Interview Pitfalls

What NOT to do on an interview? Most of these sound like common sense, but my co-workers and I were discussing things to avoid during interviews.

  • Badmouthing your last/current supervisor or library
    • We have all had jobs we dislike. But we want to see you at your best. Who wants to work with a complaining co-worker?
  • Discussing other interviews you’ve recently been on
    • If you’ve scored some interviews, then great! However, we want you to be focused on this interview.
  • Answering your phone/checking email during an interview
    • Please turn it off and put it away. If there’s an emergency (my wife/partner is 9 months pregnant!), tell us beforehand. We will understand.
  • Clockwatching
    • Related to the the above. Stop checking your watch, or the time on your phone.
  • Inability to follow instructions
    • e.g., If asked to give a sample library instruction session to first-year students, DO NOT tell us how you would do it. We actually want you to do it as if we were students!
  • Not answering the questions
    • We asked a question. We want an answer. An honest answer. Stop “spinning” – this isn’t a PR/media job.
  • More specifically: Inability to answer the “why you want to work here” question
    • If it’s a technical services job and you say you love reference, then something’s wrong!
  • Overly Talkative
    • Yes, we want you to be excited for the interview…and to answer our questions. But be careful: avoid being longwinded. We’d like to get a word in, too, to ask you some follow-up questions.
  • Being too desperate – do not cross the boundary into uncomfortableness
    • “I really, really want this job.” “This is my only hope.”
  • Ignoring staff members, students, community representatives, etc…
    • We have you meet with several groups of people during an interview. Be friendly! Be courteous! Ask them questions! These people are your potential co-workers, students, or community members you might be dealing with.
  • Dress/Appearance
    • OK, so you like to wear graphic tees and sneakers. I get it. So do I. But this is an INTERVIEW. It’s always OK to err on the side of dressing conservatively. At the interview you can get a feel for how your potential co-workers dress.
  • Not Asking Questions
    • Yes, we’re interviewing you, but we also want you to ask us questions. We want to know why you’re interested in us and whether you are prepared.
  • Being Overly Confident
    • Yes, we want you to be enthusiastic, but there’s also a limit. There’s going to be a lot to learn in ANY new job and that’s OK.
  • Social Media
    • Yes, we have Facebook accounts, and some of us are on Twitter too, but here’s a tip: It can seem a little creepy to get a Facebook friend request from a potential candidate for a job. Wait until you’ve been hired, then we can be Facebook friends, etc.
    • Also: if you have a public Twitter account, it’s probably not a good idea to tweet your interview day.
  • Not Doing the Homework
    • Have you not looked at our website, our mission statement, long-term plans, and have you read up on our services and resources? Please do! We often look favorably on candidates who weave this into their interview.
  • Inappropriate Language/Humor
    • Do we curse?…of course. But NOT in an interview. Don’t do it.
    • We love a sense of humor. But be careful: sometimes dry humor or sarcasm does not translate well.
  • You smell!
    • Avoid heavy perfumes/colognes. Skip the cigarettes. No “coffee breath.”
  • Money/Salary
    • Oh what to say? It’s generally good advice to not discuss money until you are in the final stage of the process. Of course, those libraries that post salary info with job ads are extraordinarily helpful to applicants. However, some HR departments have a policy of not allowing this–or it could be the parent institution’s (university, city, county, etc…) policy that the library is required to follow. Tread carefully here.
  • First Impressions
    • The basics: firm handshake, smile, good eye contact, posture, etc… Don’t be a robot!

46 thoughts on “Interview Pitfalls

  1. Pingback: Professional Practices « The UA Library Student Organization Blog

  2. I find it incredibly annoying when a job post does not include salary information. Yes, I like library work but I also need to earn a living. I have had several phone interviews and then in-person interviews that led to job offers I declined because the salary was too low. It’s feels like a lot of game playing for information that is crucial.

    • I agree…very annoying. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s nothing that the library can do about it if it’s the policy of the parent institution. I once worked at a private university where that was the case. The library would have preferred to post the salary info, by the university HR office had a policy that prevented that. If it’s a public institution, some media organizations have done FOIA requests for salary info on employees and sometimes you might be able to gather some info on a “ballpark” figure based on that information.

  3. Pingback: Cover Letters, Resumes, and Interviews, Oh My! « Mr. Library Dude

  4. Good, concise article. I do not have a website. Is this absolutely necessary?

  5. Nothing is more annoying than when someone you interview clearly has crossed the threshold for the first time that day… it’s a public library! Anyone can walk in! Get there early and have a walk round and make a note of some things that impress you and some things that could be nudged to be better. It’s one of the few places you can spy round in advance so DO IT.

    • Great point! Besides the physical library itself, I would also add that a person interviewing should have done his/her homework by browsing the library’s website, too.

    • That would be ideal but isn’t always practical. I have a job interview next week that is in a suburb one hour away from me. It will take me 2 trains and a bus to get there and will not be cheap considering that I only work 2 days a week. So I hope the interviewers consider that and don’t get too offended if someone hasn’t been to their library before. I do try to do as much research as possible by going to their website though.

  6. Don’t check in/ask for your interviewer a half-hour early. Remember that the person who’s interviewing you has a job to do, too, and is probably busy doing it. Wait to check in until 5 minutes or so before your appointment. Getting there early is great, though, and will give you a chance to check the place out, check your hair, etc. before you start.

    • I always check 15 minutes early and the person who is interviewing me can come and get me whenever they want to. Its better for you to wait than to have your interviewer wait for you. Plus I’ve been told how early you show up for the interview is how early they figure you show up for the job.

    • For an interview I have this week, they’ve asked me to come in 30 minutes early to fill out paperwork, but if that were not the case, I would be fifteen minutes early.

  7. Make sure you know what time zone a prospective employer is in. Find out if the library is an hour ahead. This can be an incredibly important detail for phone interviews. Believe me, I know from experience on this one…needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

    • Thanks for posting…I’ve had that happen with people we have interviewed before too…although a good workplace will make an effort to be very specific on the time.

  8. How would you answer this question: Describe how you keep records for circulation, inventory and receipts?

  9. Thank you for this website. I just finished my Master of Library and Information Science degree and I got called for my first librarian interview. Let’s just say it makes me a little bit nervous. The posting didn’t require any experience which is part of the reason why I applied, however I am worried that they will ask me questions which I will not know how to answer because I don’t have much experience in a library setting, only minimal volunteer work. Any suggestions on how to play that up?

    • I would try to play up how you might have transferrable skills, or how you can apply what you’ve learned in your coursework to the job, that you’re a fast learner, ready for new challenges, have lots of new ideas, etc… It’s your chance to shine! 🙂

      • Thank you for replying. 🙂 I had the interview and I am still waiting for the results. I was given a time frame of two weeks, which is tomorrow. If there is no response my grace period is until Monday. Plus i really want a “real” job…

  10. Awesome website! I just wanted to thank you for posting all this wonderful information it was extremely helpful and informative. Thanks!

  11. Joe…you have mentioned good eye contact, firm handshake, and some other GREAT suggestions. However, nothing has been mentioned about what to wear? Might I suggest (as someone who has been the interviewee and interviewer) that polishing one’s shoes, clean AND pressed dress shirt, CLEAN suit that is unwrinkled ALSO works well for interviewing purposes.

  12. Questions about the proper etiqutte during lunch/dinner? Do I offer to pay? Can you please give me some advice what I should do during the meal, too. Thanks for such a wonderful blog, too.

    • Your potential employer should pay for your meal. If not, I think it demonstrates a total lack of proper etiquette by your potential employer. Ask for what to expect during lunch/dinner: sometimes it’s hard to actually *eat* YOUR meal because people sometimes keep asking you questions. I’ve always appreciated meals where there were less “job” questions and a little more small talk (e.g., hobbies, what you’ve read). It’s a nice chance to show your personality and also see what your potential co-workers are like. Relax – but stay professional – and try to enjoy yourself. And if you’re hungry…EAT! 🙂

  13. To remember people’s names, when I am introduced to them, I repeat their name back, with the handshake, such as, “It’s a pleasure to meet you (insert name).”

  14. I completely freeze up when it comes to asking questions and even when I remember to ask questions, i struggle to respond intelligently to them. I honestly seem like a dunce in interviews and because I get so nervous, it’s nearly impossible for me to control it. So I normally don’t ask any questions, which just makes me seem uninterested or cocky.

    • I used to get plenty nervous too…I think it’s natural. I always bring a list of questions with me because I know I’ll forget to ask something that I would want to know the answer to later. 🙂

    • For a page position, probably general questions about what interests you about the job/why you applied for the job, describe a detail oriented project you’ve done, how you might handle a difficult situation…those sorts of things. They probably won’t interview you for a full hour, but might take you on a library tour, etc… Best of luck!!!

  15. Is there anything we should take with us on the interview? Should I bring extra copies of my resume, cover letter, transcripts, etc.? And is it appropriate to bring some notes?

    • Yep…I would bring some extra copies of your resume/cover letter just in case. Definitely bring some notes and something to write with. I usually type up a list of questions I want to ask them too. Can never be too prepared! 🙂

  16. Hi Joe, thank you so much for sharing your expertise. This blog is a huge resource!
    I will have an interview for a Library Assistant position in London in about two weeks so I am doing my homeworks in order to be prepared.
    An important thing I will try not to do is making gestures to emphasize my speech. For me it comes natural because I am Italian but I know English interviewer might perceive it as a lack of politeness and/or manners.
    An other thing I have been told is not good to do is “playing” with a bracelet or wrist watch during the interview as it shows nervousness and it could irritate the interviewer who is looking at you. Is it true? What do you think about it? thanks again 🙂

    • Good idea…I wouldn’t be irritated by someone who played with a bracelet, but maybe distracted. I would never hold it against someone because I think the whole nature of interviewing will cause general nervousness. Best of luck!!!

  17. I have applied for a page position and have an interview in a couple of days, do you have any suggestions of questions I should ask? questions I should expect to be asked.

    • I’m sorry I didn’t get to your question in time. Haven’t logged in in awhile…busy with classes. Hope that interview went well! In the future, I would ask about expectations of the job, any special projects, how one is evaluated, etc. Be expected to answer questions about how you handle difficult situations, juggle multiple tasks, etc…

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