Interview Tips that I learned from becoming the interviewer

Recently, I was able to actively participate in interviewing candidates for library assistant positions. It was a fantastic experience for me and I really feel like it shed light on interviews in a way it never had for me before. Although some of these may be obvious, they represent things job seekers can do to make themselves a stronger candidate in the eyes of the interviewer:

Answer in STAR:

Whenever a question starts off with “tell me about a time when…” or “tell me about a situation…” you are probably dealing with a STAR question. STAR stands for Scenario, Task, Action, Result—in other words, what happened, why you had to do something, how you did it, and what you accomplished. Most people answer scenario and action, but not task or result. Task shows your leadership skills and that you understand the purpose for your actions. Make sure the action is as specific as possible and adding the result wraps up your answer nicely and enforces your skills at problem solving or whatever it was that the question was really trying to find out about. It is handy to keep in mind that these questions are an opportunity for you to show off your skills and ending with “I successfully accomplished this [result],” is always a bonus.

Less is more when you are introduction an example:

I do not need to hear every little detail about how it started or the background, just the basics to understand it. What we are really interested in is what you did.

Act like the person interviewing you has never seen your resume:

Yes, they probably have, but they probably did not pour over it the way you did when you were writing it. I want to see that you know what strengths you have that would benefit this position. One of the candidates I interviewed had amazing educational experience that I felt was incredibly relevant to the position, but they failed to mention it in the interview.

Bring a sticky note:

I always bring a pen, resume, cover letter, job description, my notes on what things I want to talk about, and any examples of work I have done that I plan to bring up in the interview (just in case they want to see them). What I have learned is that none of these are as important as a small and brief sticky-note of examples or skills that you want to mention. I never even look at all that other stuff and have yet to ask for any of that from a candidate! Try to do a quick skim of your sticky note near the end of the interview so that you can follow through with my next tip:

End it with a sales pitch:

At the end of the interview, bring up points that you failed to make or do a brief closing sales pitch about why you are the best candidate for the position. If you had planned to mention something and it never came up in the interview, try to bring it up at the end.

Only some of the questions matter a lot:

Your interviewer probably has key questions that are important to them and candidates usually do not know which ones those are ahead of time. My point here is that the ones you think you answered badly may not be the ones they even care much about. For example, out of all the questions asked only a few were scrutinized in detail and used to compared each candidates.

Always try to bring up any relevant transferable skills (especially if the area is one you are not strong in):

It is ok to say you do not have experience in something, just re-enforce that it is something that you want to learn more about. When I asked the candidate about their experience in a common library skills set, their answer was that they did not have any. However, it was a skill set that I could easily have seen her answering with transferable skills from one of their past positions.

Look like you will fit in with the library’s brand:

If you already work for the organization, wear your name badge/library logo somewhere on you for the interview. If you do not work for the organization, try to wear their brands’ colors or other merchandise, if you can slip it in casually; for example, using a book bag with their logo on it in the interview room. It makes it easier to visualize you as an employee to the interviewer.

I hope these tips may help some people out there with looming LIS interviews!

The other side of the Diploma

My final semester of library school may well have been the busiest time in my life. In my final week of school I moved across the country, bought a house, started a new job, and finished my degree. Before then I had spent the last several months as the chair of the MLIS Student Council, job hunting, house hunting, working part-time as a library assistant and finishing 4 courses. Busy does not even begin to describe it! I was incredibly happy to have been offered the position I most wanted and went straight into it on the Monday after the last day of class!

Now that things have finally started to calm down, I am starting to reflect on the entire experience of grad school. I will have more to say about this in upcoming blog posts, but I also wanted to extrapolate on my position for LIS students currently asking that perennial question, “what’s it like to be a librarian?”

In a word, it is BUSY.

My current position is mostly supervision and scheduling of library assistants, but the other large part of it is doing business research for corporate clients who come to the public library as an independent researcher and pay for the work that I do for them. It is a really neat job and I’m using a ton of great resources. The information I learned in business and industry information has been very handy and I actually need to take some time to review all my notes to make sure I remember everything that I learned.


For example, I had a client coming in from a software company that caters to oilwell drilling. They were looking to expand their business into other fields or subsectors and are looking for me to do research into this as well as create company contact lists. At the moment we use ReferenceUSA: Canadian Businesses heavily and I usually spend a large amount of time using it.  


The other sorts of questions I get relate to local history information which is not available online and for which I often can be found digging through our historic directories looking up things like which companies where in Calgary at what time, what their advertisements look like & locations, professional historic directories like the College of physicians & surgeons of Alberta, and more. Even looking up personal information about individuals through our white pages and other local directories to find out where they lived, what their profession was, or whether someone with that name existed then. I do a lot of work for legal and estate issues, film and television production (go figure!), genealogy, business librarians, and anyone looking for info from the local newspaper archives. However, it is always something new and exciting! Crime history and prospect research are two new areas of information searching I’ve done in the last week alone!

In short, librarianship has been amazing so far. Many learning opportunities have arisen in this position and I can’t wait to see what else will come up!

The Uselessness of Internet Filtering

I attended a very convincing presentation about the ineffectiveness of internet filtering by Emily Lawrence and Richard Fry called “Pornography, Bomb Building and Good Intentions: What would it take for an internet filter to work?” at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Colloquium held in Toronto at the U of T on October 18th, 2014.

It basically argued that filters aim to prevent interactions between certain content and certain users. Actual filtering software is incapable of differentiating between which exact user (by age, maturity, prior knowledge, intent, etc) and which exact content is being accessed. Therefore filtering can never work without being magic or having mind-reading abilities. Perfect example that a friend and I just thought up, what if a teen is checking a porn site because she wants to make sure a photo of herself hasn’t been exploited on it? Filtering software couldn’t predict the intent and therefore would never be able to understand this user’s interaction and would prevent it from happening.

Tara Robertson came up with a list of internet filtering practices at public libraries in Canada and it I’m not surprised that it isn’t positive. Nearly all public libraries filter their internet.

I asked the presenters about what to do in the case of material that is illegal in Canada: obscene materials and child pornography. They agreed that these materials should be banned and brought up the fact that these materials involve concern over the production of the content being harmful rather than the case of porn where it is interaction of some users that is of concern, namely children or youth. For materials that are obscene or illegal, people would agree that all of the content should be made inaccessible to all of the users. In the case of filtering porn instead people do not agree because not all of the content needs to be filtered and not all of the users need to be protected, hence this disparity results in information access being restricted for users.

It was a very convincing argument that I probably fail to articulate as effectively, but it was a very meaningful discussion to me.

Promote your library with ‘Golden tickets’

What a fantastic way to build community interest by having a treasure hunt! Boone County Public Library recently held a contest where they hid Golden tickets in library books. The tickets were worth $40 library bucks that could be used to eliminate fines or buy book sale items.


Let’s hope this didn’t result in too many books being torn off shelves in a flurry of excitement!

Journalism Literacy in LIS (or lacktherof) – Also Stephen Colbert

I have been thinking a lot about journalism lately, and the importance of cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing. Some of the best things I have learned in this degree have been from learning about a discipline I had little knowledge in such as computer science knowledge of how databases and networks work. I also think it is important for librarians to know how the publishing industry works and I was lucky enough to have heard from two collections librarians for a vendor, who gave some good insight into that area. Similarly, a large amount of information is disseminated through media, yet the basics of journalism are something I know almost nothing about. This is a gap I will be bringing up as feedback for the program, though I think this is a common problem and not unique to any particular library school.

I’ve talked about this before, but it came up again as I was listening to this interview of Stephen Colbert on Slate Radio’s show Working. In it, he gives a breakdown of his roles as a writer, producer, and comedian. One of the ideas that interested me most was his concept of distillation: he says that he ‘distils’ the news. He uses primary sources for his stories whenever possible so that no distillation has already occurred. He also talked a bit about what it is like to write for his program The Colbert Report and mentions that he has several researchers working for him. Adding that to the list of jobs that I would love to do. Except the person in that job probably would benefit from knowing more about journalism! (PS you can find a list of people who have this job on LinkedIn)

As I was listening I enjoyed learning a little bit about tv/news production. Because of my visit to CBC’s Toronto headquarters last week, I also know a little bit more. Hopefully once I am done my degree these will be something I can look into and learn more about on my own.

New York’s High Line

The-High-Line-at-the-Rail-Yards_dezeen_468_01Photo by Iwan Baan

Just love this innovative idea in urban design that turned abandoned railway tracks into a city park. What a fantastic way for communities to reclaim unused space. This reminds me of the ‘pop-up parks‘ that occurred around Calgary in the past, such as this one in Victoria Park that I enjoyed in 2012. Although they are temporary, I think all communities should get to enjoy the space that serve no other purpose (and are usually just vacant lots/eyesores). Wouldn’t it be great to have a pop-up library programming space in the communities where library programming room space is at a premium? Too bad Calgary doesn’t have Florida-weather as that would make this proposition a lot easier to turn into a reality!

Judging a book by it’s cover

IMG_1266There’s no denying that we all judge books by their cover. In libraries, book jacket covers come into play most often in readers advisory. By looking at a cover, our patrons make snap decisions about its content and how much they will enjoy it and it is sometimes the librarian’s goal to coax users into books whose covers don’t appeal to them. To learn more about book jacket design, check out this article The Jacket Designers Challenge: To Capture a Book By Its Cover. It’s about designer Peter Mendelsund whose new book Cover explores the art of book covers and features explanations as well as rejected designs.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I liked his note that dead authors get the best book jackets because there are less people to go through for approval. I also appreciate that he reads the books before he designs a cover. I get the feeling from some of the other book jackets I’ve seen that this is not always the norm.

I attended a virtual seminar last semester that talked about the concept of a coverflip, which is basically changing the gender of a book with gendered cover art. The purpose behind this is to create interest in the work from the opposite gender. My first reaction to gender stereotyped book cover is that I don’t believe gender is  a binary and that books should be targeted at readers of every gender in order to get the widest reading interest. However, books are regularly marketed at one gender through graphic representation on their cover. The best example illustrating this disparity is The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian from this site. The real cover is on the left, the imagined female version on the right. The absolutely Diary Part Time

Clearly cover art is affecting reader—positively or negatively—though their design. Something for librarians, especially those doing readers advisory, to be aware of and keep in mind as they suggest titles to readers.