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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Interview part 9: Good or bad, what makes it so

I think on this one, I'm going to mostly let our survey respondents talk for themselves with some minor editing. I'll put any editorial comments in brackets. And I've color-coded somewhat. Green for the good, blue for the bad, and the standard black for things that aren't necessarily bad or good, maybe a matter of balance, or "disconcerting" which is a term that got used more than a few times throughout the survey results.
  • bad interview: unprepared to understand the type of institution and nature of work, good interview: has done some background work, ready and able to ask questions of their own
  • If I have to pull all the answers from them it's a bad interview. If they cannot understand the question I am asking it's bad. Good interviews: someone who seems confident in their basic knowledge and can talk easily on many issues related to the job requirements. Who doesn't seem totally flummoxed by a question but conversely doesn't hesitate to ask for clarification when needed.
  • good interaction and feel about a person, and impressed with their qualifications
  • A good interview is one where I am looking forward to eating lunch with the candidate once it is finished. The candidate has said interesting things and I want to continue the conversation and get to know them better.
  • clear, to the point, short answers [I'm assuming this is good, but short answers aren't, not always. Concise, succinct, yes.]
  • A good interview is one where the interviewer is able to form a solid impression of the candidate, both professional and personality wise. A bad interview is one where after the interview there are no notes written on the review sheet; lack of questions asked by interviewee is also particularly bad.
  • the worst interviews are the ones where the we all wonder why the candidate wasted our time, they do not seem interested in the job or us or the institution. The candidate should do a little background research and ask at least a few relevant questions.
  • Someone who is genuinely interested in the job and its duties and possesses substantive professional ideas and abilities is good [and who presumably is able to verbalize those]! Bad situations include interviews in which the candidate is not familiar with the basics of the institution and collections.
  • Good: Answers that are full and detailed, but remain on topic. Thoughtful questions from the candidate when given the opportunity, both about specific items and larger programmatic issues. Taking notes, especially for multi-part questions or complicated responses.
  • Candidate on same page as committee, since we have something specific in mind that we are looking for.
  • Good interview: very clear communicator with well thought out answers. Smiling. A clear understanding of expectations. HONESTY. Bad interview: Overly short answers with little explanation. Exaggerated and excessively long answers. Evasion.
  • answers that are direct, to the point, fully address the question but do not ramble.
  • Someone who clearly has good chemistry with the people they are meeting with. Generally we know from resume, references and phone interview about professional competencies (though interviews can surprise), so the in-person is as much about figuring out whether the person is someone you want to work with or not. How they will fit into the organization.
  • good interview: person seems interested in the institution, people she meets, and the job. Has done homework on both institution and job. Answers questions thoughtfully. Bad interview: the opposite of all the above.
  • Complete woodenness; inappropriate informality; evidence that they're just fishing for a raise at their current job or only want to move for the location or until they find something better
  • Being late---Never be late for an interview! Someone who is unprepared and doesn't know a lot about the institution.
  • The best interviews are where the questions and answers show signs of starting to flow like the conversation you'd hope to have with a co-worker.
  • a good interviewer is someone who can clearly communicate answers to the questions without sounding arrogant or too timid.
  • If by the end it is more of a conversation.
  • Eye-contact, enthusiasm, some preparation, but an ability to react to questions. Focus on question being asked.
  • A successful hire. [I'm kind of fascinated by this one: that the eventual outcome determines how the interview is viewed. It wasn't really what I was trying to get at with the question, but I suppose in the end, it's what we're all looking for, so this is a criteria.]
  • bad interview: unprepared to answer basic questions [the typicals I already mentioned], can't answer questions related to the work described in the job posting, can't provide clear and focused answers to questions
  • It really annoys most of us on the committee when the candidate won't make eye contact! If they stare at a wall or at the table or something, it's a big turn-off.
  • The overall impression the candidate gives. A good interview is when a candidate is indeed the person she or he said they were on their resume...and leaves the impression of intelligences and good knowledge. A bad interview is one where contradictions are apparent in answers relating to skills listed on resumes.
  • Good: has a flow, establishes rapport with panel, has good answers although they may take some refining questions. Bad: hasn't researched the position, doesn't understand the position or institution well, gives incomplete answers, shows frustration, badmouths previous employers or colleagues.
  • Good: the candidate is engaging and seemingly prepared for the interview. Bad: although it's not always "bad" it is somewhat disconcerting when candidates don't have any questions regarding the position or their potential work.
  • good: thoughtful complete answers, see some of the candidate's personality and it's an amenable personality, they ask thoughtful questions, they listen to the complete question.
  • A candidate has to give clear, concise answers that cover all aspects of the question. Long pauses on phone interviews can sometimes be disconcerting. I understand being nervous, but being completely wooden and unresponsive can be off-putting.
  • A totally unprepared candidate with nothing to say for themselves would be bad.
  • Its effectiveness in bringing about mutual understanding about expectations and qualifications.
  • we understand that applicants get nervous and might unintentionally repress their personalities in order to make a good impression but we want to see the real person underneath the interview robot! That doesn't mean that they get to dress as themselves but it does mean that they should try to let their personality and sense of humor shine through as that's the real person we'll be working with.
  • Good: the interviewers should always have questions prepared in advance, give everyone on the search committee a chance to ask a question, ask the same questions of each candidate for fairness, ask follow-up questions for clarification. [Recruiters on the hot seat here.] Bad: candidate talks longer than the allotted 20 minutes for presentation which shows lack of preparation time that would carry over to conference presentation, candidate doesn't answer questions directly. [note: I'll be getting into the whole presentation thing in the next posting.]
  • Good: candidate has appropriate background and experience and responds to the questions that are asked. That is, by answers, provides evidence of having listened. Bad: candidate tries to sell us even though their experience is lacking. **Worst: interview makes clear that candidate padded his or her resume.**
  • A good interview gives us not only facts, but a sense of how the candidate will or will not fit into our team. It also gives the candidate enough information about us to make a decision if we offer employment. The only bad interview is the one in which a candidate succeeds in concealing things we need to know, and causes us to regret deciding to hire.
  • Give and take, appearance of comfort
  • Candidate should appear confident, knowledgeable, outgoing and friendly. Candidate should volunteer information, but not to the extent as to be seen as verbose, and should limit personal information to an appropriate level.
  • Good: listening, interacting with ALL employees in the archives, even those not involved in interview. Bad: lying on resume, badmouthing previous employers, doesn't ask questions, argues with search committee or potential supervisor
  • Bad: Poor posture, attire Good: OK if nervous but be CONFIDENT, don't answer any questions with a one-word answer
One of the things I find interesting in this is that as I was reading them, it didn't really hit me until the comment about designing a good interview that perhaps our respondents weren't just addressing the interviewees: some of this is within the purview of the interview designers. Flow, rapport, questions that elicit informative answers, much of that is up to the interviewers. I've been through a few badly designed interviews, where the questions were so straight out of the manual that it rapidly became clear that none of the search committee was bothering to note down any of my answers because my answers didn't really matter. They didn't care what I said because they hadn't asked any good or relevant questions. Will this happen to you? I hope not. And if it does, I'd be a little worried when they offer you the position as to what they're basing their decision on.

Keep in mind, these aren't just generic good/bad advice labels up there. This is practice-based. Eye contact and enthusiasm is good? That interviewer has experienced that with candidates and likes it and not only likes it, but has found that it translates well to performance in the job. Argues with search committee or potential supervisor? Again, it means somebody out there has done this at an interview. Obviously, it's happened.

The other part I'd add is pace yourself. I often find we get to the end of an interview and the candidate is almost totally non-responsive. Again, some of that is designed by me and trying to fit a lot into what ends up being a very short interview day.  The general interview books will tell you that sometimes it's a test of your stamina. I've not heard anybody in archives admit to that one yet, but I haven't asked, either. If you find yourself fried by interviews, start figuring out coping mechanisms. Like having semi-canned answers to the typical questions so you can trot those out when needed and give yourself the mental break. Figuring out what it will take to get a good night's sleep the night before. Reminding yourself that, most of the time, the committee is asking these things because they're very interested in your responses--they want to hire somebody and you're on that list. Whatever it takes to keep you focused and engaged is what you need to do. I say that knowing that one of my downfalls has always been my tendency to say the very impolitic when I'm tired--I start to lose that censor in my head that says "don't say that!" My coping mechanism for that (very much a work in progress) is to not answer a question immediately, but to pause for a moment. This is when the writing it down thing becomes helpful--it gives me that moment to breathe and think.

One last posting on interviews coming up: what to do with those requests for a presentation. You've already had a hint buried above, we'll go through some of the variables.

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