me, school, and job interviews

amy posted this October 19th, 2008 | filed under: general, library skül, moi, student scholarship | 1 comment »

note: this is a verrrrry long post. i don’t know who i think i am, cuz as far as i’m concerned only dorothea and meredith can really pull this off – but here goes. grab a beer, cuz if you choose to read the whole thing, you’ll be here for awhile. (i wrote a summary so you can skip to the guts).

i’m en route to internet librarian in monterey. [well i’m here now.] plane rides always make me pensive. well, they make me pensive after i’ve checked out the movies. (gotta say i’m pretty impressed with air canada’s canadian movie offerings. less impressed with the fact that even a headset now costs 3$ and that during the safety demo, the lifevest of the flight attendant was branded with the logo of the long-defunct canadian airlines.)

so much has happened over the past few months and i really haven’t had anytime to blog about it, but i promised to talk about library school and interviewing for jobs in a post, so here it be.

back in may i graduated from mcgill. i think i’m still in shock that it’s over. the decision to go back to school to become a librarian meant that i had to finish my bachelor’s degree, something that i had left years before in favour of full-time employment. i had 5 semesters to finish before i could go to library school, which i completed in 2 years by going to school full-time during the summer. it was brutal, and my rugby playing suffered immensely, but my grades didn’t and i managed to hold onto a job a the same time, so i considered it a success.
applying to library schools was more of a shenanigan than i would have liked. i had planned to go to mcgill. i wanted to go to mcgill. and i thought mcgill would want me to go there. but i was wrong (kind of). after sending out applicatoins to university of toronto and university of western ontario (just to cover my bases) i heard from mcgill that i was accepted… to be on the waiting list. utoronto and western both gave me early acceptance spots, but mcgill, part of “the dream to become a librarian” had me on a waiting list. less than thrilled, i was. thankfully it all sorted itself out and i didn’t have to do my library degree sans hubby (as i would have at western) or while going catastrophically into debt (as i would have at utoronto). and i think in the end, mcgill is happy they accepted me, and i’m certainly happy to have gone there. (note to alumni association: though i am now gainfully employed, i am not ready to be giving you any money. plz do not call me for a few years. kthxbai.)

just prior to graduating there was a posting at a university in montreal for what i (then) considered my dream job: digital services/outreach librarian. not only would i get to play with new tech and figure out how the library could use it to improve services, but i would be involved in lots of instruction and general outreach to the university community. (note: there was no possibility of relocation – we had just bought a house in montreal. yes. i bought a house before finding a job. everyone who freaked on me – i hope you’ve since relaxed.)
i spent days on my cover letter and curriculum vitae. (at the beginning of my final semester of school, i called the directors of both anglo universities in town and asked if i could have an informaitonal interview with them. i highly recommend this. both directors were very willing to meet to discuss what they are looking for in a candidate, what my c.v. should look like, and what to include in the cover letter. both of these directors were looking for very different applications, so i was pretty stoked that i had done this.) having worked in publishing for quite awhile, i had prepared resumes before, but never a curriculum vitae. the experience is both exhausting and exciting as you catalogue your qualities and accomplishments and tweak them to shine for the selection committee.
back to dream job. i get an interview. once i stopped jumping up and down and “w00t”ing myself, i realized that i now had to prepare a presentation which was open to the staff, and get ready for a marathon interview with the selection committee.
the presentation prep was fairly easy as the question was obviously not a stumper: how could the library make use of some emerging technologies? (actually, now that i think back, i think this was the univeristy’s way of swiping ideas for whoever ended up with the job. SCAMMERS!) i tried to make it as unpowerpointish as possible, but must admit i just couldn’t do it without some slides. ick. i know. and the best resource for this prep was definitely my twitter peeps. (ya ya ya, i’m all about the tweep love.) some folks told me what they thought of their discovery tools, others gave me the dirt on tagging (can you really do it in your catalogue? YES), and others just gave me buttloads of support.<
the presentation itself went pretty well. i was pretty nervous but managed to keep it together and deal with the 15 (OMG!) questions at the end.
on to the interview. the panel had four people on it – two associate directors and two librarians. everyone was wicked friendly and disarming. then i saw the stapled stack of papers each had in front of them – it was the list of questions they were going to ask me! ZOMG!
suffice it to say that i don’t remember many of the questions. i remember being given lots of time to formulate answers, and when asked for clarification the tone was never “what the hell are you talking about?” so i was feeling okay. they asked the traditional “if we call your references, what will they tell us is your worst quality?” (my answer: i don’t easily say no so i frequently find myself juggling more balls than i should be. though i rarely miss deadlines – first real job was in the newsroom of a metropolitain daily = homey knows about deadlines – i can become a big ball o’stress if i don’t keep myself in check.) but they also asked some fun questions like “what do you think about the semantic web?” (my answer: i babbled something about information no longer living in boxes and then got really into it and tangential and totally needed to be reeled in.)
three hours later (by which time my stress had actually manifested itself in a string of zits across my forehead – apparently i’m still 15 years old) we were done. everyone said that it went well. much relief was felt by me, and my bladder cuz you know i needed to pee from the moment i sat down in the interview.
up next? interview with the director of libraries. now since i had already done an informational interview, we had some rapport already. i was asked what i considered my biggest accomplishments in life (the decision to go back to school to become a librarian – and actually complete it, the M&S honour, and being the youngest and first female president of my 50 year old rugby club). we then talked about my future, the future of libraries, and where those two might intersect.
and then it was over. and i went home and drank some beer and fell asleep.
and then i waited.
and i waited.
and still i waited.

i knew they were interviewing six people for the position, so i wasn’t surprised to only hear eight weeks later.
i didn’t get the job.
i found out while in seattle at the sla conference and i was severely bummed. but the LSW and SLA peeps that were there snapped me right out of that. and so i was not sleepless in seattle. (joke fail!)

i let the dust settle and then emailed some of the interview panel members and asked for feedback on what to work on for the next interview (didn’t get much help there – “both your interview and your presentation were strong, but we decided to go with another candidate.” uhhhh, okay. but, why?)

so i took a short-term contract at mcgill (which had been offered to me before i graduated) because i had been working there for my final semester and i really enjoyed the work and the people, and though it wasn’t permanent, i had my fingers crossed.

finally there was a posting for a bunch of liaison librarians. again i spent days on my cover letter and curriculum vitae. again i get an interview. again i w00t myself.
i get to the interview where the director says that usually they get the presentation over with right away and then proceed to the interview. and then it dawns on me – they think i have prepared a presentation, but no one sent me a topic to prepare! [insert quiet internal freak out HERE.] so like oh-so-many thing in my life, i winged it. again, not a hard topic (what do you think about roving reference?) so i wasn’t that worried, but this was to the senior administrative group of the library so… un peu stressant.

anyway, they bought whatever i was selling cuz i got a gig at mcgill.


  • spend time on your cover letter and c.v. – it should echo (with the same vocabulary) language used in the job posting
  • show them to people – both fellow students and those already working (you’d be amazed at how friendly librarians are and how much they are willing to help)
  • like in that glorious movie “The Librarian”, everyone will know HTML, LCSH, all about Kuhlthau’s ASK, and have an MLIS – what do you have that makes you different from everyone else? (and you do have something, trust me. i bet it comes from your non-library life. *gasp*)
  • if possible – ask for informational interviews with directors/associate directors in charge of HR to find out what they are looking for
  • if you’re not comfortable presenting, figure out a way to make yourself comfortable. I know it sounds harsh, but you will almost certainly be doing this as a librarian, so if uber-preparation makes you feel best, then do it
  • there are LOTS of jobs out there if you are geographically mobile. if you aren’t, expand your horizons, baby. think special libraries, think records management, think competitive intelligence, think of all the berloody information needs out there and how you can help out with them!

One Comment on “me, school, and job interviews”

  1. 1 Sarah S. said at 10:04 am on October 21st, 2008:

    It may have been long but it was both useful and welcome. Thanks for the post! Gave me, as a library school student, some great ideas for the upcoming job search.

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