Candidate dinners: skip the diaper talk, willya?

Read it. Know it. Live it.

 Bardiac has a (mostly unintentionally) hilarious post about dinner with a job candidate in her department recently.  She writes: 

I went to dinner with some department folks and a candidate last night. The department folks included a married couple (TT), parents to two toddler types, an adjunct married to one of our TT folks, also parent to two toddler types. 

There was a LOT of discussion of nannies, pre-schools, and other toddleresque topics among the two married women. The married man talked about bourbon and his beloved porch drinking club. (He’s the type who babysits occasionally*, so he didn’t have much to add to the parenting discussion.) 

The candidate listened politely but didn’t seem to contribute. I don’t know if s/he is a parent or a partner (s/he didn’t contribute that information, and we sure don’t ask). 

.       .      .       .      .       .       

I tried to move the topic onto program stuff, but it didn’t really work, because the two married women really, really wanted to catch up on the latest pre-school news. I tried to get to know the candidate a bit, but there wasn’t much room, since it’s hard to move from diapering issues smoothly into pedagogy issues without an intermediate step that involves bringing the candidate in on the diapering issues. And I have little to say about diapering issues. I tried to move the topic onto things to do in the area, and the married man was just a tad snide at me (as he tends to be). 

.       .      .       .      .       .       

I left the restaurant and immediately wanted to check the other candidate meal lists to make sure I’m not eating with these folks again. Please, dog, no. 

More pressingly, Bardiac:  please save job candidates from having these people inflicted on them!  You fought the good fight, but to no avail.  Think of yourself beyond these job dinners–the only way you’ll recruit anyone who wants to have a conversation about something other than diapers and drinking clubs is to make sure they’re entertained by people in your department who will put on a better show!  

It’s nice that your colleagues wanted to catch up, but can’t they do that on their own dime and without getting up in everyone’s grill about diapers?  Jeezy-creezy, is it any wonder academics are stereotyped as socially inept?  Since we’re in the season when the few departments that are hiring are entertaining job candidates at lunches and dinners, let’s review our company manners, friends: 

  1. This is a business lunch or dinner.  While ideally everyone at the meal should feel comfortable, entertained, and well-cared for, it is a crucial moment in which you as a hiring department can draw the candidate out on topics that you didn’t get to discuss with them earlier, and it’s a chance for the candidate to learn about the social and community life of the department.  Everyone should understand that they are still “on,” and try to present the best, most interesting, most fascinating version of themselves possible.
  2. Steer clear of your personal life and personal topics unless asked.  Since hiring departments can’t and shouldn’t ask candidates about their personal lives, it’s best to steer clear of conversations involving one’s dating/romantic/family life unless specifically asked about it.  A candidate might volunteer that (for example) ze  has a child/ren and wants to hear about the local schools, or that ze is single and wants to hear about the local dating scene, or that ze is gay and do you know anything about the local gay community, in which case, answer hir questions and/or refer her to others in your department or at your university who might be happy to discuss it with her further.
  3. Inoffensive conversation prompts for academic interview dinners:  Have you traveled anywhere interesting recently for work or pleasure?  Have you visited this area before, or is this your first trip to Collegeville?  Tell me more about your undergraduate years–I always admired Ms. Chips’s work so much:  was she a good mentor to you?  Have you read any good books lately, either in your field or for pleasure?  Have you seen any of the new movies that are getting so much attention now that the Oscar nominations have been announced?  What is your take on that new article in Big Journal that everyone is talking about?  What do you see as important new trends in your subfield, and in the discipline at large?

No shoes, no shirts, no dice!

Always remember:  If a dinner companion doesn’t seem interested in the conversation, then it’s time to change topics.  It’s quite possible, of course, that a job candidate is hirself a crashing bore and hard to talk to, but ze still would probably prefer to have colleagues who have enough wit and sense to impress future job candidates! 

What did I leave out?  What other advice would you give?  What instructive (or disasterous) candiate dinners have you shared, friends, either as the job candidate or as a member of the interviewing department?  Tell me!  (Don’t miss the stories in the comments over at Bardiac’s place.)

*p.s.:  anyone who talks about “babysitting” his own children is a d-bag.  And by the way, what is a “porch drinking club,” and who over the age of 30 thinks that’s an appropriate conversation topic at a business dinner?