Waiting Professional Man

My Worst Job Interview Experience, Part 1

Do not apply for a job at the University of Cincinnati.

It took me two-and-a-half years to get a job after I started looking for professional positions. In November of 2015 I was invited to interview with the University of Cincinnati’s (UC’s) main library, Langsam. I, of course, was very excited. I was almost a year into my job search and hadn’t landed anything yet so to be considered for this position was heartening.

Earlier in the year I’d been asked to interview at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. This was my first time being flown out to interview for a job, and the experience was nothing but pleasant. They paid for my flights, put me up in a hotel for two nights, took me out for a meal, arranged my ground travel, and everyone I met or dealt with was kindly and professional. Even though the position was not a “professional” librarian position they still treated me like I was a “professional” with all the respect and dignity that that word implies in the academic librarian context.

You can imagine that when UC called to offer me an in-person interview I had a certain set of expectations. It was a little odd, then, when UC said that I’d have to pay for my travel to be reimbursed later after the interview. “Well, okay, that’s fair. I guess.” I thought. The sense of oddness grew to disappointment when they refused to pay for a second night in the hotel. I’d have to pay for that myself. At the time I was making less than $25k a year. It would have been fiscally prohibitive for me to have an extra night in a hotel room. So now, I knew that no matter what I did, I’d have to travel and interview on the same day.

These reservations aside, I was still excited for the chance to interview, and I dutifully began making my arrangements. Because I was having the foot the bill for my air travel myself I took the cheapest flights I could manage for my time schedule. This meant that I’d leave the day before the interview and fly from St. Louis, to Chicago, and then down to Cincinnati. Then, the next day I would have a half-day interview before getting a flight from Cincinnati, back to Chicago, back to St. Louis. Overland that’s 594 miles, one way, for cities that are only about 355 miles apart. I will never understand airline economics. How is it cheaper for the airline for me to do that than to fly directly? I’ll never know.

STL-CHI-CIN
An overland map of my flight path because Google Maps won’t allow you to daisy-chain flight directions.

That was November and my interview was in early December. As we got closer to the interview date I began to learn more about what was to come, or not come, as it were. It became clear that there would be no shared meal, and I was told that “a shuttle would be provided” for my ground transportation from the airport. So, no one from the library was going to be meeting me. If you’ve never been there, the primary Cincinnati airport (CVG) is not in Ohio, but Kentucky. It’s at least a thirty minute drive from the airport to the University on whose property my hotel was.

Flash forward to the two days of the interview trip. I, of course, have had to take vacation days for this — another cost to me on top of the flights, albeit a normal and expected one. At 8:30 in the morning (Central) I got on the Metrolink with my luggage and proceeded to the airport for my flights. I don’t know now the sequence of events, but there was some relatively short delay in either St. Louis or Chicago and by the time I got on the plane in Chicago and we got in the air I was well stressed out. The flight between Chicago and Cincinnati is only about an hour, give or take, but the attendants still proceeded with the drink orders. I was ready for a drink and asked for a whiskey on the rocks. The attendant huffed a little and excused herself, because she didn’t have the machine to process my debit card. Prior to her leaving, though, she poured my drink. Then, just as she got to the front of the plan, “Bong!” goes the intercom before the pilot asks the attendants to secure the cabin for landing.

whiskey-clipart-whisky-glass-clip-art_418920That’s right. Free booze.

I still had plenty of time to finish my drink before landing and did so dutifully. We were approximately forty-five minutes late getting into CVG. Not terrible; and besides, a shuttle had been provided for me. I made my way through the airport. On the way to baggage claim I saw several drivers with signs expecting passengers. None of them had my name on them, nor did any indicate UC. So, I kept walking and looking for my shuttle driver. I had one bag checked and since it was after 6:00 PM (Eastern) in northern Kentucky there wasn’t much air traffic so it didn’t take long for my bag to arrive. Picking up my bag I next went out to the ground transportation area to continue the search for my shuttle.

Remember the oddness and disappointment I felt earlier in the process? I was now starting to approach genuine concern. Still, there was no UC shuttle. I knew I was staying at a Marriott and I saw a Marriott shuttle. I walked up to the driver and told him where I was needing to go and he shook his head saying in his thick accent “No. Not that Marriott. Airport Marriott only.” I thanked him and walked back toward the building. There were two other shuttle companies represented out there, that night. I approached both of them while they were chatting and smoking, but neither of them acted like they were expecting anyone, or in anyway acted like I was a potential customer, so, I gave up on them and went inside. Concern was turning to panic.

This whole time I was calling and emailing my one-and-only UC contact and checking my emails searching increasingly desperately for more clues or information about the shuttle that was to be provided. There was nothing. Only “a shuttle will be provided” was the information given to me. Inside the terminal I found an information desk with a kindly white-haired man posted to it. “I’m sorry. That’s not the kind of information I have.” He said, sympathetically.

At that time, one of us noticed a young man in a UC jacket standing by himself. I went to him and explained my situation. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m waiting for someone else.” I paused for a moment awaiting an offer of help in my plight. None came.

You can imagine how I felt at this point. It had been over eight hours of travel by train and plane for a trip that would have taken me five-and-a-half hours if I had just driven my own car. I was in a foreign airport outside of a foreign city with no one but myself to get me out of this situation. I was tired. I was hungry. I was angry. I was confused. I was scared. The University of Cincinnati had abandoned me at the airport. I did the only thing I could do in this situation. I got a cab that took me to the hotel which I paid for with my own money. “A shuttle will be provided,” rang in my ears.

The University of Cincinnati had abandoned me at the airport.

I get to the hotel, check in to my room, call my wife and regale her with my thus far harrowing story after which I head downstairs to the hotel restaurant. By this time it’s after 8:00 in the evening and I essentially had the restaurant to myself. I decide to treat myself after a long day and order something expensive-ish and a Manhattan, straight-up. Since I was the only customer the waitress and I were talking and I told her about my day. She was very sympathetic and earned a good tip. After a little while my drink came out and I started to sip it. On the second sip I realized that it was, in fact, a very pleasant Old Fashioned I was drinking and not a Manhattan. Right about the same time the waitress and the bartender came rushing over to my table to apologize for the mix up. This was hardly the worst thing that had happened to me that day and I took it in good humor. “Do you still want the Manhattan?” They asked. “We won’t charge you for it.”

13_1789356531_l“Yes.” I said. “I’d like that, very much.”

Free booze, twice in one day.

After dinner, I went back up to my room. I took some time to rehearse my presentation before heading to bed. But already I’m remembering that job interviews are your opportunity to interview your would-be employer as much as they are interviewing you. Thus far, UC had done nothing, nothing, to ingratiate themselves to me. In fact, they hadn’t treated me with any respect at all. Did they really want me, or not? Did they treat all their candidates this way? Did they consider this to be a “professional” position, or something less? If this is how they treat their candidates, how do they treat their employees? Did I really even want this job anymore? These are the thoughts I was having as the booze, food, and exhaustion took me off to sleep.

Continued in Part 2: Getting Out of Ohio

So, Where Am I Going, Anyway?

In reference to my last post, and maybe in continuation of it, I’m asking a question about the rest of my career. This is also a continuation of the question that I first asked in my earliest blog posts,”Why do I want to be a librarian, anyway?” While my official job title may not say so, I’ve effectively reached my primary career goal coming out of library school: Become a Head of Access Services at an academic library. Great! Success! Now what?

What is the career path for someone in my position? My two previous supervisors became a head liaison librarian and a university librarian. Both would be remarkable and unrealistic jumps for me. My only publications are a promotional story about the library in a student newspaper and this blog. My two presentations were good, but not of the substance to show real professional staying power. Whatever is next for me, it will be hard for me to be taken seriously as a candidate without some highfalutin street cred.

I happen to work in a professionally prolific division of liaison and teaching & learning (T&L) Librarians. These are people who regularly publish and present and win awards for their efforts. While my job does not require me to emulate them I’m starting to feel like I should. I’ve always said I wanted to be active in the profession, regardless of my job description, but I have few ideas on where to start. One idea I mentioned in my previous post: get on a committee or committees. That, I plan to accomplish by Thanksgiving. But my experience with professional librarian committee work has not been all that positive, thus far. So, I can’t put my name on a committee roster and think that’s enough. I need to do work that is published in an industry publication. But again, where to start?

Paul Sharpe is my old boss and currently he is the University Librarian for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He also is the former editor of the Journal of Access Services (JOAS) and is still listed on its editorial board. Because of this, I’ve long known about JOAS‘s existence but never have I made the effort to see what they’re actually publishing, until today. Here’s a smattering of their recent article titles:

  1. Assessing Access Services: Building a Five-Year Plan to Sustainable Assessment
  2. Clinging to the Past: Circulation Policies in Academic Libraries in the United States
  3. Enhancing Access to Reading Matieals in Academic Libaries with Low Budgets Using a Book Bank System: Makerere Uinversity Library Experience
  4. When You Are in Charge: Reflections on Managing Staff in the Library
  5. Opportunities for Improved Patron Service with a New Integrated Library System

A few of these, and some others I didn’t type out actually look interesting to me. I hope to get to some of these in my professional reading discipline that I’m starting to build. It shouldn’t be surprising to me that some of these look interesting — it is my profession, after all — but considering my ambivalent attitude toward my profession the surprise is still occurring. Perhaps I’m not as jaded as I thought? Or perhaps they’ve lulled me in with their gentile song? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I’m good in front of crowd and I word good.

I was speaking with a colleague recently, one of the T&L librarians, after I read a series of blog posts she co-wrote for The Librarian Parlor and without getting too much into my professional ambivalence told her how I didn’t know what I had to contribute and wouldn’t know where to start. She completely empathized with me and knew exactly where I was coming from. It’s some form of impostor syndrome, we agreed. It’s not that I don’t think I could do the work. I’ve always believed that I’m a good writer and a good public speaker. I’m good in front of crowd and I word good. That’s not the problem. The problem — or the question, anyway — is what situation do I have to describe that would be of interest to an editorial board or reader that may actually be professionally useful? What new data could I collect that would be illuminating? I have no freaking idea. What am I doing? Where am I going, anyway?

white shark with fish

Swimming with Purpose

In a few short weeks the new semester begins. This will be my second academic year in this position. Over the last year there have been so many changes at work including a roughly 83% (five out of six) turnover in personnel in my department. That means that only myself and one staff member are doing the jobs we were doing at this time last year. Another position was moved under me that I didn’t have at that time, and yet another position has been created out of whole cloth.

I’m nearly fully staffed. The new position has a person in place, while another unexpectedly became open a few weeks ago and is in the search process now. I’m skeptical, at this point if that position will be filled before classes start in the last week in August, but we can hope.

anakin skywalker fan artWhile I’m far from the expert manager I’d like to be, I’ve gained enough comfort and confidence that I’m starting to feel a little restless. I’m like a shark. I need to feel like I’m always moving forward. Stagnation leads to depression. Depression leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side of the Force. I’ve always been like this, but there are external pressures that lately have been niggling at the back of my brain creating the feeling of unease.

Success should never be measured just by money, but to be personally successful in the things I’m committed to the fact is that I need to make more money. While I’m making more money now than I ever have before, it won’t be enough to achieve the success to which I’m referring. The best way for me to make that money is to increase my professional success. While I’m off to a good — if delayed — start, I’m feeling that I need to broaden my portfolio to make myself more attractive to other positions that may open up in my current library or another library down the road.

I probably have to do this job at least two more years before I’m attractive to another library or for another position within this one. I’m okay with that. I like my job and where I work, and I don’t really want to leave the area in which I’m living. But the facts are, in librarianship, in order to move up one usually has to move out. I can’t do either of those things until I build more skills.

I’ve made my feelings about my library school experience clear throughout this blog. To be honest, only three years from graduation and I feel like the education I received is already obsolete for academic librarianship. At best it would have been sufficient for an ’00s era librarian, but when it was 2015 and I was seeing librarian jobs posted for functions I’d never heard of (e.g. GIS Librarianship) I knew there was a problem. Furthermore, I still have the problem of no teaching experience and no way to get it, as far as I know.

I’ve looked into digital humanities as a possible interest, but haven’t found a passion for it. I’m interested in outreach, but have little time to participate in my outreach librarian’s programs. I have the capacity for metadata, but not the interest. I’m frightened that I’m going to be stuck in middle management making not-quite enough money for the foreseeable future.

While in my position I’m not technically a “professional” librarian, one way I can increase my value is to act like one. The best way for me to do that is become active in committee work though a conference or other professional group. I’ll be returning to the Access Services Conference, this year, where there may be opportunities to jump on a committee with them. They tried to talk me into it last year, actually. I felt like the new guy at a church in which the old-timers were eager to put the new person to work.

I’m also making a concerted effort to up my professional reading. I have books that my boss has given me on various aspects of management in libraries and I have access to Lynda.com and other online materials in which I can build management skills. I also can read more literature in the field, especially from the two major librarian professional organizations of which I’m a member: ALA and ACRL. Right now, I’m hoping for two hours a week. I’ve already done an hour, this morning. This may not seem like a lot to you, but it’s a big deal for me.

minions rejoicing

I still feel like I need to build library-relevant skills that are outside of the management realm. What that looks like, though, I just don’t know. Hopefully, being engaged in my professional reading and taking whatever other learning opportunities I have will help. It’s easy for one to say “follow your passion,” but that seems trite and unrealistic. Only a lucky few of us get to truly make a profession out of our passions. If my inner shark is going to swim with purpose, I need to keep exploring my options to find that purpose. So, for the time being, at least, my purpose is to find my purpose.

avenue q purpose