Interviewing for a Cataloguing Position: The Two-Way Street

I remember interviewing for my position and the anxiety, preparation and stress that accompanied the interviewing process.

Unfortunately, many professionals looking for a cataloguing position today have the skills, but haven’t done the preparation. This often leads to missed opportunities on the part of the employer, as well as the cataloguer. These missed opportunities can be seen in hiring the wrong candidate for the position, finding out that there are personality conflicts or that you, the candidate, are surprised or let down by the position you’ve been offered.

So, what is involved in preparing for an interview?

Whether you’re a new graduate with little experience or a cataloguer with a long-list of credentials, many times you are on an equal playing field when applying for the same position. Why is this? For the most part, unless you’ve worked in the system you’re applying for, all candidates are new and unknown to an employer. And, you never know what that employer is looking for: new and eager? A go-getter? An experienced cataloguer? Someone well-rounded and interested in the profession? Perhaps it’s just something interesting on your resume that catches the employer’s attention – and has nothing to do with cataloguing!

So many factors are at play when interviewing, that we forget, as the individual being interviewed, that we also hold some power. Is the employer and position right for you? Do you want to be part of a department that doesn’t have a high record of achievement? A manager who isn’t communicative? A trend-setting, motivating but demanding department?

Interviewing is as much of a benefit to interviewees as it is to the interviewer. You can find a lot out about a department, the library and supervisors by asking a handful of thoughtful questions. So rather than providing you with a list of questions that you may be asked in an interview, I’m going to provide you with a list of question YOU should be asking THEM during the interview.


1. What type of person are you looking for to fill this position? For example, personality (sense of humour, easy-going, goal-oriented)? Work ethic?

2. How would you describe a typical work week?

3. Will my time be a mixture of working along and with people? Will it include projects?

4. How many people work in the department? Has there been a lot of turnover?

5. Can you describe the environment of your department? Its strengths and weaknesses?

6. Can you think of an employee/cataloguer who really stands out in your mind as exceptional? Tell me about him/her and their qualities.

7. In the past 5 years, tell me about a project or innovative idea that you’re proud of, or that has been a success within the department.

8. What is your management style? And, how will I know if you are under a lot of stress?

9. If I am working on a project and you feel there is a better way to do it, how will you approach me to offer suggestions?

10. Is this a new position? If not, what did the previous cataloguer go on to do?

11. What is your own professional mission statement?

12. Would you mind telling me how your career got to this point?

13. What is your biggest source of job satisfaction? What would you change?

14. Where do you see the cataloguing department in 5 years? 10 years? Expanding? Heading in new directions?

15. Can you tell me about the cataloguing department at the library now? What are you most proud of? What are its limitations?

16. Are there any projects or plans set for the near future that will impact cataloguing?

Finally, don’t ask questions that can be answered by a library’s website or the position announcement, unless it is a question built around something you’ve seen that requires clarification. And, don’t ask a question for the sake of asking a question. They should be thoughtful, and provide you with information that assists in making the correct decision about whether or not the position is right for YOU, despite being a qualified candidate.


Filed under Our Profession, The Cataloguer

10 responses to “Interviewing for a Cataloguing Position: The Two-Way Street

  1. abi

    Thanks for posting this! I have finally learned (in my rather short career as a cataloger) that it is so important to interview the employer. Really grill them with tough questions so that you do not end up in a department that is either totally dysfunctional or just not the right fit for you. It is hard remember that, especially in this economy where so many librarians will take just about any job.

    Additionally, during all day interviews at academic libraries, people are constantly asking if you have any questions, and it is so important to compile a well-thought out list of questions, like the one above. Thanks for the excellent resource!

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  3. Genius! Thank you, I’m bookmarking this for future reference. I always have troubles coming up with good questions to ask because I research as much as possible before even applying. I want to know if I’m going to be a fit before I go thru the work of putting together a letter, CV/Resume, etc. Once I get to the interview, I often feel most of my questions are already answered. These are fantastic!

  4. Phillip

    If only I could get an interview, any advice for writing a resume/cover letter for a cataloger would be great. Thanks for the article and for the blog. I read it regularly.

  5. Laurel Tarulli

    Abi, Carol & Phillip,
    Thanks for the positive feedback! And Phillip, I like your suggestion about cover letter/resume writing. I’ll see what I can come up with and post something shortly.

  6. abi


    There is a wealth of information out there on constructing cover letters and resumes, and although they don’t always specifically apply to tech services, there is a lot to be gained from reading them. This group of articles helped me immensely when I was job searching:

    Also, ALA does offer a resume review service, where librarians will review resumes for you and provide feedback. Frequently you can find these services as conferences, too.

    Finally, Meredith Farkas has some excellent posts on job hunting on her blog. Although it is not specifically about cataloging, it is still entirely applicable.

    Good luck on your search!

  7. Laurel Tarulli

    Thanks for all of the good resources!

    I still think it would be good to write something. It took me over 3 years to land a position – no one wanted me! Then, in my 3rd and 4th year looking, I finally “got it right” with my resume and cover letter – and then I started landing interviews. It takes a while to balance the canned “formats” that many resources provide, and the ability to find your own personality and voice to express who you are.

    I also hope, with my post, other professionals in hiring positions, will share their knowledge. And job hunters too – it’s nice to hear from people with lessons learned stories – or even “help, I don’t know what else to do!” stories.

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