Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bombing the Interview

Against all odds, I've started to get some interviews.  I've pretty much been up and down the forums getting advice for on campus and phone interviews.  And don't get me wrong, good tips and advice are much appreciated.  I think I get it: I want to wow them, be someone they want to work with, and not come off as an insane narcissist. 

But the stories I really like reading are about interviewees absolutely imploding during their interviews.  I'm entertained and I learn something at the same time.  So what are some ways (real or imagined) that I could bomb my interviews?  I'm asking to avoid these things, obviously.  I've even started a list:
  • Not know anything about the school.
  • Not know anything about the department.
  • Get really drunk during dinner.  
  • Bonus points: get really drunk during breakfast.
  • Argue with the search committee members.
  • Hit on the the search committee members.
  • Argue with the students.
  • Hit on the students.
Any others to add to my list?


  1. I once had an interviewee stare me down during the interview. By stare down I mean look only at me (there were to other ppl in the room) and I never saw them blink. It was very unnerving.

    I also had someone finally admit to several DUI's in the last year but deny that they has a drinking problem so it was "all taken care of" and they followed this up with they "were sure this wouldn't effect my decision"

    1. I've had that happen: very disconcerting (the stare, not the DUI). I ended up looking at the others as a way to "hint" to the candidate to also look at the others, but he didn't. He just stared at me for 45 minutes. Maybe they were the same candidate. We didn't hire that person.

  2. I had a prof in grad school who told us she went on an interview when she was sick and ended up throwing up all over a search committee member. Pretty much can't beat that.

    1. Didn't George Bush Sr. do that with the Prime Minister of Japan?

  3. I LOLd at "get really drunk during breakfast." I might add "roll your eyes as often as possible."

  4. Over the years, I've been interviewed by several employers. I found the surest way of bombing a session was if the candidate wasn't like everyone else with the same behaviour and interests, sort of like:


  5. Try making a joke about a real hole of a place, in another part of the country, and it turns out the interview committee member you are talking to is from there. It happened to me. We didn't exchange any friendly words for the next 1.5 days. It was my first interview, and I was very wet behind the ears.

  6. You're on the right track with your last bullet but it's even worse than you imagine. Some people are so uptight these days that even asking what the rules are for sleeping with students gets you a strange look. It's like they fault a guy for wanting to just know the rules.

    1. "How willing would you say students are to date faculty members? Also, how lax are the sexual harassment policies here?"

  7. These are great, keep them coming. I think I've shared the story here before about the interviewer who argued with the chair about course numbers on the school web page.

  8. Make disparaging remarks about "Dead White Men Studies" to older white male Humanities faculty.

  9. Try misremembering the timing of the sample class you are supposed to teach, and rushing to finish only to find that you have another 30 minutes you were supposed to fill up. That was my first real interview, with real students.

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  11. Not have a snappy, brief, plausible answer to the question: “If we do hire you, what exactly will you do when you get here?”

    (DO have some preliminary budget figures and specific pieces of equipment to buy in mind for this one.)

    Start your job talk with a little joke.

    (This is common advice for public speakers, but unless you're naturally a very funny person, don't do this. If no one laughs, you look like a dorkus erectus.)

    (DO practice your talk beforehand, preferably before a live audience, some of whom can be relied upon to give you critical but good advice.)

    During your job talk, say, "That reminds me of a joke: a Jew, a Catholic, a Republican presidential candidate, and a string theorist were walking into a bar..."

    During your job talk, imagine what your audience looks like naked.

    (This is also common but bad advice for public speakers. If your audience are scientists, one could lose one's appetite.)

    In response to a question after your job talk, say, "What a stupid fucking question! How the hell did you become a professor?"

    Take a very strong stand for or against student-centered instruction.

    (Some faculty will inevitably be for it, and some will be against it. In some fields, like philosophy or literature, it actually works better than lecturing, but only at schools where the students can be relied upon to do their reading before class.)

    (DO, if asked about “teaching philosophy,” say, “I believe very strongly in listening to my students.”)

    Come off as a bomb-throwing Bolshevik revolutionary, and rail about how “all deadwood should IMMEDIATELY be lynched!”

    (DO come off as a normal colleague who’s easy to get along with and work with, free of greed/jealousy/insecurity/sloth/neurosis. DO -not- ever use the word, “deadwood,” since one or more of your committee might secretly be afraid they’re lapsing into it, which is why they agreed to be on the committee in the first place.)

    Joke that the way to handle committee work/service is to neglect it thoroughly, since if you’re conscientious about it you’ll be given more and more, at the expense of your time for research.

    (DO ask whether there are specific requirements for service, and if so, what they are. Asking this is OK, since everyone knows this is a common worry.)

    Comment that you have no interest whatsoever in ever becoming department chair, who the hell in their right mind would let that happen to them, particularly since it’ll be the end of research for life if you do?

    Comment that too many students go to college who have no business here. (I know it’s true, but your job interview is not the time to say this.)

    Comment to the dean that there are too many people in grad school, so you only want to take the very best and most motivated grad students. (The time to say this out loud is after you get tenure, and even then it's tricky.)

    And of course the big one:

    Mention that you read and post to CM, or espouse any of the ideas presented in this forum!

  12. Swap war stories about the dumbest/worst students you've ever seen.

    (I got 10^6 of them.)

  13. The teaching demo killed me a couple times.
    Once I was told by the person teaching the class (and on the committee I might add) that students NEVER understand concept A. Well, I happen to have a really cool way to teach concept A, and it's simple. Oh yes, showing someone up in their own classroom is a REALLY BAD IDEA.
    I had students work in groups and showed how I get them participating when they just wanted to see me lecture (I should have asked).
    And lastly, they would have liked to have seen small group work but I only had ten minutes to do the demo in. Thankfully this last group was forgiving and gave me a job. :)

  14. Refer to students as "kids" (even if they sometimes seem that way)

  15. I once saw a candidate dismiss a question out of hand from someone--admittedly--dressed like a homeless man. Not the most famous man in the room but it was a high level department and probably the most influential scholar in the room.

    Upon listening to the search committee describe their fields a candidate once said "they still teach that?"

    But in general, just not being prepared. Not having an answer to the question what you would want to teach, where your field is going, or being able to name a scholar who influenced your work outside of your adviser. Vagueness will kill you.

  16. I once bombed an interview for a university transfer position because I wasn't properly prepared as far as the committee was concerned, though that wasn't my fault. When asked about why I had presented such a cut-rate lecture during the interview (i. e., without PowerPoint), I answered that the HR office had told me about it less than 24 hours before I was to fly to the college in question. Even if I wanted to use PP, which I didn't, it wouldn't have been enough time to do a proper job.

    The committee responded with gasps of disbelief, though I wasn't sure whether those were about me for not using a light show instead of writing on a board or the HR office for having given me such short notice.

    A few days later, the HR office called and mumbled about my not getting the job because of something to do with "fit". Looking back, I suspect that the place already knew who it wanted and I was brought in simply to justify that decision.

  17. Hug and kiss everyone on the committee when you leave. We had a candidate do that.

  18. Don't give any indication that you aren't ready and eager to work and live in our town, permanently. Curiosity is fine. Scrunching your nose up is not. Yeah, we hate this place too, but we don't want to hire again next year.

    I asked one job applicant, who had tenure at a job in a far country that she didn't want to be in (and who had expressed a lot of interest in our college), if it would be difficult to move her stuff back to the US. She said "Oh, I'll probably just put my things in storage and see how the job works out."

    Yeah, lady. You're already not working out.

  19. Ask how many Old Farts still remain in the department.

  20. The upshot seems to be that an interview is when the hiring committee and the candidate spend two days lying to each other. If all goes well, they can then spend the next several decades being miserable together, and posting about it on College Misery.

    Viva la Miseria!

  21. I have one from outside academia. FAIR WARNING, it’s gross. My wife’s employer interviews many applicants during a specific week. All the people who made the first cut sit through a group briefing where they are told the basics about the process. Then, over the next day or so, they each go to their interviews individually with whatever department was interested. (Some applicants will have interviews with multiple). Keep in mind you have to have at least one graduate degree to even make the first cut.
    During the mass briefing one of my wife’s colleagues whispered to her “check out the guy at the right end of the third row!” One of the applicants, a man in his mid to late 20s, was calming picking his nose and closely examining whatever he found. The next day my wife, to her horror, found he was one of her office’s interviewees! And yes, during the interview, he calmly, seemingly without being aware of what he was doing, he picked his nose. And yes, he ate what he found. My wife and her colleagues conducted the interview normally, thanked him for coming in, and promptly gagged. No, he did not get a callback.
    I asked my wife why they didn’t say something? She said they were too stunned and were not sure what to say!

    1. I'm glad your wife wasn't obliged to shake his hand.

    2. One of the most famous professors my PhD granting department had DID THAT.
      The first time I signed up for one of his courses I was surprised to see that none of the people in his specialty were sitting in the front of the class. In fact, there was this semi circle around the teacher table that was completely empty. Me and my friend sat there, not ever suspecting a thing.

      Until, of course, he began enthusiastically picking, rolling, and flicking in the middle of his lecture. I felt like we were under fire. SOMETHING BOUNCED OFF MY DESK.

      That semi circle was completely empty the next week.


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