Landing the job: Questions, questions, questions

Can we talk about how crazy it is to start a new job, while wrapping up an old job and completing the most writing intensive class of my degree in a truncated format? No? Oh, alright, then. I guess I can finally get around to talking about some of the questions I faced in my job interview and how I handled them.

questionsIn my previous post from almost a month ago (Jeepers! Sorry, guys!), I talked about how little job interview experience I had and how much preparation played into getting my job. Well, this was no more evident than in the questions I faced during the job interview and my answers. This is not to say that I created a script for myself to memorize for every question I would face. Mostly I just read about other librarians’ experiences, picked a few challenging questions to focus on and just thought about what my answers might be. I generally wanted to keep from looking stupid if an unexpected question caught me off guard. To accomplish this, I trolled Linkedin forums and inalj.com for advice from librarians and scanned Hiring Librarians, a blog that surveys librarians who have recently been on one side or the other of a job interview. But the most useful site, it turns out, wasn’t even written with librarians in mind.

This site, found here, lists the 50 most common interview questions and suggestions for how to answer them. Mostly the author’s suggestions boiled down to be honest and be yourself, but understand the line of being appropriate and not being appropriate. But if I hadn’t seen this list, I’m not sure I would have done as well. A common problem  in interviews is that interviewees tend to blank on an answer, creating awkward moments of embarrassing silences (or, even worse, minutes filled with “ums” and gibberish) while you try to figure what three words your coworkers would describe you as that wouldn’t get you into trouble. Instead, I recommend visiting this site, reading over the questions and really thinking about how you would answer them. That way when they are sprung on you at a job interview, you’ll be ready to sound like the well-reasoned and competent employee that you are, as opposed to a deer in the headlights.

So without further ado, the questions I faced and how I went about answering them:

1) Tell me about yourself.
This is the number one question everyone faces and it’s not necessarily simple to answer. If you don’t already have an “elevator pitch speech,” then you should create one. That way you’ll  already have this question in the bag. Try to avoid rambling (that never makes a good impression) or sounding too rehearsed (if it’s not natural, how can they be sure you are telling the truth?).

2) Why do you want to leave your current job?
It is extremely important to stay positive on your interview, even if there are negative aspects to why you are leaving. Focus on how leaving is an opportunity for you, or in my case, how I wanted to change careers. Staying positive will help you move on gracefully from your current job (more about this later) because the hiring manager will most likely ask your current employer about the negative comments you made.

3) What three adjectives would your coworkers use to describe you?
This was actually a tough one for me. For some reason I was easily able to grab two words out of my brain, but that third one eluded me. I broke my own advice and filled the air with nothingness followed by gibberish while I rifled through my brain’s adjectives list. It was a decidedly low point for me. Luckily, I made a joke, they laughed and I relaxed enough to come up with a hastily chosen adjective that only generally applied to me. Lesson: There will always be something in the interview that will make you feel like you bombed the whole thing. Just keep smiling and relax.

4) What is your workplace philosophy and how do you work with others?
For me, I decided to describe what I would consider to be my ideal workplace. That is, I wanted coworkers that could have fun on the job, help each other out and still accomplish the job.

5) Describe three lessons you have learned about customer service in your professional life?
I was so glad they asked this question, even though I wasn’t expecting it. On paper, I don’t look like I have any customer service experience. But, as a previous post on the topic reveals, I have been able to take my experiences and apply them to the area of customer service. From that post, I chose number one, number three and number five. What was awesome about it was that a few minutes later the director of the library described her own philosophy on customer service and it hit on all three of these points. She also mentioned that smiling goes a long way, which I have as number two on my own list. That was the moment when I became cautiously optimistic about my chances.

6) What was your best success and your worst failure at your current job and how did you learn from them?
The key with this one was to be honest. It’s easy to talk about your successes, but that whole failure thing can trip some people up. Bottom line? You are not perfect, you have failed in life somehow and you will just have to own up to that failure. Just be prepared to spin it positively by explaining how you turned that failure into a way to better yourself.

7) What will you bring to this job?
For me, I tried to be honest and be specific. Benefiting the library is a good goal, but it’s far better to explain how you plan to do that (provide winning customer service, for example).

8) What are you reading right now?
This was a fun one, and probably only something you will find in an interview for a library position. This is your chance to light up the room with your excitement about books, so take it!

9) Do you have any questions?
This question offers you an excellent chance to make a great impression. And since it comes at the end of the interview, it can allow you to leave on a high note. The biggest mistake you can make is to say no. I thought up questions that I would really want to know, even if I didn’t get the job. I also was careful to come up with questions that showed that I both researched this particular library and had an interest in its programs. My questions were:

– What is your favorite thing about working in this particular library? (Both of my interviewers said no one had ever asked them that and they were excited to answer it).
– What would be the most challenging situation I might face when working here?
– A couple months ago it was reported that all the branches except the main branch would be closed to save money in the budget. A wave of community support changed the mind of the city government, and the branches remain open. How did this situation make you feel and what did you do to address its impact on patrons and staff?
– I noticed that you launched a reader recommendation program last month. How did that come about and how successful is it?

An interview is your chance to make a great impression while convincing your potential employers that you are the right person for the job. Such an important event requires preparation and thoughtfulness. For me, I spent several hours reading over possible questions, thinking about how I might answer them and researching the library so I would have thoughtful questions of my own to ask. After the prep work, just remember to smile, relax and be yourself. And keep trying. The more you practice, the better chance you will have of outshining other applicants at future interviews and landing that job.

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