On selling your department to job candidates, and true confessions from job interview hell

Flavia at Ferule & Fescue has a terrific post now about selling one’s own department to job candidates on campus visits.  She explains why she’s putting some real effort into recruiting quality job candidates rather than just letting the ridiculous buyer’s market sort everything out:

So I’m rousing myself at 7.30 a.m. and driving to campus every day we have a candidate visiting, making time for each one’s job talk and teaching demo andeither lunch or dinner. I’m donning a suit (to communicate respect for the candidate and the general professionalism of the department), I’m asking encouraging questions, and I’m doing my damnedest, through my interactions with my colleagues, to show as well as tell our candidates that we’re a happy and collegial place where friendships extend outside of the office. I want our candidates to see how intellectually engaged we are, and how interested in other people’s work. I want for our students to perform well, and for Cha-Cha City to sound and look appealing, and for the campus, ideally, not to be covered in a sheet of ice.

And in fact I’m not sure why having the department come off well matters so very much to me. The job market is terrible, our list is deep, and though we don’t always get our our first-choice candidate we’ve never had a search fail and have always wound up with someone wonderful.

But I guess I wish to extend the sort of kindness to our candidates that the department extended to me on my visit–and, more selfishly, I wish for the people whom we don’t hire or who don’t accept our offers (and perhaps, by extension, their colleagues and friends and advisors) to have a warm impression of our department. There’s nothing bad about good press.

How very adult and courteous!  Well done, Flavia. 

While it’s great to be regarded well as a host department, there’s also the more immediate issue of treating your guests decently and as though they’re not wasting their time on a campus visit.  There’s nothing more excruciating than being on a campus visit as a job candidate and feeling unwanted during the interview, which is something that happened to me once.  (WARNING:  this is a long post.)

Unfortunately, it was for a job that I really would have liked to have been offered, as it was in the state where Fratguy grew up and was close to the rest of his family.  (And there really aren’t too many four-year colleges or universities in his home state–and most of the ones you’ve heard of are all SLACs.)  Furthermore, it was in a part of the U.S. where I’d be reasonable driving distance to several archives important to my research.  Perhaps I erred in pointing this out during the job interview–perhaps I seemed over-eager, but eleven years later (and after participating in probably a dozen searches as a faculty member myself) I’ve come to conclude that I was just treated very badly by the faculty in that department. 

(On the other hand, I’ve also seen it work in candidates’ favor that they show some enthusiasm for the geographic location of their potential future job.  I myself was offered a job once because I reassured one department in Ohio that I was “just a girl from Toledo,” not an East Coast snob who’d never take the job.  This works if the people in that department are reasonably happy and positive about their location.  But if they’re not, it seems like enthusiasm for an institution and/or its location works against the job candidate–and the hiring department might think you’re a sucker or a sap if you’re too enthusiastic.)

Anyhoo, on to the true confessions part of this post:  The search Chair was a nice man who was trying hard to make sure the search he was running for an early Americanist didn’t fail, as had a search to fill the same position the previous year.  This is something that I asked about in my semi-finalist interview, and the search committee presented a face of goodwill and bonhomie that convinced me that they had worked out the issues surrounding the failed search.  So when they called to invite me to campus, I was very pleased and excited. 

I arrived very late the night before my all-day interview, but I got a reasonably good night’s sleep and was ready to be the most enthusiastic, brightest, most impressive version of myself that I could possibly muster.  In an interview with the faculty as a whole, I emphasized their closeness to my archival sources, and my interest in incorporating my experience with public history sites and places of local historical interest into my teaching.  I also described my research agenda as “ambitious,” which turned out to be a mistake.  One faculty member specifically said something like, “You say your research agenda is ambitious, but we have a 2-3 load here. . . ,” implying that “ambition” is not a quality they particularly valued in their faculty.  There were other signals that ambition was a problem.

I perservered on through a meeting with the Dean, lunch with the students, and a campus tour.  Shortly after I started my job talk around 4 p.m., I noticed that one member of the faculty was quite obviously sleeping in the front row.  He had taken a seat at the front of the room and stretched out for his afternoon nap.   That’s hard not to take personally–I know that 4 p.m. is a low-energy point in the day, but I didn’t pick the time for the job talk.  I just showed up when I was told.  I was mortified, but persisted in my bright, enthusiastic, and (I hoped) impressive way to talk about my research.

Things rapidly got worse.  I was taken to dinner by two faculty members and one student to a decidedly mediocre restaurant.  The college was in a small town with very limited choices, so I don’t blame them for the restaurant.  I blame them for making me feel entirely unwanted by checking their watches throughout the meal, only grudgingly engaging me in conversation, and not even trying to pretend like they cared about showing me a decent time.  (The poor student–an undergraduate–was the only person who was making an effort to talk to me and be the least bit friendly and encouraging.)  It was clear that sometime after my morning interview–in which I was chastized for saying that my research agenda was “ambitious”–the faculty as a whole decided that my candidacy for the job wasn’t advancing.  I had a desulatory final interview over breakfast with one of the watch-checkers from the night before, and the interview was mercifully over.

A final postscript, one that’s a little embarassing to me:  even after all that, I still wanted the job!  I sure as heck wanted out of my then-current job, and even after I had been offered the job at Baa Ram U. I contacted the search chair to ask about the status of their search.  He replied in a brief e-mail that I should take the other job, because an offer wouldn’t be forthcoming from his department although they hadn’t yet filled the position.  I asked why I wouldn’t be getting a job offer–and he actually told me in an e-mail that “While I think that you’re clearly a bright young scholar with a very enthusiastic personality, several of my colleagues found you too aggressive.”

 I was pissed off.  I wrote back and asked him if they ever called any male job applicants “Too aggressive?”  (I didn’t get a reply to that e-mail.  I guess it just proved the point about my “aggression!”)

Guess what?  That search failed again.  They ran the search again, and on the third try they finally hired a young man right out of a top graduate program.

I’ve thought about that interview a lot over the past 11 years.  While I can see that I certainly made some strategic errors in terms of selling myself to that department, I still think that they treated me, an invited guest and a well-prepared candidate, quite poorly.  I’m the kind of job candidate who practices her job talk three times each night in the hotel room, with a stopwatch to make sure I don’t go over the time limit.  I’m the kind of job candidate who orders briskly off the menu and isn’t high maintenance about sauces-on-the-side or can-you-take-out-this-ingredient? at restaurants.  I’m the kind of candidate who bothers to look up a faculty member’s research and teaching specialties and their publications before I meet with them, and I even read the books and articles of the faculty whose research interests are closest to mine.  I’m the kind of candidate who asks them specific questions about their research.  I’m the kind of job candidate who knows she’s always “on,” and that there’s no such thing as down time (let alone naptime) when I’m on an interview.  But even if I hadn’t done all of this–I still think that I deserved to be treated better.

I think about this interview every time we have a candidate on campus, and I try to do my part to make sure their experience is completely different.  At least I have never heard anyone in my department mock or be derisive about a candidate’s ambition.

Please share your stories of job interview hell, if you’re unfortunate enough to have them.  I’m sure this is far from the worst that could happen!

31 thoughts on “On selling your department to job candidates, and true confessions from job interview hell

  1. It sounds like “aggressive” means “you woke up” that morning! This would be a case of the linguistic turn taking a *wrong* turn and getting bogged down in the quantitative morass. “Ambitious” would surely be the wrong move if you were thinking about getting out maybe a book a year for the first ten years, and 2-3 would be a horrifying course “load” under the same circumstance. But this is where the deciders ought to be asking intelligent questions, rather than just silently scrutinizing them. Any misconceptions about meanings could quickly be clarified on follow-up, which is what the process should be all about. Also sounds like the dood (?) who stretched out (literally?!?) in the front row was retiring right there on the spot, which probably meant yet another search the following year.

    I did and experienced plenty of dumb things during the course of a relatively finite number of times on-campus, but nothing sustainedly horrible like this, unless I’m totally suppressing it. Going straight from a “teaching presentation” into a job talk with but a ten minute interval, long after breakfast and just before lunch, with the nearest bathroom down a floor and a half a mile through the hallways would probably be the worst of it. (And since I drove twenty minutes from home for this daylong event, it’s not like stretching it into a day and a half would have broken the bank). But two hours of face time with the “campus executive officer,” not counting the fact that she came to the job talk, sort of compensated for that on the being taken seriously side.


  2. I once had a dean–whose office was immense and blindingly sunlit–listen patiently while I gave the thumbnail sketch of my research interests and methods and then reply, “well that sounds like nothing more than X, I don’t know why Yists don’t do Z.” I started to respond about how we Ys do in fact know all about X and Z but the complications are…when it dawned on me that this was not the point. He was lifting his leg to pee on my turf. I changed the subject to field work.

    I didn’t really think that was my job anyway (another of the candidates was better suited to it) but still, what an old stuffed shirt. The school was my parents’ alma matter though, that would have been nifty. I went to see my father’s thesis in the library–only to discover that it had been sent to off-site storage some few months earlier. A sign, undoubtedly a sign.


  3. Ah, job interviews from hell. My truly disastrous one was for a job I really wanted, as it was only a couple of hours from the town where I went to grad school (and besides, I was desperate for a job, any job). It went more or less like this. (My field, for the record, is early modern English drama.)

    E-mail from the department chair: Your teaching demo will be in Dr. A’s world literature class. We thought perhaps you could talk to the students for half an hour about writing in-class essays.

    E-mail from Dr. A: Sure, I could let you know what the in-class essay question will be, and you could teach them how to answer it. Let me know which day you’re coming, and I’ll tell you what we’re reading.

    Follow-up e-mail from Dr. A: We will be reading [text about the Holocaust by famous twentieth-century continental European writer] in [The Anthology of Obscurity]. You might start with the historical context. I could dig up a writing assignment if you really need me to, but I’ll be out of town at a conference, so on second thought, why don’t you just make up an in-class writing assignment yourself?

    [None of the libraries in town had a copy of the Anthology of Obscurity — but, thank God, one of my colleagues at my VAP job did. Somehow, I managed to throw together a lesson about Famous Twentieth-Century Continental European Writer, or about writing in-class essays, or something. I hope it was vaguely appropriate and culturally sensitive. I don’t remember a thing about it, and I think the class was rightly baffled.]

    Dr. A, after class: They loved you. By the way, how old are you? You look about twelve.

    The president of the college: Tell me about yourself.

    Me: Well, I did my graduate work at —

    The president: No, tell me about yourself.

    The dean: You’re female. You’re not very big. Do you think you’d be able to handle a football player with a grade dispute?

    I didn’t get the job. Come to think of it, I never got a rejection letter either.


  4. I certainly had many horror stories back in the day, which I drew upon, in part, in a post on my blog some time ago. I won’t revisit them here (If you are interested, you can visit my place and search for “true-life tales” and it will come up).

    Actually, your post reminded me of a reverse situation for a candidate we interviewed at OPU — but in reverse. It was a senior position, and the candidate purported to be very interested in getting an offer. Yet s/he apparently felt that I was too lowly to be worth hir time. A meal we had together was just painful: it began with hir dissing someone in hir own field for not publishing a second book within five years of the first. Since that category also would include me (and most people I know: undoubtedly s/he knew this!), I immediately felt put down. The conversation remained at that level of condescension, but I was at least trying to soldier on. Finally, the candidate began ostentatiously looking at hir watch, repeating this several times, as our meeting wore on. Finally, s/he came right out and “dismissed” me, saying, “Well, I’m sure you have lots of other things to do, and I can find my way to my next appointment myself, so don’t feel you have to stick around just to escort me there.”

    I was flabbergasted. I’ll admit the conversation was difficult but I was at least trying to maintain a conceit of collegiality. This person just seemed to want to diss-and-dismiss as quickly as possible!


  5. Having been at the U for about 30 years removes a lot of the pain of hellish interviews. In more precise and formal fields, one always finds bottomless arrogance. If you happen to graduate from 1% less prominent U than Arrogant A, you’ll be mistreated. However if your adviser got the Nobel, they’ll treat you appropriately and the job offers are a plenty. (A close family member)

    I do remember with horror candidates to our department that were treated pretty badly. (It’s an understatement.) The reasons typically have to do with internal politics that this post never mentions. Over all, we take people to great restaurants (big city), the interviews are friendly and polite, the dean redundant (what the hell does he know?) and the talks are orderly. (Old people tend to fall asleep sometimes) There are major exceptions.


  6. This works if the people in that department are reasonably happy and positive about their location. But if they’re not, it seems like enthusiasm for an institution and/or its location works against the job candidate –- and the hiring department might think you’re a sucker or a sap if you’re too enthusiastic.

    This is so true, and not only about location.

    I had an MLA interview for a job that I was really excited about: a flagship state school in a really cool town in a Southern state. The committee kept telling me that their students were “very different” from the kinds of students that I’d taught at my Ivy grad institution, and asking how I’d cope — but when I pointed out that I was currently a lecturer at a big state institution that featured a similar range of student abilities, and that, actually, I loved teaching my period to a wide range of students, including nonmajors and underclassmen (and gave examples of how I tried to reach students at different levels in my survey classes), they said dismissive and snarky things.

    It became clear as the interview went on that they all had contempt for their non-majors, for lower-level classes, and really anything that wasn’t directly about research. I came away with the impression that they were incredibly status-conscious but also incredibly insecure, and were interested in me primarily for my pedigree.

    I know the guy who got the job, and he’s wonderful, but definitely someone who fit their image of a Serious Intellectual. He later told me about his struggles to teach the survey because he felt he had nothing in common with and no way to reach the nonmajors and underclassmen.


  7. I fear that my worst interview might be coming up, and I really, really want it to work out. I’m interviewing for a potential spousal in a department that desperately needs another line in my field. If they like me, they’re getting one for almost free from my spouse’s department. But, it’s a vastly different job from what I have, what I’ve ever interviewed for, and what anyone I know has.

    I’m coming out of large public universities with low loads (2/2) and high research expectations. I have been told I would have a 4/4 load, and I’m assuming almost no research expectations.* My job interview is real, 3 teaching demos in one day and then a research talk the next morning.

    Any pitfalls I should be aware of? We’re honestly not sure what the final decision will be, but I would like to have the choice. I’m afraid of coming off like a snob.

    * Most of the University’s colleges offer a 3/3 load for research professors, giving one course credit a semester for research. (My husband’s college is even more generous, most years he would teach 3 classes total.) The 3/3 would be my preference, but if it stays a 4/4 does that mean I’m still expected to do research without the course credit?


  8. Since when is 2-3 considered such a heavy teaching load as to prohibit a research agenda?

    It took me a couple of years at my first job at a fourth-tier directional state university in the South to wise up and realize that most of the senior faculty had published little or nothing, and that the heavy research emphasis in my hiring process was a new development being imposed on faculty by the administration. As a result, my own accomplishments (modest as they were) were the cause of envy and resentment, to the extent that some of them basically tried to sabotage my career and that of other junior colleagues. You might have encountered a similar campus culture on that job interview, Historiann: “ambitious” and “aggressive” registered as “she’ll make us all look bad in comparison.”


  9. So many choices — telling me how horrible their university is, arriving to be told they have a much more senior candidate they prefer, forgetting to pick me up for a meal, almost no one showing up for a job talk, faculty telling me I don’t really want the job, search committee telling me they don’t want someone in my field, being quizzed on why I wasn’t drinking alcohol…

    Probably the most notable: Search committee member told me he thought my work on sexuality/rape was purely scatalogical.

    I think I stuttered something to the effect of, uh, no, I don’t think so, being too stunned to think on my (very junior at the time) feet…


  10. Shane: I know, a 2-3 load! Big deal. It was a small college with tiny classes too, so any of us could have done it standing on our heads. I think this place was undergoing a shift from regional backwater to in the hunt among top SLACs in the US News & World Report Rankings, and there was anxiety about it. But as far as I could tell, most of the faculty had perfectly respectable quantities and qualities of publications–which is why their reaction to my talking about being close to my archives surprised me.

    The funny thing is that I’m pretty comfortably mediocre now. I keep up, but I’m no superstar. So I guess I’ve been pulled down a peg or two to their level anyway. That happens with tenure, service, and other life events–but I think I’d rather cut out my tongue than appear amused by or skeptical of (let alone hostile to) a junior scholar’s research agenda. At the very least, most of us know that in order for people to win tenure, “ambition” has to be part of the mix in the people we hire. Otherwise, the work doesn’t get done and we lose a colleague and have to run a search all over again.

    wini: why can’t your partner get a job at your uni, or near your uni? It sounds to me like you’ve got the higher-powered career.

    But, I understand you want the option of a job offer from your partner’s uni. My advice–and please, other people, chime in here–is to just forget that you teach at a 2-2 uni and pretend like you’ve been doing a 4-4 all along. Take their temperature about teaching and how they think about their students, and nod along and do your best amateur anthropologist work and try to fit in and agree with them. Knock them out with your teaching demos, for sure. (THREE of them? Wouldn’t one do?) Do a really good research talk, but be sure to ask them lots of questions about their jobs/fields/work when you are in conversation with them. Don’t ask about course reductions, research/sabbatical leaves, or anything that suggests that your research might be equally or more important than your teaching.

    IOW, keep the focus off of you and on them and what’s going on in their universe. Try to find angles or topics on which you can connect with them. I don’t know if you can pull an “I’m just a girl from Toledo”-type thing off, but that has worked for me. (It’s best if you really are a girl from Toledo, so to speak–don’t lie or exaggerate about a connection, as they already know about your partner.) Teaching is an obvious connection in our professional lives–people love to talk about how they’ve solved a problem or issue in teaching.


  11. Worst interview experience to date (I’m flirting with applications now): after my presentation, as the search committee chair was leading me to my next appointment (alone, so no one else heard this), zie told me all the things I should have done in my talk but hadn’t. I also found out later that the topic I’d been given had been essentially a trick question — there was no way I could have gotten it “right.” (I’d suspected something like that as I was prepping for the talk). The rest of the interview went downhill from there, though I managed it as best I could with a big smile on my face. I was told at the end that there was an internal candidate. I withdrew after I got home — they hadn’t contacted my references yet, I knew I didn’t want the job, and I didn’t need MPOW at the time knowing that I’d applied elsewhere.


  12. (1) I am all about selling my department and institution and blah, blah, blah, but no fucken way am I wearing a goddamn motherfucken suit. I had a suit-wearing jobbe, and now that I am a professor, no fucken way am I ever wearing a suit to work ever again.

    (2) 4PM is an extremely popular time for seminars in academia, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. When I was in grad school, one of our professors–who has since won a Nobel prize–would sit in the front row and do that fucken thing where his head would loll back until some kind of proprioceptive feedback would wake him uppe and his head would jerk forward. There were a few times where his head was back so far in my face I could count the few intact hair follicles on his bald cranium. Really good person, and the point is that 4PM is absurd as a seminar time. Of course, the seminars in both of the departments I have appointments in are at 4PM.


  13. During my job talk, which was at 11 a.m., the chair of the department sat in the front row and then proceeded to fall asleep and snore through my talk. I actually didn’t pay much attention to it because the rest of the department was very engaged and had many great questions and comments after the talk. The chair was probably in his late 70s at the time.

    So I didn’t worry too much about it but later that afternoon, when I had my meeting with him, he proceeded to say, “Now I know that other people enjoyed your talk, but I had a lot of problems with it!” He then went on to detail the problems in a mostly incoherent manner. Given that he had slept through my talk, it wasn’t surprising that his remarks didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was certainly difficult to respond to them appropriately.

    Somehow none of that hurt me too much in the end, as I got the offer and took the job. It was my dream job, and I wasn’t exactly crafty about hiding that fact at the time. I know Professor Sleepy fairly well now and can guess that he was just being belligerent in an attempt to engage me in an interesting conversation, but that’s certainly not a good way to behave with a candidate!


  14. The chair of the department went around the committee and scheduled the campus visits on Good Friday, whih was a holiday at the colllege. That meant that the faculty who did show up were not happy to be there. There was a campus visit interview for another department on the same day, also scheduled in the same way. Whoever scheduled the rooms had scheduled the two candidates in the same rooms at 30 minute intervals, except they had scheduled them for 1 hour timeslots. When we arrived at the room for my job talk, the other candidate was still in the middle of hirs. They decided to reschedule mine until after the interviews with the college president and dean.

    That time ended up being 4 pm. Yes, 4 pm, on a Friday that was a school holiday. When we got to the room and no one was there, not even the department chair or half of the search committee, the rest of the search committee (the chair of the committee and the person who lived just off campus), who clearly wanted to clear out themselves, said, “ah well, we don’t really need to see your job talk.” In the grand tradition of not informing candidates that they have not been selected, I never heard back from them.

    Later, I learned from someone on the search committee who jumped ship shortly thereafter that I had been eliminated from candidacy because — yes — I hadn’t given a job talk. The cherry on the top of the sundae? I didn’t hear from the search committee, but I did hear from the dean, who had no idea what was going on with the committee. He called to hit on me. I was desperate to leave the job I was in, but — dang! — that was one job I was thrilled not to get.

    The worst I ever witnessed was as a grad student. They brought in the guy candidate and all of the dudes on the all-dude search committee were buddy-buddy with the guy and trading “in” jokes during his talk (jokes that were, by the way, ethnically-based). A week later they brought in the woman candidate. The dudes on the all-dude committee barely looked at her during her talk, and sat with their heads down and their arms crossed. Every woman in the room noticed the difference. For better or worse, the woman got the job — AND she got a better job a few years later.

    For some people, it is important to be assholes.


  15. Sometimes indeed, the faculty are being a$$holes for the sake of being a$$holes (some people just can’t help themselves, I guess), but other times they are reacting to specific internal politics, usually directly related to the search. That’s the worse situation for the candidate, I think, because there are currents – or even outright aggression – that the candidate doesn’t understand, that are directed at hir but not in a way that makes sense. I was involved in a search like that some time ago, and I wanted to warn the candidate about the situation. But I felt like I couldn’t say anything, because of my position and also who wants to tell a candidate, wow, my department is dysfunctional, but come here anyway! Have any of you been hired from a search you later learned was deeply contentious? How did that work out? I’m mulling over what the ethics of recommending a candidate who could get pushed through a vote (as in the example I mentioned from a couple of years ago) but with some serious ugliness. Does the ugly faction just get it together and act decently once the person is a member of the faculty? I’m sure it must vary. . .

    Fortunately, I have no direct terrible job interview experiences (although after a perfectly pleasant job interview, I was subject to complete administrative meltdown that resulted in having an offer to me rescinded in an unbelievable way). I’ve seen some candidates that seemed desperately enthusiastic, with an emphasis on desperate. It wasn’t the best impression, though I have to say in both cases the candidates weren’t hired largely based on poor performance at job talks. (or perhaps, being outperformed by others.)


  16. Years ago, I interviewed at a SLAC in the middle of nowhere. For my job talk there was no podium, I was pointed to a large over-stuffed couch. They handed me a glass of water, but there was no place to put it, so I had to either awkwardly hold it or put in on the floor. They all then sat in tall strait-backed chairs.


  17. 4 p.m. is a pretty typical time for seminar presentations, workshops, and job talks because on most campuses most regular faculty are done with their teaching obligations before then. But *because* 4 p. is a pretty typical time for intellectual exchange among the faculty, Snoozy should have done what I always do: BRING A CUP OF COFFEE! Manage your metabolism through drugs–most people figure this out in high school.

    (Maybe it’s only tenured faculty at SLACs who can expect to be home at 4 p. for naptime, but most of the adult world doesn’t roll that way.)

    Perpetua: I took a job once in a search process like the one you describe. I didn’t last–but I have to say that pretty much anyone who took that job would have been treated the way I was. (When a department is given a line 13 years earlier and after 4 hires has still failed to tenure someone in that line–that pretty much guarantees that the department just doesn’t want to tenure someone in that line.)


  18. My first interview was at Upper Great Plains State U. From the start everything was “off”—the SC met me at the airport, took me to dinner and talked mainly to each other. They put me in a B&B whose breakfast time was 7:30 to 8:30 with a pick-up time of…7:30. Teaching demo was at 8:00 a.m. which we just made after parking problems. Two faculty were in attendance along with 5 student “volunteers.” From there it was to various faculty and administrators who were all less than enthusiastic. (My response was to *try harder*! It must be my fault right?) No time was assigned for lunch as I went from pro-forma meeting to pro-forma meeting with very obviously disinterested admin and random faculty to the 2:00 p.m. “research presentation.” During the intro, the department chair announced to us all that my 45 minute presentation and Q&A needed to be reduced. So, it was NOW 10 minute overview of my dissertation, my future research plans and then 10 minutes of questions. On the fly I cut the overview (in retrospect, pretty damn well actually) and handled the questions.

    I met with the chair for 15 whole minutes and he recited the general parameters of “the offer someone might expect.” He seemed annoyed at my few standard questions and looked at the clock the entire time.

    The dinner with the SC was “cancelled” and I was foisted on some junior guy for return to the hotel, told to get my own dinner and save the receipt (they had no restaurant, only a bar). The very nice Junior Guy was in his first year there. He took me to a Chili’s for food (my first since 24 hours before) and as he dropped me off said:
    “I’m on the market myself. Let me just say that you are the only woman in the on-campus pool, the only candidate without degree in-hand. I think you can figure out the game here… But, they treated you like shit today and you STILL made it difficult for them to hire “in house candidate” without a discussion. Good work, you’ll get a job somewhere. Just pray it isn’t here.”

    They didn’t hire their adjunct, they hired another guy who left after one year. I looked up Junior Guy and he did get a much better job. I also got a job but, more importantly, I learned every single thing you need to know about on-campus interviewing from that dreadful experience. Nothing anyone threw at me during that long season could phase me.

    BTW, the kicker was that the department didn’t get the search budget “approved” and I didn’t get any of the travel costs reimbursed. Ever. That created a whole different mess as I interviewed and defended that spring.


  19. Oh, my lord. What a nasty experience. They got the turnover they deserve. It was thoughtful and kind of Junior Guy to take you out and give you the skinny.

    Your experience reminds me of some good advice I got from a friend: keep granola or power bars in your briefcase on job interviews. You never know when you might be forced to cut a meal short (or miss one), or what jet lag might do to your appetite, so have something easy to eat on hand that you can wolf down on a bathroom break, if you need to.

    I’ve had a hard time getting my mileage reimbursed when I’ve driven myself on job interviews. I think most offices find that it’s easier for them to work through a travel agent than to reimburse mileage, but when I had job interviews in two cities that were about a 3-hour drive each (when airplanes would have taken me 5+ hours, all told), it was a hassle. I think in one case I never got a check, but I got a better job than that one so I never bothered to ask for my $$ back.


  20. Twenty years on, I still get a lovely bit of schadenfreude recalling what happened with one job I’d sought. They contacted me for a semi-shortlist phone interview and it went quite well. By the rising tone of voice of two people on the phone, it seemed as if they were genuinely interested in my candidacy. I was quite interested in their department and felt I could offer them quite a bit. Indeed, at the end of the phone interview, I was promised that I’d be contacted about the possibility of an on-campus interview within two weeks. “Either way!”

    After four weeks, I emailed back the search chair just asking what was happening. No answer. I debated leaving a phone message but decided against it. I assumed that I hadn’t made the shortlist for on-campus interviews and I was a bit miffed that they hadn’t informed me, but academia is full of absentminded types.

    Later, I heard through the grapevine that a power struggle had emerged among the department faculty. Job had been advertised in subfield A1 but another group wanted it in subfield A2 so they started informally calling for applications from A2 scholars and wouldn’t have anything to do with considering the prospect of bringing any of the several A1 candidates, myself included, for campus interviews.

    Apparently their dean got wind of this and cut the entire search dead, as there had been no approval for A2 hiring. Bwahahahahahahaaa. Sucked to be them!

    This was made all the more delicious by hearing the news directly on heels of my on-campus interview at current job. I’d been told by two faculty members before I even left the campus that I was getting the job offer as soon as the dean could phone me up on landing back in Grad School Town. That was exactly what happened and it made the puzzlingly silent rejection from the first U a little bit less hurtful.


  21. I think on various interviews I’ve not been aggressive / enthusiastic enough, been too reserved. First time in the East, first time in the Midwest, first day in a foreign country, you know how it is – I like to take things in for a few hours and observe people so I can know how one is to behave on this particular planet.

    Also, I’ve been on many interviews where I was obviously either the backup candidate, in case the other one didn’t take the job, or the fill-in candidate, so they could say they had in fact hired a woman. I tend to withdraw in those sorts of situations … where, you know, you take a cab in from the airport by yourself and have dinner by yourself, and breakfast, and get picked up for a perfunctory interview, and then go to a perfunctory dinner. I’ve had a few places do this; behavior when you actually are being seriously considered is very different.

    At the same time, I’m not sure whether it’s kind to the candidates to present a falsely pleasant view of one’s place. I’ve had new hires get really mad when they find out how well they were fooled.


  22. Agree with Z about the false pleasantness. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to present the department as a fabulous place to be if it isn’t. I’d rather make a decision about taking a job based on knowing what I’d be dealing with, than take something and find out I’d been fooled or the position seriously misrepresented. (I had a VAP position once where, on my first day there, I was told that the program I’d been hired to teach in was going to be terminated as well as other things which completely contradicted what I’d been told by the person I was replacing. Who I’d guess got a very nasty surprise when she returned).


  23. Last year I had a campus visit for a VAP. I looked up during my teaching demo to see the chair of the search committee texting. Texting! The dean was sitting in the front row. I asked him, Does this place allow students to text in class? He looked around and asked, Huh? I called out–Put away the phone, please. The chair did. I didn’t get the job.

    And I’m glad I didn’t get it. The next interview I had was for a tt position, and I got it….


  24. I think sometimes that most faculty end up exhibiting the behavior at meetings that in their own students would win them an ejection from class. I too have seen phone-fiddling, chatting, and the like in faculty meetings.

    I’ve never seen a faculty member texting during a job talk, though. That’s almost as aggressive as snoozing in the front row!


  25. Phone-fiddling and texting have been polluting our meetings for some years now, and with the proliferation of the I-Pad and the migration of things like agendas and handouts to the “cloud,” it’s sometimes like a failed meeting of multi-taskers anonymous in there. But a search chair texting in front of someone the committee has invited in to present to its colleagues would almost court an ejection (with or without device confiscation depending on aggravating factors) in my view. Right on to Canine for busting the miscreant. You could imagine making a Youtube short based on this and taking it to Sundance next year.


  26. Just to prevent even accidental identification (since I am a lowly administrative type who is part of some searches in a non-faculty capacity…and also a lurker/very occasional commenter!)…I shall post anonymously.

    I was once part of a failed search in which two of the search committee members were sitting next to each other, texting each other and giggling during the committee’s meeting with the candidate – not even during a talk with a large audience where they might have felt that they were hidden. It was the rudest thing I’d ever seen in a professional setting and I was just appalled, but was not in a position to say anything. It clearly put the candidate off his rhythm, although he did his best to continue. In fairness, all the dinners were at a nice restaurant, the candidate got rides to and from the airport and in general I think everyone wanted to take the search seriously, but surely adult scholars with actually pretty darn successful careers can turn off the Blackberries for an hour in the name of courtesy.

    This was for a very specialized position. The committee was dissatisfied with the candidate pool (but when you’re looking for someone doing the equivalent of, say, Song Dynasty poetics as their primary specialty, your pool is of necessity going to be small and even the best candidate may not be a perfect match.)

    It was a really dismaying experience and it revealed to me a lot of rifts in the department which had been hidden since I’d mostly worked with only one faction, as it were.


  27. I never got a face to face job interview even for an adjunct position in the US despite having two books and several journal articles published. After many hundreds of applications I came to the conclusion that I was never going to get an interview for any job in the US. In retrospect I regret wasting a huge amount of time and effort applying to jobs in the US when I never had a chance to even get an interview. But, given the state of higher education in the US as reported in blogs I might have lucked out in being exiled to Africa.


  28. Canine: Are you sure the search chair was texting? Perhaps he was taking notes about something you had just said? Or going on to Amazon to order a book you’d just mentioned? Or maybe he WAS texting someone–to tell them what an awesome candidate he was witnessing at that moment.

    “I think we have our winner!”
    (10 seconds later:)
    “Oops, maybe not.”

    People use cell phones for lots of things besides talking and texting these days. Calling him out sounds like an excellent way to ensure you never get a job offer there, or anywhere else that anyone in that room ever works at again…

    Anonymous @6:58’s story is pretty galling, though.


  29. I don’t know, Shane–that seems pretty rude to me, although I take your point that we can’t know what the Chair was actually doing.

    I wouldn’t have had the guts to call him out on it during my talk, but in my experience, faculty exhibit some pretty rude behavior in meetings that they’d never accept in their students.


  30. My worst job interview experience: being taken to dinner at a pizza place (that in itself was OK, since it was a small town without many options) and being told what I had to have to eat because the search committee member HAD A COUPON! So, I was served pizza with toppings that included an item to which I have a food intolerance, and my choices were 1) to make a fuss that seemed inappropriate on an interview, 2) not to eat at all, or 3) to risk unpleasant digestive difficulties during my interview! I chose option #2, cut up a slice of pizza and left it on my plate, and wolfed down a granola bar in the bathroom.

    Now, I understand tight budgets, and I worked for a time at a university where meals with job candidates were not reimbursed (that is, the university would pay for the candidate’s meal, but not those of search committee members). But still, this experience has always struck me as the height of cheapness. I was offered the job and declined it, and I’ve always been glad I didn’t have to work there.


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