Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee

January 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm 15 comments

Kate Sheehan had a wonderful post a week or so ago, Customer Service Mind, Beginner Mind, in which she writes about the value of looking at things with a fresh eye. It reminded me that every time I ever started a new job, I was hyper-aware of all the wacky things about my new organization; the signs that had been taped to the door since 1973: the restrictive (or just plain arbitrary and weird) policies that seemed to have no rhyme nor reason; the lack of basic equipment available for staff (no sliderules or abaci, but close.)

These awarenesses weren’t always negative. Sometimes I was aware of the amazing benefit package that everyone else seemed to take for granted (or even grumble about) ; or an incredibly efficient work flow or communication mechanism — like a wall in the staff room with everyone’s picture (Facebook 1.0), or a Director that was actually available to speak with employees.


But no matter how strong or strange these awarenesses were, they always faded away within the first few weeks on the job. It didn’t take long before my new environment would simply register as “normal.” Seriously, there could have been a chimpanzee in a tuxedo singing the star-spangled banner in the lobby; but if he was there on day 1 and day 2, by day 3, I’d be nodding and saying, “morning George, you sound good today. Nice job on the bow-tie…” In other words, I can’t underestimate the power of our brains to adapt and reset the benchmark for normal experience.

I always thought that those first few weeks as a new employee, when everyone told me everything and more, but no one asked me for MY thoughts or impressions, were a wasted opportunity. So when I became a department manager I made it part of the orientation process to squeeze these observations out of all new employees. I would literally take new employees to lunch and tell them that for the next few weeks, their perceptions were extremely valuable and encourage them to share with me if there was ANYTHING that we did that seemed odd, inefficient, wasteful, or stupid. Or amazing, creative, and blazingly brilliant.

If you can manage to get this data — heck, even one tiny piece of datum — from your new employees (give them a break now and then from reading the 250 page employee manual), you’ll have gotten some very useful information.

So. Submitted for your approval, here are my  [drum-roll please…]


  1. What was your first impression when you walked into the library?
  2. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment inside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  3. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment outside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  4. What are we doing that strikes you as wasteful — of time or money?
  5. What services are you surprised to learn that we are offering, for better or worse?
  6. What services are you surprised to learn that we are NOT offering, for better or worse?
  7. Are there any policies that you don’t understand the rationale for? Are there any policies that strike you as just plain nuts?
  8. What are your impressions of our website?
  9. What was your experience like when you called the library? What are your impressions of our phone system?
  10. What are your impressions of our customer service orientation? Are we customer-focused? What could we do to be more so?


    BONUS QUESTIONS (for the brave ones out there)


  12. How friendly (or unfriendly) did the staff seem when you first walked in the door?
  13. What are we doing that strikes you as straight-up bat sh*t crazy?

If you consistently ask these questions of your new employees, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to recapture the newness of seeing, if only briefly, through borrowed, “beginner mind” eyes.


Entry filed under: Leadership, Management of Libraries. Tags: , , , .

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  • 1. kate  |  January 17, 2008 at 6:56 am

    Great post and a great idea. I’ve noticed that libraryfolk aren’t good at distinguishing local practice from generic library practice. In other words, there’s a tendency to tell new people how to do a reference interview, but forget to tell them how ILL works here.

    Relatively new people can usually remember the things that caught them off-guard and tell the newest hires (I make a point of telling every new employee that more than one department has a key to the bathroom so KNOCK FIRST!) the things they learned the hard way. An official process to get all the insight we can out of fresh eyes is a fantastic idea, one that I will be stealing shamelessly!

  • 2. Lisa Coats  |  January 17, 2008 at 10:45 am

    This is FABULOUS!! I realized recently that there are things at my workplace that are good that I have begun to take for granted, and bad things that I am ignoring. I LOVE the idea of interviewing the new person. However, I think the next step is what is most crucial: changing the bad and maintaining the good!

  • 3. Janie L. Hermann  |  January 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

    The timing for this post could not be better! I had a new Tech Aide start working for me 10 days ago — this is his first week alone on the floor. I am going to give him this list to think about and get his feedback.

    I especially liked the last bonus question, even if I might not use it this time around.

  • 4. Anne  |  January 17, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    More managers and directors should be brave enough to ask question #12without shooting the messenger, of course!

  • 5. Ed Tech Hacks  |  January 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Right on target! I remember working in retail while I was in college, and when I transferred to a different store (same department, same position), the department head had the same idea. He asked me what tips and tricks I had picked up working at the old store, and if I had suggestions to change their current workflow. I felt like I was being taken seriously as an employee, and got respect when my ideas were implemented.
    This is definitely a lesson for management at any level to put into practice – it works. Great writeup!

  • 6. leslie  |  January 18, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Hurray! I too love to ask new colleagues what they find wacky about my beloved library. Peter has given a little extra structure to my practice.

  • 7. K.G. Schneider  |  January 22, 2008 at 9:16 am

    This is a terrific post. I shared it with MPOW as a suggested list of questions to ask during new employee orientation.

  • 8. Peter Bromberg  |  January 22, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for your comments everyone! I’m glad that some are finding the questions useful 🙂


  • 9. Sarah Houghton-Jan  |  January 28, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    I personally would ask more about the library’s digital presence – not just the website but the library’s catalog, the eBooks, databases, extended web presence through sites like Flickr and Facebook… But then again I recognize I am biased.

  • 10. Anne-Lise  |  January 29, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Great post. I’m not a real quiet-like employee (annoying, I know), so I’m the one who talks people’s ears off about things I think needs changing – but it’s equally important that the employers are aware that this is priceless input from a new employee.

    Priceless, because the longer we work in a particular environment, the more we get used to it, the more blind we become – both to the internal stuff, but especially to how everything seems to our users.

    I’d have loved to have had that list, and that structure to put my observations into in those first few weeks, and then have been able to hand it to my boss and go: “Here, that’s what I’ve noticed. Some of it isn’t very good, I’m afraid – but we could try this, and this, and this to fix it.”

  • 11. maura  |  January 29, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Wow! This is a great list, and something I will be filing away for future use.

    I am the newest hire in my department, and wish I had a chance to give feedback like this. I still wish I could do this a year and half later.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • 12. Peter Bromberg  |  January 29, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone–I’m really pleased that these questions are proving useful!

    Sarah’s added some good ones, and I invite anyone else to add to the list (should we post over at Library Success Wiki?)

    Here’s one more: “What question should I have asked you, but didn’t?”

  • 13. Paul Signorelli  |  January 30, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    As someone who worked in the Human Resources Division of a major urban library system, I loved the proposed list of questions and hope that our colleagues will give serious thought to using them to the benefit of their organizations.

  • 14. Peter Bromberg  |  January 31, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks Paul,

    In a bit of synchronicity, I’m sitting here with a copy of your “Creating and Managing Volunteer Programs: Best Practices” document (I must have picked up conference–was it the CLENE Training Showcase?). Good stuff!

  • 15. Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee – Michele Ogle  |  October 31, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    […] via Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee « Library Garden. […]

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