On Bad Advice

When you start to go on campus interviews, well-meaning people whose advice you’ll be inclined to believe because they have full-time jobs and you don’t will start telling you a lot of things they think you should or shouldn’t do. They will say sensible sounding things like,

“Don’t order a drink at dinner.”

 “Don’t reveal too much.”

 “Don’t mention that you have a girlfriend who wants to do Brechtian theatre while dressed as a purple pony.”

 You know, advice.

Now, I don’t think that any of these things are necessarily bad advice. I mean, the drink thing is something I heard everyone say, but then, when you actually go on the interviews, literally everyone on every committee everywhere gets a drink at dinner, and then utters some variant of “Really, it’s totally okay if you get a drink,” and really means it. I once heard someone say “I’m going to hire the first person that orders a drink.” None of this means you should get a drink. It just means go ahead and get a drink if you want to.

And you don’t need to create a concept map for the various stages of grief you went through after your sixth divorce, but if you don’t talk a little bit about your personal life, people are going to think you’re even weirder than you actually are. Being a librarian, this is a risk you don’t really want to take: your weird tank is already at full capacity.

But I actually think whether or not this advice is true or false is beside the point. No, I think the problem with this kind of advice in general is that it can function to make you sort of excessively self-conscious and has somewhat of a paralyzing, musterbatory  effect, just like any other system of “should’s”  on the planet, which will inevitably make you interview far worse than if you forgot about all the stuff you were supposed to do and simply allowed yourself to be.

I know this is especially hard in interview contexts – when you’re hyper conscious of being judged and meeting others’ expectations.  But let’s get the usual straw man out of the way: being real doesn’t mean that you get all Kanye on the committee and share all your twisted dark fantasies with them. If you’re doing what you want, and going out for positions that you’re passionate about, you don’t need to sell anything, and anyone who tells you that you do is just wrong.

None of these are original points, and every interview book I even remotely skimmed touches on them. But some of the calculated, pseudo-Machiavellian nonsense I heard  from other students (without jobs) and some more experienced people, just continues to persist.

The most valuable interview preparations I did were working one on one with a veteran librarian (plus Ms. Dani Brecher) going over specific questions that I might get asked during a phone interview, relative to a particular job ad, and the specific cover letter I wrote for that ad. I learned how to “sell myself” in the sense of figuring out how to bring my own best qualities forward and being able to articulate my genuine enthusiasm and qualifications for the position.  Once I did that, I stopped thinking I had to “interview” and realized that I just had to talk about stuff that interested me, anyway. And once I did that, and had a phone interview under my belt, I wasn’t really nervous about interviewing anymore, because there was no game I had to play at which I could be winning or losing. All I had to do was be real.



Filed under Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

4 responses to “On Bad Advice

  1. Alex Carroll

    Really liked this post Kevin. When prepping for interviews myself, it seemed like there was no shortage of people willing to offer me mostly empty platitudes on eye contact and how to answer a question. In reality, there’s no substitute for just really preparing you for the interview: do a little research on the organization, and have a friend or colleague ask you specific, open ended questions related to the position description. If nothing else, these two things will help you identify a few elements of the job and organization that legitimately excite you. And walking through the door excited to talk about the position and the organization is the most important prep work you can do.

    That being said, here’s one seemingly hollow sounding piece of advice that I found rang true: the trick to getting through those academic interviews is to not think of them as interviews, but rather just conversations with colleagues about the profession. One major advantage of this approach is that it reminds you that the interview is not just about the organization evaluating you – it’s also an opportunity for you to evaluate the organization and to get a sense of how you might fit into it. If the conversations you’re having throughout a given interview aren’t going well for one reason or another, it’s comforting to chock it up to not meshing with that work environment. If nothing else, this approach is certainly more productive than beating yourself up and viewing every rejection as an indictment of your competency within the profession. While it’s easier said than done to put yourself in that mental space during an interview, I found that like with anything else it gets easier with practice.

    However, I think the biggest thing I’d impress on an early career librarian getting ready to interview for an academic job is this: you, as an interview candidate, have value. While I agree with your point that the interview process shouldn’t feel like a sales pitch, I think it’s really easy for an early career librarian that desperately wants that first full time position to lose sight of his or her value. One thing to keep in mind is that during the hiring process, the library needs to fill its position with a high caliber person just as much you need the job, and the organization wouldn’t be interested in talking to you if they didn’t already perceive you as a potentially valuable person to bring on board.

    I think there’s a lot of benefit from reminding yourself about your value prior to walking into your interview. When you go into an interview feeling like you are offering something valuable, you’ll feel confident enough to talk about yourself and your interests in an authentic and comfortable manner. As I remember discussing with you many times, someone speaking with authenticity is compelling and interesting to listen to, regardless of the topic. Authentic passion is more likely to leave a lasting, positive impression with a search committee than anything else you can say during an interview.

  2. Hi Alex,

    Thank you for such a wonderful, well-thought out, substantive comment. If the level of discussion we have here continues to approach anything even close to this, I think that we can all really benefit. I know I certainly would.
    I really wanted to highlight something you say here, about not forgetting that you, as the interviewee, have value. I think this is something that can’t be stressed enough.

    One pattern I began to fall into, after about a semester of preparing applications, cover letters, phone interviews, campus interviews, and the like, is that you start to begin to judge your value based on others’ expectations. If you’re not careful, you can start to develop, as a way of “capital B”- Being , an orientation toward the world where you are constantly evaluating yourself – and your personal worth – through the eyes of others. This is natural, just because you ‘re spending so much of your time, in effect, explicitly trying to demonstrate your own value to others. But lapsing into this kind of orientation is really unhealthy psychologically and counterproductive for interviewing as well. And even though I try to be super-aware of this in general, I think there can be an almost inevitability about this happening during the interview process. Even with lots of interviews it can be easy to fall into negative, and inauthentic patterns of thinking about the whole thing, especially when you’re waiting to hear back from places, have issues related to money, significant others, leases on the line.

    But the key thing is to try to maintain an internal locus of evaluation throughout the process: Yeah, this kind of goal might be superhuman, but we already knew that, anyway:

    “What is noble? What does the word “noble” still mean to us nowadays? What reveals the noble human being, how do people recognize him, under this heavy, oppressive sky at the beginning of the rule of the rabble, which is making everything opaque and leaden? … It’s not the works; it’s the belief which decides here, which here establishes the order of rank, to take up once more an old religious formula with a new and more profound understanding: some basic certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which does not allow itself to be sought out or found or perhaps even to be lost. The noble soul has reverence for itself.”

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 287.

  3. Pingback: Catch the Blast of a Hype Verse: Hip Hop as a LIS Professional Ethos (Guest Post by Alex Carroll) | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

  4. Pingback: On Choosing your First Academic Library Job Based on the Right Organizational Fit (Guest Post by Alex Carroll) | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

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