I’ve been thinking a bit about interviewing of late.  Having been on both sides of the interview table in recent months has given me a useful insight into the experience.  I’ll say up front that I don’t think the conventional job interview is an especially accurate way to establish how closely one person can perform in a job over an other.  Then again of the various methodologies used in libraries today it is the relatively easiest to arrange and a form with which most of us are familiar.

When you read a job description for many library posts there is often a requirement for the prospective post holder to demonstrate a broad spectrum of skills and aptitudes that is impractical to pin down at interview.  I may be able to tell an interviewer about types of cataloguing standards, but short of extensive paper or electronic tests there is no way that an interviewee can clearly demonstrate them. 

There is also a the factor of adaptability.  I may have three or four equally qualified people before me for a post.  Each holds experiences in different, but broadly comparable areas.  Some may appear at interview to have a greater familiarity with a certain key library discipline and others less so.  Are they the better candidates?  Not necessarily for many, myself included, can be a swift student and able to readily adapt to new protocols and standards.  I think this area of swift learning is one of the most regularity overlooked due to the difficulty in quantifying it in an interview situation.

How can we rectify this?  Many years ago I underwent three days of interviews and assessment tests, both as an individual and a group member.  This was outside of the library sector, for a commercial organisation, for an entry level professional post.  We were examined at interview by the managers for all the regular abilities, judged on the suitability of our fit with those who would work alongside us as well as our ability to expound on the suitability of our experiences for the post.  However, the bulk of the assessment was through the group and individual exercises, conducted by managers and a psychologist.  It was an interesting if not wholly comfortable experience to be on the inside of, though as an interviewee it did give me a significant insight into what exactly the company was looking for in its prospective managers.

It also means that no formal interview fills me with casual dread; in comparison they are the lightest of assessment touches.

Increasingly libraries use techniques that are more akin to this process than simply the formal interview, although I’ve yet to hear of any quite so extensive as the process I went through.  Paper and book based assessments are seeing greater use.  Alongside these are the casual or informal interviews that are often married to the formal process.  These are more about establishing or evaluating each candidates personal traits and estimating how readily they will fit into existing structures.  In my opinion it seems a shame in era when change should be at the heart of the library agenda then, that libraries seek to people who fit into what is rather that those who could shape what should be.  More innovators and less place fillers I say.

For now it seems likely that the interview will remain at the heart of the job seeking process.  An unreal construction of 30 minutes or so, best suited to those with a tight rein over their emotions and able to deliver a polished performance.  As well suited to those able to cram details of a post as to those with a genuine ability for the post.  But in my experience you can can excel at the process and display every last modicum of desirable aptitude; but if your face just doesn’t fit then it will all be for naught. 

Somewhere though, there is the job and the venue into which you will fit snugly.  So take heart, breath deeply and prepare once more.


4 thoughts on “Interviewing

  1. There are many different selection approaches. Generally speaking, recruitment processes that go beyond just a short interview are more robust. These can be the full-blown assessment centre you describe, but more often they have a few elements of that i.e. different kinds of tests and interactions through the day that might feed back into the final decision (which in HE is also informed by references, usually).

    Those recruiting are constrained by our HR policies: in order to be objectively fair you have to select people with the most relevant experience and who demonstrates they he/she meets the knowledge/skills/qualities required.

    Usually by the time you interview, every candidate should be appointable, it’s then a matter of the best fit for the role and organization (and that should be a two-way process).

    I do feel as well that our procedures design out opportunities to select on potential rather than track record, but the latter is easier to assess.

    We do need to remember that people do need to fit organizations and vice versa: if you aren’t comfortable in a post, it can be hard to do well nd miserable at work. But this can be very intangible: hence the necessity of having more than a quick interview, but instead providing opportunities to find out about the organization, colleagues and the role during recruitment (and this includes what you provide to all applicants)


    1. I was interested to discuss with someone the other day a study where 10 people were recruited. 5 had been through the formal interview and selection process, and 5 were recruited solely on CV/application form evidence alone.

      The net result 6 months (or so) later was that equal levels of fit and competence had been found for both groups. Makes you wonder if the interviews are worth the time and money! If I can track down the study, I’ll tweet it.


  2. I’m particularly interested in this post as I previously took an MSc in Occupational Psychology, part of which involved learning how to administer psychometric testing for recruitment, and about the relative benefits of different methods of selection.

    What scares me about interviews is that I know they’re not that good a predictor of actual job performance. Some of the interviews I’ve had in the library field have been unstructured interviews (ie. the interviewer is just asking what they want as they go along). It’s a frustrating process to go through when you realise that i) you’re a pretty good fit for the job but ii) the interview process is unlikely to pick that up. Plus, bad interview technique always makes me question the competence of the potential employer.

    Statistically, one of the best predictors of job performance (for any job) is a test of intelligence, ideally backed up by a test of conscientiousness (one of the ‘Big 5’ personality factors). Is this related to the ability to adapt? It seems likely to me. But I can’t imagine any organisation going for measures like that alone. People don’t like statistics, they like their own judgement (no matter how inaccurate it may be!).


    1. That sounds a really interesting viewpoint. I looked at psychometric tests as part of my management modules as an undergrad (tho strangely not as a post-graduate student).

      Know what you mean about interview technique – I know many (not all sadly) of the pitfalls an interviewer can make, and when they make them I’m torn between feeling sorry for them and taking advantage of the situation!

      Testing for intelligence? Not an IQ test surely (mine’s erm, quite high) – not come across conscientiousness testing – I’d be interested to learn more!

      And I love stats, but I’m weird 😉


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