Recruitment and selection for information and library staff, a recruiters guide.

iStock_000015337955Small Nervous interview queueI recently went on some recruitment and selection training at the university.  We need to keep it up to date to be allowed to be on recruitment and selection panels for recruiting new staff. Plus working with students at the information desk in a careers service it’s a great source of tips!

Information staff in careers, libraries and other settings have some things in common in terms of skills and attibutes. Although specific resource knowlege will be different the ability to research, structure and disseminate information is common for many areas of work.  So when many of us see an information/library job advertised it’s a quick skim through the advert to see what it’s about then a dive into the job description to find out more.  It can be quite annoying to see ambiguous job adverts and sketchy job descriptions it doesn’t fill you with confidence to apply.

I thought I’d pass on a few tips and a few thoughts.

We were given a wonderful flow chart of how the recruitment process works starting with the need for a staff member.  In practice things don’t seem to work quite in the order they should. Sometimes (and I suspect many times) you can’t recruit for what you need you can only recruit for what you have money for, so compromises need to be made and job descriptions must be appropriate for the grade.

Make the job description clear

Help the applicant understand how the job is performed so that they can assess if it is something that they are interested in. What are the aims of the organisation and this role or team. Clearly outline the duties and responsibilities and give some indication of the environment they will be working in.  Will they be on their own, in a team, on multiple sites? Is the work fast paced and subject to tight deadlines?  All these things help candidates decide if they want to work with you.

Writing a person specification

We all know about desirable and essential skills, knowledge, qualifications, experience and attributes.  Don’t forget essential means that without this they would be unable to do the job successfully. It’s not really optional!

There are some considerations around what you ask for and how that will get you a different pool of applicants.Recruitment selection form2

  1. How many applicants do you want?
  2. How specialist is the role? If the knowledge and skills you need are really niche and you say they are essential you may get only 2 or 3 who fit the bill. Is that enough?
  3. If you make the person spec. too generic you may be faced with 300 applicants none of whom can really express why they fit the bill.
  4. Use the desirables to sort the wheat from the chaff.  Make your essentials achievable but your desirables very specific if you need them to be.  It gives applicants the chance to self select and you should be able to cream off the best ones easily.

Remember you will be using these criteria for shortlisting at application and at interview so they need to be measurable, and specific.

Think about how you will test them.  Will it be via the application at interview or via tests?

Common recruitment pitfalls

  • Recruiting in your image.  Just because your highly effective team happen to all be graduates, do you need a degree for the job or would other experience be acceptable? (Your HR department may decide this for you based on the grade you are recruiting for)
  • The type of experience is important not the length.  Obviously some experience can only be gained after a time, but that will vary for individuals.  Some who have worked 5 years may not be at the same level as someone who has 2 years experience.
  • Discriminatory words. Those of you working in careers will know all this. Words like fresh, energetic & junior all imply youth and are a definite no no. Funily enough no-one seems to be kicking off about use of the word senior!
  • Bias in shortlisting – there should be at least 3 on a shortlisting panel to ensure that applications all get a fair viewing. TIP Start at different places in the pile so that the ones in the middle or end don’t get overlooked due to fatigue.
  • Don’t use interviews as your only method of selection.  As we know it is possible to teach someone how to give a good interview. Test out some of the requirements on the job description. Written tests, role plays, ability tests. Get them to meet your users or staff and get feedback from them – but make it clear that this is part of the assessment. I’m thinking of asking for evidence of writing style perhaps a blog post, and advice style perhaps an email to a student about a CV or cover letter.

The interview

  • You need a mix of male and female interviewers on your panel idealy a minimum of 3. Tricky in some organisations I must say!
  • All candidates internal & external MUST be asked the same opening questions but follow-up questions can vary.
  • We were told  – Don’t ask “why do you want to work here? or why do you want this job?”  If the interviewee says it’s because of the money or it’s shorter hours that may be truthful but it may rather prejudice the following conversation.  I would argue that a candidate who came out with that is really not trying but I suppose it depends on what grade you are recruiting for. Instead you should ask something like “What is your understanding of the work of an Information Assistant and why does that interest you?”
  • Be careful however of multi part questions. In an interview situation lengthy questions are hard for the candidate to remember. It might be better to break it up into “what is your understanding of the work of an Information Assistant?” followed up with “Why does that interest you?”
  • It really helps to elect a chair for the panel – someone who collects the candidates does the introductions and wraps things up at the end.  We were given a chairs check-list which is a really useful tool.

What to do about giving feedback?

The policy of my employer is to give feedback at application and at interview on request.

  • If someone rings up you don’t have to give it there and then.
  • Arrange a time to ring them back.
  • Make sure your shortlisting proformas are available, legible and in a fit state for a candidate to request.  Keep comments factual and brief.

Some random thoughts…

In an organisation like mine where jobs have to go through rounds of internal recruitment before external applications are permitted it takes some thinking to make recruitment process fair to all.  If you have team members applying you will know perfectly well what they are capable of but the tests must be fair and the same for everyone. definitely advisable to get someone who doesn’t work directly with your team to help with recruitment.

If your employer is a two ticks employer and offers a guaranteed interview scheme, candidates must still meet all the essential criteria.

There is some slightly naive thinking around in HR/ recruitment if they genuinely think that candidates will self select on the basis of having all the essentials and some of the desirables.  Last time we recruited we got around 200 applicants for 1 role and many met hardly any of the essentials. Next time i’ll be a little more specific (if i’m allowed!)


1 thought on “Recruitment and selection for information and library staff, a recruiters guide.

  1. mrd0981

    Thank you for a great post! As a current LIS job hunter (recently been on 5 interviews), I can agree that lengthy or multi-part questions are very difficult. I’ve had to ask what the second part was because I couldn’t remember after answering the first part (which obviously didn’t help me come across very well!). I also agree that the opening question should be about the candidate’s understanding or reasons for interest in the field. When I’ve been asked this or a similar one, it made me feel that the panel understood my background and why I’m excited about the field, which then grounded my interview responses in their eyes. One final plea: please don’t follow up an interview question with “And…is there anything else?”!! Nothing will bring on panic mode in the candidate like that question!!!

    So far I’m unsuccessful in the job hunt, but I will keep at it! Thanks again for the insight.


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