Monday, January 28, 2008

The Inexperienced Interviewer

You do everything you can to prepare for the interview: you have read their webpages, raided their catalog, prepped for all possible behavior descriptive questions, got your suit pressed and your hair blown out and made an annotated list of the last fifteen books you read, just in case they ask. You arrive, five minutes early, with enough time to sweetly compliment the assistant on her own excellent coif and attire, ready to give this interview your best shot. After all, it's this or your parents' basement. However, having done the best you could, the library you are interviewing with has not done the same: they have dispatched their inexperienced interviewer to deal with you.

There are several signs of the inexperienced interviewer, as well as their sister-in-arms, the deluded interviewer. The Inexperienced Interviewer has probably not interviewed anyone before, or interviews only rarely, since most librarians don't like living in their parents' basement and tend to hold on to their jobs. The subspecies, the Deluded Interviewer, is the one who has interviewed for years and thinks she's an ace when she hasn't even bothered to write her own questions; she usually works from a list she got from HR or inherited from the previous director. When inexperience and delusion come together you have a terrifying hybrid, like the Greek chimera of myth, or a love-child of Microsoft and MySpace. They will devour you whole and tend to make their hiring decisions based on their "gut" or a flipped coin. At least the lions knew what to do with the Christians; these interviewers like to play with their food.

You can identify them by their warbles:
  • He begins with a behavior descriptive question but when you pause to think for a moment, he clips on, hypothetically. First, behavior descriptive questions usually begin with Tell me about a time when and they are looking for a past behavior, a previous example, so they can predict what you would do in a similar, future situation. You can't answer about a past event hypothetically, unless you are going to deliver an alternative history. Hypothetical questions are a different type of question. These interviewers will also judge your response, when asking about something in the past, and complain, but they didn't answer with a hypothetical, I wasn't looking for specifics. If you use a behavior descriptive question, you want to know about the past, not a fairy tale.
  • She latches on to a library fad like a pit bull and won't let go. Worse, she doesn't know what she is talking about. The worst: she asks questions about her specialty in libraries and still doesn't know what she is talking about. Throwing out questions about manga management, tagging in the catalog and making a library Facebook group, are all legitimate questions...when the person is on the team and can make decisions about internal practices. It is good to be up-to-date, but interviewers can ask a candidate about the professional literature that he/she consults, how often, and his/her professional areas of interest. If the candidate is an "expert" on an area that you feel your staff has a gap, give this person a point for the question and move on.
  • He says, I like to have a chat, to get the feel for the person. Warning, Will Robinson, Danger! You're about to get a meteor to the head: informality means he has gone off script and may veer into inappropriate territory, such as are you married, planning on getting knocked-up, younger than a boomer and have no health problems. Additionally, he is also going to blow up a planet if you answer in a way that offends him or inadvertently mocks one of his hobbies.
  • She asks about an internal policy that you cannot possibly have any reason to know about since the policy is not publicly available. Asking about internal documents related to discipline, professional development and benefits is cheating, but it happens all the time because the person thinks the library's policies are "just plain common sense". Clearly, if you think policies always make sense, you have never read a policy. Policies are for training day. What experience do you have with our OPAC? is an interview question. Look at that: clear, quantifiable and library-related.
  • He doesn't smile. You have to work with this person: if he is your adversary from the very first instant, it will take a lot of Listerine to get that antagonistic taste from your mouth. Some interviewers will respond, I don't want to be too friendly because I don't want to give false hope. Please, we have been reading American Libraries for the past two years and we still want to be librarians. False hope is our bread and butter. Smile, or at least make a kindly gesture if your culture doesn't use smiling or eye contact to convey greeting or comfort.
The final interview nightmare occurs when you have a top dog/queen bee who hogs the interview or you watch all of their betas and drones throw longing glances at the leader to punctuate each of their questions. This is a Sign, as sure as a burning bush: they are inexperienced, as well as deluded and no one will ever tell them otherwise.

As a New Librarian, you can install wireless in your parents' basement.

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