Hiring During and Beyond the Pandemic

We’re welcoming a new colleague to our library this semester. I’ve read some great pieces about transitioning to a new position this very unusual year, including from fellow ACRLogger Hailley Fargo. And I think that much of what I’ve read and what we’ve done at my place of work in the pre-pandemic years still holds true. But amidst the onboarding and orientation I’m finding myself reflecting on how the hiring process has changed (and where it didn’t change) during this second year of the pandemic.

Like many institutions, hiring across the university was mostly frozen last academic year. I was so grateful when the freeze was lifted and we were able to list our position soon after the Spring semester ended. As is common in academic library job searches and as has been our practice in the past, once our position had been posted and we’d had our interview pool approved, we began with first round interviews of about 30 minute in length. In prior years we’d held these interviews on the phone, and more recently on Skype; of course now that we’re all on Zoom all the time that’s what we used for this round. For this round (and subsequent Zoom interviews) the biggest difference was all of us on the search committee zooming in from our homes or offices, rather than sitting together in a group in the Library’s projection room as we’d done in the past.

The second round interviews with the smaller pool of candidates, on the other hand, were very different from our prepandemic practice. These interviews used to include a presentation and a longer interview with the search committee, both on campus and in the Library. This time around we were again on Zoom, beginning with the presentation and continuing to the interview with the search committee. While we did have a library visit eventually, because of pandemic restrictions and what at that time was still limited access to our campus, we pushed that visit to the very end of the process and invited only our finalist candidate for a visit. For this search our finalist was local so we didn’t need to discuss relocation, though if we’d had a finalist from out of town we would certainly have arranged a visit as well.

While the search process was definitely different than for prior searches, there were also some definite advantages to nearly-completely online hiring. We invite all library faculty and staff to the semifinalist candidate presentations, and value this as an opportunity for staff that the librarian in this position supervises to meet the candidates. With these presentations online while our library wasn’t yet open to patrons, it was easier for all faculty and staff to attend. And with most personnel still working remotely it was also slightly easier to schedule some interviews, though the timing of the search over the summer months meant we were dodging vacation time for the search committee (which is the same with summer searches we’ve run prepandemic).

And I was pleased and relieved to see that many of the changes we’d put in place to make our Library’s recruitment and hiring practices more equitable served us well during the almost-all-remote search process, too. We continue to list librarian positions at both Assistant Professor and Instructor rank; the latter requires the successful hire to earn a second graduate degree within 5 years, which they can do at our university (with tuition remission). We also send the detailed schedule and interview questions to candidates in advance, and share information about the faculty union and salary schedules as well. I continue to be grateful for Angela Pashia’s terrific blog post with suggestions (and further reading) on ensuring a diverse pool of candidates for librarian jobs, which has been so useful for my colleagues and I as we’ve rethought our processes over the years.

It has been truly delightful to welcome our new colleague. If you’ve taken a new job during the pandemic, or been on a search committee during this time, we’d love to hear about your experience — drop us a line in the comments below.

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.