Seven years, several positions and three library systems later… I have some THOUGHTS on the hiring process and questions candidates can ask to try and suss out organizational culture! I started writing this post last year, but a recent truly terrible take about candidate questions from an anonymous respondent over at Hiring Librarians reminded me to finish it.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask as a candidate, presented in no particular order:
What do you love about working here/what are your favorite things about working here?
When I ask this question, I’m looking for more depth/variety than “I love my coworkers.” If the only thing people like about an organization is their teammates, that means the organization itself doesn’t have much to recommend it.
If you could change one thing about this organization, what would it be?
If they say “nothing,” they’re lying. No place is perfect. A “nothing” answer to this question tells me that the hiring panel has either drunk the Kool-Aid OR they don’t feel safe answering truthfully.
What happens when an employee has an idea?
Here, I’m listening for avenues outside the direct chain of command. Are employees allowed to share ideas directly with senior leadership? Are there internal committees staff can become involved with?
How does this organization make you feel valued?
Answers to this question are varied and subjective, but it’s pretty obvious when people on the hiring committee DON’T feel valued.
How would you and your team describe your leadership style?
Very telling when a potential supervisor responds with, “I’ve never really thought about my leadership style before…” or “I’ve never asked my team, but I think they would say…”
What does collaboration look like with other departments?
The way this question is answered lets me know if there is healthy cross-department collaboration, or if everyone is running around in isolated siloes. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but good to know before walking in.
What does success look like in this role/how is performance measured?
This is a key question to getting a read on the unspoken expectations of the job!
I’ve also learned to ask specifically about raises, especially if offered a position in the second half of the year. Depending on the date of hire, I’ve worked for libraries that prorate raises or have a cut-off date (e.g. if you’re hired in September or afterwards, you’re ineligible for a raise). Some libraries don’t even do annual raises!
What opportunities does the library provide for professional development?
I’m looking for support for organizational memberships and conference attendance in addition to institutional level training. I also like to learn more about training offered on the institutional level – who develops those classes? Are there opportunities for staff to learn and grow from each other? What classes is everyone required to take? For example, a required class about employees staying within their 20 square feet would be a pretty big red flag for me.
Can you describe some of the typical “other duties as assigned?”
You would be surprised how many things are left off the job description! For example, you may be expected to provide private birthday party entertainment for patrons who pay a fee. In a public library. I wish I was joking.
How does library leadership lean into listening to staff/community?
For example, I’ve asked how a library listened to staff and community during a recent branch remodel. Here, I’m looking for more substance than comment cards. Again, it’s VERY telling when the hiring committee can’t come up with specific examples.
Where does library leadership stand on the intersection of social justice and neutrality?
You can sometimes get a feel for this by reading through library board meeting minutes and examining the library website/social media, but it’s a good idea to ask anyways. Lots of libraries out there who SAY one thing…
Screenshot: Douglas County Libraries “Who We Are” Website Page
…but, with a little digging, you find out something else is actually going on:
Excerpt: Douglas County Library Board Meeting Minutes, June 2021
I noticed XYZ in the library board meeting minutes. Can you tell me more about that?
My purpose in asking this question is twofold. One, I’m trying to gauge their response to employees who dare to interact with board meetings. Two, I’m checking to see how well senior leadership communicates with its middle management. It’s a red flag for me if the supervisor on the hiring panel doesn’t have a clue what is going on in the library on a larger scale, or if they say something like, “Employees don’t usually attend board meetings.”
Other good questions not necessarily related to org culture:
Make sure to ask for the benefits package (if it is not provided at the time of offer) and FIND OUT WHEN YOUR COVERAGE WILL BEGIN! This is so, so important for my fellow #CripLib folks. Libraries, why do you not provide this information up front to begin with?
If the salary range isn’t posted, ASK before you put your time and energy into submitting an application. Even in Colorado (where employers are required by law to post the salary), it’s a good idea to ask for the anticipated hiring range, because this usually differs from full range. If you’re seeking library jobs in Colorado, be sure to check out my Salary Transparency page!
If you’re moving, don’t forget to look at the cost of living in the area before accepting the position. Most libraries in the Denver Metro area do not pay well enough (even at the professional librarian level) to afford living here on your own. Almost everyone I know lives with a partner or roommate.
What are your favorite questions to ask potential library employers? I’d love to know in the comments below!
2 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Do You Have Any Questions for Us?”
Thank you so much for this post! It is a great resource to keep for future interview prep and when researching districts. It is also an important reminder that as candidates we are interviewing and evaluating the library just as much as they are us.
In the short time I’ve known you you have been an inspiring example of preserverance in finding the best fit. And in moving on from organizations that do not align with your beliefs!
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Aww, thanks Lillian! I sure miss working with you. Everything else was a struggle, but our team was the absolute best. 😭❤️