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.