Remember the post on “Negotiating Beer with the Guys on a Job Interview“? from back in August. We had a lively discussion in the comment thread on the way a teetotaler interviewee could handle an interview schedule that included “throwing a few back” in a tailgate reception.
Today, a new comment popped up in the thread. And it’s from the chair of the search committee…. For your ease, I’ve reprinted it below.
This message is coming to you from the chair of the search committee. That’s right, somehow the internet, including blogs like this one, gets to institutions like mine. It has been, well, eye-opening to watch this discussion from the sideline, but now that the search is resolved (we hired a woman, by the way), I’ll add a few comments for anyone who is still out there following the thread.
Sorry, but I’m not writing to get into a game of he said/she said for the blogosphere to judge. I’m just going to offer some advice to anyone in the faculty job market, with my comments inspired by this thread. I thought these were obvious points, but apparently they aren’t.
1. The interview is not about you. It is about the combination of you and the job. The department with the opening has needs to fill, and they will offer interviews and ultimately the job based on filling those needs. It may well be that you would rather work in another unit, especially at a large research institution. For a standard assistant professor position, the interview is not a chance for you to build your own position. If you aren’t interested in the position as advertised, don’t apply. Expect your interview to be spent with the people relevant to the position, even if you would rather talk shop with people across campus. Certainly you should get a feel for potential collaboration across units. See if people from other units are involved in the search (as they were in our case). See if there are invitations to other units to the seminar and (gasp) informal parts of the interview. Stay beyond the formal interview to visit the other units (as both of our other candidates did). But don’t expect to be able to dictate what you’ll be doing for the formal part of the interview.
2. Do your homework. It wouldn’t take much to see that the redneck credentials so eloquently described in the blog are actually pretty thin. More generally, reconstructing the faculty history of a department will give you an idea of where it came from and where it is going.
3. Learn how to politely decline an unwanted drink. If you didn’t manage to achieve this level of social sophistication by the time you were 19, practice in front of a mirror. Unless you are interviewing for a job in Saudi Arabia or perhaps at BYU, you will probably be offered a drink by your friendly hosts. You probably shouldn’t assume that the drink offer means that everyone else will be soon be passed out in the bushes.
4. It probably isn’t a good idea to blog in real time while you are involved in a job search. This is especially true if you tend to reveal your insecurities, prejudice, and dishonesty.
In some ways, I’d say this tale has a happy ending. Our reader decided she wasn’t interested in the job, the search concluded successfully with another candidate, and the rest of us are reminded that “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” but they can put 2 and 2 together pretty quickly when enough details of field, geography, and timing are out in the open.
On the other hand, in my opinion, there are still some issues to be sorted out on this topic and some lingering resentment on the part of both parties. For example, our search chair decries our reader’s “dishonesty.” Now I’m not party to the actual conversations they had, but from her account, she made it pretty plain that was uncomfortable with the tailgating and got no giveback from her host. Where’s the dishonesty in that?
Then there’s the larger issue of whether search committee’s have any responsibility to make things physically or socially more comfortable for interviewees. The search chair implies that this is not the case, even as far as helping a candidate figure out potential facilities and collaborations across campus. (Why wouldn’t you accommodate that? It seems to me that if you hired the person, you’d want them to have the best possible chance to ensure their success, and that introductory meetings and facilities tours would be a great place to start that off. Couldn’t the search chair have “extended” the interview by a day to allow time in the schedule and helped make the arrangements?)
Please note that my musing are not an attempt to get in the middle of a dogfight between a particular candidate and a particular department, rather some musings to ponder as I proceed with our department’s search. What are your thoughts?