Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Interview Agonistes

"Henry Raymond" reports on his travails as a job candidate out on a campus interview:

"[The search committee] explained without embarrassment that faculty members shared work space -- three professors to an office. .....

"... [W]hile I was expected to sing for my supper, the department made little or no effort to woo me. There was, in fact, quite literally, no supper. Or lunch. At one point during the day, the chairman handed me a prewrapped sandwich from the student cafeteria, served on a paper plate. I was allowed to feast on this meal -- two pieces of cold, white bread, concealing a thin layer of stale turkey and a piece of American cheese -- while the committee members, who were not eating, plied me with more questions about myself.

"Later, on the campus tour, the chairman made a point of showing me the faculty dining room and telling me how good the food was there. I wondered at that point whether the entire day was a test pilot for a new run of Candid Camera. (They had spent considerable money on plane tickets and hotel rooms. Were lunch or dinner going to break the bank?).

"My meeting with the dean was even worse. By my recollection, I never got a word in. Bringing new definition to the idea of self-absorption, the dean talked at great length about herself, about the university, and about the very demanding standards -- teaching, research, and committee work -- that untenured faculty members were expected to meet. Not once did she ask about my research, give me an opportunity to ask my own questions, or make a concerted pitch for her institution.

" Thirty minutes into the "meeting," I zoned out. Could I make an earlier flight home if the meeting went short? I wondered if I'd have time to grab a hamburger at the airport.

All in all it was an unimpressive day. I left dispirited, and hungry.

I also figured that, however well I performed at my sample teaching and job talks, I hadn't masked my disappointment too well. So it was a complete surprise when, last week, the chairman of the committee called to offer me the job. Granted, I wasn't going to take it. But the chairman even managed to botch the final sell.

Here are the terms of the offer, he told me. "This isn't a negotiation." Take it or leave it.

Wow. And it will be great to work with you, too!

If the second-choice candidate should accept Large Metropolitan's offer, I'm sure he or she will prove an able and enthusiastic member of the department.

Let's face it: I'm not God's gift to academe. There are a lot of other qualified candidates for the job.

Maybe, then, in the end, Large Metropolitan University got it right. It's a tight job market, and they don't have to impress anyone. They have a precious commodity at their disposal -- a tenure-track job. " (Chronicle of Higher Education, Tuesday, May 17, 2005).


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