Interview Preparation

Preparing for Your Interview

by Mickel Paris, MLIS

Are your answers in interviews too long or too short? Are you perplexed by questions that seem to focus on “the bad things” and not the good things in your resume or work history? Nailing the job interview is more than just a showing up: good preparation for your interview is essential in order to appear polished and confident. Interview preparation is the most time-consuming part of the interview process!

As a recruiter, I paired qualified candidates with prospective employers. In nearly all of my interviews with candidates, the individuals with the highest levels of confidence going into the interview usually won the position. Confidence is knowing not only your strengths, but also your weaknesses. It is almost as important for the employer to know how you handle your weaknesses because these are the areas that the employer will suffer from if you do not know how to address them. The worst answer to give an employer when they ask about your biggest weakness is “I don’t know.” The second worst answer is “I don’t have one.” In the eyes of an employer, these answers reveal that the candidate is too afraid to admit to mistakes, too afraid to understand their own behaviors, and too afraid of responsibility.

Don’t be afraid. Take inventory of both your strengths and weaknesses, and your new employer will respect you — and hire you. But there is a trap to look out for: be sure that your biggest weakness isn’t in the job description! The only way to be aware of this is to know the job description inside and out. If the job description looks like a laundry list of your worst weaknesses, you may have to rethink the position.

The following list will prepare you for the big 5 interview questions, and explain the type of answers employers are looking for (in CAPS):

  1. Q) Tell me about yourself?
    A) GIVE PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND – Keep your answer confined to your professional and school background, and no personal/family history unless it is directly related to the position.
  2. Q) What would your last employer tell me about your work habits?
    A) GIVE STRENGTHS – Give them your strengths and use relevant examples from your past.
  3. Q) What is your biggest weakness?
    A) PROBLEM SOLVE YOUR WEAKNESS FOR THEM- First, always state a personality trait that you can hide your strengths in. For example, “I am a workaholic.” or “I can be too much of a perfectionist.” Do not use these two examples, though, as they are overused. Create one more specific to you. Then, you must share how you solve or mediate your weakness. For the perfectionist example, one could state how setting deadlines or delegating work allows you to take your mind off of making things perfect. The key is that you are able to identify a problem and show how you can solve it.
  4. Q) How do you handle conflict?
    A) GIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS – Any question with the word “conflict” must be answered with examples of your communication skills, as communication is the best method to solve workplace conflicts. Keep your answer brief, emphasizing only your best communication styles and giving relevant examples from your past. Bring up your customer service skills and your ability to solve problems for patrons.
  5. Q) Where do you see yourself in X years?
    A) KNOW THE JOB DESCRIPTION/LIBRARY PROFILE/PRODUCT – Recruiting is expensive and time consuming, and companies want to know you are in it for the long-term. Know the job description and the library’s background and mission, and find common ground with your own needs and goals. Do not say you want to be manager or director in X years, and instead look for ways to show you will be able to master the requirements of the position at the library you are interviewing with. Again, the job description provided by HR and the library’s website will help you. Think of these as cheat sheets, because they really are!

These are the key concepts that will continue to appear in interviews because they are important for the success of everyone on the team: Professionality, strengths, problem solving, communication, job description and product. Some questions may be phrased differently, and others may seem to be focused on the “bad things,” but if you remember that they all come back to the same core ideas, you will be well prepared for any interview. And that will give you confidence.

This post is just a primer for basic interviewing skills. For more in-depth answers and examples of both excellent and terrible ways to answer questions, the videos below have been provided for your reference. More videos on job interviewing can be found on YouTube. Last, but not least, check out the most comprehensive resource on the web for Librarian interview questions at Mr. Library Dude’s blog “Nailing the Librarian Interview.” A set of excellent crowd-sourced questions is available on Hiring Librarians.

Additional online interviewing resources can be found in the following list of websites. These include first impressions, proper attire, interviewing strategies, and post-interview follow-up. Good luck on your interview!

EXTRA: The Storytelling Technique! In a few places above, I have mentioned to give relevant examples from your professional experience in your answers. A wonderful style to use in answering interview questions is the storytelling technique. By framing your answer in a story (a brief one), you can place the interviewer in your shoes. Tell the story about how you introduced your favorite book to a library patron, or how you changed a life. We all have stories to tell: tell yours by coloring your answers with an anecdote or two, and you will find yourself developing rapport with your interviewers.