Suit up: Some free advice on interviewing for library jobs

We are in the midst of interviewing for several professional positions lately (check the Stanford Jobs site, with location = University Libraries for our current openings). Having seen literally dozens of applicants interview for several different positions, I’ve developed a few bits of advice for librarians for in-person interviews. These tidbits of advice are based on my experiences in a large academic library, and may not apply in other settings. Also, this is free advice and is probably worth what you pay for it.

  1. Suit up. Wear a suit. Period. I cannot imagine a situation where overdressing will cost you any points on a job interview, but underdressing can and will. I know that very few librarians wear suits to work, but the job applicant should always be the best dressed person in the room anyway. Buy an interview suit, and wear it for your interview.
  2. Do your homework, and do it well. Recognize that the library website is a decent place to start, but is likely to be out of date. You need to know what innovations the organization is currently working on and what they are especially proud of — which is usually the stuff they present on. So use your librarian skills and find recent presentations by members of the staff at that library.
  3. Talk to people before your interview. If you know anyone who works there, or know anyone who knows anyone, contact them before your interview and ask lots of questions. This is part of doing your homework. It will also mean that when the time comes for the organization to make a hiring decision, you are slightly less of a stranger than the other applicants.
  4. If your interview involves a presentation or job talk, get very clear information on the expectations. We usually expect an actual presentation (complete with slide deck) rather than a talk. At the start of your presentation, tell the audience what you were asked to do (topic, time limit, kind of presentation), so that they can assess you on the actual task, because some of them may not know what you were asked to do; and you want to be judged on the task assigned.
  5. Send a thank-you email. Trust me, it is a nice touch. It won’t seal the deal for you, but it won’t hurt. And even if you don’t get the job, the people who interviewed you will be left with a good feeling about it. It is a small community, and you might run into some of them again — it is to your advantage that they remember you as the nice person who almost got the job, rather than simply one of the people who we didn’t hire.

12 Responses to “Suit up: Some free advice on interviewing for library jobs”

  1. 1 Evelyn N. Alfred January 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I’ve been contemplating on what I should wear for an upcoming interview. I was thinking a blazer, button-down shirt, slacks, and heels. Is that close enough to a suit?


    • 2 Chris Bourg January 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      I guess it depends. For a librarian position at my institution, I like to see candidates in a suit. If you know what the people on the hiring committee usually wear to work, my advice is to wear something dressier than that. So, if they usually wear jeans, slacks and a blazer is a good choice. If they usually wear slacks and a blazer, I would definitely go for a full suit. Just my opinion.


      • 3 Evelyn N. Alfred January 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm

        It’s for a paraprofessional job in circulation. Does that make a difference?


      • 4 Chris Bourg January 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm

        At my institution, slacks and blazer would be a very good choice for paraprofessional circulation job (and a suit might be overkill). Again though–try to find out what your prospective boss wears to work and at least match that or go a step dressier.

        And Good Luck on the interview!!


  2. 5 kgschneider August 18, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    The jeans would be a flag that the thought processes are off. However, we recently had a candidate who wore a nice dress, and that worked for me. (It didn’t seal the job, but it was a plus.)

    Checking email in an interview… oy.

    Last comment: send a nice note even if you think you tanked, even if you wouldn’t work there at gunpoint, even if you left the interview and were immediately offered the Most Amazing Job In The World. Please and thank you are the magic words. We spent our time with you — be courteous. And remember, it’s a small profession.


  3. 7 kaiyen August 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

    amen to all of the above. had a job opening, and brought in 3 candidates.

    First came in a short-sleeved button shirt and said that the thing he hates most about IT support is when people text him while he’s driving and he has to respond. So he underdressed and commits crimes. No go.

    Second person was doing well. Suited up so did that right, and gave pretty good answers. Until he checked his e-mail on his iPad for a split second when I suppose no one was looking. Shockingly enough, I was looking at a potential hire. No go.

    Third came in a suit, gave very thoughtful answers, thought outside the box without being all about buzzwords, and is now a key member of the staff.


    • 8 Chris August 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks for the examples!

      We had someone show up for an interview for a professional job in jeans — which in and of itself would not be a deal-breaker, but I kept wondering what sort of thought process someone goes through on the day of an interview that ends up with the decision to wear jeans? Especially given data that says 75% of American men own a pair of dockers. Would it kill you to throw on a pair of dockers and a blue button-down (the librarian uniform)? What makes someone decide “Hey I have an interview today for a professional job at an elite university. Screw the Dockers … I bet they’ll love these jeans”?


  1. 1 There is no such thing as a dressy baseball cap « Feral Librarian Trackback on December 10, 2012 at 11:51 am
  2. 2 What does Suit Up mean for this butch? | Feral Librarian Trackback on March 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm
  3. 3 Chris Bourg …In Six | INALJ (I Need a Library Job) Trackback on February 3, 2012 at 7:54 am
  4. 4 2011 in review at Feral Librarian, courtesy of WordPress « Feral Librarian Trackback on January 3, 2012 at 10:09 am

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