AHA report: Put on a giant smiley-face mask, if you have to

While I’m waiting for the exclusive report from Classy Claude to be filed from this year’s meeting of the American Historical Association, I thought I’d draw your attention to a comment from The History Enthusiast, who said that everyone in the pit on Thursday was a real Debbie Downer:

As a first-timer at the AHA Job Center I can report that it was much quieter than I expected (everyone was so tense!) and there were very few people milling around. That shouldn’t really be a surprise.

What struck me, though, is that when I smiled at people no one would smile back. I understand that the market is stressful (hello, I’m on it too) but some of the people I saw looked like they were going to cry. And there haven’t even been interviews yet! We were just dropping off CVs at the collection booth. I made small talk with one of the volunteers and he looked at me as if I had three heads. My guess is that none of the other applicants had spoken to him without having a look of sheer panic cross their face. Yes, I’m nervous too. Yes, this is a big frickin’ deal. But good God, it is not healthy to be so freaked out that you won’t even look other people in the eye. I find that very disturbing.

Those are all things I’d expect on Saturday when the interviews are in full swing, but today? Seriously. I feel like I was the only sane person in the room.

That sounds about right for the pit most years, right friends?  My bet is that The History Enthusiast will compare favorably to the Debbie Downers, especially since the departments hiring this year must be cheered by all of the top-notch candidates they’ll be able to lure.  For those of you tempted to be Debbie Downers:  buck up, at least while you’re interviewing.  Practice smiling in a warm, friendly, non-smug, non-condescending way at your fellow job seekers.  There’s plenty of challenges in faculty life–no one wants to hire a malcontent right out of the gate.  (Well, no one most of us want to work with.)  Remember: you’re never fully dressed without a smile!

9 thoughts on “AHA report: Put on a giant smiley-face mask, if you have to

  1. Years ago a Big-Time Colonial American Historian told me about his experience in the AHA pit. Seems the hotel’s Keeper of the Key did not open the doors to the ballroom at the promised time. The growing and nervous crowd was approaching sardine-can-packed conditions, when someone in the back said “Mooooooooooooooooooooo.”

    Lots of anxious people in the anteroom waiting for interview. I still recall the woman several chairs from me when I was awaiting a scheduled interview. She had to be in her late 40s/early 50s, and EVERY time someone came to the door to call in a candidate she rose from her chair, only to be disappointed. Now that I’m her age then, I think about her often as I now shift my career.

    My survival in the job market depends on not dwelling on its competitive nature. I didn’t make lists beyond what I needed to tell my references and not until I had to note in my calendar if I had an interview. When grad school friends and I were first out on the market, they would call with intel about who else was applying for the jobs they applied to, etc., etc. Long hours of telephone conversation before the Internet. I understand that’s a coping as well as a job-landing strategy, but I can’t control for what others do and think. A search committee member may not like my hairstyle and not even know it. Another member may have a political strategy to negate everything colleagues wish in a candidate. Deans intervene and write job descriptions that departments never wanted to begin with. And when I first lost a job I thought I wanted, a frenemy was first to call me and “drop” the name of who was offered the job. I hadn’t known. Then that person didn’t take the job and I was offered it, and I was able to meet folks who remain friends to this day. But not the frenemy. That’s the sort of manipulation and measurement of people in this business no one needs.

    Another of my advisers told me to “be myself” and at first I thought it was simply daft advice. But said adviser knew me well enough to know that if I had the confidence in my self and my work I wouldn’t let the market define me as a scholar and a person. I know that sounds trite, but it worked.

    That advice came in the year immediately following the Chronicle of Higher Education’s news that the job market would be just swell. I remember sitting in the TA office saying that it wouldn’t be possible, given what I was seeing around me: faculty lines being replenished, growing administrative offices, lots of spending on external business consulting firms (heck, the Wharton School on campus was in its heyday then). Perhaps it’s because I could imagine myself not being a university-affiliated scholar–always kept my options open–I was able to see that not getting a job was not failing. Sure, I experienced disappointments, but that’s quite different than thinking I was a failure.

    So, Historiann, you’re right, as usual. Buck up, folks! And The History Enthusiast has it exactly right.


  2. HistoryMaven: I’m sure you can imagine the torture for job candidates that is the job wiki. I’m glad it wasn’t around years ago when I was on the market. Smart people are starting to avoid it, for their peace of mind.


  3. Yes, Historian, the job wiki–so easily misread, so easily sabotaged–is a virtual torture device. On the one hand, knowing when interviews are being scheduled or knowing that a search is over–even before your letter arrives delivering the news–may be of some comfort. Done, over, next.

    On the other, one reads the missives from folks who appear to be really, really mean and manipulative, even entitled. Having just left a tenured job because of mean, manipulative, and unjustifiably self-entitled colleagues, I worry about just what professionalism in the history biz is anymore. To me, avoiding the wiki is not only about sanity, it’s a sign of professionalism.


  4. Your comments about the job wiki are akin to some conversations rumbling around the academic blogosphere about using Web 2.0 to establish one’s professional voice. That is, netizens should be aware that wiki and blog comments and blogs and fB pages are a part of their “permanent record,” so we can either use them to spread support and kindness, or to menace others and be jerks.

    Another Damned Medievalist was the first person to raise these issues with me, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal ever since.


  5. It’s a shame that the wiki has degenerated to rude and unprofessional behavior. Perhaps it should be a blog, rather than a wiki, so it can be moderated (can a wiki be moderated?). The information can be helpful, since we all know those totally ridiculous rejection letters don’t generally get mailed until late spring, when they’re really just adding insult to injury. Salt, meet wound. The long, agonized waits and absurd lack of transperancy in the job search system make tools like the wiki necessary. Forcing desperate job seekers into a situation where any crumb of information is lunged at is pretty sad.


  6. Pingback: Historiann EXCLUSIVE: Classy Claude at the AHA in San Diego : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  7. I didn’t see this post earlier, because (miraculously) I managed to pick up two additional interviews and so my schedule today was pretty full! As someone who’s only ABD the fact that I got 4 interviews total is enough of an achievement for me at this stage, so if I don’t get a tenure-track job at least I can feel confident that my work and teaching experience makes me an interesting candidate.

    I am happy to report that the mood in the job center has been lighter. Why it was so tense on Thursday is anyone’s guess, because today the mood was much like I expected. Candidates were nervous and not particularly chatty, but when I smiled across the room no one glared at me with a look of sheer disgust. That’s progress! As I said in another comment on the previous post, I fully understand that nerves are high and that my approach to the job market is not the same as other candidates who are feeling immense pressure from advisors, spouses, etc. I have the luxury of being single and childless, and since my dissertation isn’t *quite* done my advisor is not breathing down my throat. At some point I’m going to write up my experiences, but for now I’ll let your comments section have some peace. Among my friends and closer acquaintances there are no Debbie Downers, so we’re off now to drink and celebrate the end of a busy day!


  8. P.S. I do look at the wiki, and there was some scandal on the site (which has since been deleted…I think) about a hiring offer made at an Ivy League school. The candidate who received the offer was named, and that conversation took a rather unpleasant turn. Not sure if that is still up, since I haven’t checked the wiki since I arrived in San Diego.

    Take everything you read on the wiki with a grain of salt, but I do appreciate knowing at least some basic information about where the search committee is in the process.


  9. Pingback: What We're Reading: 124th Annual Meeting Edition - American Historical Association

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