By Meredith Farkas | February 3, 2005
I’ve had many interviews, both in the social work and library fields. Some have gone great and some have been disasters. But the disasters haven’t always been mine. I’ve read plenty of books that talk about how to do well in an interview as an interviewee, but are there books for teaching people to be good interviewers? It’s just as important for the interviewers to sell themselves . I’ve had telephone interviews where, by the end, I knew that I didn’t want to work for the people on the other end of the line. And I may be completely wrong in my first impression, but they had done such a bad job selling themselves that I wouldn’t make the effort of flying up for an interview after that.
Admittedly, I get nervous when I do interviews. Even phone interviews. Some questions will even get me stuttering and stumbling over my words, which is totally unlike how I am in daily life. But sometimes after an interview, I’m amazed to find that I haven’t sweat through my shirt (a la Albert Brooks in Broadcast News). And I’ve tried to think about what the difference was in those interviews — especially because most of those have been for jobs I’ve actually ended up taking. And I realized that the difference was in how the interview was conducted. The interviewer(s) made me comfortable because the interview was more like a conversation than the Spanish Inquisition. And when I feel comfortable, I feel confident, and better able to sell myself. I know that an interviewer should not be a hand-holder, but I think if you really want to get to know a job candidate, the best thing you can do is to make them feel comfortable and really make them feel like you’re interested in what they have to say. Not too hard, right?
I’ve written down a few tips for interviewers from my personal experience. If anyone else has some good tips for interviewers, I’d be happy to add them to the list:
1. For an initial telephone interview, it is far better to have one person doing the interviewing. With two people asking questions, it’s difficult for the candidate to know with whom she is speaking. It makes it much harder to have an actual dialogue. Also, I think it can prevent the interviewer from going “off script” and asking questions based on the candidate’s background.
2. An interview should be more like a dialogue than an inquisition. I can’t stress this one enough. I’ve been in interviews where the interviewers have a list of questions that they shoot out at you, you answer, and then they go onto the next one. There’s no give and take. There’s no personalization. There’s no feedback. The candidate feels under fire, and with each answer they give that gets no response, the candidate gets increasingly nervous. The best interview I’ve had in recent memory was more like a conversation. Sure, the interviewer had a list of questions for me, but she also asked follow-up questions to things I said that showed me she was listening. And she gave me feedback on what she thought about what I was saying. It’s that feedback that gave me the confidence to do a great job in the interview.
3. Act like you’re interested in what the interviewee is saying. Don’t just go on to the next question when they’ve finished their answer. This goes back to the last point. It’s difficult to do interviews over the phone because you can’t really see the interviewers’ reactions. That’s why feedback is so crucial. I’ve answered a question and then had silence on the other end of the line as the interviewer writes down my answer. And after that, it’s onto the next question. The question-and-answer form of interviewing feels so forced and really doesn’t allow the interviewers to get to know the job candidate. All it succeeds in doing is getting them answers to questions that rarely tell them what they need to know to make an informed choice. And the candidate gets increasingly nervous with each silence s/he gets after s/he answers.
4. You may have a list of stock questions, but also ask questions that are specific to the person’s background. I wanted to kiss the interviewer who asked me about my social work background and recognized the relevance it has for library work. She actually was the first person who didn’t gloss over it or didn’t fail to recognize how my public service experience would help me in a public service librarian job. Hmmm…. On the other hand, I’ve been in interviews where I feel like the interviewer hasn’t even read my resume. None of the questions are related to my unique background and they give little opportunity in my interview to show how my background would be an asset in the position. Stock questions will not help you to get to know the candidate. It’s good to have some standard questions, but also ask questions that come to mind when you look at their resume.
5. Do not ask them to do an impromtu booktalk or give a lecture off the cuff. Librarians PREPARE booktalks. They PREPARE lectures. I had a job interview where I was asked to give a booktalk a week in advance and I had something prepared and did a great job. Then I had one where I was asked out of the blue to give a booktalk with no prior warning. I was shocked and flustered. And I did a terrible job. Does that mean that I don’t give good booktalks? No. It shows that I don’t take well to people throwing things at me that I consider unreasonable in a job interview. Don’t play dirty tricks on your candidates. Don’t ask them to do things that are unreasonable or that one wouldn’t do in a regular library setting. It kills their confidence and doesn’t give them the best impression of you either. It’s not unreasonable to ask for a booktalk, but give them more than 5 seconds to prepare it!
6. Interviewers need to sell themselves too. In some of my interviews, I’ve come in with a list of questions only to have 80% of them answered while they described the library and the job. And then I’ve been in interviews where they quite literally tell me nothing about the job or the library. And I find that strange. It makes me think, hmmm… maybe they don’t like it there or maybe I’m such a poor candidate that they don’t see the point of continuing with the interview. Either way, it’s not a great motivational tool. Interviewers should want you to want to work there. They should at least tell you what the specific responsbilities of the job are! When I hear an interviewer saying glowing things about their library even before I ask my “what do you like about working at the ____ library?” question, I am more apt to believe them.
7. If you’re brining someone in for a second interview, make them feel like you want them to work there. Take them on a tour. Tell them all about the library. The second interview shouldn’t just be about asking more questions, but also should be about selling your library and yourselves. I had one interview that lasted 4 1/2 hours, but felt like it went on for less than half the time. I met with much of the staff, toured the library, and really got to know the people I’d be working with (if I got the job) . By the end, I KNEW that I wanted to work there and I knew that I would get along well with my colleagues. At another interview, I was placed in a room with the same two people I’d spoken with on the phone. They asked me more questions and then sent me home. No tour, no meeting the people I’d be working with. Sure, they got enough information on me, but I didn’t really know whether or not *I* wanted the job.
The key is: YOU ARE BEING INTERVIEWED TOO! Just because you got 200 resumes for the job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about conducting a good interview with your finalists. Because you’re NOT going to get the best candidate if you don’t make them feel welcome, valued, and interested in working at your library.