First of all, I want to share that I truly struggled with the focus of this month’s blog post. The world is a different place than it was a few months ago. Critical conversations are happening about topics that will determine our world to come. Personally, I am doing my best to take a moment to sit back, listen, read, learn, reflect, and listen some more to people who are much better equipped and qualified than I to speak on the topics of race, equity, and justice.
Writing about virtual interview strategies seems trivial right now, but I also know there are many people who are going through the interview process in hopes of starting new journeys in the fall. I am hopeful that sharing these strategies will help those who now find themselves in a remote interviewing situation now or in the future. I recently went through several online interviews for school library positions for the fall and learned so much through the process. I am happy to say I was offered one of the jobs and am thrilled to be joining my new school.
A few standard steps to take before any interview, whether remote or in person:
- Update your resume. Always be sure that the information is current. Review the job description to see what skills/experience an ideal candidate might possess. Add any responsibilities, skills, or degrees you may have acquired since your last update and/or that meet the needs outlined in the job description.
- Check in with your references. Be sure that your references know ahead of time that you will be submitting applications so that they can be on the lookout for contact from wherever you are applying. Not only does this ensure they don’t miss the communication, it’s just plain good professional practice, as is thanking them.
- Review any professional resources that may be of use during the interview. For example, the AASL Standards Framework for Learners and any state standards that may be relevant. Also, consider looking at the AASL Position Statements to refresh knowledge about the field and to use as a frame of reference.
- Show that you are invested in learning about the school/district to which you are applying. While the statistical information regarding student population demographics, test scores, etc. are important, do not overlook other information. Explore the school/district’s website and social media accounts. Read the “About” section, mission statements, course catalog, or any other sections of interest. See what announcements and events they post/share to give you insight into the school culture. And, don’t forget to check out the current school library website. Learning about your prospective employer can help you give specific details as to how you feel you could fit into and support the school community. By looking over the course catalog for one school I interviewed with, I was able to pull out examples of ways I could collaborate with teachers. In another, I gave examples of how I could connect with community groups the school worked with frequently.
- Anticipate frequently asked questions in interviews and practice your answers in written form and/or by saying your them out loud. This can help you brainstorm ideas and examples to use rather than trying to think of them on the fly. Many interviews for school library positions can include questions about instructional strategies, technology or inquiry instruction, working with reluctant readers, handling book challenges, classroom management, creating a welcoming environment, etc. AASL recently developed a “School Librarian Interview Question Matrix” that may help you determine the types of questions you could be asked.
- Don’t be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat a question. Sometimes the questions come with multiple parts, and it is easy to lose track of the second half while you are answering the first half. It is better to make sure you are answering the question that was asked than to miss the mark because you lost track of the wording. I can think of at least one specific instance where after a detailed answer, I had to ask, “Can you please repeat the second part of the question?”
- Generally at the end of an interview, you are asked if YOU have any questions. Prepare questions you would like to ask ahead of time, though you may also think of others during the interview process. Write them down and have them handy. If you think of something later, you can always send an e-mail.
- Be sure to follow up with a thank you for the opportunity to interview for the position. This could be an e-mail to the lead interviewer if the panel involved is quite large. For one of my interviews there were 19 people, each asking one question, and for another there were four taking turns asking questions. Don’t delay as sometimes decisions are made quickly.
Before we get to the tips for virtual interviews, just a few thoughts about virtual interviews in general.
It is ok if it feels awkward. It probably feels that way for the interviewers as well, even if they’ve done this several times already. I would guess most of them would prefer to meet face to face. Sometimes, the main interviewer will go over the format of who will do what and when, which can cut down on some of the unease. Take a deep breath at the beginning and focus on your answers to your questions.
Eye contact will be hard to maintain, and body language is going to be difficult to read on both ends. In order to make eye contact with your interviewers, you will need to look at your camera directly, which makes it hard to also look at the screens shared by your interviewers. You can’t really look at both at the same time, so you tend to lose either eye contact or body language, depending on where your eyes rest. I tended to look at the people when they were speaking and at the camera when I answered questions.
Not being able to go on a physical tour of the school is a huge bummer. I have accepted a job for the fall, and I have never seen the school or library either in person or virtually. You are taking a leap of faith by accepting a position from an online interview, because it is harder for you to get a sense that this place is a good fit for you (which is just as important as if you are a good fit for the school). If you are considering a job sight unseen, also consider connecting with others you may know in the area to see what they may know about the school/library.
Virtual interviewing tips:
- Test out the platform you will be using and your Internet connection. Ask a friend or colleague to practice with you so that you can make sure everything is downloaded and working correctly. Have a back-up plan in place in case your connection fails. For example, see if you can also jump on the call using a device with cellular data.
- While you are testing with your friend or colleague, see how your space looks to the viewer of your screen. Pick a location where you will not be disturbed and that is not visually distracting. Hunched over your laptop while sitting on your bed (as I am doing right now) is not your best look. Your tester can give you suggestions on angle, lighting, etc. Do not use a virtual background for your interview. The edges along your body can glitch, which can distract from your responses. You want the focus to be on you and not on what is around you. When in doubt, go with a blank wall.
- Be sure to test out your outfit. What you would wear in real life may look different on the screen. Keep in mind that you will see only a portion of it in the window shared with your interviewers. Pick something that looks good on camera but is also comfortable when sitting for a chunk of time. I also highly recommend dressing as if you were going there in person–that means real pants and real shoes. :) I personally feel more focused and ready for a virtual meeting when I am dressed from head to toe as I would be if I was meeting in person.
- Let anyone in your physical space know when you will be conducting your interview so they know not to disturb you. Send people out for a walk around the block with the dog that likes to bark whenever a loud vehicle drives down the street. Put a notice on your door that asks folks to not ring the doorbell. Preserve bandwidth by asking others to delay connecting their devices until you are finished.
Best of luck to you if you are applying for jobs in the near future. I would love to hear from you all what your tips might be for interviewing for school library positions–in person or online and to offer congratulations if you land a new position for the upcoming school year.
A giant thank you to Cynthia Stogdill, Papillon La Vista South High School Librarian, and Dr. Chris Haeffner, Director of Library Media Services for Lincoln Public Schools, for some of these ideas. During the spring semester, the three of us conducted online sessions on the topic of interviewing for school library positions with candidates in library sciences programs at local universities.
Author: Courtney Pentland
Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She has been elected to be the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary