Friday, July 4, 2008

Open mouth, insert foot

When I was initially looking for my first library job, my best friend helped me prep for interviews. She was the Interviewer and I was the Victim, sometimes Idiot with flashes of Savant. We worked our way through 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions, and I would answer and she would tell me I was wrong.

Anyway, after about 20 minutes of this--possibly less, since she thinks I have the attention span of a gnat--I would get BORED. As in, I would take the questions in a new direction that she didn't expect. Like I would answer questions about supervisory skills by describing my God complex, or whine in response to questions about professional development with, oh, do I have to?? or how I thought the best customer service was delivered with a fire hose--and yakked appreciatively about fire men and calendars. You know, stuff like that.

Not the right answer, obviously, but I just couldn't take the ridiculous, fatuousness of the whole interview procedure anymore. Especially because it felt like I was failing.

I do not suggest that you talk about fire men or hoses in any sort of appreciative or deprecating tone during your interview. Especially if this is for a public library job. They might be in your union or your library late fees bought their fire truck. But the joke interview worked, because I was no longer tempted to say the outrageous. (Remember attention span mentioned above?) After we stopped laughing and got down to business, I started to pay more attention to the questions since my brain had had a break.

So, if you are in the endless round of interviews and need a break, please expand on the following in your own style:
  1. What method do you use to set and attain your goals? I have one? Like a goal, I mean? Hire me. Goal realized.
  2. As a librarian, do you think of yourself as more geek less nerd, or vice versa? And because this is actually a "fit" question, everybody on the panel will think that they are your vice versa, unless the boss tells them differently.
  3. Our opinion on challenged books is turf 'em, who needs the hassle? Tell us how we could still post the Library Bill of Rights with a straight face. Talk about a problem solving question. Think they asked something similar at the ENRON interview?
  4. Tell us the name of the last book you read. And this time, tell the truth. It wasn't Thousand Splendid Suns, or anything with a reader's guide. It was Incubus Dreams or some book with a butt cover, and you read for fluids.
  5. Librarian: neither liberal nor rare. Discuss.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What's your leadership style?

No, really, what is your leadership style? The interviewers have asked this question for two reasons:
  • Will you do well under the current leadership structure at this library--or the branch you are interviewing for because there could be big variations between outposts--and
  • Could you become a leader at their organization?
Obviously, the best way to answer this question is with an example: when were you a leader? Look at your past for an example similar to this:
  • The leader receives an assigned task, or many tasks, that is too large for one person;
  • She selects or inherits her team to complete the work;
  • Based on the duties of each team member, the leader must assign each person a task and a delivery date and the leader decides who is responsible for what, how much and when.
  • If a team member becomes confused, the leader tries to explain or clarify the process the person is responsible for.
  • If a member isn't motivated, the leader may be the person to give him a push, either with rewards or punishments, depending on their leadership style.
  • The leader is responsible for completing the task on time and when it is completed, decides how credit (or blame) will be distributed.
And I am not being negative by mentioning blame: projects do fail and the leader either accepts responsibility for it or ducks and covers. Remember, a follow-up to this question could be giving an example of your leadership abilities or explaining the outcome of the project.

This example assumed that the leader was selected and called "The Leader", but sometimes, a leader is just a motivator who keeps people on track and disperses knowledge. They may also not hold that role all the time (or get paid for it). You may have an example in your past where you stepped up and motivated everyone to a reach a shared goal. Just make sure your references will back this up.

You should at least know some basic leadership terms and describe how your leadership style fits. Psychology has a section on leadership theory, as well as a quiz that will help you express your decision-making process. There are many other quizzes you could take, and a simple search for leadership style and quiz should turn up several.

Knowledge at Wharton and the MIT Sloan Management Review each have a section on Leadership, from a business or corporate perspective--the perspective adopted by some library managers-- but watch out for business jargon and be careful that you are using the correct term for what you mean.

Try to come up with an example that expresses your style--school work is fine, but this needs to be a big project that required the input of several people that you directed, this isn't the time for a soliloquy about how you personally manage time--and explain with that style is. Briefly. Anticipate that the next question will ask about outcomes and where you see room for growth.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It is about who you know

I came across this article Why Some Companies Retrain Workers and Others Lay Them Off and I thought it would be a simple get mad skillz or get a pink slip article. It's actually, a make friends article.

Peter Cappelli, a professor at Wharton, studied why some employers retrain and others layoff (also called, churning, like a feeling induced by a roller coaster). What he discovered was it was not policies that saved an employee, but relationships: how many they had, how valuable and how much the employer valued the relationship.
What is social capital? It’s a tight network of relationships within a workplace...Because it is an asset that exists between individuals rather than within each individual, social capital may suggest why it could make sense to reinvest in and retain individuals even if their job-specific skills are obsolete: The relationships they maintain with others may create value that extends beyond their ability to perform their current job.
Cappelli is also pretty clear: stopping for a chat on the way to get a coffee is not social capital. Social capital is sharing what is in your head for the betterment of others, giving and getting in return. The less you give, the less you can have. This doesn't mean it is the most important measure--I can have low social capital but still have the power to fire everyone--but I shouldn't give away the most important pieces. And those people know more and share more.

If this argument is true, having fresh skills is important, working for an employer with high social capital very important (for more about corporations and social capital check out Linda McQuaig's All You Can Eat), but if you have noticeable connections to people in an environment that values those connections, you can weather the storm. So serving on a committee--one outside of the library so people can see you--instead of writing another book review, may be in your best interest.

This is also called networking, but I didn't want to scare you.

And finally, service providers will be affected by the layoffs because companies are "externalizing" the cost of retraining. This can include the library. If you have some skills that people need to learn--reading, writing, figuring, word processing--you can certainly find private employment.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Maybe it's you

We sometimes think we are surrounded by jerks and lunatics, but then we realize we should go look in the mirror because we get what we give.

Anyway, just to check and make sure you don't need to do some shallow, pop introspection in front of your mirror before you exfoliate, take the Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE) adapted from Bob Sutton's book, No Asshole Rule.

Now, though light and amusing--if you don't score higher than 10--it's not a real test. Just in case you didn't notice, asking questions with compound structures where only one part may be true is a way to cut down on questions, though not to get any results of substance.

Just score a one so you don't seem like a total stanley.

And just so you know: I love Capt. Kirk but when I saw the poster on JibberJobber, I just could not resist. More Star Trek inspirational goodness.

Tomorrow is a day off in the land where we do a lot of guarding and standing, so no posts tomorrow.