Who fits?

Well, I have just finished interviews for my future replacement at the Center for Limnology Library. It’s been a very enjoyable experience, actually. And since I am me (big surprise there), I had to thoroughly research interview and recruitment techniques. I read several good articles, but the best I found is from our own field. The article The Most Important Management Decision: Hiring Staff for the New Millennium by Roy Tennant pretty much summarized what I’d been circling around. The fact is, in my position most tasks can be learned quickly by most people. The best, though, are those that are ambitious, excited, curious, and able to bring change. Now as Tennant points out, these are not skills, but traits. So hiring staff with these traits takes a little more digging.

Reviewing Staff

It’s sad to say, but all that advice about resumes I’ve ignored is true. Action words count for a lot. You don’t need to tell me that at the circulation desk you checked in books. I know what happens at a circulation desk. I’d much prefer someone discussing the blog the made for the library, or the Wii night they organized. These are things that I couldn’t guess from the title.

Enough about me, tell me about you

There is significant literature that shows that the best interview questions are behavioral. Instead of saying “are you detail oriented” (and of course, if an interviewer is asking, they will say yes) ask them to “describe a situation in which careful attention to detail was important.” This moves into actual situational specific instances. Here are a few questions I asked that I found particularly useful in evaluation.

  • If you need to build a library from scratch, what services would develop first. Why?
    • This one was great. It really demonstrated to me where they envisioned libraries, how they saw their role in the research process.
  • Give a time when there was resistance to an idea you’ve had. How did you work with people to convince them of your view.
    • This was another question that really had a lot under the surface. Some people had a hard time answering this one. To me it demonstrated two things: 1) Creativity. Anything new will have a few detractors. It’s part of the process. 2) Willingness to take risks. If you don’t try something controversial, there will never be big gains.
  • Describe a situation when you’ve needed to balance ongoing responsibilities and new project development. What did you learn? What would you do differently?
    • This one really demonstrated how people valued innovation and creativity on the job. There will always be mundane and routine tasks. If there is not an explicit attempt to create new things, it likely will never happen. I always tell staff that they should budget time to tinker and mess around with new ideas. Personally I’m a fan of Googl’e 20% rule but I understand that can be hard to implement in most places.

Maybe I’ll put up the rest later. Although the one question I wish I asked was: What is one thing you wanted me to ask about. I always find there something I’d like to bring up (a skill, an experience, a project) that I just couldn’t work in. Irregardless, at least I didn’t have to hear anyone’s 3 worst traits.

Final Thoughts

Because I’m an organized guy, I threw together a table with the skills I wanted and the evidence I found for each. Here’s a rough view:

Rating Evidence Thoughts
Risk Taking
Public Service Oriented

After each interview, I’d fill in the table. It really helped focus my thoughts onto those traits I determined where important and forced me to find specific instances and not just gut instincts.

Overall, not a bad experience. I learned a lot and met some great people.