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.