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Coda to Candidates: After the Interview

Jenica has a post about applying to academic library jobs well worth reading by anyone in the job market. But in my head I’ve been writing the following post for a very long time… so out with it.

Once you have interviewed for a library position, you have established a relationship with that institution and its interview team that stays on your permanent record–yes, the one you were warned about in the first grade. Your paths may never cross again — at least that you are aware of — but you’ve now had an intimate encounter with a number of people who spent an awful lot of time asking themselves if you were the right person for that position.

Perhaps you walked out of the interview and thanked Baby Jeebus you had the common sense not to work for those nut jobs. Perhaps you downed a quart of Rocky Road in a convenience-store parking lot on the way home, just so you’d stop crying, because you knew you blew it.

(Note: herein I break the narrative to state that I have never once believed I nailed the job interview–not ever.)

Perhaps you just had a big ol’ bucket of meh when you walked out of there — nice people, but not a fit for you or for them. Or maybe you immediately had another interview for the AMAZING LIFE-CHANGING JOB, and the other position pales in comparison.

Regardless, do the following:

* Write a thank-you letter, immediately. You can do it by email or you can do it by hand, but write that note and thank the head of the interview team (at minimum) for the opportunity to interview. Yes, even if you think they are all devil-worshippers, or even if you are completely dazzled by that AMAZING LIFE-CHANGING JOB. Write it. Now.

* Exercise patience. Everyone who interviewed you now has to recoup that time to catch up on whatever they didn’t get done during the interview process.

* File away your interview errata where you can tap it later. Like, possibly, decades later. Because they have it on file, too.

* Follow the guidelines for inquiring about the status of the position. You do not have to sit on your hands, but if they say email but don’t phone, then DON’T PHONE.

* Understand that in today’s litigious environment, the interviewer may not want to help you understand where your interview could have been better (I do get asked this question).

* Look for signs of an open door. If the head of the interview committee invites you to apply for future positions, take that at face value. You would be surprised how often interview teams see a quality candidate who isn’t a fit for a particular job and hope they can invite them back someday.

* Sometimes interview teams behave badly. Sometimes paperwork is lost or misdirected. Sometimes major life events interrupt the process. Regardless, under no circumstances should you write the interview team to berate them for not following up. (Yes, I have witnessed this.) If before you were forgotten, now you have made yourself completely unforgettable, and not in a nice way.  If a polite inquiry or two doesn’t do the trick, thank your lucky stars you aren’t working there, and press on.

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  1. Cathy Doyle wrote:

    Think about the questions that you were just asked–what comes around goes around. Were there any questions you didn’t answer well? Improve them! It will come in useful the next time.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  2. Greg wrote:

    Always write the thank yous for the interview and not stoop to e-mail

    A lot of time and trouble went into having you sit across the table from them and you need to recognize that fact. Get all the names of people there and send a an old-fashioned thank you letter to all of them. Even the administrative assistant who occasionally shows up to take notes. Do you think hearing a group of candidates drone on all day about the same things is east to do?

    That day, use your good stationary or high quality thank you cards. (I feel stationary is more professional because it is professional correspondence not a thank you to Aunt June thanking her for the sweater.) Get the proper addresses to ensure that the Post Office will get it to the right place. People reading this blog will more than likely be applying for library or similar jobs and if you cannot find the address, you really should reconsider your career path.

    Thank you letters are a nice touch where an e-mail is in the same inbox as Viagra ads, notes from vendors, and other day-to-day crap.

    Make your interview stand out unless you want it to be forgotten as a life experience to you.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  3. Dorothea wrote:

    Excellent. Two things:

    One, sometimes search committees or individual members thereof WOULD like to help candidates — but really, really can’t for reasons of liability or even just policy.

    Two, paths cross startlingly often. Try to interview such that you’ll be happy to see these folks again at a conference — because it happens! And, indeed, one of the nifty and fun things about interviews is getting to kick the tires a bit at libraries with a lot going on.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  4. Is writing thank-yous after an interview a common thing to do in the USA? I’ve never heard of it over here in the UK, and am now wondering if I’ve been hideously impolite or just culturally different…

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  5. Greg, so far the email thank-you has worked for me… in both directions!

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Very common, Katie (at least among successful candidates ;-) )

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Yes, EXACTLY. It’s really not that we don’t have things we’d like to share, but there are liability issues.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  8. Greg wrote:

    I guess I am a curmudgeon when it comes to some things.

    You kids get off my virtual lawn.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  9. Well, it did make me wonder! I guess I think there’s some charm in the thank-you that arrives the next morning. I like the handwritten cards too.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  10. Thomas wrote:

    Greg: it probably depends on the position and your read of the interview team. As a sometime interviewer for technology positions, I like that little extra fillip that shows me the candidate can write a professional-looking e-mail that stands out from the H3rb4L Vi@Gra ads. Also, paper mail can take a week to make it to my mailbox and another week for me to look there.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  11. Jen wrote:

    On thank yous: I generally did mine in email for two reasons. Most of the places I ended up interviewing on the last job round (got hired this past July), I was the last one interviewed, and knew that they’d be making a *very* rapid decision. (In two cases, within about 36 hours, so the mail wouldn’t work.)

    And second, I used my thank yous to also follow up on something in the interview – sharing a link/resource/book title/whatever that had come up, or expanding an answer briefly. So, getting them out quickly was particularly relevant.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  12. Greg wrote:

    Also remember that if it isn’t an entry level position you are probably up against someone who is already employed by the library.

    In many cases, someone who has worked at the place for years has applied for the job and interviewing other candidates is fulfilling legal requirements.

    You may be as qualified, but lack the institutional knowledge that the inside candidate has in spades. It is not a reflection on you or your talents, but is how hiring is done many places.

    Interviews are good though, even if you have a snowball’s chance of getting the job. Before going in, you review your abilities and talents and take stock of what kind of person you are. The interview will sometimes bring in a question that was unexpected and will send you on a search to answer it for yourself. Ultimately, if you do it right, you will be a better employee at your current job, even if it is a cashier at Wal*Mart or an unpaid volunteer.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  13. Thomas makes a good point about understanding your audience. It turns out I work for a boss who like me is practically tethered to email and uses it effectively (well, she does–I am not sure about me :) ). A rapid email response was the right thank-you (and I also reiterated a couple of points I wanted to make, like ZOMG I WANTZ THIS JOB). I have a whole separate post in my head about the reluctance of college students to use campus email and how that will not bode well for them in the job market.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  14. Greg wrote:

    Why not just tweet “thnxs”?

    Friday, December 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  15. Yes, a tweet might work for me. But seriously, as a person who hires I always appreciate an acknowledgment via email or card. The same goes for our end in that we should quickly respond to the candidates (not always in our control). Overall, I think Karen’s observations are right on the mark. I’m really beginning to be curious why she and I agree so frequently. Thanks for being a writer willing to share ideas.

    Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  16. In this day and age, email a thank you within 48 hours. Yes, a hand written thank you is nice, but the search committee needs that polite follow-up sooner, rather than later.

    In academia, some searches take a really long time. If you have another offer, you might contact the head of the committee and communicate that. It may not change the speed of the committee, but it is good for them to know. You may need to make a decision without the benefit of knowing if that organization is going to extend an offer to you.

    If a search seems to go on too long after your on-site interview, it does not meet that you are out of the running. It could mean a problem on their end or many other things. If you can, be patient.

    Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

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