Your ultimate goal for every interview meeting is to
make it easy for them to decide to hire you.
– Anne Langley
Working toward a dynamic, rewarding, opportunity-driven LIS career? If so, you’re likely to change jobs and possibly career directions at least several times (if not ten to twenty). Each one of those changes will probably involve a job interview. I know – arghhhh!
The good news? Learning a few must-have moves will help you, as librarian/author Robin O’Hanlon would say, ace the interview. (I cannot recommend her book, the source of Anne Langley’s quote, highly enough: Ace the Interview, Land a Librarian Job, Libraries Unlimited, 2016.)
There is one specific area, however, that you may want to really focus on.
Who are you and why should we care?
This past year I’ve had an opportunity to speak with nearly a dozen hiring managers for public and academic libraries, and the one frustration they’ve all mentioned is interviewing applicants who can’t explain why they would be a good match for the job in question.
Essentially, these individuals’ resumes and cover letters did a sufficiently effective job of presenting their skills to land them an interview, but when in the actual interview, they seemed to be relying on the interviewers to “connect the dots” between applicant and job.
The result, to riff on Anne Langley’s quote above, is that you make it too hard for interviewers to hire you.
Create the connections for them
The great thing about being asked a broad question like “why should we hire you” is that it gives you an opportunity to take control of your narrative. At that point, you can start describing multiple points of alignment between the job for which you’re applying and the outstanding attributes you possess that make you a terrific match.
In addition, part of your preparation for an interview will be to focus on the broader aspects of the job requirements, the organization and its mission, and the culture of the library, if you’re able to glean that last bit of information.
The job requirements connection. Your goal here is to know not only the job requirements and responsibilities thoroughly, but also any “context” for the job. For example, check the library’s website and/or local media to see if any new initiatives have been announced that might involve your potential job. Assume you’ll want to mention how your skills could contribute.
Can you infer from the job’s description that a substantial part of your work might entail collaboration with community organizations or other library departments? You’ll want to mention your previous work (paid or volunteer) working effectively with interdepartmental teams or volunteer groups.
The more deeply you understand the job and how it fits or could fit into the organization, the more confidently and concisely you’ll be able to talk about why you’re a great match for the position. You’ll be able to draw the connection for your interviewer between “why are you here” and “wow, we should hire you.” And you’ll do it by making that connection clear and easy to understand.
The organization connection. Similar to your job requirements knowledge, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the broader organizational context. Can you find out about issues the library is facing, new programs it’s planning to launch, or perhaps a new demographic the library is hoping to reach out to?
If so, this is another connection you want to be able to draw as you explain your “fit” with the job. Why? Because every library can benefit from a “multipurpose” player. If you can articulate for your interviewer not only how great you’ll be for the job but also for the organization and its strategic goals, you’ve doubled your potential value.
The “cultural fit” connection. Most hiring managers are looking for “fit” as well as a skills match, so you want to make this connection clear for your interviewer as well.
Are you comfortable working on teams as well as working independently? Do you welcome and benefit from feedback from colleagues as well as supervisors? Have you faced an interpersonal challenge with a colleague that you were able to navigate effectively, maintaining a positive working relationship?
These are the types of people skills for which you want to weave in examples during your interview. Your goal is to reassure the hiring manager that you have the emotional and professional maturity to fit in, adapt to new circumstances, and become a positive member of the library “family.” One more way to make it easy to hire you.
What this looks like in an interview
Assume you may be asked in your interview some variation of one or more of these questions:
- Why do you think you’d do a good job in this position?
- Why should we hire you for this job?
- What makes you the best person for this job?
Your response needs to be concise and focused on answering exactly this “why should we hire you” question, based on the job description and what additional information you’ve learned.
Think paired statements. So your answer might be some form of the following:
I believe I’d be an excellent person for this position because my background skills and strengths are a great match with the job requirements you’ve specified.
For example, you’re looking for someone who can….
I’ve had multiple experiences doing exactly this type of work, for example (provide several short examples)
The job description also specifies knowledge of ….
This was one of the series of courses I loved the most in grad school, so I read everything I could get my hands on to learn more and participated in three volunteer projects to practice my skills. As a result, I have a good working knowledge of [activity] and would love to start applying all that I’ve learned for this job.
I also read in a Library Journal article that your library is trying out a new approach with cross-department management teams….
I love the idea of trying out new ways of organizing groups and departments for maximum performance, and if given the opportunity would look forward to contributing to the success of these collaborative teams. In the past I’ve found that bringing together diverse viewpoints and skill sets can produce terrific results, and I’d love to help support that approach here.
Lastly, you always want to include in your “why should we hire you” statement why you want to work for that specific library. So your wrap-up paired statement might look something like…
Finally, I believe you deserve to have someone on board who’s totally committed to the strategic values and goals of this library….
When I read your mission statement, I realized that this is exactly the type of patron-centered approach that represents the future of public libraries and will enable libraries to have the greatest positive impact on the community. This is where I’d want to learn and grow as a professional and high-performing contributor and I’d look forward to helping the library achieve its goals in the community as you’ve just recently outlined in your new mission statement.
Remember: make it easy for them to hire you
Your advance research, response-brainstorming and practice should all prepare you to deliver concise, focused, and on-target answers to the “why should we hire you” question. The more you can address the main elements of the job description with “how I’m terrific at this” or “how I’d enthusiastically support this” or “how I’d look forward to being part of this initiative” types of answers, the easier you’ve made it for your interviewer to hire you.
They wouldn’t have asked you for an interview unless they were interested. Your job is to confirm for them that their interest was, in fact, warranted, and you’re the solution they’ve been looking for.
O’Hanlon, Robin. Ace the Interview, Land a Librarian Job. Libraries Unlimited, 2016. ISBN 9781440839566.
Anne Langley is Dean of the University of Connecticut Library.