My Best (Worst) Interview

by Naomi House, MLIS
previously published 5/22/14

My Best (Worst) Interview

IMG_6534Two years ago today I had an interview for a dream job at one of the most prestigious libraries in the country.  I did not get the job and they made the right choice.  I had a great interview despite a wardrobe malfunction and major issues with my online application.  In the end they hired the internal candidate who not only was better informed about the collection, but also had a much better résumé.  I have had great interviews and ones that did not go well at all, but of all the interviews I have ever been on this was the one I learned from the most.  When I look back at the entire process from applying to prepping to the interview and finally, the choice they made I have some valuable take-aways that could help other job hunters.

Applying for the Job: Lessons Learned

Drafts Can Kill Your Chances:  Imagine this: you are applying for a job with a lengthy application and as you go along you are saving it.  Then after you finish you spell check and grammar check the entire application a few times.  You save it once more and upload it double checking you made all corrections.  For many applying for corporate or government jobs the reality is in addition to a résumé and cover letter you will also have to fill out an application.  This can be just a few questions or take many, many hours to fill out; it depends.So what did I do wrong, you ask?  I thought I had saved my draft with the word “draft” in the title and accidentally uploaded the Draft as my final version.  It was full of mistakes such as the incorrect use of there/their/they’re and you can imagine the misspellings.

Now the fact that I even got an interview speaks to exactly how poorly using computers first can be for the application screening process and clearly no human being read my full application before calling me or I never would have made the cut.

So how did I approach this in the interview?  I already knew the mistake and could not fix it at this point.  I had to address it and take responsibility for it.

  • I had a full copy of my application, both the draft and the final versions printed out and with me.  
  • None of the hiring committee members mentioned anything amiss throughout.  
  • We finally got to the part of the interview where they would review my application briefly and asked if I had any questions at this point.
  • This is where I took the opportunity to share with them what had happened.  I took full responsibility for the mistakes, and explained that despite my first effort I do understand how to use their/there/they’re.  
  • I explained that this was not the first time that month that I had this very same issue with submitting a draft in place of a final copy.  In fact I had done the very same thing at my workplace.  I was burning the candle at both ends with working full time and INALJ.com and knew something had to give.  I explained that I had decided to take on more assistants as a solution to my issue.

In review the value I got out of this was:   I was able to accept full responsibility, show I had recognized and acknowledged a critical need of mine that needed to be addressed and finally showed that I had taken steps proactively to solve the issue.

The Best Laid Plans…

The Hardest Button to Button is the One that Snaps Off:  Yep, in the bathroom 5 minutes before the interview my middle button on my suit jacket broke off.  There was no time to sew it back on even if I had a needle and thread and the requisite hand-eye coordination.  It didn’t matter that I had arrived early, scoped out the floor so I knew where to go when the time was just right.  No amount of prepping I did helped.  I had to make do.  Thank goodness I brought all my paperwork and extra copies of my résumé in a nice, sturdy folder.  I was able to use it to block my midsection when walking or drape my arm across my body (casually, lol) otherwise.  When I sat down for the interview I found that unbuttoning the jacket also seemed a natural way to get comfortable and hide the problem.

Looking back I now laugh but at the time I know that it took a great deal of effort to keep this small wardrobe malfunction from showing.  I am better prepared now for future interviews; I keep an extra pair of flats in my purse as well as a needle and thread, just in case.

Following Up: Right After and Beyond

Sending Thanks: Thank you notes by email and snail mail are still something that should be done after every interview.  What you may not realize is just how hard it can be to find the personal email addresses of government and corporate hiring committee members.  I contacted the assistant who had set up the interview but mostly I did some sleuthing but it took a lot of extra time and effort that you might not normally invest if interviewing in a public or academic library.

Running Into The Hiring Committee Again:  The library profession is a small world and I have actually been fortunate enough to meet various members of the hiring committee again at networking events or speaking engagements.  And I have one strategy that I must share: don’t bring up the interview.  It is fine if they do but most likely while they may remember you they may not remember why they remember you.  If you have the pleasure of sitting on a hiring committee chances are you will continue to be given that opportunity and it can be easy to forget people and interviews.  Though this event had a huge effect on me, for the committee it was another in a series of interviews and I was not the more memorable or selected candidate.  I didn’t expect that the interview should have a lasting effect on them in the way it did me.

The other critical reason I never bring it up is that I believe in putting my positive foot forward first, meaning I don’t want to reintroduce a potentially negative impression of me onto this new interaction.  Why rehash or even mention it?  This new interaction is another chance at making a great impression, so I never dwell on what went wrong, just what I can share that is currently going well with me.

You might think, well, she did not get the job so what is this advice truly worth?  What I did was get feedback from the hiring committee and I know that the other candidate simply was stronger hands down no matter what.  I would have hired them over me as well.  What I learned was more about my own limitations as a candidate and areas I needed to strengthen.  I now apply strategies learned from this event and will be a better candidate moving forward and that is all we can ask of ourselves; to learn from our mistakes and try and improve.  We can make it happen (#mih) but only if we evaluate and reflect.

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Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 17.9 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website, KhanMoving.com, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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  3 comments for “My Best (Worst) Interview

  1. Ta-Shire Tribbett
    May 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Great feedback, and the tips are helpful!

    • May 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Fun fact- by thumbnail photo here and in the bio above (yellow background) was taken in Potbelly right before this interview!

    • Brian Miloscia
      May 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Feedback is the most valuable part of any interview process. I always try to leave an interview with a handful of ways I can improve my pitch.

      It can be also quite insightful to learn what you did in order to get the job. When I learned that my technical skills with Access, Tableau and other tools I learned in library school were a major factor in getting my current job, it makes me realize how valuable my library degree really is…even in the corporate world.

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