Sunday, February 4, 2007


As a member of, or head of, the search committee for the Head of Collection Development position at University of Texas-San Antonio, my thoughts about the interview process are as follows.

1. Make sure a wide variety of people from many different departments, including people that this candidate would eventually supervise, are present at the interview.
While it's not right to simply pick a boss or department head that employees will like, it is important to make sure that a wide number of people are present to give their views on how they feel about interacting with the eventual hire on a regular basis (if a future subordinate or close colleague) or even an irregular basis (if a member of another department). A broad swath of organizational representatives also allows the committee to solicit a variety of feedback about how the candidate will fit into our image of how UTSA is structured, what kinds of people fit our leadership model, and what kinds of people can move UTSA forward in productive directions.

2. Make lots of time for the candidate to meet with different people.
This position is not entry-level, nor is it the kind of position that can be filled by someone who lacks the ability to interact productively with different kinds of groups. A long interview, possibly with multiple components and multiple different groups of people, is probably necessary for this high-responsibility position.

3. Ask questions that will test different job-related skills.
The Head of Collection Development will have to exhibit strong skills of leadership; possess a large amount of field expertise, but also the ability to think and work across disciplines at least in terms of planning; communicate well across departments and within departments; be willing to represent their department's interests; among other skills. Asking questions that elicit responses that can demonstrate these different abilities, and which give a picture of how the individual thinks and organizes their thoughts, is very important. Hiring committee members should be alerted to these various qualities in advance, so that they can "score" the interviewees accordingly. The questions below represent at least the beginnings of an attempt to test various key skills that will come into play in this position, as well as solicit in-depth information about the posted job requirements. I am not certain that these questions "go in this order," but I would be inclined to ask questions in a slightly random order in any case, to keep the interviewee a bit on her or his toes and provide something of a challenge...preserving the order for each candidate, of course.

Questions are listed with a short statement about what they would be testing.

1. As a supervisor, tell us about the most difficult decision you have ever had to make. How did you arrive at the right decision?
(Predictable question about managerial abilities; want to see how they define their decisionmaking process, though, even if the answer will likely be idealized. Also looking to make sure they can identify a truly challenging situation.)

2. Your advanced degree in [Insert Advanced Degree Field] certainly makes you qualified to deal with collections in that area. As head, what would you do to ensure that all areas of our collection receive their due support?
(Again testing leadership, but this time it's a question about trust and the ability to work with others who are more knowledgeable than you in their field but also your subordinates. A question about collegiality, too.)

3. What area of library services would you say you know the least about? Because of your interdepartmental responsibilities as head, how will you approach dealing with this department when you do?
(Another question about "weaknesses," but which asks to see how they will address their "weakness" in the communication arena.)

4. What do you enjoy most about working in collection development?
(Obvious and open-ended, but it offers the candidate an opportunity to talk about what they love, which I have often found to be quite telling about people. Enthusiasm for the discipline is important in a leader, and the answer here should allow the committee to see how "infectious" the candidate's enthusiasm will be. Also lets you see how much their "likes" fit UTSA's own collection development philosophies.)

5. What are the top three qualities you would look for in a new hire in your collection development department?
(This question has two purposes: assess their ability to think about hiring, which will presumably be part of their responsibilities as department head; and assess whether these qualities seem to match the group of people they will be supervising.)

6. As a manager, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
(The "best thing I've ever done" isn't always apparent from a resume; again, gives them a chance to stress something amazing about themselves, which would increase comfort level for someone who has something amazing to talk about. If they don't have anything amazing to talk about, then....)

7. What is the most troubling problem facing academic library collections today?
(A standard question, but it allows you to get a sense of how much they think about the big picture. That's relevant for a person in this kind of position, where "getting the work done" isn't really the point of their job. Gives them a chance to give an original answer, or at least an original interpretation of a common problem.)

8. How do you improve your management and leadership skills?
(Not probably a question everyone will expect; do they read and stay current, do they go to institutes? How much do they know about leading? A good worker takes their position seriously, and a department head will need to be aware of techniques and methods by which to improve themselves.)

9. Why are you interested in coming to UTSA?
(An obvious question, but it will assess how much the candidate has prepared for the position; a question to which you can expect many people to respond with smoke-blowing...which is easy to see through. There are clear good and bad answers here.)

10. How has [insert subject area here] changed over the past decade? How has your collection model change to reflect that shift?
(A question with a lot of meat. Gives you a sense of their ability to adapt to changes external to the organization. Gives you a chance to see how well they talk about their own discipline to (probably) non-experts. Gives you a chance to see how much they know about their discipline, too, if you have someone who can evaluate that).

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