Awkwardness of Academic Job Interviews


An amusing column from The Chronicle of Higher Ed about the inherent awkwardness, frequent humiliation and all around entertainment that characterizes the academic job interview.  Here’s a few passages:

I have also had my version of Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” moment on several campuses, when I sensed I was not going to get a job and began answering questions with vindictive honesty. After being reminded repeatedly that a high majority of students in the South were Baptists (my book is on a different religious group in Europe), I shot back, “My work is not evangelical!”

And I once showed open disdain to a dean who asked me how I was going to “teach to the middle” by asking if the institution worked under the legal auspices of No Child Left Behind.

I didn’t learn the “you can’t handle the truth moments” since all of my interviews were answered with my idiotic brand of vindictive honesty, whether arguing with somebody about an interpretation of Levinas, referring to administrative work as “shuffling papers,” or telling somebody on the committee that they had food on their face.  Perfect.  The author also raises an interesting point in passing about the repetitive and overwrought nature of the interview process, but spends the bulk of the article rehearsing various moments of inappropriateness on the search committee’s part:

While such moments seem wildly unprofessional, they occur because many faculty-job interviews are much longer and more repetitive than they need to be. One learns to be forgiving and hopes mercy is mutually extended. Resilience is an underestimated aspect of the process.

I began to expect to be asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” at least eight times during any on-campus visit. Early in the visit, I would ask the most pressing questions to which I really wanted an answer, and then I would default by repeating those questions and sitting through the monotonous answers. The tediousness can create an internal tension that sometimes leads to outbursts.

I was once on an interview and went into the bathroom just to get a break.  Naturally, one of the committee members followed me into the restroom and proceeded to chit chat with my while I pretended to take a piss in one of the stalls.  Nice.  Anyway, read the whole article here. I can’t help but be depressed that the author languished on the market for four years, nonetheless, the article did make me chuckle here and there.

2 thoughts on “Awkwardness of Academic Job Interviews

  1. I just appreciate the fact that in most of my academic job interviews thus far, I’ve had the comfort of knowing there is a bed in the next room. I will never understand why these interviews are conducted in hotel rooms. It’s particularly odd when the department doesn’t spring for a suite and then sends an all-male committee to interview a female candidate in a room with a bed. Here’s to languishing on the market…

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