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Article: The Library Interview Process

A recent essay-article in the Chronicle of Higher Education shares one person's experience of interviewing in the academic library. Maybe some of you can relate...

On the Library Market By Maura A. Smale Source

The academic year started slowly for me. I had just earned a master's in library science, but hadn't found an adjunct gig yet and was spending my time networking around New York while waiting to hear back about my job applications.

As you may or may not recall from my first column, I abandoned graduate school while pursuing a Ph.D. in archaeology and went to work in publishing (though I did eventually earn the doctorate). After a few years in the corporate world, I realized I missed academe, but I didn't want to return to archaeology. Librarianship seemed like a perfect fit, so I went to library school and am now searching for my first tenure-track job in an academic library. Hopefully somewhere in New York.

Midway through the semester, I finally got a call for my first job interview. The day of the interview was freakishly warm, which was a good thing because, in my zeal to be sure I didn't get lost (I had never been to the college before), I ended up arriving about 45 minutes early. I sat on a bench outside the library and read a magazine and people watched while biding my time.

I was nervous. On balance, though, while I recall a few questions that I wish I had answered better, I felt pretty good about the interview. It was exciting to be actually pounding the pavement after having spent what felt like a long time waiting.

A couple of weeks went by, and I settled into my job-hunting routine: Search a few Web sites, volunteer as a library intern, and do more networking at library events around town. And then things started to get interesting.

I got a callback for a second interview at the college. And then I got another call, from another library interested in arranging an interview. And another. And still another.

Suddenly everything was happening at once. In just a few days, I went from a sleepy and predictable job-hunting routine to a crazy schedule of four interviews over three days. Luckily one was a phone interview and two of the in-person interviews were on the same day because I realized, in a panic, that I didn't have enough interview clothes to go around.

What possessed me to schedule four interviews in three days? I know it sounds crazy. And those three days were some of the most demanding and exhausting of my life, even without the fashion issues.

But I wanted to be able to compare the institutions with one another, and compare how I fit at each of them -- in the event that I got an offer from one place while the other searches were still in progress. The hiring committees for each of the positions had different timetables, and some searches move faster than others. Packing my schedule was the only way I could think of to level the playing field and have as much information as possible about each job fresh in my mind. In addition, having so many interviews at once made it easier to get into interview mode.

After that hectic week, I had a short lull (for which I was grateful). I withdrew my candidacy from one position because it just wasn't the best fit for me, and it looked like I was not a good fit for another of the positions (the college wanted a long-term adjunct, I want to adjunct only until I could find a full-time position).

The library where I had had a second interview with did not make me an offer, which was disappointing, but not entirely awful as the commute would have been long. So I settled in to wait for the remaining possibility to get back in touch, fingers crossed that I would get a second interview.

And then things got really crazy. The library where I had been volunteering as an intern a few hours a week got a grant, and all of a sudden I was working as an adjunct three and a half days a week. I got called for a full-day second interview that included a presentation. And then another library called me for a first interview.

Once again I scheduled the two interviews during the same week, squeezing them in between my work hours. I spent one crazed day teaching an early class at the library, then running straight to my interview, and afterward going back to work the afternoon reference-desk shift.

As I write this, I can't tell you the result of all my interviews because I don't know yet. I'm still waiting for the happy ending.

If I had to do it over again, would I still keep the same interview schedule, running at breakneck speed? Absolutely. One piece of advice that everyone gives you on the job hunt is to remember that you are not just being interviewed by potential employers, you are interviewing them, too. They want to know if you're the best person for the job, and you want to know if the job is right for you.

I don't believe in the perfect fit. The more work I do as a librarian, and the more I learn about librarianship, the more I am convinced that there are lots of good jobs out there that I could do well. We just have to find each other.

Maura A. Smale is chronicling her first search for a tenure-track position in an academic library.

Posted by kkowatch at April 16, 2008 09:01 AM

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