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!
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