Thursday, 23 February 2006

The moment you lose a job offer

There’s a point after every job interview (good or bad) when you realize that you’re probably not going to be offered the job, and you can go back and pinpoint that moment.

At Slippery Rock, I’m pretty sure it was around the 6th time that morning I’d heard a different person in the department discuss their fealty to the Unitarian Universalist Church. I’m pretty sure my body language gave my feelings about being indoctrinated into the local cult of personality away.

At Millsaps (where I did get the job, proving my spidey sense is fallible) it was during the campus tour when I made a joke (after having seen about 30 female undergrads and 2 males) inquiring whether or not the school was actually coeducational—I don’t think my guide realized I was joking and looked at me like I was an idiot.

At Lawrence, it was at dinner the second night at a Greek restaurant with the three members of the department who weren’t on leave. I am pretty sure my answer to a question about mentoring undergraduates who planned to go to graduate school went over like a lead balloon—I believe my exact thoughts were that it would be a complete waste of their time unless they went to a top-25 institution.

At the place I was ultimately offered the job last fall, I’m pretty sure it was in the car ride back to the airport when I rather stridently stated my opposition to their reopening their master’s program (dovetailing with the previous paragraph’s theme). Again, I got the offer, but I doubt this conversational gem helped.

Today, I think it was during the teaching demonstration (which, in theory, was going to be a discussion of public opinion and why it matters in democracies) during which through absolutely no fault of my own the name Noam Chomsky came up. In retrospect, that may have been the time to flee the room, because the discussion was already headed downhill and I hadn’t quite realized it yet. Everyone was very nice, but that was just a teeny bit weird. The good news is that the flight back from [Redacted Rust-Belt City] was uneventful.

The moral of this story: don’t have opinions (and certainly don’t have unapproved opinions), and don’t have a personality, and you can get a job.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. every 7th day wrote @ Thu, 23 Feb 2006, 10:47 pm CST:

A dreary conclusion, though eerily familiar. Do we all have a “just shut up and smile” job interview memory? Or is it only those of us who do jobs where personal opinions expected to be predictable.
Speaking of predictions… don’t get the creepy crawlies. I’m another of those Unitarian Universalists.


I don’t have an issue with the UU Church thing per se… it just was a wee bit strange that it seemed like the whole faculty were members, like I’d accidentally beamed into a UU commune or something.

I’d probably have the same feeling in a department where everyone was a Baptist or Mormon or Methodist or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist.

[Permalink] 3. jenjehay wrote @ Fri, 24 Feb 2006, 4:13 am CST:

Re: Slippery Rock…that’s just creepy! I guess it is good you found out during the interview rather than after you’ve accepted the job.


Done in by Noam Chomsky. That Bastard! (shakes head)

[Permalink] 5. Alfred Sumrall wrote @ Fri, 24 Feb 2006, 8:45 am CST:

Lawrence—the only undefeated men’s basketball team in the nation, at either the NCAA or NAIA level


There’s a misunderstanding here. UU is the complete opposite of a “cult of personality!” Catholics, in contrast, are much more hierarchical and tend to focus on individual clergy such as the Pope. This I would call a cult of personality.

[Permalink] 7. Len Cleavelin wrote @ Fri, 24 Feb 2006, 9:15 am CST:

Lemme see here… not counting the interview at [Redacted Rust-Belt City] (since I’m assuming they’ve not made a decision yet), you’ve mentioned four interviews at which you can pinpoint the moment at which you screwed the pooch in the interview,, and out of those four interviews you got two job offers.

Offhand, I’d say that not only is your spider-sense fallible, but it looks like it’s indistinguishable from a fair coin-toss.



Like I said in comment #2, it was more the creepy vibe that everybody was a Stepford academic than the UU thing itself; the UU thing was just the manifestation of their Stepfordness.

It’s about the same feeling I have when I walk into a methodology panel at the Midwest…


Yeah, the spidey sense doesn’t work all that well. Then again, it could just indicate that other people screwed the pooch even more spectacularly than I.

Incidentally, the interview was for a one-year at a liberal arts college in [Redacted Small Town] about an hour south of [Redacted Rust-Belt City].

[Permalink] 10. Michelle wrote @ Fri, 24 Feb 2006, 9:47 am CST:

What’s worse is not being able to pinpoint the moment you lost the job (because someone else was getting the job even before you landed on campus…but you don’t know that until a couple weeks later and an insider explains that to you after the fact)....but you do sense you’re not getting the job while you’re there (even though most people are nice to you and treat you like a true candidate).

The tip off could be something like…. you thank your host after dinner for taking the time to have dinner with you, and they say, “Well, it was a free dinner anyway…” Or maybe that the Dean mentions they have another offer out to X-person, which no one in the department has mentioned, and though you know they are doing two hires in your subfield (comparative), you realize that X-person also studies your region of interest and is a senior hire….

True story.


Re #5: I believe they lost an exhibition game against Wisconsin this season (it was one of the nights during my interview visit), though I guess that one doesn’t count in the standings.


Ouch. That one’s never happened to me.

Then again, usually I sense I’m not getting an interview (much less the job) when I send in the application. :) As a heuristic, it’s a pretty accurate one.

[Permalink] 13. Michelle wrote @ Fri, 24 Feb 2006, 11:20 am CST:

But you’d hope that if you’ve got a campus visit, you’ve got a fighting chance…not that an offer has already been extended to someone else. :)


fo’ shizzle.

[Permalink] 15. Alfred Sumrall wrote @ Fri, 24 Feb 2006, 1:54 pm CST:

RE #11: Yes, they did, but like you said, it didn’t count.


I would hate to be part of a campus interview not knowing that I’m just a charade to fill the hiring process because they have to have three candidates to interview (or two). Five years ago, I did go on such an interview to the midwest somewhere. I was called and the department chair basically admitted that they wanted to bring me in because their process required two people to come to campus adn one of their top two had dropped out.

I went ahead and went. It was a free trip to a state I’d never seen and allowed me to practice the art of the academic interview. But I knew I didn’t have the job (or want it, frankly), which is quite different from wanting it and not knowing you don’t have it.

[Permalink] 17. b. phillips wrote @ Mon, 27 Feb 2006, 9:54 am CST:

Why would it be a complete waste of an undergrad’s time to get mentored about going to grad school if he or she wasn’t currently attending a top-25 school? I’m waiting to hear back about grad applications now, so of course this interests me…

[Permalink] 18. razon wrote @ Mon, 27 Feb 2006, 11:07 am CST:

It’s hard getting an academic job and coming from a non-“Top 25” program only makes landing a job even more difficult.


Re: #17: That’s not what I said (or meant to say, at least): rather, it would be a waste of the student’s time to go to a grad school not ranked in the top 25, or declining programs within the top 25. (It isn’t a “coming from” thing.)

Of course, it’s hard to get into one of those schools unless you went to a good school yourself… but good students from Lawrence and other selective liberal arts colleges should be able to get into top-25 programs (heck, I know for a fact that very good students from mediocre public universities have gotten grad school offers from Duke).

[Permalink] 20. b. phillips wrote @ Mon, 27 Feb 2006, 3:15 pm CST:

Cool, thanks.

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