Questions for You to Ask


Questions for You to Ask

When a potential employer asks if YOU have any questions, this is another chance to shine in the interview. Be inquisitive! Be interested! But be tactful as well. Some of these are from my own experiences, and some have been asked of search committees I’ve been on.

Disclaimer: Some of these questions are more appropriate for phone interviews, some for on-site interviews. Or some may not be appropriate for the position you’re interviewing for. You be the judge!

  • Why is this position open?
  • Is this a new position? / How often has this position been filled in the past 5-10 years?
  • Is this a budgeted position?
  • How secure is the funding for this position?
  • Can you talk a little bit about the library’s (and possibly parent institution’s) financial situation?
  • What are some of the first tasks or projects that you would like to see the person in this job complete?
  • Describe some of the long-term objectives with this position?
  • Are there specific goals you have set for the person in this position?
  • How is one evaluated on the job?
  • Do you offer funding for professional development and conference travel? How is funding determined?
  • Are any re-location/moving expenses paid?
  • How supportive is the library for continuing education?
  • What do you see as the library’s overall biggest challenge?
  • What do you expect the biggest challenge will be for me in this position?
  • During my first year on the job, what do you think I will spend my most time working on?
  • Does the library have a lot of employee turnover, or do people tend to stick around?
  • Would you describe the library as more team-driven or individual-driven?
  • How would you characterize the library’s “culture”? – Was it always like this? Or how have you shaped it?
  • To your potential supervisor: Could you describe your management and communication style?
  • How closely do the various library departments work together.
  • Are there regular library meetings?
  • What types of committees (both internal and external) might I be expected to serve on, or work with?
  • Are there opportunities for advancement at the library?
  • Is there an established mentorship program for new librarians?
  • Can you talk about living in [this city, town, etc…]? Housing? Attractions? etc…
  • Can you describe a typical day’s work?
  • What is the work schedule like? 8-5, flexible, night/weekend shifts?
  • How would you describe the library’s relationship with….[the main branch, the branch libraries, the community, the school district, the university, the company…]? Are there areas that could use improvement or emphasis?
  • How is the library perceived among its constituents?
  • Are librarians invited to participate in faculty meetings, dept. meetings, campus/school decision-making?  [academic, school libraries]
  • Describe how the library reaches out to virtual users.
  • What do you like about working here?
  • What do you like most about your job?
  • What do you like least about your job?
  • What about the library surprised you when you started working here?
  • What benefits are provided (medical, dental, insurance, vacation…)?
  • What is the payroll frequency?
  • Are the jobs (or certain jobs) unionized/non-unionized?
  • What kinds of outreach efforts does the library do to its [community, schools, students…]?
  • How does the library assess and evaluate the services it provides?
  • Could you show me/tell me about my work space?
  • Describe the technology available to me (wireless, desktop/laptop, PC, Mac)?
  • What is the replacement cycle for employee computers/laptops?
  • What non-library organizations and businesses inspire you the most?
  • What are some of the library’s overall long-terms goals and/or projects?
  • How are the librarians classified (professional staff, hourly, faculty, etc…)?
  • Is this a faculty position (tenure-track, non tenure-track)? Professional staff position? [academic]
  • Describe the promotion and/or tenure/continuing appointment process. Do you have a document listing guidelines and performance indicators? [academic]
  • Do you offer tuition waivers for employees and dependents? [academic]
  • Describe the students, faculty and staff of the university. What are the university’s popular majors, strong programs, etc…? [academic]
  • Do you pay/partially pay/reimburse candidates for costs associated with in-person interviews? (hotel, airfare, mileage, etc…)
  • What is your time line for the search process and possible start date?
  • What is the salary range, or starting salary? [if not listed in the job announcement] – Note: Proceed with caution. In some cases, this is best asked at the final stage.

63 thoughts on “Questions for You to Ask

    • Hi Joe–when I was a newly minted librarian oh, so long ago at the University of Michigan, my friend/colleague Cheryl Naslund and I wrote an article that was published in College & Research Libaries News entitled: Proactive Interviewing: Strategies for the Assertive Job Search. It was all about interviewing your potential employer. I don’t know if it’s available in digital format because I’m talking 1987–oh, btw, I was a librarian child prodigy–lol! But I think you’ll find that the interview question checklist we included in that article is still quite applicable today.

      Cheers and thanks for your set of questions!

      Library of Michigan

    • You can find out a lot about the employer by asking questions – you are also trying to find out if the organisation is going to be a good `fit’ for you as well. It’s a two way street as I look at it. Sometimes you know that you have dodged a bullet just from what happens in the interview situation. Also I find that if a position keeps being advertised there is some sort of dynamic happening where people don’t want to stay.

      I personally wouldn’t ask any questions about salary, benefits or conditions – leave that until an offer has been made. If applying externally (vs internally) I think it’s also good to ask about the organisation’s culture. That can be quite revealing. I also often ask about the biggest challenges involved in the role.

  1. Here’s one that I picked up during my out-of-library-school search in 2006:
    “What are the things you like most and least about your job?”
    I have gotten some great responses from this one. The interviewers often get a kick out of being asked about *their* work. And if the panel members look at each other warily and answer without much enthusiasm (which I have also seen), then that tells you sumthin about the climate at this library as well.

  2. Thank you so much for these! I always feel awkward at this point in interviews, being unable to come up with useful questions. I am bookmarking this site right now.

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

  4. These are good questions to ask, but do not ask things like “Are moving expenses paid?” UNTIL you have been offered the job! It demonstrates poor judgment and will count against you to start negotiating the terms of employment if you haven’t even gotten an offer yet. Same with salary questions. Don’t negotiate a range without an offer. If they start asking you about salary expectations, ask them if they are making you an offer. Answer any salary questions prior to an actual offer with something like, “I’m confident that we can come to an agreement regarding salary once an offer is made.”

  5. I am researching career portfolios and trying to figure out how to put one together for a library director position. Do you know of any websites that provide examples?

    Thank you,


  6. This is one of the best set of questions I have seen. This entire post is very helpful, with many realistic examples and valuable insight. Thank you so much!

  7. This site was shared in one of my library and information studies graduate courses. We all found it very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Oh my gosh! This is wonderful! I am interviewing for a Librarian assistant on Monday, July 16th! Keep me in your prayers if you wouldn’t mind. This blog is awesome! Thank you so much!

  9. I wonder if I might be able to run a few of my responses by you and get some feedback? I have an interview Thursday and I’m hoping my answers will be effective without sounding rehearsed and insincere.

  10. Pingback: Tips for Job Searching in the Library World | Mandi Goodsett

  11. I have a phone interview tomorrow for a children’s librarian position. This blog post (among others) is very helpful for my preparations. If I am asked “Do you have any questions for us?”, what questions are appropriate for a phone interview and what questions are better for face-to-face?

    • Thanks! Best of luck with your phone interview. Depending on time, I’d maybe limit yourself to around 5 questions or so (depends of how much time they take up responding). Always ask about the timeline for the process. Maybe ask about what priorities/projects they want the children’s librarian to be focusing on, ask about the different programs/services for children and how they’d like to grow, expand, or change them. I’d hold off on salary questions until the final stage of the interview process. Just my 2 cents!

  12. Joe, is it appropriate to pull out a notebook to reference questions you would like to ask? I have a library / media assistant interview coming up, and I haven’t interviewed for a job in about seven years.

  13. Hey Mr. Library Dude,
    Thank you much for this resource! I borrowed and rephrased some of these questions during my recent interview and the three librarians who were interviewing me were quite impressed. And I got the job! (I just graduated and this is my first professional position).

  14. Hey,
    I’m a MLIS student. We have to interview a library director and write a paper on it. I know my library’s director well, but I am drawing a total blank on questions to ask for this “interview.” Any thoughts?

    • So many possibilities–depends on what you want to focus on: trends in libraries, management style, outreach to patrons, successes/failures and what you learned from them??? Just a few to get you started. 🙂

  15. I am an internal candidate (one of a couple) for an interview for a librarian position coming up soon. I have had a heck of a time finding fitting questions to ask the committee, which is entirely made of my familiar colleagues. Clearly, most of the above wouldn’t make sense, as I know the answers (and would be expected to). I have already asked about the position’s first priorities (at the phone interview) and the expected projection of the rest of the search… what else can I ask?

    • That’s always a bit of a weird situation, isn’t it? I talked to one of my colleagues who was an internal candidate. She stressed really coming into the situation with your “candidate hat” on (I’m here to interview!) as opposed to “you all already know me.” Since your colleagues DO know you, I think you need to turn it around and ask questions about the position: Can you name a quality that the ideal candidate for this position should have? Down the road, what are the library’s biggest challenges/opportunities and how might this position play a part? Can you tell me some of the long-term and short-term goals for the position? Who (or what depts.) do you see as a natural collaboration opportunity for this position? Hope this enough to brainstorm…good luck with your job search!

      • Very good advice! My interview was Monday, and it went very well. For the committee, I stuck to the above: act like a candidate, not their colleague. I asked about professional development (since as a part-timer I currently don’t get to partake of that) and the supervisory responsibilities of the position. But after the committee and presentation parts, I got to talk to our head of libraries. I asked about first priorities for the positions (since I had asked the committee that during the phone interview a couple weeks ago and they weren’t too informed on that) and then my favorite one… I asked “you know me, we’ve worked together… what would you say will be my greatest challenge in this position?” I got an excellent answer that showed that this person really did know me well, and it was something I’ve been working on recently so I got the opportunity to say that I agree, and I’m taking steps toward correcting that already and it’s nice to know I’m on the right track.

        This whole post and all the comments were very helpful in the entire process for me… now I just have to sit back and wait to hear about the selections! Thanks everyone 🙂

    • For the curious, I was successful… I have been doing my new job for about a month now and I love it!

      • Thank you for the update, as I had just read your other posts & was wondering if/hoping you had received the position. Congratulations!

  16. Thanks for putting these up. I have an interview on the 4th of November and was trying to think of ways to make an impression. Think some of these will fit the bill as long as my nerves don’t make me forget!

  17. I recently graduated from grad school and am taking a 2 week trip as a present for graduation. The trip is paid for and was booked over a year ago when job hunting was not something I planned to be doing at this time. Do you have advice for when/how/if this is brought up in an interview?

    • First of all: enjoy yourself and relax after graduating! As far as interviewing: If you get offered a job before your trip, you may need to simply negotiate on the start date. If you’re offered the job–they liked YOU! and hopefully will understand–but it’s important to be upfront–don’t spring the news on them unexpectedly. Make sure and ask about vacation time and how it’s accrued (that’s a good general question towards the end of the interview process anyway–whether you’re going on a trip or not!). I know at my present place of work, you can’t take vacation for the first 90 days–but that varies by organization. There are ways to get around that (flexible scheduling, etc…). And if you’re job hunting while on the trip, hopefully you can monitor your email and respond to any requests for info/interviews? Hope that helps!

  18. Having graduated in December I have been up to my eyeballs in applications, resumes, questions, answers, and advice – I have to say that this set of questions is probably the most useful I have found anywhere. I’ve had it bookmarked and keep coming back to it. I scored a second interview following my phone interview last week at a great college library and I’ve been stressing over what to ask. I came back here and am feeling much better about having intelligent and useful questions to ask during the day-long in-person interview. Thanks so much for this resource!

  19. Wow, I deeply appreciate this section. All comments help me brave for my next day interview. God bless to all.

  20. I have a good question to ask, i was told that a lot of academic libraries are moving away from having reference librarians and dealing with patron’s questions about answering referencing questions when doing college work. can anyone help with this? I was told its a great question to ask but wording it is the difficult part!

    • Interesting topic! I think there will always be a need for reference librarians, but their duties are probably merged with other activities (like info lit, collection development, marketing, etc…). Some libraries have moved away from staffing the reference desk with librarians. That would be an interesting philosophical question to ask. The library I currently work at did away with its reference desk all together. But I’m still a reference librarian. My office is open and students working in the library can clearly see me and know to come into my office for help. We moved away from answering “quick” questions (“Google-able” questions) and now I do more in-depth consultations with students.

      • I work at a public university library in Maryland. There are about a dozen Research & Instruction Librarians who spend just a few hours on the Research Help Desk each week. The spend the rest of the time working with faculty and students within their assigned departments, conducting research, committee work, info lit, collection development, etc. As the Evening Reference Librarian I spend about 60% of my 40 hours each week on the RHD but there is only one of me. My position is an entry level one. There are also a handful of librarians (ILL, Distance Ed., Systems, etc. who do not spend any time on the RHD).

  21. This is an awesome site! I currently have a one-year contract as a Library Assistant and I have an interview today for a permanent part-time position within the same library system (although different branches). I really loved the questions listed above and especially the responses regarding applying for a job within a library system where you already work. An awesome reference site. Thanks so much!

  22. I am scheduled for an interview on 21st September 2015 and I find this blog so exciting coz this is what i really need….

  23. Pingback: Seeing the Job Hunt from the Other Side | hls

  24. I am in the middle of applying for an entry-level library mentor program for the second time (I was turned down 2 months ago so I think maybe that person was not the right one.) I read everything you wrote and responses so that my application is better received. On my resume and application, I am having difficulty showing my experience without showing that I am 58 but want to show that I am starting a new (hopefully) CAREER as a Children’s Librarian in California schools or small towns. I have experienced age discrimination so many times and noticed lots of young employees there. Been soul-searching/volunteering past couple years and know this is my ‘Best Yes.’ I also searched degrees and now people are graduating with Masters for this but I haven’t the funds. (I have a BA in Journalism/Comm.) Suggestions please?

    • This is a hard one…I understand as an application process that I am required to put the graduation date for my degree(s). However, you can omit that from your resume. Some people will disagree with me on this, but I don’t care when you graduated when I look at a resume. I want to see experience…or if you’re new to the field: tell me how you would apply other experiences, what skills you can bring to the job, and what some of your aspirations are! 🙂 No matter the person’s age…what I want to see is a *fresh* perspective. I think a lot of skills in journalism/comm are applicable to libraries. As an employer, I want people who can successfully communicate formally and informally, written or oral, etc… to a wide range of patrons and co-workers, do outreach, etc… Also, I see libraries and journalism going hand in hand: journalists provide information and libraries provide *access* to information! As for things like the master’s in library science: That sort of depends on the position/library. Many positions will require a master’s degree in library or information science from an institution that’s accredited by the American Library Association. They will not review candidates who do not possess this degree. However, *some* requirements vary from state to state. In some states, a librarian position in a small community may only require a bachelor’s degree. A school librarian may require a teaching license. If the master’s degree in library/info science seems to big the big barrier, you may need to look at postings for library assistant positions. Hope that doesn’t sound too depressing, but it’s the reality of the educational requirements for librarian positions. In some cases, large public library systems and large university libraries, sometimes employ a communications/PR person that’s not necessarily a “librarian” position and instead is intended for someone from a comm/PR/marketing background. So, maybe that’s another avenue too? Best of luck!!!

  25. I’m interviewing for a job in Edinburgh in the UK, it’s for Library and Archives Assistant, I’m experienced in library work but not archives, I’m wondering how to not show my lack of experience in the interview, (The job is for Special Collections with a medical historical library), also would like some advice on how to interview well!

    • First of all, best of luck on your interview. I know it sounds trite, but be yourself! You’ll be the most comfortable and confident in your interview by just being authentic. As far as not showing lack of experience: When asked a question, pivot to your applicable experience whether it’s customer service skills, organizational skills, or information skills — things I’m guessing would still be applicable to archival work. Also, when I’ve been asked questions like this where I don’t have a strong background in the topic, I usually just simply give my take on how I would go about doing the tasks (look at procedures, consult with colleagues, develop best practices, etc..). In terms of interviewing well: be composed, give some eye contact back to your interviewer, and most importantly: Be curious! Ask questions. That helps to demonstrate interest in the job.

Comments are closed.