So, I’m a little early for my job interview. Okay, a lot early. When I parked the car I was 51 minutes (!) early. Now, I’m just sitting in my car listening to XTC on Tidal until I can show my face in the library.
Why is this interview different? It is my second public library interview for assistant branch manager this month, but it is the first one held with a man as the branch manager.
Why is that significant? I’ve been told in the past that I can come off as… let’s say, “off-putting.” The sad fact is that I have no idea what I do to seem that way. From my perspective I am friendly, confident, and generally patient. The reason I think that interviewing with a man is significant is that the gender dynamics automatically change. The features of my personality that evoke negative reactions may simply be read differently by a man than a woman.
(XTC has given away to Beastie Boys.)
There was a Nelson Mandela quote that I took to heart years ago that I’ll paraphrase here:
There is no virtue in shrinking from our best selves to make others more comfortable.
Now, I don’t know if Mandela actually said anything like that, and someone once claimed that Mandela was actually quoting someone else with that statement, but regardless, it stuck with me and became a core feature of my personality.
The sentiment, as I wrote it, is absolutely true. However, perhaps I’ve been applying it poorly. Perhaps I’ve been so focused on presenting myself as confident and capable that the negative reactions are only natural. This would especially be true if the person I’m talking to is culturally conditioned to defer any such self-confidence, as women frequently are in our society.
I walked in to the branch about 10 minutes before my scheduled time. Once I got in I was met with a panel of four that I was to address: two men and two women. All of whom were some kind of manager of varying importance. The interview went…okay. I talked a lot about my values as a librarian, how I have transferable skills, and what my skills and experience actually are. One of the men, not the actual branch manager I’d be working for, asked more questions than the others. Towards the end of the interview he said something like, “You’ve got the degree and all these years of experience, but a lot of people have the degree and a lot of people have the experience and have switched between academic and public, but what makes you unique that isn’t any of that stuff you’ve already talked about?”
So, basically, what I heard was “Ignoring your qualifications and experience and all of the positives that you clearly bring to the table, what makes you special?”
I felt like he’d undercut all of my virtues as a candidate. I felt like he took me out at the knees. What the fuck was I supposed to say? “I’m a natty dresser and I don’t pick my nose too much”?
I can go on and on about my commitment to service, my city, and the profession as a whole, but in no way do those things make me unique. Presumably anyone being interviewed for an Assistant Branch Manager at a public library has those same virtues.
So, that question didn’t go well.
I also fumbled a question from the same guy about my ideas for programming. I have actually thought about this answer in the past and have come up with a few ideas, but in this moment most of them escaped me.
Luckily, all was not completely lost. I felt the rest of the interview went relatively well, and I have already sent off a strong “Thank you” letter. I’m typically skeptical about the formalities of job searching, but this time the Thank You really may help me. I was able to remember a program I designed for my practicum, and offered one other idea. Furthermore, I took a second stab at the “unique” question in which I layed out the short version of why I want to be a librarian, anyway. Hopefully, that will salvage whatever damage I may have taken in the actual interview.
And now, we wait.