by Ruth Kitchin Tillman, Head Editor, INALJ Maryland
How to Prepare for an Interview Like an RPG
In my free time (so, y’know, not since August), I enjoy playing and running role-playing games. When I started job hunting in the fall, my friend Mary Richardson, a fellow gamer-archivist, gave me the advice to think about the boring parts of the application process as “level-grinding” (a term used in video games for repetitive tasks you have to do to get to a cool quest) and the interviews as an RPG session.
I’ve decided to write about how I use the RPG mentality to prepare myself for the rigorous gaming session that is the all-day librarian interview. I’ll be switching a bit between the gamer mentality and the game-master (GM) mentality, since I’ve found both apply to interview prep.
1) Know Your Character
In an RPG, who your character is and what they can do is helpfully written down on a “character sheet.” It not only tells basic stuff like gender, name, race, etc., but gives specific skill points. It may also tell you the details of magic or feats you can call on throughout the quest. How many times can you cast magic missile? What are the specifics around your use of a particular feat?
When gaming, you don’t want to be that person who spends so long looking for these details that they pull everyone out of the game. When interviewing, you don’t want to be the person who spends so long trying to come up with these details that everyone feels uncomfortable.
Now, it may seem straightforward. You’re playing the same character every time, right? You know who you are and what you’ve done.
I’d counter that in each interview, you’re actually playing with a different character sheet. One job I interviewed for had a very strong WordPress focus. Before the interview, I spent a lot of time reviewing what I’d done and pulling up examples so that I’d be ready. At another interview, they didn’t care at all about my ability to use WordPress. It was about as relevant as my 4th- grade science fair project on polar bears.
This isn’t to encourage lying. Your character sheet for an interview always reflects who you are as person and what you’re able to do. But if you’re interviewing for positions as an elf mage and a half-orc barbarian, you should prepare yourself differently.
2) See Yourself as the Character
The best role-players see themselves as the character that they’re playing, but they do it with care. Spend time familiarizing yourself with what the job posting indicates as the person they’re looking for. Review your character sheet to see what you can bring to the table. Then visualize yourself as the character. What does that position look like when you’re doing it? Show that in the interview.
And just as some people can take that idea in RPGs and make it weird, don’t make it weird in the interviewing session. Talk about would, not will. Be the person they’re looking for, not the person who seems to think she already got the job.
3) Know Your Setting and NPCs
This is a cross between a player and GM skill. Before the adventure, absorb the setting and learn about the NPCs or Non-Player Characters (the ones you can’t control). See what projects the library has been doing in the past few years. If they’re full of kobolds, don’t come in and offer to solve their orc problem. If an NPC has won an award for doing X, you should be aware that they’re probably an expert at X and take that into consideration.
As with number 2, don’t make it creepy. Before interviewing for the job I have, I happened to find out through Google that my boss’s daughter was a nationally-rated synchronized swimmer. You know how many times I mentioned that during the interview? Zero. That would have been a bit weird and unrelated to the interview. On the other hand, if you saw that a person won an industry award for X, as suggested above, it’s totally ok to bring that up if relevant.
If they give you a schedule, memorize it and look up all the people you know you’ll be meeting. Do your best to be aware of what you may be encountering throughout your day. When, as a game-master, you spend a lot of time before the game being aware of what will happen when and who people will encounter next, the game flows much more smoothly than when you’re always checking notes.
I tend to be nervous about interviews. While I’m not the perfect interviewee yet, I’ve found this method to be a more familiar way I can approach them. And whether I bring home a job at the end of the day or not, I’ve gotten eXperience Points in interviewing, learned new things, and made new connections.