Advice on Interview Presentations

A relatively new librarian going for job interviews recently asked me about interview presentations.  This is an edited version of my response.


Presentations are often the most important part of an interview (no pressure!).  You want to have simple pleasing informative graphics. Nothing too fancy, just a simple PowerPoint is fine.  If you have notes keep them out of sight.  As far as possible, give the appearance of being relaxed.  I know all that is a tall order.  You will be forgiven a few mistakes more than you will a wooden presentation style.  Everyone makes mistakes — it’s how you recover from them that counts. They are looking at this as an example you would talk to a classroom full of students so pretend you are talking to a group of 18 year olds.  You know more than they do and what you are telling them will be useful to them.  Your topic will probably have something to do with the position you are applying for so assume you are talking to a friendly group who are interested in what you are saying and that know far less than you do.

When I was a new librarian and giving presentations I would tell myself that 5 minutes after it was over no one would remember who I was.  It helped me relax.  It’s not a good tactic for everyone but it worked for me.  Whatever mental trick you need to play on yourself to appear more relaxed, comfortable, and confident, do that.

Of course it is important to have actual information in your presentation but it isn’t a term paper.  You don’t need to know everything, just enough to give a brief presentation about it.

Have a few extra points tucked away that aren’t on your presentation.  Then if there are equipment problems you can cover by saying “while we’re waiting for the technical fix, let me elaborate briefly on an earlier point.”  If someone asks you a question about a source you aren’t familiar with say something like “It’s been awhile since I read that — thank you for the reminder to review it again” or “I’m not familiar with that — thank you for the recommendation.  I will look into that.”  If someone disagrees with you say “That’s an interesting viewpoint.  I had not thought to look at it quite that way.” and than go on with what you had planned to say.  If you go blank on a question say “Can I think about that and come back to it later?” and then go on to the next question or just be hones “I’m sorry, I’m drawing a blank at the moment, can we come back to that?” or just “I’m not sure.  Can I get back to you on that later?” and then follow up after the interview.

For patter in case there is a delay or a lull in conversation mention an article you have read recently and what you liked about it, ask what others think about the idea.  Or try to make small talk.

At interview lunches avoid all pasta with red sauce (unless you are wearing a red shirt) and salads (big lettuce leaves are hard to chew with people staring at you and you might get lettuce stuck in your teeth — no one will tell you about it).  Go with something you can cut into bite sized pieces and chew quickly.  No spaghetti with any kind of sauce because it is too messy but pasta in smaller forms that you can eat in small forkfulls or one at a time are okay.  Avoid greasy finger foods as you might have to shake hands with people who arrive late or stop by the table.

Be familiar with the institution.  Look up demographics on the library and the student body so you can ask about it (for example, I see that you have had more first generation students in the last few years, has that impacted how you provide library services? or I notice that your student body has increased / decreased recently, how has that affected the library?).  Look up people’s names and know if they have published or presented and what on.

The interview is an opportunity for you to decide if you want to work there just as much as it is for them to decide if they want to offer you the job.  Ask questions and watch how people interact with each other.  That will give you a good idea of the organizational culture.

Be yourself — everyone brought in to interview is qualified on paper.  The interview is to determine who people want to work with and who will best represent their library.

About juliemstill

Julie Still is working on a dissertation in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. She has a B.A. in History and an M.A. in Library Science from the University of Missouri, and an M.A. in History from the University of Richmond.  Librarian by trade, writer by choice, once (and future?) Girl Scout leader and community participant, she reads history (all kinds), science fiction / fantasy (ranges from Scalzi to McKillip), mysteries (varied), and more.
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