Compared to the Swedish system, academic recruitment is extremely swift in the UK. In Scandyland, it’s typically 7 months from the application deadline to the rejection letter, mainly because of slow external referees. The worst I’ve seen was 14 months. But in the UK, it’s all done in a matter of weeks.
I recently had the pleasure of receiving my first invitation to an interview for a UK academic job. Though in the end I didn’t actually get the job, it was overall a very friendly and pleasant experience. Before I describe my trip, I’ll relate a story told to me by one of the other applicants about a horrific job interview he once did in Ireland.
This guy was informed that he had made the short list, and was asked to show up at a certain door on campus at a certain time. He travelled to Ireland, found the door, and realised that it opened on an anonymous conference room in the campus computer lab building. This was nowhere near the archaeology department. He gave a test lecture and an interview, and then the Head of Department said goodbye. Back to the airport without even seeing the department, fly home, receive rejection letter.
My English experience was very different. On the first evening, a minibus taxi picked me and the other four short-listed scholars up at the centrally located hotel where the department had put us up. We went to the home of the Head of Department, where we were joined by a considerable number of departmental staff members. The HoD and his wife proceeded to wine and dine us all in royal style, and after an evening of laughter and camaraderie the taxi took us applicants back to the hotel.
The following morning I took a 45-minute sunlit walk to campus, found the department, was offered coffee, and then gave my test lecture to staff and students. To keep me from booing and hissing at my competitors (I suppose), I was then sent out of the lecture room and given a tour of the department by the friendly secretary. Afterwards I took a walk on my own around campus, looking at gardens and buildings and students, and had something to eat while the other four gave their lectures. At an appointed time, staff, applicants, MA students and PhD students all gathered among the display cases in the departmental museum and had sandwiches and pastries for lunch on the departmental buck, while we all mingled about and chatted.
I was then shown by the secretary to another building, where I was interviewed by four men in suits. Two of them were the HoD and an associate professor, with both of whom I was at this point on a friendly first-name basis. The third was a professor from another faculty, and the fourth was the Head of School (an organisational level between the department and the faculty). As far as I can tell the interview went reasonably well, though I forgot to brag about my new-media prowess and my collaboration with amateur archaeologists, and I got some bad-cop questions from the Head of School. To the latter, I of course came up with excellent ésprit d’escalier replies afterwards. And as my friend Tor had warned me, it was a little confusing to be asked about things that I had already given full info on in my written application, a copy of which each suit-clad man was holding.
But all in all, I don’t think it was poor performance either at the lecture or at the interview that lost me the job. The HoD explained to me that all five on the short list were more than employable. He even quipped that if he were to apply for jobs today with the qualifications that secured him his first academic job back in the 70s, he wouldn’t even make the short list. Though few of my age can beat my publication record, I do have very little formal experience of life as a university lecturer. When I explained to the Head of School that co-editing eleven years’ worth of Swedish archaeology’s main research journal teaches a man one or two things about admin, he just smiled thinly and said, “You know, that sounds more like fun to me”.
All in all, though I didn’t get the job, my trip to England was made quite a heartening experience by the friendliness and consideration of everyone involved. I came away feeling not rejected, but as if I have actually climbed a rung on my rickety career ladder just by being considered for a UK job. I don’t reveal the name of the place here because I have a vague feeling that this would be a transgressive act. But if anybody involved is reading this, please accept my heartfelt thanks for the great way you all took care of us applicants! And to the person who did get the job, my best wishes.
Update same evening: A student just wrote me and said they were disappointed that I didn’t get the job! YES! Now I am a proud man!
Update next day: And another one! “I am very disappointed that you did not get the position within our department. Unfortunately, so are a number of other students. We all wanted you to know that you were great and we very much enjoyed your presentation and your approachability.”