This is a brief guide for students applying for academic law library positions, prepared specifically for the Graduate Assistants at the University of Illinois College of Law Library, and GSLIS students pursuing academic law library positions.
The guide covers the interviewing process, beginning with the screening or phone interview, through the on-campus interview and offer and negotiation. It is based on the author's experience with the process as an applicant as well as a member of a hiring committee at 3 institutions over 16 years. Your mileage may vary, of course -- any and all suggestions for additions are welcome!
DO read your interview schedule! Be sure to keep a copy with you throughout the day.
DO find out who does what. Make yourself familiar with people’s names and positions before you get to the interview.
DO prepare notes or questions for each of your meetings listed on the schedule. Are you meeting with the head of technical services? Maybe you can ask about how they manage their serials, whether they still check-in or bind, or how satisfied they are with the staff module to their catalog. Librarians and staff will appreciate that you know what they do and care enough to ask. It doesn’t have to be your specialty, but find out enough about what they do to be able to hold a conversation with them.
DO educate yourself about the goals of the law school and library. Where do they see themselves in terms of peer institutions, and where are they headed? These can be handy topics to raise with the Dean, University Library Head, or other administrators you meet.
DO check out the Director’s publication history. It helps to know what his or her management philosophy is, and whether he/she has other areas of research interest. Check out the publications of other professional staff if you can.
DO glance over the faculty directory. Faculty who are leaders in their field tend to be heavy users of the library. It will help if you know who they are, or at least what areas of expertise are emphasized at the law school. You can also find out about specialties in the institution by looking for “Centers” or “Institutes” on the college’s website.
Standard Interview Questions:
You’ll be asked many questions throughout the interview. Some may be vaguely familiar of other job interviews, such as, “Describe the worst day you ever had, and how you handled it.” Check with the usual suspects for a list of standard interview questions, if you need more examples. Prepare by thinking about these questions, but don’t over-prepare your answers to the extent that they appear rehearsed.
Skills & Experience Questions:
On an interview for an entry-level position, you won’t be expected to demonstrate your extensive knowledge of legal bibliography or teaching skills. In fact, if this will be your first full-time position as a librarian, be sure not to overstate your experience in any of your communications with interviewers (including in your resume or cover letter). You’ll be able to leverage your experience in all your conversations throughout the day, but let your knowledge speak for itself, rather than characterizing your experience in a certain way. Honestly, most librarians will view anything other than a full-time librarian position as graduate-level work, and you will need to show them how broad and deep your skillset is. Your references should also be selected for their ability to speak to the level of your experiences, and to put them in context for the interviewing institution.
You may be asked questions about standard resources that you have used, and projects that you have worked on. Familiarize yourself with at least a few standard resources that you can talk about. Can you list 10 reference resources that every law library should have, or your 5 favorite research databases? Or if you’d rather, the 5 resources you think every law student needs to be familiar with before they graduate?
Interviewers listen to the language of your answers as well as the content, as an indication of how well you understand the issues and culture of law librarianship. You may say that you have experience with shifting, or checking in serials, but the way you speak about your experience will tell the real story. Prepare by talking to law librarians about the current issues in their work and professional life. What challenges do they see in their work?
“Getting to know you” Questions:
You’ll have more casual time with the staff than you might expect. Someone may pick you up from the airport, give you a tour around town or the campus. And throughout the day, as you wait for everyone to arrive at a meeting, or are escorted from meeting to meeting, you’ll have a lot of small moments to make connections with the staff. These moments are extremely important; be sure to respect their time and make an effort to connect with everyone.
Be yourself, try to remain relaxed, let them ask their questions, and let everyone get to know you. The faculty and staff are evaluating you as a future colleague, so some of your success in the interview process will depend on intangibles.
You should have questions ready for nearly everyone you meet with, based on the schedule that you should receive in advance. Don’t dominate your meetings, but if you consistently decline the opportunity to ask questions, you prevent the staff from getting to know you.
Don’t lavish generic praise on the library in the absence of something to say. Be genuine in your comments. Candidates who approach an interview with wide-eyed admiration will be seen as naïve at best, and desperate at worst. Be diplomatic, and straightforward.
Do assemble a list of questions about the University, the Law School, the Library, and living in the community. You can draw on this list when you meet with various members of the staff throughout the day.
After the initial application review, most institutions use some type of brief screening interview to look more closely at a number of candidates, before deciding who to invite to campus. Institutions generally invite 2-5 people to campus to interview for a position that is advertised nationally. They may conduct phone or Skype interviews with a number of applicants, they may contact references, or both. If you are applying in the summer, the institution may conduct short screening interviews at the AALL Annual Meeting. These are only preliminary meetings, however; I can’t think of an institution that would make a hire based only on a phone interview or AALL interview.
You should be aware that the institution may be talking to quite a few applicants during the screening process (we've done phone interviews with as many as 12 candidates!), so it’s important to make your best impression! Know your strengths and challenges, ask someone you trust to help you conduct practice interviews, and accept feedback.
This might be a good time to ask for feedback on your resume and cover letter as well; ask your colleagues for feedback on what they would want to know in a phone interview. What questions remain after your application? Write out some of your thoughts on typical interview questions, such as describing the work you’ve done in current or past positions, and relating incidents where you had to handle a difficult patron.
Minimize distractions and interruptions during the call, and be sure to test out your equipment beforehand, if you’re using Skype or another technology.
You’ve received a call from the Director of the Blackstone University Law Library - now what?
Generally, once a candidate has accepted an invitation to campus, the Director or chair of the search committee will hand the candidate off to an administrative assistant who will coordinate the details of your visit. You will need to choose among the institution's available dates, sometimes as soon as a week from the date of your call. The institution should cover all your expenses (hotel, airfare, and incidentals); some arrange most or all of a candidate’s travel, and others expect you to make your own arrangements and will reimburse you after the interview. Be sure to ask whether you need to save receipts for things like cabs and meals on travel days. Be sure also to ask whether you will need to give a presentation, and if so, whether they have a requirement or expectation for the subject of the presentation. More about the parameters of the presentation below.
To Interview or Not to Interview?
You may have had some doubts about the position since you applied. And now you see that call on your phone from Blackstone’s area code, and you wonder what you should do if you’re not so interested anymore. Here are a few tips for managing such concerns:
Ambivalence is ok. Don’t feel guilty about accepting an invitation to interview despite having some doubts about the position. Take some time to clarify the nature of your doubts, prepare a list of questions that will help you resolve your concerns, or a list of pros and cons. Are you ambivalent about the geographic location? Do you perhaps have a preconceived notion of what that particular school or library is like? Do you have questions prompted by information you’ve obtained from colleagues? If your concerns can be addressed in an on-campus interview, then give them the chance to win you over!
Don’t waste time. Don’t accept an interview if you’re not serious about the process, however. It’s much better to withdraw from a search graciously than to waste everyone’s time. Most search committees won’t think any less of you for withdrawing – they understand that you may have irons in several fires, and that many factors influence your search, including changes in circumstances with other applications. The timing can get complicated, though; don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for advice on how to handle the situation when you're waiting expectantly on an offer from one institution and are offered an interview at another.
Be honest, but keep an open mind. Keep an open mind throughout the interview process as you interact with the committee and other staff, including the person who assists you in scheduling your visit. The committee and other faculty and staff meeting with you are aware that you have questions of your own. An interview for an academic law library position shouldn’t be a love-fest; it should actually be much more like a very, very long first date. Be honest in answering the interviewers’ questions, be as open as you’re comfortable being, but suppress your confusion or conflict if you can, and avoid drawing them into it. Talk through doubts with your friends and family and mentors, not the interviewers. This includes doubts about whether you can afford to live in the area; there’s no point in raising specific salary concerns until you’ve been offered the position, or at least until the Director has asked you about your salary requirements. Do ask questions about where people would recommend house/apartment-hunting, though.
(Flight Information here)
(Librarian/Staff) will pick you up at the airport at your arrival time. Her phone number is (___) ___-____, please contact her if you have any questions or problems during your travel.
5:50pm - _____ will pick you up in front of your hotel for dinner at (Restaurant name & address)
(Description of restaurant here)
7:30am - 8:30am (Director) will pick you up in front of your hotel for breakfast at (Restaurant name and address).
8:45am - 9:15am - Meeting with (Associate Director) in Room ___
9:20am - 9:50am - Meeting with (Dean) in Dean's suite
9:55am - 10:20am - Meeting with Public Services staff in Conference room
10:20am - 10:50am - Meeting with HR Representative in Conference room
10:55am - 11:25am - Preparation for Presentation in Library Classroom
11:30am - 1pm - Presentation to College of Law Community (faculty, staff, and students invited, and librarians from other units on campus)
(Note: lunch is served at 11:30am; presentation 12 noon - 12:30pm; questions 12:30-12:40pm; presenter lunch 12:40-1pm)
1:10pm - 2:00pm - Meeting with Librarians in Conference room
2:30pm - 3:00pm - Meeting with Campus Promotion and Tenure representatives (Names here) at Main Library Rm ___. (Library staff) will walk you over to the library.
3:10pm - 3:40pm - Meeting with (University Librarian) at Main Library Rm ___. (Library staff) will return to walk you back to the law school.
4:00pm - 5:00pm - Meeting with (Library Director). (Library staff) will take you back to your hotel.
Breakfast on your own. Some recommendations within walking distance of your hotel: (here)
10:00 am - 11:00 am - Tour of city with (staff member). Please check out of your hotel and bring your belongings, as (staff member) will take you to the airport after the tour.
(Flight information here)
Write thank-you notes, always. The general rule is to send a note to anyone you met with. In a 2-day interview, the list could be long. So if nothing else, send notes to the Director and to the head of the search committee, and thank them for their time and attention. Send them as soon as possible after the interview; consider bringing your blank notes with you on the trip, so that you can at least address them on the way home, if not write them out. You want these to arrive on the interviewers’ desks before they make their decision. It’s pretty awkward having to write these after you get word that they selected someone else.
Speaking of which, practice varies as far as letting candidates know that they are not going to be offered the position. It’s fair to ask
When an offer arrives, you will be expected to negotiate. Asking for more money or housing or relocation assistance or other benefits is not evidence of greed, or poor social graces. Think of it as a formal exercise in negotiation rather than a yes/no question.
When negotiating, decide what will get you to “yes” before you start asking for things. Do you need to make a certain dollar figure in order to afford the move? You need to make that clear to the person extending the offer. You don’t need to completely reveal your hand, but give them something they can work with. Do your research before that call comes in.
Don’t begin negotiating if what you’re asking for isn’t a deal-maker. Asking for more money and then turning them down is definitely poor form. If your spouse needs a job, make that clear at the outset, and ask whether they can provide any assistance in finding them a job.
Be honest, but don’t apologize for your requests. Talk to colleagues or mentors about finding the right language, if you’re concerned. Many issues can be raised in the negotiation process, including housing assistance, office space, start date, family benefits, moving expenses and employment for your spouse.
Be sure you understand the market, in terms of salary, before you begin negotiations. Be sure to look at the AALL Salary Survey, and talk to colleagues about any questions you have. The Salary Survey doesn’t identify institutions, but there may be other ways of finding out what they pay. For instance, most state schools publish all salaries. They may be published only in print, but someone else (like a local newspaper) might put those online.
Some of these are almost certainly obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded:
Small World Alert. Don’t bash any librarian, vendor, or institution. As tempting as it might be, don’t use this to try to connect with library staff or faculty. It’s just not worth the risk of offending someone during an interview. The academic law librarian community is very small, word gets around, and you’ll never have a second chance to make a first impression. The junior librarian on your interview schedule today might be a director at the institution you interview at when you’re looking to move.
Goals. Approach all interviews with a sense of your own goals for the future. Even if they’re fuzzy goals, decide ahead of time what you feel comfortable talking about. Are you very interested in being a Director someday? Are you ultimately wanting to be in Chicago to be near family? Be honest when asked.
Alcohol. If the search committee or another group takes you out to dinner the night before your interview, you may be faced with a decision about whether or not to drink. Follow the staff/librarian/faculty’s lead. If they order something, it’s entirely proper for you to follow. But be very cautious here; don’t risk your alertness the next day for the sake of trying to connect with the group at dinner. Know yourself and err on the side of restraint.
Sharing. You might be surprised to find that during the interview process, the librarians and other staff are particularly keen to get to know you. Decide ahead of time what you’re comfortable sharing about yourself and your family, and what’s important to you that they know. Dinner with the search committee or staff is exactly the right time to ask questions about the University and College racial climate, or recognition of same-sex partners, or Sunday work expectations, etc. Bottom-line, ASK THE QUESTIONS YOU NEED TO ASK. If you’re concerned about how to ask, talk with colleagues before the interview.