28th 2008
Tales from the Pit: MLA report #1

Posted under: conferences, jobs

“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.


7 Responses to “Tales from the Pit: MLA report #1”

  1. Tales from the MLA: profs and job seekers in the trenches | San Francisco Metblogs on 28 Dec 2008 at 6:32 pm #

    [...] at the Hilton, where dozens of career make-or-break interviews take place simultaneously, “is undignified and it stinks.” The same post cites another blogger who reported on a candidate “whose bag fell over [...]

  2. Roger Wilson on 28 Dec 2008 at 6:35 pm #

    great graphic. who did it?

  3. Historiann on 28 Dec 2008 at 9:49 pm #

    Roger–if you follow the link, the graphic is right there, courtesy of one of the evil geniuses at Rate Your Students.

  4. Watch your modern language roundup, yee haw! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 29 Dec 2008 at 9:06 am #

    [...] mind off of the interview for a few of those anxiety-ridden minutes, right?  (You didn’t ask to borrow the search chair’s Chapstik, did [...]

  5. I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 30 Dec 2008 at 6:38 am #

    [...] when you eat during a job interview, you just look like a jerk.  Would you like a side of slightly used Chapstik with that?)   But enough with the cautionary tales–Tenured Radical has posted yet more [...]

  6. Tales From the Pit, part deux: Classy Claude files his report on AHA 2009 : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 05 Jan 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    [...] Studies scholar at Hudson University, spent most of last weekend in the Job Register, also known as “the Pit,” or “the Killing Floor.”  These are his [...]

  7. (More) bad news and helpful hints : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 06 Jan 2009 at 7:02 am #

    [...] Walter complains about–we’re about compassion and understanding for all (except the Chapstik guy.  That was just nasty.)  The funny thing about Archie’s last post is that he agrees [...]

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