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First Impressions, Lasting Impressions: Tips for Job Interviews

by Priscilla Klob, Trinity University
[reprinted by permission from NMRT Footnotes, v.26, no.2, January 1997]

Whew! You've written an outstanding cover letter and resume. A search committee has read hundreds of resumes, debated countless hours, and the librarians have now narrowed the pool to their top three picks. Congratulations! You're one of them. What happens now, when you've survived the first severe cut and are one of the few candidates invited for a personal interview? Face-to-face or telephone interviews can be the most intimidating part of the job search process. You are no longer just a piece of paper; you must impress your interviewers, and potential co-workers, with your competence and personality. Here are a few suggestions for surviving, and perhaps even enjoying, your next job interview:

DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  • Of course, it's best if you've done brief research on the library and institution before writing your cover letter. The American Library Directory and any guide to higher education can give you a brief overview of the organization.
  • For an academic position, request a college catalog and information from the Admissions office. You should familiarize yourself with their college's focus. Look for librarians listed in the faculty/staff directory. Memorize the names of the librarians you will meet.
  • Do they have a web site? If so, this is often full of information about the library's services and staff.
  • Request tourist or relocation information from the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Search your local libraries for books or journal articles that either mention the organization or that have been written by librarians there.
  • Read all the articles you can find that were written by librarians at the institution. This will not only familiarize you with their work, it may show you the publication expectations at their library.
  • Some libraries will send you an introductory packet including information about the library and institution, and vitas of each librarian. If so, study this information carefully. Knowing as much as you can about the people you will meet will not only relax you, but will impress your interviewers with your research ability and interest in their organization.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

  • Read books on interviewing to find common interview questions. Think about (and maybe write out) your answers to these questions.
  • Ask librarians what questions they've been asked, or would ask a candidate, in job interviews.
  • Review the job ad for clues about what's important in this position or library.
  • Practice "interviewing" with a friend.
  • If you have to give a presentation at your interview, practice it thoroughly. Time yourself to make sure you don't talk too long. Practice with any equipment, handouts or visual tools so that you're comfortable using them in front of a group.

GUARD YOUR HEALTH.

  • Get a good night's sleep the night before your interview. You need to be refreshed, alert and cheerful when meeting your interviewers. You'll often need to have good stamina to endure a day or two of extended interviewing.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast (or meal) before your interview.
  • Carry some pain reliever in your briefcase or purse, just in case.

DRESS THE PART.

  • Dress professionally in order to be taken more seriously.
  • You're safest in subdued colors, styles and patterns of clothing. Don't let your clothes distract from your message.
  • Navy blue is still the most popular color for interview outfits. However, don't feel compelled to wear navy. Choose a color that flatters your skin and hair color.
  • Men should wear a suit and tie. Women should wear a simple suit or dress.
  • Don't buy a "power suit" that doesn't fit your style. Wear clothing that you are comfortable in and that looks good on you. You'll be more confident if you don't have to think about your clothes.
  • Don't wear gaudy jewelry, heavy perfume/cologne, ruffled clothing, or anything that makes you look less professional or might "turn off" some of your interviewers.
  • Women might tuck a small wallet or purse inside a briefcase to avoid carrying two bags.

FOCUS ON OTHERS.

  • Focusing on the people you're meeting and talking with can help relieve your nervousness.
  • Treat your interviewers like "real" people. Concentrate on getting to know them as individuals, instead of a faceless mass of interviewers.
  • Try to "connect" with them. Focus on getting your message across to them, on how they are responding.
  • Listen. Tune in to what issues or questions are important to your interviewers. Listening carefully is especially important on a telephone interview, where you can't rely on visual clues from the interviewers.

INTERVIEW YOUR INTERVIEWERS.

  • Most interviewers encourage you to ask questions. Ask them. Have questions prepared in advance. This shows an active interest in how you'll fit into the organization, instead of a desperate plea for "a job."
  • Ask questions that deal with the job duties, expectations, management or communication styles of the library. Save questions about salary and benefits until late in the interview or until you are actually offered the job. Most interviewers will tell you that information before you leave the interview.
  • Listen carefully. Watch the librarians' interactions with each other. Would you like to work with these people at this library? Would you fit in with their expectations? Will the job challenge you? Use this meeting to evaluate whether you would like the job, should they offer it to you.

BE YOURSELF.

  • Don't put on a facade. Be as much "yourself" as you can be. It's important that your interviewers know what they're getting and that you know that you'll work well together.
  • Answer their questions honestly. Guarding your answers, or answering only what you think they want to hear, will make you appear dishonest.
  • Phrase your answers in a positive light. If you are asked about an unpleasant previous job, or your weakest characteristic, be honest, leave your interviewers with a positive impression of your attitude. For example, you might say that speaking to groups is the area in which you need the most improvement, but that you have improved greatly since high school.
  • Let your personality shine through. Try not to let nervousness block any signs of life. Your interviewers will remember someone who shows enthusiasm and warmth.
  • In a telephone interview, make your voice sound as energetic, warm, cheerful and clear as possible. Your interviewers are listening for signs of enthusiasm and interest in the job.

THANK EVERYONE IMMEDIATELY.

  • If possible, thank your interviewers individually before leaving the interview.
  • As soon as you get home, write thank-you letters to each person who interviewed you. If possible, thank each person individually, either by writing separate letters or by mentioning each person's name in one letter.
  • Recap any major assets you'd like to remind them of. Correct any issues that you feel might have been misunderstood. However, keep the letter short.
  • Tell them why (and if) you are still interested in the job. Keep the letter brief and positive.
  • Thank you letters are surprisingly rare and incredibly effective. Treat your interviewers as you would any host.

NOTES:

  1. McKay, Beatrice and Clare Dunkle. "Top of the Heap or Bottom of the (Trash) Barrel? Tips for Job Applicants." NMRT Footnotes, v. 22 n. 2, January 1993.


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