Q: I think I would like to get an MLS degree someday but would like to have experience working in a library first. Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty getting a position whether it is paid or volunteer. I think part of this is from appearing overqualified since I have a Bachelor’s degree and about five years of customer service and clerical experience, but the other reason baffles me.
When I can get them, my interviews for paraprofessional positions generally go well until I mention that I would like to get a Master’s degree. At that point, the entire tone changes and my interviewers become very negative and discouraging and end the meeting very quickly. This has been consistent for all of my library interviews in the past four years, which include several public libraries, one public school library, and one academic library.
I always include that I would like to get an MLS degree in my application and interview because it conveys why I want the position as well as that I am serious about the position. Apparently, this is the wrong thing to do. How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?
TA: Here’s the easy answer. Question: Why would you like to work here in this position? Answer: Because I’m really interested in getting experience working in a library; I find libraries an integral part of any community; and specifically because the work of this position as described in the job announcement seems interesting, challenging, engaging, and in line with my skills and experience.
If you’re finding that people aren’t responding well to your MLS-ambitions, then stop mentioning it. By your own statement, this has been something you’ve been considering for at least four years, so do not bring this up until it’s more imminent. During an interview, the employer wants to know that you are interested in their job, not as a stepping stone to somewhere else. If you’re asked directly about pursuing the MLS, you can always say that it’s something you’re interested in, but that you want to gain some valuable experience in libraries to reaffirm this interest and to supplement the education you’ll be getting in the classroom. During the interview, keep your focus on the job, your ability to do the work, and the skills and experience you’ll bring to the position that make you the best qualified applicant.
Q: I just had a very frustrating interview. It was for a job that I really wanted; a community college library in a rural area. I was frustrated because the interview team only asked me about five questions (I can only remember three of them). They didn’t ask me anything thing about the library services I would provide, or my philosophy. These are the questions they asked:
- I see you went to XXX College. How did you end up in XXX State (where I’ve lived for the past 5 years)?
- Would you mind helping out in other areas?
- Why are you interested in this job?
Then they opened up questions on my end? If I end up with this type of situation again what questions should I ask? How do I let them know what I am all about?
SM: Every job interview is unique, and every search committee is looking for someone specific. And you may or may not be that person. It can be frustrating to have high expectations before an interview and then walk away from it feeling that maybe you could have done something differently, something more.
It is unfortunate that they asked you so few questions, but don’t read too much into it. They could have had most of their answers already from your phone interview (if you had one), from your resume, or from your cover letter. The interview, quite possibly, could just be a formality, to see how you would fit in. Other possibilities are: the interview team could have been burnt out on interviewing, or the person asking the questions could have been having a bad day [I got food poisoning once during an interview, when I was the chair of the search committee. I had to drive the candidate back to her hotel and I barely made it home. Not my best day.] You’ll never know what goes on behind the scenes, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
As for letting the interview team (or search committee) know what you are all about – you could have done this when they asked you “why are you interested in this job?” That question is probably the most important one anyone can ask, in any interview. It gives you an opportunity to express your interest in the job/library/institution, to talk about how you are qualified for the job, and to let them know why you would be a good fit for it.
You should always ask your interviewers questions. Write them down before you go for the interview and remember to ask them. You want to make sure the job is a good fit for you as well. Here are some questions might help you discover more about them while letting them know more about you:
- What is a typical day like for a librarian in this role?
- How do the librarians work together/collaborate?
- Is professional development supported and/or encouraged for the librarians and library staff?
- What are some new initiatives you are working on?
- How do the librarians work with the teaching faculty (for academic positions)? Or, How do the librarians work with the community (for public librarians)?
- What is the library’s reference/instruction/collection development philosophy? (tailor to fit the position)
- What do you (the interviewers) like about your job?
- What do you (the interviewers) like about working at XXX library?
And, throw in a question or two that is specific about their library or institution. This shows your interviewers that you have done your research on them. For example:
- I see that the library has a Facebook page. Do you find that it is a successful marketing tool?
- I noticed that you offer drop-in sessions for students. Who teaches these and which ones are the most popular?
- Your LibGuides are very informative and well-designed. If I was hired, would I be able to create and maintain guides?
“I am preparing for a 2nd round interview with my Board of Trustees for the director’s position. I have spent most of my time in middle management and need to impress the Board that my ‘on the floor’ rapport with staff and patrons can translate into being a great director. What should I focus on for my next interview?”
Play to your strengths. Be sure to think and talk big picture (because that’s what they’re going to be worried about—Is she a “good librarian” or can she make the leap to “leader/manager/director”) but also stay grounded and provide real world, “on the floor” examples. For example, when you talk about setting policy, outreach, budgets, etc., put a face to those concepts—talk about your experience with patrons, boards, citizens of the community, and how those experiences and interactions will better inform your decisions as a director.
What you have over other candidates is current/real-life/library/in-the-trenches experience, and you need to make that an asset. But be sure to also impress them with your ability to raise the level of knowledge to the bigger picture and to prove that you’re able to make the big and important decisions. Can you do “the job” AND see the big picture? Can you serve the client, while also managing budgets, setting priorities and leading a staff? In short, think big picture, drawing on your experience locally to illustrate your ideas and outcomes. Best of luck with the interview!!!