Friday, January 18, 2013

Kelsoe From Killawog With a Report from One Side of the Interview Table.

Just returned from Big Math Conference in sunny San Diego, and along with souvenirs I have brought stories of interviewing misery for your reading pleasure. I'm on the hiring side of the table now, and I am in awe of the lack of interviewing skills that some of our good-on-paper applicants had.

(Is there a term, like "snowflakes", for those incompetent fools looking to be hired? Because there should be. It's a funny mix of grad students. visiting assistant profs, postdocs, tenure trackers disillusioned with life in mid-western nowhere college, people bailing from industry, etc.)

Highlights from the interviews.

Nailed it!
Arrogant Alphonse:
With all your ivy-league credentials and postdoctoral positions and research ambitions and teaching disinterest, a lowly liberal arts college such as us is clearly beneath you. After listening to you talk for 30 seconds, it was clear that we are your safety school of last resort. Did you think we couldn't see through your act, you arrogant fool? We went on autopilot for the rest of the interview out of politeness, perhaps because we were not yet exhausted by four days of interviewing at that point. No, we don't teach graduate courses. Yes, you have to teach calculus. No, nobody cares about your catergory-theoretic approach to cohomological hemisemidemi groups. I totally understand the idea of casting a wide net in this difficult economy, but you just wasted half an hour of our lives and yours.

Blythering Blythe:
We have scheduled a 20 minute interview with you. When we asked you to tell us a little bit about your research, you went into autopilot mode, looked down at the table, you refused to make eye contact with us, and you didn't slow down enough for any of us to get a word in edgewise. After the first few minutes of this nonsense, we just let you ramble on for another ten minutes; clearly you were more comfortable with this style of "interviewing" and it became the path of least resistance for us. I shudder to imagine your classroom teaching style.

Misguided Markus:
When we asked you about working with students in research, this usually involves students doing -- wait a second, do you have a pen, you should write this down, seriously, I'm not going to continue until you're prepared... okay, let's continue -- this usually involves students doing *research*. Writing exercises for your no-doubt ground-breaking college algebra book (because we *really* need more of those!) does not count. Having students train you in the use of software that you can't be bothered to learn yourself: also not research. Sure, our students may be snowflake-y at times, but we will not punish them by making them your personal labor force.



  1. And yet each of them got an interview with your liberal arts college based on their research credentials...wouldn't Alphonse's ivy-league PhD look shiny on your faculty list? And Blythe, with his enthusiasm for research, could be a Perelman in the making; though I don't suppose Grisha Perelman would be a good fit for your school.

    Three out of how many? Twenty? Not a bad yield. I imagine most of them have spent their entire professional lives in the atypical (but not to them) environment of high-powered math research departments/institutes. A liberal arts college is a very different kind of culture, but people can adapt (it's tenure-track, not tenured).

  2. "Applicantflakes" seems an appropriate term, but unwieldy. There are suitorflakes, job-seekerflakes, appellantflakes, and aspirantflakes. Candidateflakes can be shortened to candiflakes.

  3. I vote for Candy Flakes.

    And, while I'm at it, I'll pose Frosted Flakes for for use in referring to those very special colleagues that might be silverbacks if they were a little less special.

  4. Having a last resort in a job search is arrogant? Who knew?

    1. It's only arrogant when you make it patently obvious during the interview, as many do.


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