Academic Job Time

It’s that time of year again: when hopeful PhDs polish off their CVs, craft their cover letters, solicit references, and dive into the terrifying world of applying for jobs.

I am almost able to recall that process, now, without my palms getting sweaty and suffering the onslaught of unrelenting heart palpitations. As I do, here are a few words.

First, for those of you who are on search committees.

I ask you to remember one thing: each application you hold in your hands represents the hopes and dreams of a person who has worked very hard to get where they are.

In light of this: (1) Recognizing that they hold out hope as long as they have not heard from you, please tell your candidates as soon possible if you will not be proceeding further with them. I know you don’t have to do this, but it is a tremendous kindness. And if you know they are not a good fit, don’t wait until after SBL or after you make your hire. You know you have a pile of rejections sitting on your table or floor or corner or whatever. Send them the final word and close the file. For their sake.

(2) Never, ever, ever, ever indicate to a candidate who is on campus for an interview that they are the one to whom you will offer the job. This happens from time to time when there is a clear favorite, or an apparent consensus among the committee. And, almost every time, the vote ends up going another way. Indicating to a candidate that they will be hired is unprofessional, creates false expectations, and as often as not creates more heartache for that great candidate you were hoping to hire.

Now, for you who are candidates.

(1) See your interviews as opportunities for making professional connections, even if you don’t end up taking a particular job. One of the best things about my interview process was that from each school with which I interviewed I have at least one professional colleague that I now keep up with as part of my circle that I otherwise would not know. This is part of…

(2) Remember that you are interviewing for a job that is part of a relatively small community. This means not only that you want to refrain from badmouthing any other scholars, but that you need to treat this as a professional engagement that will potentially affect your relationships with other scholars with whom you may wish to collaborate or otherwise engage in the future.

One of my absolute worst interviews was at a school in Oxford. It was terrible in every respect, but the only reason I really regret the interview was that Markus Bockmuehl was part of the interview team. I frankly wish I hadn’t met a scholar I so respect in what was the worst interviews I’ve ever given.

(3) Perhaps most importantly: in my experience, interviews went well at schools that would have been a good fit, and they went poorly at schools were I did not fit so well. At their best, interviews are opportunities for both sides to discover whether or not you are a good long-term fit for their school or department. As hard as it is to be rejected, try to keep in mind that often a bad interview and a rejection is an indication, not that you were a bad candidate, but that you were not a good fit.

In other words, you are being rejected now rather than being denied promotion or tenure years down the road.

So buck up, sell yourself, but most of all, be yourself. If they don’t want you for who you are, you’re better off somewhere else–even if that somewhere is the local college you’re adjuncting for right now.

10 thoughts on “Academic Job Time”

    1. Usually good interviews are conversations in which the combination of what I bring to the table and what the school is looking for means that they ask questions that get me talking about my strengths and passions. Bad interviews are where you don’t connect well with the people, find the questions they ask to be touching on areas you don’t know or care much about, etc.

      Sometimes this is just a matter of being underprepared. You can give a bad candidating talk, for example, that is your own fault. Or you might be selling yourself in a “seminary” type way but be talking to undergrad oriented folks.

      But usually, for me, bad interview meant bad fit (or a combo of bad fit plus cloudy headed from being sick and not sleeping on a transatlantc flight and being disoriented by a new place… :) ).

    2. Perhaps another way to put it: a good interview is one in which I leaving feeling that they have seen me as I truly am, and the best I have to offer. If I leave feeling like that’s the case, then I don’t sweat so much whether or not I get the job. If they decide no, it is based on who I truly am. A bad interview is one where, for whatever reason, they don’t really get a full picture of the best I have to offer, or who I truly am. Note: this might mean that a bad interview leaves you looking better in the eyes of the committee–but they should like you less, and will discover they like you less when you show up…

  1. Most of this advice might be transferrable to book proposals . . . I would add, with some hesitation but not much, don’t ask why when you’re not selected.

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