These days, the only thing harder than landing a library job is getting the interview to begin with! With so much talented competition out there, people often ask, “How do I get the interview, what do I do when I’m there and what should I do afterward?” Here’s some advice that just might help you land the interview — and the job!

Question: Out of all of the applications they’ll get, what’s going to make the hiring supervisor pick me to invite for an interview?

Often it’s what you do before you even start sweating over writing the perfect cover letter and resume that is going to have the biggest impact on whether or not the hiring supervisor wants to actually meet you face-to-face. First of all, what kind of a professional reputation do you have — or do you even have one? That’s more important than you might think and can often help split those hairs that separate the really great candidates from the just great ones. Here are just a few things you can do that will look great on your resume and help you develop professionally:

Get involved in a professional organization, be it national, state or regional.

Volunteer to be part of a mentoring group.

Take a workshop, where you can learn something new and meet people. Then, take another one!

Network everywhere and meet as many people in the industry as you can. How? Join a committee!

Volunteer to help with registration at a conference.

Often, reasons for not doing some of these things include “my library won’t pay to send me.” Invest in yourself. When that hiring manager is sifting through applications and sees a name they recognize (“Oh, yeah, I met him or her last month at that event!”), your application will move into the “I want to get to know this person more” pile.

Question: Aside from answering the questions well, what are some of the little things that matter when you really want to impress the hiring committee?

First of all, if you’re 5 minutes early for the interview, you’re late. Be really early. Show up with enough time to look around, and make sure this isn’t the first time you’ve been there. “My GPS took me to the wrong place” is not only a terrible excuse, but it also highlights the fact that you didn’t bother to come check out the library in advance. Also terrible are excuses such as, “the roads are icy,” “traffic was bad,” or “I didn’t realize how long it would take to get here.” Once I actually heard, “I had to stop for gas.” Really? You hadn’t thought of that? Make sure you don’t need an excuse. Show up early.

Next, look like you really want this job. Realize too that the word “look” covers a lot of ground, including posture, eye contact, a smile and professional attire. One of the smartest things you can do to prepare for an interview is take a class, read an article or watch a webinar on body language. A body language expert recently told me that many hiring supervisors decide in the first 90 seconds if they’re going to hire you based on the message your project before you even say anything!

Finally, answer the questions as though you already have the job. If you are applying to be head of the Children’s Department and you are asked what kind of management style you prefer, don’t say, “When I supervised pages recently, I …” Instead, say “As the Children’s Department Manager, I would apply consistent and professional leadership standards to my management style …” and so on. Let them see you as the person they’re seeking!

After the Interview

Question: I thought the interview went well, but I didn’t get the job. What should I do?

First of all, the interview probably did go well. The primary reason for not getting a librarian job is not necessarily that you didn’t do well or that you weren’t a strong candidate. It’s just that there was another candidate in the pool who was stronger. Candidates often mistake the interview for the primary tipping point in the hiring process, and, while it’s true that a face-to-face meeting is key, there are other factors that often carry just as much weight.

References are a good example of this. If possible, list people to recommend you who have some connection to the people doing the hiring. If the new library manager is active in his or her state organization, think of someone you know who is as well, and ask him or her to be a reference for you. To the person doing the hiring, hearing an honest reference from someone he or she knows and trusts can mean a lot more than hearing standard, flat answers from a stranger.

Another critical element in the hiring decision is experience. Even if you’re trying to get an entry-level library job, what have you done to prepare? Have you volunteered, been active professionally, or completed an internship? Applicants who can show their dedication to the field fare much better than those who can only talk about it.

So, what steps can you take now to improve for your next interview? Ask for help and advice. First, contact the hiring supervisor and ask if you can have a little of his or her time to talk about how you can become a stronger candidate. No one wants to defend a decision to a candidate who says, “Tell me why you didn’t pick me.” But, anyone in a leadership position who is worth his or her salt will happily make time to help someone grow and improve. If you absolutely can’t reach that person, then ask a colleague or peer to listen to the answers you gave and give you some feedback.

Also, get professional help. No, not a psychologist! Consider a career specialist. Many libraries offer free or almost-free counseling from professionally trained counselors. Often these professionals will be able to tell us things about ourselves that would never have occurred to us on our own.

Finally, consider these two things that you do not want to do:

First, don’t let a chip settle on your shoulder. More than one career has been sidelined permanently when someone let his or her disappointment turn into resentment, frustration or even anger. Those qualities can become very apparent in a person’s attitude — and no one wants to hire someone who lets them show!

And, finally, be very careful what you share about the interview experience, especially on social media. “Private” sites are only as private as their membership list, and even then you can’t know what comments might be spread further. The same rules about never being disrespectful about former employers in an interview pertain to what we do after an interview. Keep to the high road. “It must not have been a good match,” “I appreciated the opportunity to apply,” etc. sound a lot better than “What were they thinking? They should have picked me!”


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