Interview Questions Are A Two Way Street

If there’s one thing current and prospective academic librarians are always looking for it’s advice about job interviews. One of the most important parts of the interview process are the questions. You know you’ll be getting them, and you already know to anticipate them and be as prepared as possible. For example, you know someone is going to ask (probably more than once) “Why do you want to work here?”. You should have a good message prepared that communicates your passion for the position in a sticky way – so what you have to say is remembered.

When you are the one conducting the interview you need good questions to help get at the candidate’s potential for success at the position. As the job candidate, you should demonstrate the ability to ask thoughtful questions that reveal your intellectual curiosity. So interview questions are a two-way street, and no matter which of the two roles you are playing, coming up with good questions can be a challenge.

One of the non-library columns I like to follow that is a good read for anyone interested in leadership and management issues is the NYT’s Corner Office. Each week a different business executive is interviewed, and the questions typically seek to reveal that executive’s advice for aspiring and experienced leaders and managers. At least one question is usually related to hiring matters, such as “what do you look for in job candidates”, and occasionally the column editor will ask what question(s) the executive likes to ask in job interviews. I’ve found some interesting examples there.

Here are a few from recent columns:

Tell me where you are right now and why you are looking to change?

Can you do the job, and would I enjoy spending time with you?

What do you think you’re really good at?

Tell me about a challenge you’ve overcome, and don’t tell me a work challenge — in life, what’s a challenge you’ve overcome, either as a child or as an adult?

There are five animals — a lion, a cow, a horse, a monkey and a rabbit. If you were asked to leave one behind, which one would you leave behind? I admit the prospects of being asked this one are slim, but if this has gotten you curious take a look to find out what your answer would suggest to an interviewer.

And I saw this one mentioned elsewhere that I’ll paraphrase here because it’s a good one – certainly a challenge: What are you doing now – or something you have done – that will be looked back on five years or more from now and still be considered of importance or value (and interviewees could turn that around as a question for their potential employers – what are they doing now that will still be considered of value to the institution five years or more in the future).

If you’ve struggled in the past with interview questions, either as the employerl posing the questions or the candidate who’ll be answering them, be aware that there are many sources of help found on the Internet (e.g., search “good interview questions”). As an interviewer you want to be asking questions that will ascertain the candidate’s capacity for success. The recommended way to do that is to determine what, in the candidate’s job history, provides a good example of those qualities needed for success. You’ll no doubt also want to ask a few questions to help you get to know the candidate better as a person – to get a sense of how well he or she will fit into the organization.

As a candidate, you absolutely want to avoid having no questions at all, as in “No, I can’t think of anything in particular to ask you.” Don’t think this doesn’t happen – I’ve experienced it more than a few times. As you are doing your advance preparation and research, jot down some questions as they occur to you. Keep them handy during the interview process. Here’s an example: “How do you think your website will evolve to encourage use of your new discovery engine?” Not too difficult to come up with those sort of questions, right. One way to develop good questions is to review the website, the strategic planning document (if a recent one is available) or other content that will help you compose a few questions in advance.

If all else fails, try the one about the lion, horse, monkey, rabbit and cow. That should start an interesting conversation. Of course, just hope the other person is not a reader of ACRLog.

4 thoughts on “Interview Questions Are A Two Way Street”

  1. I’m just finishing up my time on my first search committee, and I have to say that I was most impressed by candidates who had good questions for us. There were several candidates with intelligent answers to our questions, but there were fewer who asked directed questions that showed they had done some research on our institution.

    And yes, we also had interviewees that didn’t have any questions for us at all. I couldn’t understand it.

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