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

book and red wine on a marble table

I’m Fully Staffed Again!, or, I Needed a Drink

Recently, a candidate accepted a job offer to work for me. This means that for the first time since the end of June I’m fully staffed in my department. Prior to that I was fully staffed for 4-6 weeks, maybe. Other than that, from October 2017-May 2018 I was down one or more positions in my department. That’s most of my first fifteen months in this job. That’s not to mention my hiring manager who sought other opportunities after my first seven months and is not being directly replaced. Of the six positions under me I have now hired five of them, all five of whom are still in their year-long (!) probationary period which will require three performance evaluations each through their eleventh month on the job.

Now, no one is allowed to leave for two years, minimum.

I’m nailing them to their desks, dammit.

I’m tired of this crap.

Don’t get my wrong. I’ve got a great staff, now, of which I’m very proud, and I think our new edition is going to fold in nicely. But while I’ve gained a TON of experience in employee recruitment, it is not one of my favorite tasks. In particular, I hate reading through the cover letters and resumes, although it does give me plenty of opportunities to be judgemental, which is always nice.

  • Why did you put that comma there?
  • Don’t tell me about your reading habits. I don’t care!
  • Yes, it’s great that you volunteered as a puppy petter for three years, but how does that help you deal with an angry patron at nine o’clock in the evening?
  • So, you’re just looking for any job that’s not your current one, then?
  • “Library” has two “R’s,” thank you.

Okay, going trough the resumes and cover letters I find annoying, but the worst part, the absolute worst part is having to call that finalist and tell them that you went to the other candidate. I had to do this, again, and this time there were tears. Not blubbering and wailing (I’d guess that came after we hung up) but quiet disappointed tears. That was the absolute worst. While I’m confident I made the right choice, I felt like a terrible person. There was booze later.

In my earliest blog posts I concentrated on my job search. I did that because I really didn’t have anything else other than the persistent Hell that was my old job. I’ve been in this job less than two years and I still feel like a new-hire in a lot of ways. I also still remember what it feels like to be a job seeker and how frustrating that whole process is. Because of that memory and some of the horrible experiences I’ve had made a particular effort to be sure that I treat all of my applicants with as much respect and dignity as possible. Anyone that I give a telephone interview to gets an email response of a thanks-but-no-thanks that is either generally or specifically encouraging. Anyone who is brought in or otherwise gets a second interview gets a phone call from me, personally. Again, the phone call is personal, supportive, and encouraging.

These are small acts, but so many would-be employers don’t bother. When you have dozens of applicants for a position it’s not practical to email each of them individually, obviously. Hopefully, HR informs them eventually of their status, but many times they don’t. No one should ever be left to guess what their status is for any open position. Job searching can be such a bleak and horrible valley. It is an undignified chore, regardless of your skills or qualifications. It really doesn’t take much to treat others with even the smallest amount of respect; the respect they deserve.

book and red wine on a marble table

Obligatory Weekly Update

Not much has been going on. The second week of the semester is over and I feel like we’ve settled in.

DeLyle was here for about twenty-four hours on Tuesday and Wednesday for a job interview on campus. Our fingers are crossed but her would-be supervisor said outright that she’d never supervised anyone older than her and was looking for someone to mentor,* so our hopes aren’t up too much.

My sister is in Florida in the run-up to Hurricane Irma, but last I heard from Mom was that they’re going to be leaving before the storm gets there**.

Oh, my sister got married and went to Florida for her honeymoon. I wasn’t able to attend.

I have two employee evaluations due in the next few weeks. This is something that I’m still learning how to do. I’d done one last month, but as the sidekick. This next one I’m the leader and my boss is the sidekick, then the third one is all me.

It’s less than a month before I go back to St. Louis for the MLA conference and visit with my family.

Somewhere in the back of my brain I’m putting together a post about communication and mentoring from supervisors. It’s still percolating, though. I’ll have something more substantial to post in a few days, I hope.

I’m sorry this post is so lame.***


*This is probably illegal ageism.

**She just posted on Facebook that they’re on their way home now.

***No, really, I am.

Announcing, Live, and In Person…

JobSeekersSupportGroup

ME!

Today, I confirmed that I will, indeed, be appearing at this year’s Missouri Library Association Conference moderating the JOB SEEKERS’ SUPPORT GROUP.

The description I submitted to them reads as follows.

Librarianship is a very competitive field to break in to. There are many more applicants than open positions and the struggle to achieve one’s career goals is extremely stressful. This breakout session is a round-table discussion opportunity for soon-to-be or recent graduates, or anyone else on the job market to come together to ask questions, commiserate, or share stories about their experiences. We can share stories about our success and failures, frustrations and hopes. It will give job seekers a place to show that they’re not alone in their search and hopefully provide helpful information to shorten their search. Questions that may be addressed: What happens in an all-day academic library interview? How soon should thank-you’s be sent? What is the difference between a CV and a Resume? What does “pay commensurate with experience” mean? What constitutes “professional experience”? How do you handle awkward moments? Etc. This will be an open forum for anyone to contribute to in a safe environment.

While I’ll be able to regale the room with stories of my own failures and lessons, as well as the positives of my 2.5 year job search, I’m hoping to provide some insight*, yes, but mostly I’m hoping to provide a safe space for people to come together and openly discuss their fears, frustrations, and experiences. It is an opportunity for us to learn from each other. If you’re attending the conference, this year, feel free to stop me and say “Hi.” I’ll be there all three days and can’t wait to see some familiar faces.

Related Post

Life Is Funny, Sometimes

 

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed therapist. I have no degrees in psychology or any behavioral science. I have no experience working in human resources. I’m simply a librarian who was extremely frustrated when he had the idea for this session and saw the need for it.

book and red wine on a marble table

Moving Forward and Eating Elephants

On October 25th I have a Skype interview with UC Berkeley. Yay! But, that’s not what this post is really about.

Everyone in my workplace knows that I am looking for another job. I am well aware that my openness on this matter is a luxury not afforded to many. It just so happens that it is understood that there is no place for me to go at my current library, primarily for budgetary reasons.

Because I have this openness I can go to my supervisor freely and ask for time off for interviews, or sometimes, take an interview while in the office. It’s a convenient setup for me. It also means that I and my department are in a constant state of limbo. I have to act like I’m not going anywhere to maintain my level of service, while also keeping one eye on the door. This open setup is also inconvenient in this way.

I have a certain set of duties that I alone am responsible for, plus those shared with my colleagues. I also have institutional knowledge built up that contains the soft skills I need to be successful. The loss of my position after I leave — and I am guaranteed not to be replaced — is the cause of some fretting in my office. How will the evening schedules work out after they go from five to four closers? Who will get my weekend shifts? How will they ensure that my duties are carried out? What even are my duties?

In theory, I could get a call on Monday and two weeks later be out the door. Or, it could take another two years. This unknown causes much of the consternation, both at work and at home. No one knows how much urgency is required on the matter of succession; on when, how, and to whom the responsibilities will fall.

Let’s Back Up

Cast your mind back, if you will, to summer of 2010, a simpler and less Trumpy time. I was languishing in a position that had never developed into the job I had been promised. I had little responsibility and less to do. Three things were about to happen, though. We were getting a new Head of Access Services, the night manager and supervisor of consortial lending was retiring, and I was going on a two-week vacation to the Grand Canyon.

We were already experiencing the budgetary shortfalls that made hiring a new person impossible. So, someone inside the department was going to have to take over the consortial lending duties. The most logical person for that position was me. The Dean, however, wasn’t sure about me. After two years of my service he didn’t know me at all, really. Before making things official he requested a meeting with me to get a sense of just who I was and my suitability for the position. I didn’t think of it as such at the time, and the format was much more casual than I would grow accustomed to, but it was similar to job interview for a position I already had. We talked about service models and temperament. I don’t remember much about the conversation, now, six years later, but it was sufficient that he was comfortable giving me reigns of this position and putting me in a position of very limited power.

What was left was to train me on the actual position. For several days over the next few weeks I spent time with the kindly Iranian man who I’d be replacing upon his retirement. By “several,” of course, I mean three. I think. You may be thinking, “Three day’s training for a new job? That’s crazy!” Or, you’re thinking, “Wow! you got three whole days!?” Either way, you’re wrong. What was astonishing to me is that this man — who’d held this position for the last nine years — basically did nothing. His job, according to my “training” consisted of occasionally phoning people about overdue or damaged items, and occasionally arranging replacements with the acquisitions department.

I asked him, “What is your process? What is the first thing you do when you get here?”

“Well,” he says in his gentle Farsi accent, “I say hello to Barbara. I make coffee. I turn on the computer.

“Now, this book here is damaged. I called the young lady who checked it out and talked to her grandmother, a very nice lady. These books over here? Chris in acquisitions knows about these. Do not worry about them…”

This was my training. He had no process. He never acted proactively. He seemed to think that it was sufficient to sit back and wait to be needed and, I guess he was right because for nine years no one had made him do anything different.

As the days went by I only got the barest of nuggets of what I was responsible for, until eventually we reached his retirement party where we all said “bon voyage,” to this kindly, but, lazy man.

Then, it was time for my vacation!

Meanwhile, while I was gone, our new Head of Access Services started and began to get settled in. Upon meeting me, nearly the first thing he impishly said to me was “While you were gone it became clear that this just isn’t the right fit for me, so I’ll be resigning as of Friday.”

After the shock and laugh of the joke subsided I was left to look at my new desk in my new part of the library and say to myself, “What’s my job again?”

Two weeks after my predecessor retired, and following an eventful vacation in which I was not thinking about work at all. I was faced with the writer’s terror of the blank page. What was my purpose? What were my responsibilities? How was I to spend my time? I really had no idea.

What did I do? I did what I do anytime I’m faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. I ate the elephant.

Eating the Elephant

How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

I had to break my job down into its most basic parts from which to build. What was my primary function? To see the proper circulation of items through our consortium system. What is that made up of? Circulation of books across the circ desk and the processing of incoming and outgoing courier shipment.

What were the circulation policies? How are shipments processed? Luckily, I had a certain amount of institutional knowledge available to help with the first question. The second question was answered by working with the two highly capable student assistants I had inherited. I had to go to my employees to learn how to do their job, and therefore mine.

I had another method for learning my new job, too. I wrote down everything.

The year before, when I was still an ILL assistant we began using the ILLiad software package to process our requests. After receiving our training, and then the software, my colleagues and I were unsure how to actually use it, so I took on the challenge of writing procedure manuals that included information from the online tutorials, but also incorporated local practice. In this way we were all able to learn the new way to do our old jobs.

With that experience behind me I applied the same technique to my new job. To make a long story slightly less long I spent six months, through trial and error, building tasks for a job that never had any before. I made mistakes along the way and irritated some of my lending partners, but eventually, I created a system that now runs nearly on autopilot and takes up a surprisingly small number of hours of my workday, so long as I have student assistants. Now, the job proactively looks for long-overdue books and reconciliations happen one-by-one. Rarely, do we have large reconciliations with another institution because I stay on top of the issues.

Over the years I have refined every one of those procedure manuals. They exist in ILL for borrowing, lending, and doc del. They exist in consortial lending for the supervisor, and the students. I have them printed in what I call the Big Book and Little Book of Merlin-MOBIUS policies and procedures. The Big Book has everything ILL and consortial lending needs, where the little book is everything that the consortial lending student assistants need.

Everyone knows these books exist. I use the Big Book regularly, just as my student assistants use the Little Book. They do not exist to supplant formal training, but to supplement it and exist as a reference for when one takes on a task they are unfamiliar with.

I created these manuals for two reasons:

  1. So that I would know what the heck my job was.
  2. So that no one else would ever be in the position that I was in when I took over the consortial lending job.

Let’s Move Forward

I never thought about it in these terms, but the truth is I was working in the realm of knowledge management. Knowledge management (KM) is something that always seemed like a buzz word to me, which my personality reflexively rejected, and my library education did not focus on — at least, not in those terms — but, the core of librarianship is just that. We are cultural knowledge managers, regardless of the realm of libraries in which we work. We organize culture in a way that is accessible to users. We manage the collected knowledge and art of our predecessors.

This is true and looks great on the “So, You Want to Be a Librarian” brochure, but for the purposes of this post I want to focus on internal knowledge management. Without getting into another long anecdote about my work history I have had another experience with succession planning that was less than ideal. I was working with another soon-to-be-retired colleague to document her work. After several days of sitting with her and me asking repeatedly if there was anything else I needed to know for her successor, I was told that what I had was all I needed. Trusting her, I let it lay. Then a few months after she’d left we realized that there were significant holes she left in my training. These holes are still being repaired more than a year after her retirement.

Her attitude was that her job was hers, and hers alone. She never wanted anyone else to know what she was doing, because that would make her vulnerable. She believed that if she kept some knowledge secret, then she couldn’t be fired. I suppose that worked, but when it came for her to retire, she still didn’t relinquish that knowledge and the department has suffered for it.

I came to believe a long time ago that no one is irreplaceable. If a dictatorial tyrant can be deposed after thirty year’s in power, a penny-ante library assistant doesn’t have a prayer. That being so, there is no good philosophical reason to keep knowledge secret. I say open the gates and give away all your secrets to your colleagues. Because we librarians are not usually part of a for-profit enterprise, and the nature of the job is to freely share information, anyway, it is strange that any of my colleagues would ever feel posessive of the particulars of their job. In the end you will only hurt your organization.

It is probably not reasonable to expect — or even ask — employees to document every tiny aspect of their job. A) Most people don’t have that kind of time. B) Most people aren’t that detail oriented, even in libraries. But they can freely share their work details with colleagues when asked, and some aspects of their positions can and should be written down. This is especially necessary when tasks are infrequently performed. We don’t need to know what the rate of library fines was in 1986, but we do need to know how to bill deliquent patrons. The more knowledge is concentrated in a few people the more the library will suffer when those individuals are no longer employed.

“I’m not going anywhere.” You may be saying. “I’m only thirty-eight. I’m going to be in my job for the next twenty years, at least.”

That’s all fine and good until you get hit by a bus; something that nearly happened to me last year. Or, that’s all fine and good until you hit the lottery. My ticket is in my sweater pocket. Where’s yours?

You don’t need a Big Book of procedures like I have. You don’t even need a Little Book. But you need something. There are lots of KM products that can be purchased, but you don’t need to spend any money for them, either. We have a home-made Knowledge Base that is built on HTML code probably from 1996. KM is vital to the continued success of you and your colleagues, and more importantly, your successors.