Labor Day 2009: will work for internet connection and library card?

wpamenHappy Labor Day!  One of the interesting things about this Labor Day is that nearly 10% of us Americans are more interested in finding work than in avoiding work over a  3-day weekend.  Since Labor Day coincides with the beginning of the academic job market, as a public service I thought I’d link to a series of really smart posts from some of my comrades-in-blogs last year.  GayProf and Squadratomagico both had lots of thoughtful advice both for academic job seekers and the departments that interview them.  (Be sure to read the comments too!)

The GayProf collected works:  Hire with Wisdom, Interview with Kindness, Advice for the Newly Hired, and as a special treat, The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy, a guide to your new colleagues!

Squadratomagico had a series on campus interviews, parts I-V.  1) The talk, and some missteps, 2) Appearance, 3) Demeanor, 4) Their Demeanor, and 5) Social Events.

WOC Ph.D. also had some great advice for academic job seekers:  1) what to expect on a campus visit, 2) how to prepare for and deliver a successful academic job talk, and 3) how to dress for a campus interview.  Unfortunately, these posts are no longer available publicly, but you can see a summary of her advice here.

wpasmithIf you can’t get enough of hearing about other people’s job interview nightmares, don’t miss the tales told by Freddie from Ft. Lauderdale and Associate Professor Alice.  They serve to entertain, as well as instruct, I hope.  As should the comments below–tell us your stories, and give us your best advice for both job seekers and colleague-seekers this year, and feel free to leave other helpful links.

Forge ahead, friends!  Good luck to everyone, and remember:  if you can’t say anything nice about anyone you meet in the academic job market this year, come sit next to me!

0 thoughts on “Labor Day 2009: will work for internet connection and library card?

  1. When you finally get a rejection letterhead, which is a–well, you can figure it out, a piece of blank departmental stationery wrapping two of the five publications you sent them per their request seven months earlier, but communicating nothing else–don’t jump off a bridge, and by all means, don’t do anything else crazy or untoward. You’ve learned all you would otherwise learn via a snarky query to the search chair. I’m looking at an e-image of the thing right now and would paste it into this comment, only I don’t know how. Besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrass an institution that uses recycled Duke basketball players as raggedy-armed postgraduate quarterbacks.


  2. Only the best ones. Like the time I got two identical what the Pullman Company used to call “bedbug form letters” for one fellowship. The second one, addressed to me, and forwarded to my actual address by a fellow rejectee in Texas who hadn’t managed to get even one!


  3. Gayprof’s posts are very interesting. I do have a few minor quibbles:

    (1) He or she stated that search committees should not interview candidates that they know cannot be hired. While this sounds nice, as a practical matter it is often not possible to know who will be hireable at the interview invitation stage of a search. This is especially the case where the factional balance on the search committee may not be the same as the factional balance of the entire faculty, which will be voting on each candidate.

    (2) I strenuously disagree with the notion that candidates should not apply or interview anywhere that they “wouldn’t take the position if offerred”. First, who knows whether they might not be blown away by a place that they originally thought was out of the question. Second, interview invitations and, even more importantly, job offers in hand are excellent both to make you more desirable to other institutions (“if she interviewed at/has an offer from Fancy-Ass U, she must be totes awesum!”) and for leverage in negotiating other job offers.


  4. CPP–I would agree with GayProf on point one, with one caveat. I have known search committees that have interviewed a candidate as a concession to one of the committee’s members, knowing full well that the individual will never be brought to campus, let alone hired. (As in, “We’re never going to hire Candidate A, but Committee Member X likes hir, so just do the interview to shut hir up.”) In that kind of situation, interviewing Candidate A is wrong, since many of the members know that Candidate A is never going to make it out of committee, so to speak, and get the campus invite.

    I also know of a friend’s terrible experience along these lines during an on-campus visit (an anecdotes that relates to a recent discussion here). S/he was having a campus visit which seemed to be going perfectly well, until the meeting with the chair. The chair then informed hir that there was absolutely *no* chance the dept would hire hir. They only wanted someone with a degree from one of the top Distinguished Ivies, while s/he “only” had a degree from Well Regarded State University.

    This may only have represented the chair’s viewpoint, of course, but it would not surprise me in the least if this represented the viewpoint of multiple people in the dept. In that context, I felt that the dept wasted my friend’s time and energy.

    So: you don’t always know if someone is hireable, in some absolute sense. But I think that you can get a good sense, pretty early on the process, if there are people who are interested in blocking the hiring. And since it can be easy for faculty members to exercise a “heckler’s veto” and create problems, some candidate’s chances are over before they have ever begun.


  5. CPP – What John S. said about point one.

    About point two, I think I actually agree with Gayprof, in that it’s a waste of the candidate’s time and the search committee’s time if a candidate applies/interviews knowing _from the start_ that he/she would never take the offer. My agreement comes from this: if you know that you will never take a job with a 4/4 load (not that you’d prefer not to have one – because shucks, who wouldn’t prefer not to teach 4/4 – but that you would absolutely never take that job if that’s the teaching load), it just doesn’t make sense to apply to institutions with 4/4 loads. We had a candidate for a position a few years back, and he had also interviewed at an institution with a lower teaching load. We offered him the position at our institution, and he took close to a month stalling and attempting to negotiate for a lower teaching load with us. He was never going to get a lower teaching load – we told him that – and yet, he stalled and hemmed and hawed. When he got an offer from that other institution, this gave him NO power with us. We told him that we wished him luck and moved on to the next candidate. I have no idea whether he took that other job, but I doubt whether his offer from us gave him greater negotiating power at the other institution, either, because we just aren’t in any way Fancy. Luckily, we were able to hire the next candidate, but what happened with that first candidate could have resulted in a failed search for us. It would not have resulted in us giving that one person (ABD when we interviewed him!) a lower teaching load than the rest of the department.

    Another example of “I KNOW I would never take that job” would be institutions with the statement of faith thing that you have to sign. If you know you’re never going to sign a statement of faith under any circumstances, just don’t apply. You won’t be able to negotiate your way out of signing it, even if you have another offer on the table. Also, institutions that don’t require the SoF would likely not think you’re a hot property for getting an offer from an institution that does require one, and really, why spend the time, energy, and resources to apply to a place to which you are ideologically opposed?

    I take your point that candidates should give any job prospect a reasonable shot, even if it doesn’t seem like their cup of tea on paper. Maybe there are things you suspect you would not prefer about the institution, or about the job responsibilities, but you can’t “know” necessarily until you interview. But there are some things that you can know at the outset, and if you know those things, I think it makes sense not to apply.


  6. In my last dept, for one job, 6 people were interviewed (as per faculty rules) of which one person had two books, ten years plus experience and was at TOP university and looking to move to be close to her spouse, and the five others had just completed their PhDs. It was really quite obvious who was going to get the job- for no other reason than it was a coup for the dept to get her. So, should they have not bothered interviewing anyone else? They certainly didn’t have a choice in the matter as far as university rules went. And, as I understand it (although this was never really explicitly said), part of the reason for picking new PhDs was to give them ‘interview experience’ and not to waste the time of other experienced candidates.

    As it turned out, the desired candidate was pregnant which she revealed after accepting the job and took the first year off as maternity leave, and one of the other candidates got a year’s temporary employment. [Which is actually what all PhDs do for the first few years after qualifying in the UK- temporary research or teaching contracts- it’s rare to go straight onto a permanent contract]. So, while the other candidates may have not had a shot at the permanent job, it still worked out well for one of them, and they used that post as a springboard into a permanent post.

    The moral being that ‘not wasting someone’s time’ when interviewing is not as straightforward as it may appear.


  7. It sounds like CPP and the rest of you aren’t so far apart on the “don’t apply for a job you wouldn’t take” issue. I think in general that CPP is right–apply for everything for which you’re qualified, and take pretty much every interview you’re invited to, since it’s all good experience. But I think Dr. Crazy’s qualifications on this are smart: if you know for certain that you’d never move to Alabama, or Alaska, or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, then you’re wasting everyone’s time (most especially your own) if you apply for jobs there. But as many have pointed out: you never know, really, and going on interviews is the major way we can decide if a job is right for us, or not! You can’t know if you don’t bother to apply or go on the interview.)

    Feminist Avatar’s explanation for why interviewing a good number of people is instructive. (Besides, very frequently candidate #1 drops out of the search or turns down the job offer–and if you’ve made arrangements only to interview hir, then you’re in trouble!) So long as the interviewing department are good hosts and treats everyone with consideration, then there can be no complaints (much.) I have taken great comfort (and felt not a little pride) when a department that interviewed me ended up hiring an extremely distinguished and/or senior person for the job instead. A junior scholar just can’t take that personally.


  8. It was really quite obvious who was going to get the job- for no other reason than it was a coup for the dept to get her. So, should they have not bothered interviewing anyone else?

    Something else that comes to mind is the interview experience gained by applicants who are new to the process. It’s not a reason to bring somebody to campus but can be a benefit to the rookie candidate. I certainly improved my interviewing skills as I went along.


  9. Even if you think there is zero chance you will take a particular position, if your application is responsive to the solicitation, you should apply, and should go interview if you are invited. Truffula points out a very good additional reason for this: you need practice interviewing.

    My first interview was at an institution that by any objective standard should have been drooling to have someone with my accomplishments join their faculty. My job talk was so bad, however, that they ended up hiring some total loser who has since fallen completely off the map. My last job talk was my best and was at an extremely well-respected institution, which is where my research program is currrently excelling.


  10. I’d stake out my own position on applications and search committees as follows: all applications should be treated by both applicant and search committee as sincere expressions of interest in the job as described: if an applicant has no interest or intention of taking the position, obviously the applicant should not apply: the whole argument about “interview experience” imagines completely mercenary applicants who clearly are willing to take interview opportunities away from candidates who are actually interested in the position. Shame on them, I say.

    On the other side of the table, committees should be charged to evaluate candidates: not their supposed or imagined hireability, the reputation of their schools, or imagined willingness to take the job if offered.

    Now, if only I could wave a magic wand and make both applicants and committees work in such utopian ways!


  11. My favorite interview moment: the dept forgot to have anyone pick me up for dinner. An hour later, someone remembered that a candidate was supposed to be there.

    My worst interview moment: before walking in to meet with the search committee, I heard them saying, “We don’t need a women’s historian!” Never at a loss for words, I neverthless wound up speechless when trying, in a panic, to re-tool my (completely centered on women/gender) scholarship as really being about men…

    Or maybe the worst was the moment a search committee member insisted that my work on sexuality was just like reading a tabloid. Or the one who said it was “scatology” (I never mention feces — he clearly had some body part confusion.) Or maybe the multiple times I was asked to pick if I were a woman’s historian or a historian of my region/time period. Only one choice allowed!

    See a trend here? Still, I wound up very happily employed, so maybe the lesson is: perservere and ignore the assholes.


  12. Shaz: yes, definitely! If you do women’s history, you clearly can’t do anything else competently. Unlike all of those religious, intellectual, and political historians who somehow can represent a national history and/or a given time period.

    Like you, I’ve also been the recipient of comments by search committee members, like: “We already have an American women’s historian. Will you be frustrated that you can’t teach women’s history?” The funny thing is that the man who asked me this was (and is) married to a very important American women’s historian! But clearly, only one women’s historian is allowed per department…

    As Tom says: if only we had a magic wand to wave, like Glinda the Good Witch, to make everyone behave. I don’t think there are probably all that many people who accept interviews at places they’ll never actually go. But I am not offended by the concept of keeping an open mind about a job, no matter how unlikely it is that one might be offered it or that one might take it. (You have to be offered a job first, before you can turn it down, friends! Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, as we say down on the ranch…_


  13. Bad interview moment, on campus division? The airport van pulled up with me in it and the search committee chair who I had met at the convention a few weeks before waiting to take me to my room (which was a cramped on-campus guest room in an academic administration building). Chair nods me a few steps away from the driver and says he had just been at a movie with his wife and forgotten to stop at an ATM. Could I slip him a fiver to tip the driver? Of course I could, but wow, what kind of a prep time issue is this, anyway? I took the job. A few years later I escorted a candidate to the exact same spot for hir ride back to the airport. We shook hands and parted. Ten minutes later the phone rang. The van driver had spotted a typo on the university voucher for the airport trip and marched the candidate fifty feet, all but at gunpoint, to the ATM that had been there all along for several years to withdraw hard cash for the ride into town.

    Not as bad as being told you won’t be hired, or that your job talk is out of bounds before you deliver it. I guess.


  14. the whole argument about “interview experience” imagines completely mercenary applicants who clearly are willing to take interview opportunities away from candidates who are actually interested in the position. Shame on them, I say.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAH!! Dude, the goal of each job candidate and each hiring committee is to maximize the outcome of the process: for each candidate to secure the best job possible and for each committee to hire the best candidate possible. As a candidate, you’ve gotta be completely out of your fucking mind to be worrying about *other* candidates. Whaddya thing this is, some kind of motherfucking care bears tea party?


  15. Late to the party as always:

    I think others have already clarified my point. Yes, apply to most jobs, even ones that seem unlikely or uncertain. You might just love the UP in Michigan after all.

    Still, there are places, as a gay man, where I will never work — ever: Brigham Young, Calvin College, Bob Jones University, etc. In the bizarre turn of events that they invited me for an interview, I know that I would turn down the job. So, it is a waste of everybody’s time. And who needs that?

    Practice is good — But interviewing is exhausting as well.


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