Friday, July 15, 2011

Surviving the Job Search: From the Other Side of the Desk... The Phone Interview!

Today’s guest post comes from Vicki Gruzynski, an Information Services Librarian at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have recently finished up my duties as a member of a hiring committee here at SEMO, so these tips and tricks for a successful phone interview and on-campus interview experience are fresh in my mind.

You’ve managed to send out 4,000 copies (slight exaggeration) of your beautifully written cover letter and impeccably crafted CV. And now a potential employer wants to talk to you! Or better yet, wants to bring you on campus! Congrats! Phone and on campus interviews can be extremely nerve wracking (you only one chance to make a good first impression!) but with the right amount of preparation, you can feel confident and things can go smoothly.

First, let’s focus on the phone interview.

Generally, someone from the committee or human resources will contact you to set up a time for the official interview and a phone number where you can be reached. If it is possible to arrange your schedule to be available during the times the hiring committee has asked, please do so. I myself have never been part of a phone interview that has taken longer than an hour, with most being only about 30 minutes in length. Clear up any potential confusion about time zones, as well.

Be certain that the committee will be able to reach you at the agreed upon time. If you have poor cell phone reception in your apartment, find a friend who has an apartment with good reception. If you are a student, it is possible that your university will have some quiet rooms that can be used for such a purpose. You can always ask a professor if you can borrow his or her office line and space for an hour. My library mentor always offered her office to students needing a stable phone line and a room with a door.

Sometimes there will be a committee on the other end of the line, and sometimes there will only be a single individual. I have yet to use a phone with high quality speaker capabilities, so the most frustrating part of interviews (from the perspective of an interviewee) is use of a speaker phone with the whole committee. It is impossible to comfortably sit 5 people around one phone, so inevitably there will always be one or two committee members who are too far away to be heard properly. It is perfectly acceptable to politely say, “I’m sorry; I was having trouble hearing you. Can you repeat the question?”

Usually you will be asked about 8 questions. The questions tend to be a mix of general “why do you want this job/why did you join this field?” questions and more position specific questions about current library trends, web skills, teaching ability, and reference experience. Ask your peers who are also in the job search process what types of questions they have been asked in their interviews. My library school had a wiki with a list of questions that people had been asked - some were real doozies, but for the most part, there was nothing too crazy that needed extensive preparation. I also suggest you search online for general interview questions - things like “What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How do you manage conflict with a coworker?” etc. These questions are not necessarily library related, but they help the committee get a sense of your interpersonal skills.

I STRONGLY encourage you to do a few mock interviews with friend, either in person (just don’t look at each other!) or over the phone. That way, you can have some well prepared and well thought out answers on the tip of your tongue on the day of the interview. Be detailed and concise in your responses. Try to eliminate your vocal fillers - the “umm”s and the “like”s. Speak clearly, and not too quickly.

I also had my notes in front of me during the interview - facts about the school I found intriguing, interesting research/projects the library was undertaking, and anything else I thought might be useful to have on hand in case I suffered a brain blip during the interview (for me, that is the ACRL Information Literacy Standards - I know them, but sometimes under duress, I can’t quite get them in the proper order).

After the committee has finished with their questions, be sure to have 2-3 questions of your own. You may think of something during the interview, but I like to be prepared. Asking about the student body (not the numbers but the general academic atmosphere on campus), the position’s duties (what does a typical work week look like?), and research and conference expectations are all good ways to show you’ve done your homework on the position but want to know a little more.

When the interview is done, generally the committee will give you an idea of when you’ll be hearing from them. If they don’t, ask! And be sure to send a follow up thank you note to the members of the committee. E-mail is fine. Thank them for talking to you, answering your questions, explaining the position, and taking time out of their schedule. Emphasize that you would be a good fit for their library, and tell them you look forward to hearing from the committee.

With any luck you’ll be asked to campus for a live interview!

If you'd like to share questions that a search committee asked you during a phone interview or another tip, leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. From the academic library phone interviews I had, probably the toughest questions were "What topics will you focus on in your research?" and "What ideas do you have for library outreach?".