Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Describe Your Ideal Work Environment

I served on two search committees recently and blogged about the experience. I was struck by how tough it was to frame good interview questions. A lot of the questions we asked ended up being duds, not receiving a single response which illuminated anything about our candidates. Yet once you've asked a question, you're rather obligated to ask it of each person, for fairness' sake.

On the other hand, I also recently interviewed for a position and I was asked an excellent question: "Describe your ideal work environment." Why is this so great? I think it helps both parties, the search committee and the interviewee. The interviewee's answers almost of necessity must be revealing. So much so that the committee might rule them out based upon this question alone, which really aids the interviewee: if your own ideals are so at odds with an institution's, it's better to be ruled out ahead of time than to find that out a few months after you've started.

But what I really want to talk about is how I answered this question. Maybe it wasn't what the committee wanted to hear—I didn't get the position—but it felt good to articulate.

Control Over My Work Environment

Specifically, my computer. I want to run the operating system and software of my choice. Unfortunately, this is all-too-rare at most libraries and educational institutions.
To be fair, I understood that there was no way I'd receive admin privileges at this position. But it's definitely a preference of mine. It's positively unproductive to limit the software available to information professionals. I do lots of development work, I have probably installed forty-plus packages on my Windows (not my first choice) machine at work. It's a waste of IT Support's time to come to my office to type in a password once a week; it's a waste of my time putting off a task because I can't install a requisite tool. I'm incredibly appreciative that MPOW allows me admin privileges.

Every institution should have a simple "admin quiz" one can take to receive appropriate privileges. I understand why we deny everyone by default; running an institution's computers is hard work and ensuring consistent security and software settings is a great aid. But those of us who are capable of administering our own computers, who know to run antivirus software (or just not run Windows...sorry, I'm belaboring the point) and avoid sketchy links in emails, should be given that prerogative.

While I've rambled quite a bit about computers, I also like to control my office environment. Now that I have my office set up the way I like, I'm rather attached to it. I like to have a standing desk, some room for pictures on the wall, some open space. I can do without, but I'd prefer not to.

Data-Driven Decision-making

I like to make decisions based upon data rather than my own feelings or opinions. That data doesn't have to be quantitative; I have a great appreciation for user experience research and I wish I had more time to devote to it. There's no substitute to seeing actual users perform actual tasks, whether it be searching for a peer-reviewed article or trying to find the print card vending machine.

This isn't a personal preference either, it's an institutional one. I love seeing data brought up in meetings, at presentations, in board meetings. It says something about an institution and its commitment to objectivity and success. Again, it's not all that common and that's understandable; collecting and analyzing data is difficult, time-consuming work. But recognizing the importance of those activities isn't.

Failure is Natural

As I've covered before, I have a great appreciation for failure. We cannot be successful in all our ventures and we often learn as much from the crash-and-burn projects as the epic wins. An institution that acknowledges that failure is a natural part of its own evolution is one I want to work for. I want to see presentations that not only say "gee, we really screwed up here" but also "and here's how we'll avoid the same mistakes next time." There's nothing more frustrating than seeing people cover up obvious mistakes because you just know that they'll be repeated in the future.

That's My List

or at least part of it, the main items certainly. What's yours? Is there anything in particular that libraries do well or struggle with?

Again, I think this question is more of a healthy exercise in articulating your own priorities rather than a wish list. I fully expect that I'll never work for an institution that gets flying colors in all three of these categories, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't recognize my own predilections.

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