Emily Wheeler (@heliotropia) June 21, 2013
Tag Archives: interview
After writing about my five top tips for interviews and interview prep for the Manchester NLPN, which will be on their blog very soon, I thought I’d write about my own interview experiences for Library Graduate Trainee positions. I found the application process initially pretty disheartening – the first few applications I sent off didn’t even get a reply, which isn’t great when you’ve set your heart on a career in librarianship. But after taking on board some good advice and tweaking my CV and applications, I managed to get two interviews within a week of each other, one for MMU, and the other for a library based in Oxford. Here’s how they went.
Interview One: I arrived at MMU with about an hour to kill, which was annoying – obviously being early is far better than being late, but when it’s so early that I’ve got time to get more nervous, it doesn’t feel great. I hung around in a café until it was a more acceptable time, and then headed in. There were two interview panels running at the same time, so I was sat outside the interview rooms with a couple of other applicants, and we all did that thing where you try not to stare at the competition too much. When eventually it was time to go in, I chatted a little bit about my journey and the weather with the woman who had come to collect me, who turned out to be one of the three interviewers. She instantly put me at ease and I was only feeling a little bit shaky when I sat down.
After the introductions, we got straight in to the interview. The first few questions were pretty standard – what do you do now, why do you want to work here, that sort of thing. They asked for more detail about some of the things on my application form, which I was prepared for. But then the questions veered off into unknown territory: “what is the best and worst thing about your university library?” I hadn’t anticipated this question at all, but luckily had recently spoken to one of the librarians at my uni and was able to talk about what I thought about the improvements that were planned there. They also asked me to explain how I would help someone who came to me with a query about searching on the library catalogue.
After these questions, it was my turn to ask some. I asked about who is responsible for the library’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and a couple of other questions that I can’t for the life of me remember!
The whole interview probably took about 20 minutes or half an hour, but it felt really quick. I had felt quite relaxed and was aware that I had been speaking animatedly but not too quickly or nervously (or at least I hoped that was how it came across!). I was happy that it had felt more like a chat, and that I hadn’t run out of things to say. All in all, considering this was my first ever job interview (!), I thought it went rather well.
This led to quite high hopes about Interview Two, and maybe a tiny bit of complacency too. I was feeling like the Interview Queen after MMU, and so when the Oxford one did not quite go as well as expected, I was caught off guard.
Interview Two: On arriving at the library I was given a tour by the current GT, which I felt was a really nice touch, as I had the opportunity to hear about the job first-hand as well as seeing the library. I then went in for the interview. The room they’d chosen for this was quite a large, oak-panelled room, with the three interviewers sitting round a longish table in the middle and me at the end of the table, at a distance from them. This produced an entirely different atmosphere to the MMU interview, which was held in a small, cosy office, with us all sat around a small desk. Instead, I was in quite an imposing room, and felt more on edge.
The interview proceeded as normal, with the usual questions about why I wanted to work there and so on, but as I was not feeling as comfortable as before, I felt that I was having to force my enthusiasm a little bit, and was not getting much of a reaction from the interviewers, which was quite disconcerting. Then I was completely blindsided by a question that I should have been prepared for. They asked whether I had had any previous committee experience – something which would be important for this post, as part of it was to act as a secretary for the library committee. I went completely blank and ended up saying something not very convincing about how I was on the school council during secondary school (which is true, although we didn’t really have to do very much). I was taken completely by surprise by this question, even though I really shouldn’t have been, and I think it put me off my stride. I felt sort of defeated during the remainder of the interview and I just don’t think my heart was in it any more. I think at this stage in the interview I knew it was unlikely they’d offer me the job, but I also think I didn’t really mind too much. I don’t think I would have fitted in as well with the staff at that library and it wasn’t really my kind of place – it was a lovely building, but a larger team in a modern university library is more my thing,I think.
The story, of course, has a happy ending, because as you know I am now one of the Graduate Trainees at MMU. After leaving the second interview and walking through Oxford in the pouring rain, I got back to the house where I was staying and no sooner had I walked through the door than my phone rang – and it was one of my interviewers from MMU, calling to offer me the job. I was so relieved I cried! She said to me that I had been really personable and enthusiastic during the interview, which I was really pleased to hear. I accepted the job offer right then, and a week later I got the letter I had been expecting from Oxford letting me know I didn’t get the job there.
I find it quite interesting that I could tell straight away whether I’d done well at each of the interviews, and my colleagues have all got similar stories of interviews where they just knew either that they definitely had the job, or they’d definitely hate the job. Some places just don’t suit some people. I’m really glad that I was able to come across well in my MMU interview, and my first impressions of the people and the place turned out to be correct – I love working here!
On Wednesday I went to the University of Sheffield’s Postgraduate Open Day to see the place I’d applied to and get a feel for the course. Of course, as with all open days I’ve ever been to, the weather was atrocious, but I think this can be a good thing – after all, if you like the place when it’s grey and miserable, you’ll definitely like it when it’s sunny and warm. I’d never been to Sheffield before but I liked what little I saw of it.
My first stop was to the main exhibition, where they had stands from all sorts of University services. I picked up a ton of leaflets and three pens, so it was quite a success. There was also supposed to be a welcome talk, but I couldn’t find that. No matter though, as I was straight off to the Information Commons for a tour. The IC is Sheffield’s main library, and it’s very shiny and exciting. It’s quite similar to the All Saints library here at MMU, what with its 24-hour opening and self-service issue, returns and reservations. However, there are some parts of it that are quite exciting and different, including the “flexispace” where all the furniture is on wheels so you can design your own group study space, and the private study rooms with whiteboard walls. I can see why they were top of the table for university libraries in 2011.
Afterwards, I wandered down towards my next appointment, stopping off at a University café for some beef goulash which was very tasty and affordable. Another point to Sheffield! I then attended a talk which was not really what was advertised (or maybe I just got the wrong end of the stick) – it was sort of a “why should you do postgraduate taught study” session aimed at people who hadn’t made up their minds yet, rather than a session for people who knew what they were doing and wanted some more specific information. The speaker, an Economics lecturer, was engaging though, so it was still a fairly interesting half-hour, even if I didn’t learn anything new (perhaps this just means I’ve done good research already though!).
I then looked around another of Sheffield’s libraries, the St George’s Library, which the librarians at the main exhibition had said was the subject library for library and information students. I don’t think it is any more, but it was still interesting to get a look at a different library. This one was a lot smaller, and felt more like Elizabeth Gaskell Library. It was nice, although not nearly as shiny and exciting as the Information Commons!
After this, it was time to go to the Information School for a meeting with a senior lecturer. I was instantly impressed with the iSchool because they’d laid on Party Rings for us – that’s the best biscuit I’ve ever been given by a university. These are the things that matter. There were two other people there who were looking at the MA Librarianship, although I didn’t chat much with them as we were met by Sheila Webber, the senior lecturer, quite quickly. She took us to her office and gave us an overview of the course and the different modules, and the sorts of opportunities we would get. There’s something called Essential Computing Skills which sounds like it’ll be great on my CV, as well as some really interesting modules to choose from in the second semester. There was also a handy part of her presentation which set out what they were looking for from potential students – most useful what with the interview I was going to the next day!
After visiting the iSchool and being thoroughly impressed with it and the course, I left, to go and prepare myself for the interview the next day. I applied to the course at Sheffield a couple of weeks ago and got an invite to an interview with them about three days later – not bad going at all. I had a bit of a look on Google to see if anyone had written about their Sheffield interview experience, and lo and behold, a few people had, because if there is any group of people that likes to write about things and post it on the internet, it’s librarians. Librarians have got self-reflection down to a T, and it’s really useful for times like this. Everyone seemed to say that the interview was quite relaxed and informal, so I wasn’t too nervous going in, although I had to stop myself from getting too complacent – I still had to prove my worth!
The interview was with Sheila Webber, who I’d met (and questioned rather a lot) the day before, so I was instantly at ease. We talked about why I wanted to come to Sheffield, and why I wanted to study on the course. These were questions I was prepared for, so that was ok. Then we got on to the future of librarianship and I’d handily been following some stuff on Twitter the night before about how Croydon Council has put the library service out to tender, so I could speak a bit about my thoughts on the financial situation, and the public (and political) opinions on what libraries are for and how they should be run. It was all very easy and comfortable, and I asked some questions about some of the modules and dissertations, and then Sheila said “well, we’ll definitely be offering you a place” and I was so happy I sort of got stuck and said thank you about 50 times. And then after I left and went to get the tram back to the train station, this happened:
So that was good.
Anyway, I’m going to Sheffield! As long as I can get some money together to pay for it, of course. I’m going to send off the AHRC funding application this week and keep all my fingers crossed that they’ll like me enough to give me lots of money. Back up plans at the ready!