Sunday, 10 March 2013

Don't Panic!

Regular Twitter followers will know that I have a new job. In this uncertain world where library staff are being culled and budgets tightened I have managed to secure a relatively well paid job in a lovely area with an organisation I'm really excited about. It is not only a promotion but it is also a step up from a FE environment to a HE one. Plus the campus is REALLY REALLY pretty! (The educational resource room over looks the lake)

I previously blogged about my experiences applying for jobs. I can only hope that post helped someone else get shortlisted. I now want to share my experience of going for interviews over the last couple of months by explaining a pitfalls I have both fallen into and avoided. 

Interviewing is hard, you not only have the stress of the actual interview, you have to worry about getting there, (preferably on time) what you will wear, how you get the time off work and whether you will at some point make a total fool of yourself.
This was brought home to me while wandering around in a park in London, ridiculously early for my first interview in over two years and on the verge of what can only be described a panic attack. I was saved on that occassion by a text message from an old friend who had heard I was in the area and wanted coffee after I had finished. The practicalities of this brought me nicely back to earth and while I still made a balls of that particular interview at least I made it through the door. 

I think very few people can approach an interview without nerves. They are by nature high pressure situations. However for me the important thing is to be as prepared and to put the process into perspective. Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen? Even though there can often be a lot riding on an interview it is important to remember that not getting the job is not the end of the world. 

Obviously the latter is one about attitude and not something anyone can offer a quick fix to. However your level of preparedness is entirely in your own hands and while your approach may differ depending on the type of interview there is plenty of things you can do to get yourself ready.

You should already have done some research into the organisation while completing your application. Now that you have an interview you really have to utilise all your skills and learn everything you can about the organisation you are interviewing for. A great place to start is to conduct  a SWOT analysis, not just for the organisation but for the sector that it is part of, even if you think you are already familiar with it. 

This research is especially important if you have been asked to give a presentation. There is nothing worse than realising, upon arrival at your interview, that your presentation is totally out of kilter with the organisations aims and aspirations.

Things I looked at when preparing for interviews with HE organisations included:

  • recent information from HEAP and UCAS
  • recent changes to senior management, right up to Vice Chancellor level.
  • any planned building work.
  • involvement in any research or projects - JISC and SCONUL are good places to start, alternately find out if they have presented at any conferences recently. 
  • major changes to policy in the sector, for example Open Access and the increasing importance of international students have cropped up in all my interviews. 
If you have been asked to give a presentation make sure it is focused on the topic and stays within the time limit. Don't try and do to much but do be innovative and use humour. Practice giving the presentation aloud with your slides. Whatever you do not spend 10 minutes reading out information already written on your slides. You'll be lucky if your audience is awake by the end of it and no one wants a sleepy interviewer.

I made a real mess of my first interview presentation, an area I am normally confident in. With hindsight I tried to do too much and be too clever. While I doubt even a top class presentation would have got me that job (I suspect my skills set weren't up to par amongst other things) the poor performance threw me for the rest of the interview. For future interviews I kept things much simpler, shorter and practiced a lot more. 

I should also add that I used Prezi for all my presentations, first confirming that internet would be available. I know people either love or hate Prezi but I felt it would help me stand out from the crowd. It isn't for everyone and I was certainly careful not to incorporate too much whizzing about. However I know for certain that it impressed the people who eventually gave me a job. 

Read a book:
If you have access to a careers library use it, your local public library should have plenty of choice.  Even someone like me who has a healthy aversion to motivational texts and life coaches will admit that it is useful to go through a professional text on interview techniques. Many will include a list of interview questions or scenarios that you might like to consider as well as model answers. 

Following on from the first and previous points above think about some likely questions for your particular interview and then consider your responses. While it is impossible to prepare model answers for every question what you can do is think of a few situations and case studies that can be used to illustrate a number of different points.  You need to demonstrate not just what you think about a problem but how you have acted previously to resolve or challenge it. In my case the areas that came up most often were:
  • handling conflict or difficult behavior
  • ensuring an excellent service for ALL users
  • managing change
  • excellent customer service
  • utilising technology
It's never too early to think about job interviews:
The library world is very small. The academic library world is even smaller. Throw social media into the mix and sooner or later you are going to get interviewed by someone you know. Or, as happened in my first interview, face a panel made up entirely of people I knew. Or, in the case of my second interview, find out that the position you are interviewing for is actually a secondment cover for the nice man you sat next to in a copyright workshop while very hungover and suffering from some serious sleep deprivation. 

My point is this, go to enough conferences, spend enough time on Twitter and sooner or later you will meet an acquaintance. And if you behaved dreadfully or have a Twitter stream littered with swearing and complaints about your current employer, they will remember and they will judge you by it.  So think about your professional profile both on and off line at all times. It's a sensible precaution for anyone but the reality of it really hits home when you are interviewing, a stage when often it will be too late to put right your past sins. The last thing you want to be doing when you are sat in an interview is trying to remember whether you said anything bad about your boss on Twitter the night before. 

Don't get to comfortable: 
This leads nicely on from the point above. If you know the people interviewing you it is very easy to slip into conversation mode. However tempting it might be don't forget why you are there. Stick to the point of the questions, don't get side tracked and don't relax too much. Stay focused on the impression you want to give to the interview panel.

And finally:
The above information is of course not comprehensive and is purely my own opinion. There have been much more professional takes on job seeking for LIS professionals that are easy enough to find through Google. 
I by no means have 100% record when it comes to interviews but what I have done is make sure that I have learnt from my mistakes and experiences, reflecting on the process after each one.  I hope in some way I will have helped someone else going through the process and if not I'm sure I will certainly have helped my future self with these posts.