Giving a Good Interview

hhibner —  April 3, 2013 — 1 Comment

I’ve interviewed many, many people over the years for various positions.  One thing never changes, and that is that when selecting the right candidate, personality trumps knowledge.  I can teach someone what they don’t know, but I can’t teach them to have a good personality, to be open to change, and to be enthusiastic.  Sure, I can coach someone on soft skills and try to be a good example of customer service, but in the end they are who they are and you can’t really change people.

I’m not saying you just hire the nicest person. Nice is great, but if the person has limited cognitive ability and you aren’t sure they are capable of learning what you need them to know, then obviously they are not the best choice.  Sometimes skill does matter more than personality.  If the candidate is going to have minimal interaction with other staff or the public, and if their job will require a specific set of skills (which may be so specialized that they’re being hired because no one else on staff has those skills) then you may decide that knowledge trumps personality.

For me, I’d still look for someone with a good personality and send them to a training class if possible.  (And let’s be honest, how many jobs in libraries have minimal contact with at least other staff members?)

Other things to consider when giving an interview:

1.    Ask questions that are relevant to the job.  You’re both there to find someone with the ability to do the job for which you are hiring.  Asking a bunch of strange questions does not accomplish that (and you’re not Google).

2.    It is important to give the same interview to every candidate.  Ask the same questions.  You can certainly ask follow-up questions when an interviewee says something that interests you, but the general structure and outline of the interview should be the same for everyone to keep the playing field level.

3.    Give them a chance!  They’re probably nervous, so warm them up a bit by telling them about the job before you dive into the question-and-answer period.  Offer them a drink of water.  Tell them a little about the library, its history, its patrons, and its staff.  Don’t give them a ten minute lecture, but do ease into things conversationally.  Smile and they will smile back at you.  Make a joke to lighten the mood.

4.    Remember that you are being interviewed too.  Most people want to make sure that the job and the library are a good fit for them as much as they are a good fit for you.  Give them a good impression of the library and what it’s like to work there.



Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library with a mild obsession for collection quality. Ok, maybe not so mild. Find me on Twitter at @hhibner and over at Awful Library Books (!

One response to Giving a Good Interview


    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. The process of selecting the right candidate needs to change not just by the time you get to interview the candidate, but from the time you thoughtfully write the job description. I had a conversation with a former colleague recently about how he wouldn’t have even been qualified for his last job based on the skills and experience required on the job posting to replace him. So be careful about which skills and experience you put as requirements if you are more interested in a fast learner with good emotional intelligence. Look for clues or ways to determine openness to change and enthusiasm from the application materials. I’ve seen a lot of positions that don’t even require a cover letter. I think cover letters and social media presence can give you the first clues about the candidate’s personality.

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