How do we find that perfect hire? A recent email from Kit Stephenson, head of reference and adult services at Bozeman Public Library, MT, got me thinking: “I am trying to find the best questions to find a full-stack employee. A couple of attributes I require are compassion, team player, and thrives on change. I want someone to be a conduit, connector, and a discoverer.” That call back to Stacking the Deck raised this question: How do we find a well-rounded person amid a virtual pile of résumés and cover letters? Please consider the following as part of your potential discovery sets for future interviews.
Ask me (almost) anything
How do you keep learning? Describe your personal learning network (PLN).
This gets to the heart of what I think makes a great librarian. The nuances of this answer could be telling. Unpack it a bit, too: What blogs do you read? Where do you look for answers about professional issues? Sure, the pages of LJ are an excellent start, but I would argue that a well-rounded future hire would be active and comfortable with a cultivated and well-curated PLN, both online and off. Describing it should be easy. I would want to hear about formal professional groups as well as informal ones. What benefits has your interviewee discovered in these networks?
What are some of your favorite books/TV shows/movies/podcasts?
I think this can be very telling. Interest in “Cozy Detective Stories” or Stranger Things or the best of the best from the local film festival will come along for the job. I wouldn’t want it any other way. No one should ever be expected to be an expert on everything—that’s what readers’ advisory tools are for.
How do you like to learn new technologies? Describe your process.
Straightforward and will tap into the potential hire’s learning style. Want a self-directed, explorative learner? Watch out for the “I like step-by-step training sessions and PowerPoints.”
How do you like to learn about the community you serve?
Explores ideas about outreach and understanding in the community. Balance “I would do a survey at the reference desk” with “I would go out to groups who aren’t using the library and listen to discover why.” Also: What types of partnerships should the library have?
Describe your best mentor or supervisor—what did you learn from that person?
This taps into how the person feels about being supported in a position as well as being managed. It may lead to an interesting and insightful story.
Describe a time you learned a valuable lesson about other people.
If the above gets to the heart of librarianship, then this is about being human. Listen closely. Do you hear empathy? Understanding? This puts the emphasis on recognizing and valuing the differences among humans. Compassion seems to be most lacking in people who don’t recognize these differences.
If you’ve asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Describe one of your weaknesses?” ad nauseam, give some of the above a try in your next hiring go-round.
Make it better
I sent these questions to Jessica Gilbert Redman, a recent graduate of the San José State University School of Information and as of this writing in the job search. I wanted her thoughts as one currently on the other side of the interview. “I would love to be asked any of them during an interview,” she said.
Gilbert Redman says these questions may determine if new hires are going to be a “not my job” kind of person who doesn’t want to learn anything outside what they already know and do. This can stagnate the position and the organization. Hopefully, they will be a “let’s see if we can make this work better” kind of person who looks for ways to improve self and organization.
The questions a job seeker asks can be just as thought provoking to the interviewer, so it’s important for job seekers to take the time to craft questions that will tell them more about the position, the library or company, and the people with whom they’d be working. She shared questions she asks her interviewers:
- What are some projects that you see this position covering in the next year/three to five years?
- How is professional development supported by this organization?
- Thinking back to the people who’ve been in this role, what’s the difference between a good performance and a great one?
- What do you like most about working here?
I would add this as well: “How do you react to failure?” Libraries should want new employees to feel comfortable, and the freedom to fail is important.