Academic Interview Process

by Nanako Kodaira

General Overview

In the academic environment, believe it or not, from the time you submit your resume to your prospective employer until the time you hear something back from them for the first time (i.e., this could be simply a rejection letter, invitation for an interview, or they need further information from you in order to process your resume) there is often six months to even a year of time lapse. You especially want to pay attention to this if you are currently in library school and have your heart set on an academic library position; it is always good to start looking a job early, so that you will be able to have your job lined up right after you graduate. Well organized libraries will send you their acknowledgment of your resume and may indicate when you will be contacted for further information.


Interview Process and Nifty Tips for Academic Libraries

(Appendix A: Typical interview process chart)

1. Receiving an invitation for an onsite interview:

Now that you have finally heard about your first interview from one of many academic libraries that you have submitted your resumes! Congratulations! In the academic environment, if they invite you to conduct an onsite interview at their institution, you are most likely among the top three candidates for that position. An onsite interview at academic libraries typically last more than one to two full days, which often include having a couple of meals with the search committee. Considering the length of the interviewing process and that academic libraries typically post job ads nation wide, unless the institution is located in your area, you may need to stay over night as well as fly to the location. Typically, most academic libraries pay your entire expenses, such as your flight, accommodations, meals, and any other expenditures that are involved with the interview. Usually, someone from the library human resources department (or in some cases, the search committee chair) will call you to give you a choice of dates for you to pick from for the interview. If none of the suggested dates will work for you, simply let them know. They are usually willing to accommodate your situation.

Accommodations and flights are usually arranged by the inviting institution, but sometimes, they will like you to make your travel arrangements on your own and they will reimburse you later. They may also give you a brief interview schedule when they call you to invite you for an interview. If you have any concerns or anything needs to be clarified, such as your preference of the departure time, make sure to let them know before your travel arrangements are finalized.

2. Study the prospective library as well as your own (especially, if you currently work in a library):

Typically within one week of receiving the onsite interview invitation, you will receive "an interview packet", which not only includes your detailed interview information but also includes the interview itinerary, lists of people that you will be meeting with, and a massive amount of various information about their library as well as the university. In many cases this packet will include information about the area. Spend plenty of time going over your interview itinerary and especially who you will be meeting with. Ideally you will want to try to remember the names of the people who are on the search committee and what they do. It may be a good idea to go to their library website and try to familiarize yourself with their library, as if you have used it many times as a customer. Notice any unique features about their library. Do they have any collections that are unique to their library? What is the strongest area of their collection? How is the university library system organized, such as what kind and how many branches are there on campus?

In many cases your interview also includes formal presentations about your prospective job related issues. For example, if you are applying for BI (bibliographic instructions librarian position), they may ask you to give a BI session as part of the interview. If your interview includes some sort of presentation that requires PowerPoint or a similar presentation medium, try to give yourself enough time to prepare and be comfortable with your presentation. You may want to even practice in front of your current co-workers/friends and get some feedback. Make sure you always follow the instructions if there are any specified, especially try to keep your presentation within the time limit they have set.

Also, you may want to review the information about the area as this will give you a clearer idea about the general environment the institution is located in.

Don't forget about studying about your current workplace, especially if you are currently working in a library. Your prospective employers will probably be interested in learning about your current library and may ask questions from how many volumes there are in your current library to the organizational structure.

Finally, it is always a good idea be familiar with the job description and know what you are really getting into. Also, try to be able to thoroughly explain your current job (especially if you currently have a library job) various aspects of the job and how it is the same or different than your prospective job.

3. At the interview site:
(Appendix B: Typical onsite interview schedule for academic libraries)

Typically, your onsite interview day one will start with a dinner with the search committee, which is composed of several people including your prospective immediate supervisor. In some situations you may simply go out with one other person who is sometimes in a higher administrative position. In short, the whole purpose of having meals with interviewers is that they use this rather non-threatening opportunity to get to know you better before the formal interview begins the next day. They will want to have some ideas about your personality, such as if you are easy person to talk to, if you have any interesting extracurricular activities that you are involved with and just to get to know you as a whole. It is natural for you to feel nervous to at having a meal with the interviewers, but while they are observing your personality, this is an opportunity for you to observe them as persons as well. For example, observe whether the search committee members seem to be getting along? How does your prospective supervisor interact with the others, as well as, do you find her/him to be an easy person to talk to?

In short, and this is true for the entire interview process, it is not just them asking you questions, but it is also your chance to ask them questions and to get to know them better too. After all, you are the one who has to go through the long interview process, so think of this as your time to shine.

Your onsite interview day two is the day when your formal interview begins. The typical day is usually packed with a series of meetings with various people in the library including having lunch with them (i.e., search committee members). It typically starts early in the morning around 8:00 am, after getting picked up at your hotel by someone from the library and transported to the library. You usually first meet with an individual who is in the library human resources department where they will explain to you the details of the interview schedule for the entire day. At the very end of the day you will again meet with this human resources individual for further instructions. S/he usually will tell you when they will be making deliberations about your position and discuss with you about your possible starting time, salary, benefits and compensation issues. If you have any concerns/questions regarding your prospective job, do not hesitate to ask, as this may be your last opportunity to have any issues clarified with them before you hear from them about their decision.

The initial meeting with an individual from the human resources department is then followed by meetings with people in the library from all different levels. You will most likely have extensive meetings with your prospective supervisor as well as with the search committee. There will probably be a meeting with the entire department personnel. There may be separate meetings with library administrators, in many situations it is the library director and/or heads of each department. Also, if you are applying for a position in a specific language/area studies field, you may have a separate meeting with the area studies librarian who represents your specific field. If you have been asked to give a presentation, you should be prepared to give one to the entire library personnel as it is usually open for everyone in the library.

4. What if they call you for a telephone interview?

Some academic libraries may contact you for a telephone interview. What this means is that before they narrow down applicants to the top three prospective candidates to be invited for the onsite interview, they conduct initial interviews over the phone with as many applicants as they think have some potential. If this happens, don't panic! Although it is far easier to have a face to face interview, take the phone interview just as seriously as a regular face to face interview.

One tip to remember for telephone interviews is that there are usually several people on the other line (i.e., conference call) and they will all be asking you questions. In an ideal situation they will first introduce themselves and keep telling you who they are every time they switch interviewers. If not, it is totally fine to ask who is asking you questions. Also, unlike the face to face interview, it may seem awkward when taking a moment to think about the question because of the silence, however, it is perfectly fine to take this time to think. Simply let them to you would like to take a moment or two before answering the question.


Miscellaneous Interview Tips:

First and foremost, try to be positive and honest as much as possible during the interview. No one wants to hire someone who is negative and does not sound truthful when answering questions. In short, be yourself! Your interview in the academic environment is long enough for the interviewers to spot if you are not being honest. Your true colors will likely show.

In addition, it is important to give direct eye contact to the person speaking to you and when answering questions during the interview. If you are not sure about their questions, do not hesitate to ask. Posture is also important, your body language can say a lot about you, if you sit up straight you will look more attentive while slouching shows the interviewer that you do not care about getting the job.

Also, although it may seem superficial, dress conservatively and look clean. Your prospective job may be in cataloging and you may be allowed to wear jeans everyday to work, but dressing for an interview is another story. Wait to dress down until you are actually offered the job.

It is always very important to send a thank you email note to the interviewers, especially your prospective supervisor. Don't be too personal and never plead desperately for the job as your formal interview is over and you have done your best. Just be short and courteous.

Questions Asked (Academic Libraries)

General Questions:

Why did you decide to apply for this job?

Why did you decide to leave your current position?

What do you expect from this job?

What do you find most exciting about this job? Why?

What is the most challenging thing you do in your current job?

What is the most innovative thing you have done in your current job?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Why do think you are the most appropriate person for this position?

What is your librarianship philosophy?

From the catalog/reference librarian's point of view, what is your definition of being "user friendly?

How many volumes does your current library hold?

Would you tell us about your library collections?

Are you good at interruptions?

Are you good at prioritizing your tasks?

Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?

What do you do for fun, in your spare time?

Have you ever had to deal with difficult co-workers? If so, how did you handle the situation?

Are you good at working collaboratively?

Are you a self starter?

Have you ever had to fire someone?

Do you think you are an easy person to get along with?


Position Specific Questions:


What cataloging program do you use in your current job?

How comfortable are you at using the AACR2R and LCSH?

Have you done any NACO work?

How much original cataloging have you done?

What local library programs are you familiar with?

Have you done a lot of cataloging in DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification)?

(for CJK Cataloging) Are you familiar with the CJK CatME software?

(for CJK Cataloging) Are you familiar with the Japanese/Chinese (pin- yin)/Korean Romanization table?

(for CJK, particularly for Japanese Cataloging) Are you familiar with the word division technique for Japanese?

How do you balance the quality and the quantity of work you perform?

How detail oriented are you?

What is your cataloging philosophy?


What experience do you have in Collection Development?

Have you done virtual reference before? If so, what did you think? What system did you use?

How do you deal with difficult patrons?


Questions to Ask (Academic Libraries)

Can you tell me a little more about my position in the area(s) of_____?

What are the requirements for the promotion and tenure?

Do I need to publish to be tenured?

How long is the training period?

Who are the people that I will be regularly working with?

If any, how many and whom I will be supervising?

How often and who will evaluate my job performance?

Are there formal scheduled meetings for librarians?

Do we have scheduled departmental meetings?

Appendix A: Typical interview timeline

Send in resume

WAIT (anywhere from 1 - 6 months)
(May get a phone call for a phone interview)

Receive a phone call for an onsite interview
Arrange travel plans;Receive "an interview packet"

Onsite interview (usually a month after phone call)

Job Offer! OR Rejection (usually 2 weeks to a month after interview)

Appendix B: Typical onsite interview schedule for academic libraries

(Ex. Candidate for the reference librarian in East Asian Studies)

Day 1:

11:00 Arrive in City

6:30-8:30 pm dinner with the search committee at Sushi Nobunaga

Day 2:

8:00-8:30 am meet with the personnel director at the Human Resources dept. (Room 678)

8:40-9:30 am meet with the head of reference dept. (Room 123)

9:40-10:30 am meet with the search committee (Room 234)

10:30-11:00 am Break

11:00-12:00 am Presentation (Room 567)

12:15-1:45 pm Lunch with the search committee at Russian Tea House

2:00-2:40 pm meet with the reference department personnel (Room 234)

2:50-3:20 pm meet with the library director (Room 876)

3:20-3:40 pm Break

3:40-4:10 pm meet with the Japanese cataloger (Room 012)

4:20-4:40 pm meet with the personnel director at the Human Resources dept. (Room 678)

6:00 pm Depart City