself–one librarian I know says that’s all she looks for in an interview: do they smile? This is about finding a match between yourself and a workplace, something neither side can do if there isn’t at least a little of your and your interviewers’ real personalities on display.

Published inhiring and employmentinterviewing


  1. thelady

    I agree with everything you've said here, my 4 campus interviews followed the same pattern. I also agree with your statement that on campus interviews are about 'fit'. I actually stated that during the interview for my current position. All it takes is one toxic personality to make the work place miserable for everyone else. The search committee is looking for someone that has a positive attitude and respects the work of their colleagues no matter what their degree or job title.

  2. Coral

    That's good to know. :)

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