“Layla from Lounsberry” reports on the Modern Language Association meeting in San Fransico this weekend at Rate Your Students. Well, it’s more A La Recherche des MLAs Perdus,from the perspective of a jobless job-seeker, and then as someone who conducts job interviews. She says that her “visions of hell, consequently, generally involve the MLA interview pit,” that drafty hotel ballroom, basement, and/or loading deck that has been transformed not very convincingly into a warren of interview “suites” by beskirted tables and fabric dividers that offer all of the privacy of a torn vinyl shower curtain in the locker room of a public pool.
She notes that it’s a good idea for job candidates to say or wear something that makes them memorable for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones:
Of course there are all kinds of ways NOT to be remembered: there was the hopeless candidate locked in the stairwell with no exit because she was nervous about elevators or the one whose bag fell over spilling a veritable pharmacy of drugs across the floor. Watch for that nervous tic: you don’t want the interviewers to be thinking, “If he touches his hair one more time I’m going to scream,” when they should be thinking about how terrific you’ll be in the classroom.
Historiann might add: please don’t ask the chair of the search committee if you can borrow her Chapstik. If you have the opportunity, ask a few questions about the department interviewing you–don’t ask about the (slightly) more famous university down the road, how far it is to drive to by car, what the library there is like, and whether or not anybody in the department interviewing you lives there. And unless you’re sure you’ve got the charm and political skills of Bill Clinton, you really should try to answer the questions you’re asked and not ones for which you’ve already prepared answers. If you’re a search committee member, you should find ways to put obviously nervous people at ease: Informing a candidate that her research isn’t nearly as interesting or as revolutionary as she seems to think it is just makes you look like a jerk, and not a particularly smart one. Using a job candidate to make a point to your colleagues is inhospitable and unkind. (Note: any resemblance to persons or incidents real or fictional is purely coincidental.)
The pit is undignified and it stinks. No one is happy to be there, which means that departments interviewing there have a special obligation to appear friendly and thoughtful towards their job candidates, and job candidates have a special obligation to appear interested in the people and department interviewing them. Etiquette doesn’t require sincerity–in fact, etiquette exists to shield us from too much honesty, because believe me–you don’t want too much honesty in a 30-minute pit interview.