Surviving and thriving and getting that professional archives position.

Welcome. If you're here, you're probably wondering how to get some job--maybe the perfect professional archives position or maybe just something you can use as a springboard--and you're seeking advice on how to do that. From searching for advertisements to writing a resume or cover letter to making it through the interview. And hopefully even beyond.

No guarantees, you probably already know a lot of this, but maybe some help from a lot of people who want to make sure that good candidates get good jobs. If you've got better advice? or need further explanation? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview part 7: canned answers, not so canned questions

The follow-up to the previous set of seven questions was this: "If you use any of those questions, do you expect the candidate will have prepared or semi-prepared answers for them?"

31% said "Yes, all." 60% said "Yes to some." 9% said no. In other words? You probably should have prepared answers to them. As I noted in the BTP posting on phone interviews, you don't want to sound too glib or over-prepared, but when the first question off the stump is "Why do you want this job?" it shouldn't sound like it's taken you by surprise. An outline is better than a script because you will sound more involved and thoughtful plus you can work in anything you've learned from the interview so far. If you're the very nervous type, it might be nice for you to have a script, just remember that you shouldn't sound like you're reading a pre-prepared statement. For those interviewers who want to see how well you can talk without preparation, trust me, they'll have some other questions throughout the interview to test that. These aren't those questions.

The next question I asked was if the interviewers had any questions with a definite right/wrong answer which they used specifically for a right/wrong answer. About half the respondents said no, a few of them pointing out that they prefer more open-ended questions. I tend to go with open-ended questions myself, but I do have a few where there's still a wrong answer and since I occasionally hear that wrong answer, I continue to use that question as a weeding mechanism. Usually you can spot these questions: they're the non-open-ended ones. "Do you work well in teams?" Or the open-ended where you should know by the very fact that they're being asked that there's a wrong answer. "Tell us about a time when you worked in a collaborative environment." (Strong hint: if they're asking? It's because it matters. "I don't like working in collaborative environments and here's why" is the wrong answer.) The questions about being flexible as to work schedules or environments, the teamwork questions, the questions as to how you take direction, correction, how you might go about correcting others, all have potential to be one of these right/wrong answers. They don't have to be, if you answer them correctly. You can turn these into real and informative answers for the interviewers.

One of my previous places of work had one of these questions on the interview list. I was asked it when I interviewed there and I thought "well, that's a dumb question. Anybody with half a brain is going to answer this way." And after I got the job, I mentioned that to my new boss, about how I was so surprised at that dumb question, it was obvious what the right answer should be and nobody would say otherwise. Her response to me was "the crazies will be candid and give you the wrong answer because they aren't able to figure that out." I later sat in on an interview and one of the candidates gave the wrong answer. And as this candidate explained his/her point of view, I realized that yes, this person was never going to be able to work with others, was never going to take direction. This person couldn't listen to a simple yes/no question and step back and think: if they're asking a question this dumb, it's because this has been a problem in the past for them, and thus if I want this job, I need to answer a certain way. And no, I'm not going to tell you what the question is because I still use it and it still weeds out candidates effectively. Even though I know the candidate with the right answer may be lying because they've picked up on the subtext, I'm still better off with them, with this person who gets the value of being politic or tactful occasionally, than I am with the person who doesn't clue in at all.

For the last section on this posting, I'd like to go over the survey responses to the question "What interview questions do you find most helpful and why?" The answers fell into two categories: general areas of inquiry and then specific questions. Let me go with the general ones first.
  • questions that encourage candidates to talk about previous accomplishments and challenges
  • anything that gets the candidate to talk and talk freely and confidently
  • scenario/situational questions "what if" not for a specific answer, but to see thought processes and how you do with sudden sticky situations
  • questions that elicit the candidate's intent, goals, interests
  • questions that elicit work attitude, style, ethic
More specific questions. Several respondents reiterated some of those basic questions and helped explain why they're so important.
  • What are your weaknesses? That offers the interviewers insight into your thought processes, your self-evaluation, what roadblocks you might see and how you intend to overcome them.
  • Why do you want this job? It allows the interviewer to see if you have enthusiasm for this specific job, allows you to demonstrate that you've thought through how well you and the job match up, and sometimes it's clear from the candidate's answer that they really just want a job, not this one (that wouldn't be a good answer.)
  • What strengths do you bring to this position? This allows the interviewer to assess if you really understand the position and sometimes the candidate will bring something to the discussion that wasn't in or wasn't evident from the cover letter or resume.
  • Why do you feel you are qualified/a good fit? Allows you to match your abilities with job requirements, and as one respondent said: it allows the candidate to make a case for hiring him/her, and if the candidate can't make that case, they're not our ideal.
And some others:
  • What environment suits you best (managerial, physical, duties, etc)? Sometimes that tells us if you'll fit into our odd place.
  • Previous experience? Sometimes it's a spot check to see if you match up with your resume (see why I wanted you to have your resume sitting there?) Sometimes it's just another opportunity to sell yourself and match yourself up to the position.
  • The scenario: stressful, unpredictable, or conflict situations? Those are how well you'll fit questions, how you handle yourself, how you work with people, how you'll treat clientele, your values.
Then there's the one-offs. Maybe not so common, but perhaps after I post them here and recruiters start reading some of these, they may start using them too. I'm already pondering the adoption of some of these.
  • Provide a scenario in your previous work experience that required you to think fast or demonstrate creativity.
  • Why you want to be an archivist? (I'm really liking this one.) As the respondent noted, it gives the interviewers a better view of the attributes you bring (or don't) to the position.
  • A question about current archival literature. Allows them to see if you're keeping up on your reading. Since I'm a little behind, I'm not likely to ask this one, but then again, I might get some good ideas from candidates without having to catch up myself.
  • How would you organize X collection? Demonstrates your organizational abilities, how you organize and structure your work, and can help demonstrate how much of a self-starter you are.
And in the next posting, that question that always seems to come at the end of the interview. "Do you have any questions for us?" What to do with it, what not to do with it. Coming up soon.

1 comment:

  1. I've been on four hiring committees in the past 5 months (library jobs). One thing I keep seeing is people not using their resumes enough. Sometimes it's hard for the interviewers to remember which candidate wrote what on their resume, and if you don't remind them they might not remember. I've even had a few times where had to "fish" for an answer based on what someone wrote on their resume, because we knew it was relevant to the position and the candidate hadn't mentioned it.

    Also, if you've been out of school for a while, bone up on what you did in school. I blew that in an interview when I was asked what papers I had written. I drew a blank, since I got my master's 8 years ago, and afterwards realized I had written several papers that were relevant to the position.