Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Dreaded Interview

Whether you've been interviewing frequently or haven't had an interview in years, if you find yourself on the rebound for a job or going for a promotion, it may help to get some interview training. Preparing for an interview is no easy task because, like a blind date, anything can happen.  After having several interviews go sour early in my career, I found my saving grace in Next Day Job Interview by Michael Farr and Dick Gaither.  Unlike other interviewing books, their process prepares you for the unlikeliest of questions in a non-traditional way - without giving sample questions.  The following is my training method for interview preparation based on this book:

We are going to be making a few lists to prepare for your next interview.  But before we get into that, you need to know one important thing - why do you want this job?  In order to bring your A-game, you have to know the answer to this one essential question that is asked in almost all interviews.

Now that you know why you want the job, let's focus on getting to know you! Enter into a brainstorm and jot down as many of your professional experiences as you can think of.  Depending upon what you are applying for, these past experiences should be as relevant as possible to the job but don't worry too much about that during the brainstorm.  Professional experiences should include customer service situations, professional achievements, stumbling blocks, and aspirations.  Depending on your background, whether it's in libraries or not, you should have at least 10 different scenarios on your list.

Let's begin to whittle your list down by picking out the best contenders.  If you wrote down any stumbling blocks or aspirations, put those to the side for right now.  Focusing on the list of experiences, go through each situation and ask yourself "what interview question would this answer?"  Most likely, you will find that all of your experiences fit into at least one of the three basic interview question types:
  • Overcoming a Difficult Situation
  • Going Above and Beyond
  • Strengths and/or Weaknesses
By pairing your situations to possible interview questions,you prepare yourself for the most unlikeliest of questions.  You can also choose which responses you like best and kick the other responses to the curb.

Now look at all the stumbling blocks and aspirations you jotted down.  In order to answer any strength or weakness questions, you must be honest with yourself.  If you go into an interview and say that your greatest weakness is being a perfectionist then, guaranteed, the person interviewing you will not be impressed.  The correct way to answer any question about a weakness is to be honest and follow up with how you counteract that weakness.

Strength questions are, surprisingly, just as difficult.  Growing up we are taught to be modest but in an interview we are expected to brag about ourselves.  Going through your list, choose a strength that really stands out from the crowd.  Interviewers get tired of hearing "detail oriented" as a strength - so don't even consider that as a possibility.

Now that you are starting to feel good about your interview, it's time to put some descriptive words into your vocabulary.  Quickly jot down 5 to 10 words that best describe your work ethic or professional demeanor.  You may want to use a thesaurus for this list, or you can check out Next Day Job Interview from your library and go through the descriptive words list that they have prepared.

Using adjectives helps to paint a picture of yourself. Feel free to insert these words throughout the interview and if you are unlucky enough to get a question like "what are your five best qualities and how will they help you perform this job," you won't be stumped!

One of the most overlooked portions of the interview is the chance for you to interview the organization.  Going into an interview knowing that this is just as much an interview for them can be the key to your success.  By asking thoughtful and meaningful questions at the end of your interview not only signals your interest in the position but it gives you time to evaluate the response you are given to make a decision if this is the right job for you.  

Ideally, you will have prepared 2 thought provoking questions about the position and/or organization but if you have not prepared at all, a good fallback question is "what will I find most rewarding about this position?"  Do not, under any circumstances, ask how many open positions are available or benefits questions - while you may get a response, the interviewer will be immediately turned off. 

With your lists in hand, you should be as prepared as anyone can be.  If you are still feeling a little nervous about the upcoming interview, have a friend interview you with surprise interview questions.  Most likely, your friend will be less forgiving than any interviewer will be.  If your interview is for a promotion within the same organization, I suggest asking questions of those who are already in that position to learn buzz words to use in the interview.  Hopefully, with this preparation and a little bit of luck, you will land the job you want!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Don't Get Lost

In my last post about creating and achieving goals, I mentioned you can't get to where you are going without a roadmap.  After seeing this post from Letters to a Young Librarian with an outline on establishing good work relationships, I am now convinced that you can create an outline for everything. "Outlines?" you say, "what can you possibly tell me about creating an outline that I don't already know!" Indulge me for a few paragraphs and I may be able to tell you why the outlines you are already creating are so important and, if you aren't using them, why you should be.

When we write our thoughts down on paper, we are forced to flesh those ideas out.  The things we contemplate don't always translate well from brain to mouth or brain to hand.  After giving my first demonstration on how to download eBooks, I quickly learned the importance of an outline when I inadvertently skipped a very important step for the first time user - downloading the software.  By the time I realized my mistake, the entire demonstration was thrown off kilter.

Writing an outline helps with the correct placement of ideas and concepts.  By writing down each point I wanted to cover in the demonstration, I could easily organize each point into a presentation that ebbed and flowed smoothly.

Outlining is a process we are taught in grade school to help us write term papers.  Like our papers, achieving goals is the end product and a basic outline helps us to organize thoughts in sequential order.  The beauty of the outline is that it isn't permanent. The paper, training, or goal is permanent but the outline is flexible - meant to be worked, reworked, and altered to fit your needs.

If you have a goal to be Somebody, writing down everything that's needed will give you the road map to becoming that person.  If anything, it may give you insight as to whether or not it's the right path for you. If you decide that the road looks a little boring or difficult and does not fit your personal preference, you have to option to rewrite your goal and create a new path.

In school we are taught the traditional outline:

A. Here's A Thought
     1. This one supports thought A
          a.  Detail
          b.  Detail
          c.  Detail
B. Thought B
     1.  This one supports thought B
          a.  Detail
          b.  Detail
          c.  Detail

And so it continues until you have completed all your thoughts and arranged them in a logical order. But life doesn't necessarily work in a logical order.  We are forced to do things out of sequence due to life happening every day.  Therefore, when I suggest creating an outline, there's no need for an A-Z approach.  Most of my outlines look more like To-Do Lists or 4-Square (if I have more than one goal to accomplish.)

Get creative with your outlines and let them lead you down the right path.

But you don't have to take my word for it.  Make an outline for yourself and let me know if it helps!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Predictions Mean Nothing

With the promise of a new year comes predictions of our future.  Forecasters look ahead through time and try to guess what our lives may be like in the years to come.  I'm not too keen on making projections for the future of libraries because it requires too much speculation and evaluation of information yet to come.  What I do like to focus on, however, are goals.  Goals keep us focused on what we want to happen in the future instead of idly standing by and letting the future happen to us.  Whether it be a short term or long term goal, setting one is the path toward success.

In your job, you are probably required to set annual goals for yourself.  Doing this can often seem so tedious a task that you grow to hate it.  After all, when you've been in the same position for several years, what more is there to learn?  The problem with creating annual goals is they give the impression that the goal should be completed within that time frame.  With this thinking, it certainly limits the type of goal you may pick for yourself.  Instead of thinking in terms of annual goals, think instead of continuous goals.

The road you take toward your destination is often filled with right and left turns - choices of which route to take.  If you turn left instead of right, you may reach your destination but you will have seen something completely different along the route.  My first year as a librarian I set a goal to be a better trainer. In my position, this was the main focus within the job description so it was important that I know how to train.  As I began to take every single webinar about training, I learned there were many facets of being a good trainer and each one deserved its own focus.  As a result, I kept my training goal for three years before I felt satisfied that I had achieved it.  And things are constantly changing so I wouldn't be surprised if it pops back up as one of my goals again as another layer to be learned.

But what does any of this have to do with you?  Everything! - as long as you are interested in or need help setting goals.  Here's what I suggest to help you in setting short and long term goals:
  • Look at the Organization - in setting goals we tend to be a little self centered and only look at ourselves.  By looking at the organization and noting where improvement could be made, you may find that you are the one to fill the gap.
  • Look at your career - advancement goals are always a good thing to have if that is indeed what you want to do.  In researching about a position you may find that it really isn't what you wanted or, maybe, it will give you the advantage in the next interview.
  • Look at your job description - so many times we get caught up in doing the day-to-day things of library work that we forget what extras our job description entails.  Going through the job description may give you a bit of inspiration.
  • Look at your personal life - there are times when a goal can serve you in both your work and home life.  Thinking about what you would like to accomplish personally may translate to helping you you accomplish bigger and better things professionally.
  • Look at the bigger picture - thinking forward to what you would like to see yourself become or, even more grandiose, what you would like to see your library become lends itself to wonderful goal setting. 
Goal setting is the only way to make a prediction come true and thinking about what you want to become or what role you want to fill can lead you down many paths. I suggest a road map, or an outline, to help you reach your destination.  I'll cover the importance of an outline in my next post.