Friday, April 25, 2008

I don't do nuthin' without authorization

Describe the level of responsibility you have in your current position.

Expect this question if you are interviewing for a position where you have to supervise anyone, make schedules, provide evaluations and, possibly, fire or hire. The interviewers also want to know if you can approve projects or release information that will directly impact the public and that you have the final say in when a project is finished. Not realistic for a student position, but you can explain the training wheels.

For example: As an intern, I was responsible for developing the instruction program that taught students how to use RefWorks. I created all of the class notes and exercises, as well as the evaluation form that was used to assess this new program. I did present the notes to my supervisor, and he accepted the program for presentation, indicating that unless the students felt it was too complex, that he would feel confident reusing the module that I had created. Additionally, I also spent half of my time, approximately 12 hours each week, answering questions in person at the Reference Desk or via chat, usually in the evening or weekends with little or no supervision. I also participated in two interviews to hire student library clerks and provided feedback, as all of the reference librarians did, about the punctuality, attention to detail and speed at completing assigned tasks of the student staff.

Project, evaluation, delivery, little supervision.

Every position has some level of responsibility, so try to explain how you delivered within organizational constraints.

The questions this week came from Interview like a Top MBA by Dr. Shel Leanne. Passages from the book are available from Google Books if you are interested.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fun and games

What is your favourite extracurricular activity?

At the public library where I had my student job, my boss always moaned about the fact she never asked at an interview if someone sewed or fixed cars as a hobby. It was her first draft pick: someone with a hobby that would unwrap the mysteries of those sections to patrons who needed more help than a vague Dewey Decimal Number and bon voyage wave to the stacks.

When I served on a panel about interviewing, I mentioned this story to the attendees and the head of the local public library sitting next to me shook her head with an emphatic no. She cared nothing for the hobbies of the people who worked for her and was convinced that extracurriculars brought nothing to the reference desk. (Which explains why no one can give me a better book about fuel injection than Cars for Idiots or the Chilton's).

Anyway, if an interviewer asks this question, I don't think it's a probe for how much internet porn you surf, nor even an examination of your libertarian political affiliation. I think they are honestly trying to find out more about the whole person who may be an expert in a subject that their clients want more information about: buying stocks online, teaching seniors how to Facebook, or Korean blockbusters.

Think about the extracurricular activities you have that can inform your patrons. Yes, beyond I read a lot. Competitive swimming, Pilates, knitting, World of Warcraft, converting cars to biodiesel: what's your poison? If you are into them, so are our clients.

And by favourite, they mean, mostest, so stick to just one.

The questions this week came from Interview like a Top MBA by Dr. Shel Leanne. Passages from the book are available from Google Books if you are interested.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What did you do the day before yesterday?

Describe the last job you had before your present one.

This question wants career path information:
  • What does your career path look like?
  • Have you been progressing or promoted from job to job?
  • Were your moves lateral ones, using new skills or are you just hopping to the next attractive contract?
  • Did it relate to libraries?
  • Can you recall what you did?
Obviously, for a person who moved from waiting tables to libraries, the match isn't obvious but you could describe your customer service, handling cash, dealing with difficult people, variable hours, punctuality and, if you were employed there for a long time, longevity in the position. It is a good idea to describe this position, even if it is not related to libraries, if the supervisor for that position is one of your references. You don't have to gloss: you had a student job to survive as a student and the position has given you some applicable skills and a good reference.

If your previous position was in libraries, it is a bit easier to explain its relation to the position you are interviewing for: you are moving up or laterally after attaining your degree. If you have had a series of contract positions, and--in this era of cutbacks--there should be no stigma attached to a contract that was not renewed. Try to show you made a good leap to the next position and believe you can do the same with this one.

The questions this week came from Interview like a Top MBA by Dr. Shel Leanne. Passages from the book are available from Google Books if you are interested.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An adjective is...?

Name three adjectives that describe you.

Truthful, diligent, punctual. No: I was lying. Calm, kind and friendly. [Mops brow]. I'd like: Fun, friendly and firm for five hundred, Alex. No, firm sounds like I moonlight as a dominatrix...not that I work as a dominatrix...not that there is anything wrong with domination...Can we start over?

Why do people make this question so hard? You should pick three qualities that are reflective of the work you have done in the past and what the position asks you to do. You should give a brief example of each attribute and how you have demonstrated it, preferably while indicating those points on your resume. For example:

I am detail-oriented, as you can see from my previous work on the series fiction cataloguing project. I am collaborative because I like to work with others and have worked on several successful partnership projects. I am creative and look for opportunities, like my capping project on using handhelds in the school library, where I can do something innovative.

You have even snuck in some extra adjectives--successful and innovative--but still answered the question briefly.

Sometimes people shoot themselves in the foot by getting their adjective-gun stuck in their holster. Don't be a maverick or a loner if you are working with a team. Don't possess lovely, sounds so good to be you qualities; use actual attributes that you have demonstrated in the past. Why? Because the next question will probably be: how would your colleagues/supervisor describe you? If that answer sounds very different from your adjectives, this means that you just gave them a BS answer or you are not self-aware. Both are not the impression you would like to make.

There is also one last little persnickety point you should keep in mind: answer with adjectives not nouns. Many librarians are writers and editors and not knowing the correct part of speech could get you a lower mark.

The questions this week came from Interview like a Top MBA by Dr. Shel Leanne. Passages from the book are available from Google Books if you are interested.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I have a plan?

What early experiences led you on your current career track?

The best answer will indicate how the position you are interviewing for fits on your career plan. This is a variation of Tell me about yourself by examining your professional experience.

Why are you a librarian? Why are you X-type librarian?

If you have worked in libraries and realized that management was out without a graduate degree, your answer is that you decided to become a librarian to progress in your career and have greater responsibilities. Indicate how previous experiences led you to this decision or how they have helped you narrow your choices within the field of librarianship.

This is a hard question if you have no library experience though experience in cultural industries, education and non-profits can help. Think: why are you a librarian? Was it kids, books, computers? What have you done to put yourself on this path--reformed teacher, a summer in the archives, bookish techie--that you can now apply to this experience in libraries? If something attracted you to the position--working with seniors, training, supervision--explain that this is a fresh or repeatable experience for you and that you felt you could put your skills to work in this position.

The questions this week came from Interview like a Top MBA by Dr. Shel Leanne. Passages from the book are available from Google Books if you are interested.