During the #singlibtour, @librarianhoi asked if I sat in interview panels for job applicants. I said yes. She asked if I had any tips for interviewees.
It so happened I had read something from a free publication, from www.headhunt.com.sg. In it was an interview with the HR director of Agilent Technologies, Mr Charles Chee:
Question: "What is one blunder you see when candidates apply for a job in your company?"
Answer: "Not knowing what is expected of the job and not knowing what the company does."
Question: "What can candidates do to separate themselves from the rest of the pack?"
Answer: "Be passionately knowledgeable about the job that you are applying for and understand the expectations of the company".
The responses were 100% applicable to any library job interview, I replied to Hoi.
Our conversation got me thinking: what would I say to those interested in public service librarian positions? More specifically, those who have been selected for interviews.
So here goes:
THE PRIMARY REASON ISN'T ABOUT YOUR LOVE OF READING
If you're thinking, "The library should hire me 'cos I love to read", think again.
The primary reason is about Service. To serve. To help others.
You must have the conviction and patience to act in a customer-service role, with the broad aim of creating meaningful learning experiences.
Many candidates first start off by saying they love reading (btw, I probably said that myself when I went for my interview 15 years ago!) It's pretty much a given that librarians should be readers. But that alone isn't enough.
You can be a voracious reader but if you aren't sincere about helping total strangers meet their library-related needs, then do reconsider applying.
IT'S ABOUT SERVICE, FIRST
I can't say this enough: Above all, public librarianship is about the genuine interest for helping others, in non-judgmental ways.
We're are paid to help others. It is a job. The job requires us to make things convenient for customers, not for customers to make things easy for you.
About your educational qualifications. They are merely that -- qualifications. As in, they qualify you to be selected for the interview. Whether you get the job or not depends on other factors.
As to what those "other factors" are, read on.
WHAT CAN YOU OFFER?
I've come across a few candidates who seem interested in how the employer can help them progress, career-wise. Such candidates make little impression, or they are not convincing, in how they can genuinely contribute to the organisation.
Often times, I'd like to tell them that they are applying for a job, and not a scholarship.
DOING ONE'S HOMEWORK
There are candidates who are able to convincingly show, within that 10 to 20 minutes of conversation, just how much research they have done about the job, BEFORE the interview.
By "research", I don't necessarily mean they have full knowledge of 'what a librarian does' (you can't unless you've been one). The better candidates are often able to show reasonable attempts in learning more about the work that they would be getting into.
Even in today's context -- with the Internet, blogs, mailing lists -- I'm constantly surprised at how some job applicants have no clue as to basic information about the organisation. Such candidates really have no excuse for not making the attempt.
And it's not just reading up on the Internet or memorising key points from mailing lists.
The simplest way is to use the library. Attend library programmes. Make use of the library facilities, materials and services.
Ah, I bet you're asking, "What if a job candidate reads this post and bluffs his/ her way through the interview?"
Well, such people can fake all they want. They can conduct themselves like they were the perfect candidates for the job. But ultimately, they end up fooling themselves. They would have wasted their time during the months or years on the job. Time is opportunity cost.
In my experience, interviewers (there's a reason why they are a panel) can spot rote answers most of the time, no matter how well rehearsed.
Come to think of it, let's say the interviewers are fooled by you at the interview. And you get the job. But would your other soon-to-be colleagues at work be fooled all the time? Which is the worse outcome?
Be who you are, and not what you think the organisation/ interviewer expects you to be. It's less painful for both parties in the long run.
If you sincerely believe the job is for you, that's well and good. Even if things don't work out, I always believe that's OK too. As long as you accepted the job in good faith.
I also think it's absolutely OK to admit to what you don't know during the interview. Better to honestly admit what you don't know, than to fake it.
Even if you're more interested in "what can the organisation do for me" (some people just do, for their own reasons) that's fine as well. Again, as long as you admit that upfront. I can respect that.
REALITY ISN'T ROMANTIC (ALL THE TIME)
Leave your romantic notions of librarianship at the door.
Not that you can't find happiness in librarianship (many people do!) but temper that with a good healthy dose of reality.
Someone once told me that work is called work because it's not fun. At least, not all the time.
As you probably realise, I'm not giving away any secrets here. You wouldn't have any "unfair advantage" over other job candidates (well, maybe you have a slight advantage over those who didn't do their "homework" but that's just proving my earlier point, isn't it?)
Final tip: Honesty, humility and integrity are often the most important values. In my own opinion of course.