Interviewing: Let's Ask Questions! (Hiring Series #5)

It’s a conversation!


Working your way through the hiring process is tough on everyone. By the time you to the interviewing stage, employers have looked at dozens (or hundreds) of applications. Job hunters have applied to dozens (or hundreds) of different jobs. Everyone is tired and wants the whole thing to be over.

But this is it! This is the biggie, the final step, the weeding down to the final good candidates. After this, the hiring process will (hopefully!) be done -and everyone involved lives happily ever after!

Well, ideally anyway.

In reality, this is where it can be too easy for either party to make a bad misstep that throws a wrench into the process and prevents the best person from getting the job. It is surprisingly easy to screw this up.

I have spent time on both sides of the interviewing table. It’s hard for both, everyone is nervous, everyone wants to make a good impression. Employers who do not understand they are being interviewed just as much as the candidate are missing a prime opportunity to impress someone who could be a valuable member of the team for the next several years. Candidates who miss the boat on making that same good impression are left to continually wonder why they are not getting offers.

Some of my memorable interviews include the woman who started crying because she was so nervous talking to me. (Automatic “no hire” vote for fast-paced customer service jobs.) The guy who looked at the job description we offered him (after mailing him one also), and said he didn’t like the job and wanted to leave. The too-many people who showed up in ripped jeans, needing a shower.

And more often I would get people who had no idea how to answer a question. The final question in any interview should always be “What questions do you have for us?” If the candidate nervously giggles and says “Well, you answered all my questions already!” I am miffed. I want to hire people who want to work for my library; and that means showing some interest in what we do. There are hundreds of questions you can ask about any library, from budget to staffing practices to materials selection to programming. Being unable to come up with even one question gives a candidate a very unimpressive finish to the process.

And the other side of the table can be just as challenging! I went to an interview for a high-level job, and was kept standing in the hallway while they chatted with the previous candidate. Twenty minutes past the time my scheduled 25 minute interview was supposed to start, someone came out to tell me it would only be a couple more minutes. After 30 minutes I gave up and left. I’ve been to interviews where they did not know what job I was applying for, or had not read my resume or application – and on doing so in front of me said I was not qualified for the job (I was!), and one memorable interview where the person just complained about his job the entire time. I felt lucky to escape all these bad jobs!

How do you make your job interview better, and bring in the best candidate??

  • PLAN AHEAD! Have a list of questions, ask the same ones in the same order of each candidate. Know where you are meeting, and make it conducive to discussions. (I had an interview that met in a Starbucks; the interviewer kept shouting “What? What?” over the noise of the lunchtime crowd.) Read the application before the person arrives!
  • Interview in pairs. Or maybe a small team. If the candidate needs to work with these people all the time, knowing right away that they can’t handle talking to more than one person at a time is important! And it is better to have one person asking questions and one person taking notes (you can switch off each question); then you can compare notes and impressions – because everyone notices different things.
  • Make your questions count. Don’t ask questions just for the sake of talking – make them relevant to the job at hand. And of course: DO NOT ASK ILLEGAL QUESTIONS! These are generally related to a protected category: age, nationality, parental status, religion, or other. Most people probably do this innocently – but it is still wrong, and can land you in a lot of legal problems. So don’t ask about a person’s religion, but (if this is actually true) tell them there will be work required on Friday or Saturday or Sunday, and ask if they can work that schedule. Don’t ask if they have kids, but say the schedule is fluid and includes nights and weekends – and is that going to be something they can do. Keep focusing in on the tasks that need to happen with this job. It is okay to talk about the tough parts of a job; better someone knows going into a new job knowing it will be a challenge, than show up and be surprised – and quit the next week.
  • Beware the halo effect! You might want to let your tea-filled good feeling influence you to like a candidate; or you might be tired and grumpy at the end of the day and think badly of the last candidate. Put aside other considerations and just focus on the person in front of you, to give them the best chance to impress you. This is where making notes comes in handy; you can refer back to them later to be sure you take into consideration all the important things about each individual before making an important decision.


How do you make the best impression when you are the candidate? It is surprisingly easy to make a good impression on the employer! Essentially, the entire process is there to get someone hired who can do the job, doesn’t cause a lot of drama, and can work without much training or supervision because that does not exist in most libraries anymore. You show you can do that, and you are right at the head of the line to get hired!

  • Be you! You want to be you, not some fake self that you think will be nicer or more hireable. That person may get hired, and then the real you shows up -and the fit might not be so good! So be you, but consider being a version of you that might be okay vising your grandmother. We are getting more liberal in regard to tattoos, piercings, and exciting hair colors; but consider whether that is the way you want to be seen in the interview. If yes: you be you! If these things are important to you, and it causes you to not get a job – you would not have been happy there anyway.
  • Dress up, but not too much. In libraries, we are not overly formal (usually); but you want to look like you are ready to work and know how to be part of a professional organization. No jeans, tennis shoes, t shirts, nothing ripped. Clothes should be clean, not wrinkly. Nothing see-through, no underwear showing.
  • Take a shower. Yes, I know YOU know to do this – but as this is an issue for some, I want to be sure we mention this fundamental and important part of making a good impression!
  • Answer the questions. It is fine to ask for a moment to collect some ideas for a complicated question; but in general you should have prepped answers to the most common questions so you are ready to talk about all your great skills!
  • Don’t get thrown! The answer to pretty much every question is to explain how you are ready to be great at this job. If they ask an oddball question like “What kind of tree would you like to be?” your very easy answer is “The kind that holds up an organization, is able stand in the face of difficulties, and comes to work on time.” They don’t want your life history; they want to know how you could fit into this job and help their library.


At the heart of it all, interviews are a chance for employers and candidates to sit down and talk with each other about a job. While they can be nervous experiences, they should resolve into reasonably friendly exchanges of ideas and information. If that is not happening, the interview is going badly. Employer should readjust to ensure they are providing good opportunities. Candidates should consider whether they want to work in a potentially challenging place: an employer will not be nicer to you than they are in the interview.


Do you want to talk about an interview before you go through it, either as an employer or a candidate? Contact us at CMLE Headquarters, and we can help!