Like most public libraries who are coming out of the recession, we’ve begun hiring again. Several public libraries in my region invite other library directors in to help conduct interviews, so in addition to doing a lot of interviewing at my library, I’ve also taken part in some civil service exam interviews for my neighboring libraries. Library directors talk–as you know–and one conversation I’ve had several times is about internal candidate interviews.
The interview is the audition, the time for that candidate to dazzle us. Being an internal candidate gives you an edge over external candidates, but you still have to demonstrate that you are the right fit for that particular job, and the way you demonstrate that is by giving an excellent interview. To borrow the attitude of Debbie Allen in Fame, my take is “You want this promotion? You want this permanent position? Well, right here is where you start earning it–with a great interview.”
My library is small enough that I know who you are and have an awareness of what your work is like, but large enough that our interactions are usually limited to a smile, a nod, and perhaps small talk at the Staff Day coffee station. The interview allows me to get to know internal candidates better and get a personal sense of how often they raise their heads above the day-to-day and look around to get the big picture of where our library is headed. So it disappoints me when an internal candidate violates the best practices of a good interview.
A weak handshake, poor eye contact, lackluster or pat responses, too-casual dress, not knowing our strategic plan, and the inability to answer questions taken straight from the About Us section of our website are mistakes that interviewees should avoid. When an internal candidate commits any of these no-nos, I think it’s worse than when it happens with an external candidate because internal candidates should know better. I cringe when internal candidates take themselves out of the running by giving answers such as “I am interested in the position because I need more hours/I need benefits,” “I actually can’t name any of the library’s strategic plan goals,” “I don’t have an answer to that question,” or the kiss of death: Wandering sentences stringing together random thoughts that don’t actually answer the question we asked.
Internal candidates should be slam-dunk hires. They have had the advantage of our training, professional development, and mentoring. You know their work habits, their attitudes, how they serve the public, and how they interact with other staff. The candidates know how the library operates, know what the work atmosphere is like, have demonstrated on a daily basis their commitment to the work, and are familiar with the expectations and personalities.
Don’t get me wrong; many fantastic staff are also fantastic interviewees who have the right balance of passion without being psychotic, demonstrate their knowledge of the library without being nitpicky or arrogant, and are diplomatic in their responses without lying to themselves or to us. I’m being earnest when I say that I don’t understand why some internal candidates don’t seem appropriately prepared for the interview, and I’d like to hear from you, library leaders, about what your expectations are of internal candidates. Do I expect too much?