Will COVID End the All-Day Academic Librarian Interview? I Hope So!

I come from a working class family. As I was approaching the end of my MLIS program and job hunting, I was perplexed by this all-day academic librarian interview thing. I kept thinking:

It takes the library ALL DAY to figure out if they want to hire someone?

Why All Day?
Then it was explained to me: The all-day interview is really just a series of shorter interviews with different groups of people, who often ask you the same question. At the end of the day, you’re either REALLY good at answering those questions, or so frazzled that your brain is fried. Also, in cases where the academic librarian position is faculty status with research expectations, they may want to ask you about your research agenda. I was told that it has to be an all day interview to see if you are a “good fit.” Today, more attention is paid to the inherent biases of interviewing for fit, which workplaces need to focus on eliminating.

Virtual World
With COVID, a lot of interviewing has gone virtual. Now is the time to re-evaluate if you truly need an all-day academic librarian interview. Rule #1: Be kind. Pity the job candidate who has to sit through an ALL DAY VIRTUAL INTERVIEW…and shame on that library! I even heard of a MULTIPLE DAY virtual interview. Or virtual interviews where you eat lunch on camera with library staff. Seriously?

In hiring during COVID times, I re-examined our interview template and decided we do not need an all-day interview for librarian positions–whether it is virtual or in-person. I had a dry run in late February 2020 for a librarian position and it worked well. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on important information to make a hiring decision. It’s also a more humane experience for the interviewee. For the record, I’m a library director at a small academic library (5 librarians, 3 support staff, 5 part-time evening/weekend staff) where librarians are classified as professional/administrative staff. All of the librarians report to me. So your mileage may vary.

Interview Template

9:00-9:50am
9:50-10:00am
10:00-10:45am
10:45-11:00am
11:00-11:15am
11:20-12:00pm

Welcome/Search committee/Library staff
Break
Presentation (no more than 15 minutes) + Q&A time
Break
HR/Benefits overview
Meet with Library Director

This interview template comes in at three hours. It gives me 135 “active” minutes to see the candidate one-on-one, in a group setting, and a teaching session/Q&A. This is in addition to the first-round preliminary phone interview. This is enough “face time” for me whether it’s on Zoom/Teams or in-person.

Criticisms
One criticism is lack of feedback from members outside of the library. This can easily be fixed by inviting campus faculty/staff and student representatives to sit in on the presentation to gain that perspective. You should also include people from outside of the library on the search committee from the get-go.

Another criticism is the lack of “social time.” I would push back on this too. We’re getting back to the “fit” question and its biases. Once COVID is over I might consider offering a wrap-up lunch as a thank you. But this is just a professional courtesy for investing your time with us as a candidate. The only time slot I would add back in for a physical interview is a library walk-through/tour.

Advantages
This template peels back the layers to what is essential: library staff face time, a short presentation, and one-on-one with the supervisor. In higher ed, we often have a tendency to add more window dressing. Let’s stop with that. Frankly, it’s a bear coordinating common meeting times when setting up interviews. I’m not one who thinks pulling all ideas from the business world into libraries/higher ed is good, but this is one.

The other big advantage is that it is more friendly toward the candidate. Everyone is trying their best to make-do in COVID time. Let’s not waste the candidate’s time or overburden them with an obnoxiously long Zoom/Teams call. Going forward, even after COVID is over, I could see us continuing to offer virtual interviews if that is what the candidate prefers.

Tips

  1. Give candidates an itinerary of the day’s events with their Zoom/Teams meeting links. Make sure time zones are clearly stated, if needed.
  2. Send an org chart with names, FACES, and titles. This is especially helpful in online-only environments.
  3. Give the presentation topic AT LEAST ONE WEEK in advance.
  4. Reiterate that there will be time reserved for the candidate to ask questions in each time slot.
  5. Reassure them it’s ok to have a water bottle, etc. at close hand.
  6. Consider that taking a barrage of questions from 5 or more people during a search committee time slot can be intimidating. It may make more sense for 2 or 3 people to ask the list of questions while others listen in.
  7. Consider giving interview questions in advance.
  8. Participants in the interviewing process should mute their microphone when not speaking.
Image: clock, representing the theme of an all-day interview
Image: clock, representing the theme of an all-day interview