Friday, October 31, 2008

Guest Post: Got Guts?

Is it too early to start reveling in the horror stories? Naw. It is, after all, Hallowe'en. OooooOoooh! Scary. -- PGOAT

So, the other night I was having dinner with a couple of colleagues (they are both tenured professors at top schools). Because I am on the market this year, each of them recounted their own horrible (yet somewhat comical) job search experiences. One was so nervous while at the APA smoker, that he excused himself from talking with a very famous philosopher to throw up in the bathroom. The other had trouble pouring himself a glass of water during an interview because of his intense shaking. In retrospect, they were both able to laugh at themselves about this kind of stuff (I was certainly laughing with them).

But there were other parts of the process that (even after many years) weren't so funny. In particular, they each told some stories about how badly they were treated during some interviews. Without giving any details, I will say that it should be clear to all readers of this blog that not all interviewers are nice to and/or even remotely interested in their interviewees. Both of my colleagues expressed some regret that they didn't have the guts then to get up and walk out of such situations. I'm wondering if anyone out there has had the gumption to do such a thing (or knows someone that did). How did it go? Any serious repercussions? Would you recommend such a practice to others?

-- (Almost) Ready To Stand Up For Myself


Anonymous said...

Well, c'mon, you can't share some details without outing your friends!? I mean, I enjoy the informational aspects of this blog, but I miss the shared schadenfreude.

Anonymous said...

As a woman from a top ten Leiter ranked department, I was fortunate to do quite well with APA and campus interviews both years on the market. I was astonished at the shoddy treatment I received at many of these interviews (particularly when ABD). I never had the guts to stand up for myself but I do know someone who walked out of an interview at a Leiter respected school the APA. He got the job.

Skeptinautika said...

I'm confused -- why would a school waste valuable interview slots on candidates in whom they weren't actually interested? It seems conspiracy theory-esque to assume that schools grant candidates interviews just to shit all over them!

Anonymous said...

Just to strike a happier note, for those of you who are dreading the APA interviews, I had a _blast_ (and I am typically a very shy person who hates public speaking). When else will groups of brilliant philosophers be willing to sit around and talk and comment about your work, having read it and really thought about it? Especially when you already know they like it (or at least are interested), since they called you for an interview? If you think about it from the right perspective, it's really an amazing event. My dissertation improved because of it, and I also think it helped make the mental transition from grad student to professional.

So, if you can, enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Years ago, in my very first APA interview, I was so nervous that I simply couldn't answer any questions in any coherent way. I blanked completely and responded with garbled platitudes to very straightforward questions. One lowpoint consisted of a very strange aborted joke about Puzzling Pierre... They were extremely gracious and kind and had read my work carefully, but I could tell that they thought I was very stupid in person and were trying to reconcile the person with the writing samples. This was one of those nightmare moments.

Anonymous said...

Any chance we could hear what motivated those colleagues to want to walk out? I don't doubt there are interviews that bad, but I can't imagine them.

Anonymous said...

All of my interviews two years ago were perfectly civil. In a couple of them, I got questions that I considered strange or follow-ups that basically repeated the question. But that, I think, is an unavoidable part of any philosophical conversation. Sometimes people don't understand what you say on a first pass, even if you think they should.

I think that stories about miserable interviews dominate for two reasons. First, there's a selection effect: most of the job market stories worth telling are about what went wrong. Second, there is a segment of the population that is more likely to find themselves being interviewed aggressively on a regular basis, viz., those who are interviewing at lots of fancy schools. Anecdotally speaking, such interviews are more likely to be aggressive or even hostile. And many grad students hear about the job market primarily from the perspective of people who got very good jobs, and so who went through a disproportionate number of such experiences. Just my ex recto theory.

Anonymous said...

There are the aggressive interviewers but there also the non-aggressive rude interviewers. These are perpetrated by members of SCs who (often unintentionally) exhibit a disregard for their interviewees on any standard account of sociability or manners.

These are in my experience far more problematic because, given that the discipline is predictably populated by lots of ill-mannered egg-heads (and there is at least one in every department), they are so extraordinarily common.

People on SCs who do have manners (most philosophers are at least minimally sociable) ought to do what they can to contain their rude colleagues (and their rude selves?), be they aggressive or bumbling in their rudeness.

Remember that the candidates who do get offers often get offers from more than one place. This is for obvious reasons. So try not to find out in April that you were on one of those failed SCs who for some silly set of reasons ended the year with one open line, zero hires, and a whole bunch of raised eyebrows amongst the deans, provosts, etc.. It's bad for departments, bad for candidates, bad for everyone.

Stories anybody?

Anonymous said...

" why would a school waste valuable interview slots on candidates in whom they weren't actually interested"

Departments often don't agree on who should be on the APA list, and so sometimes those members of the committee who didn't want to see you on the list in the first place go out of their way to make the interview go badly. Childish I know, but that's the way some of them are, and hiring brings out the worst in people.

Alias Smith and Jones said...

Here is the reality for even the brightest of grad students:

You will likely be interviewed by senior or even junior folk who are much, much better philosophers than you are in your current state. This simple fact will also likely result in you being asked penetrating and insightful questions that you have never before considered. Of course some of these folk are more aggressive than others but few are downright mean. They are asking challenging questions and rightly demand sharp and thoughtful answers (with which they may or may not agree).

If you interview with a good department, you should expect to come out a little bloodied, and this is to be expected and perhaps even preferred. Usually if everyone agrees with you, it means you aren't saying anything important or no one really cares about what you have to say. The dust-up kind of interviews can be exhilarating.

There is a big difference between people abusing your ideas and people abusing you. If you have trouble making this distinction, you shouldn't get into philosophy. If you really think you are being abused, get up, leave, then immediately report that school to the APA.

Also, please refrain from buying into the "If I storm out, they'll come to respect me for my independence" movie-script bullshit. Committees unable to control abusive members can't respect themselves, and you'll just remind them how feeble they are.

Good luck, everyone!

Anonymous said...

Well, last year I had 6 interviews, all of which, save for one, were friendly and yet challenging. Quite enjoyable really. It is nice to talk about your work. Unfortunately, it makes for all the more disappointment when you don't get that flyout call!

In the horrible interview, there were four interviewers all of whom pressed me really hard on my writing samples, sometimes at the very same time. They were very uncharitable and seemed to be trying to make me fall flat on my face. It was like a feeding frenzy in a shark tank. Needless to say, I was terrified and just completely blew a lot of the questions. I did not get a fly out.

At first, I felt stupid afterwards, but I later realized that I did have answers to most of their questions, and had they not been so aggressive, I might have been able to give them good answers.

I find it hard to understand how this department, or any other that employs this kind of technique, thinks that such a technique reveals all of the relevant information about a candidate. I am sure they got someone who could answer questions in that kind of circumstance, but does that mean they got the best philosopher? I don't really see that being able to write and publish new ideas has much to do with whether you are able to answer questions under extreme pressure.

What does everyone else think? Do you think that departments that employ an aggressive interviewing style might end up missing out on some good candidates?

Anonymous said...

It is worth taking these stories with a grain of salt. I've had 30 APA interviews (over a few years), and have nothing even close to a horror story to relate. Most of them were pretty fun, to tell you the truth. I think a large part of these interviews is what the candidate brings to the table: if you make yourself sick stressing about it, you'll make yourself sick stressing about. If you go in with the attitude that the interview could be an enjoyable, chances are it will go better. The way that the interview goes is not solely within the hiring committee's power - you can make it better or worse. Don't forget that. Make it go better.

Anonymous said...

skeptinautika - don't forget that hiring committee are comprised of many different people, and that decisions about the interview list are often made to placate some person on the committee (e.g., O.K., let's let Joe get his candidate X on the list and then he'll shut up, and we can get our candidates on the list. Candidate X could have no chance in hell of getting a follow-up interview, but still get on that initial list after that sort of reasoning process). Department politics can play a huge role - and could lead to candidates getting treated (and mis-treated) differently.

crankypostdoc said...

I'm in history, so maybe that makes a difference, but I'm not sure why it would. In any case, I have never, in any interview, been asked a knowledgeable, substantial question about my diss based on the writing sample I sent. Just about the spiel I prepared for the interview. Geez, SCs, are you really this lazy?

Anonymous said...

i know a professor - full professor now at a pretty darned good school - who told an interviewer to kiss his ass before walking out of the interview. yeh, and that's a direct quote.

he was later apologized to (profusely) by the other members of the interview committee. and i heard about it from one of the interviewers (although not the one who had "kiss my ass" directed at him/her).

pretty good stuff. brass ones, folks, brass ones.

Anonymous said...

Secret interviewing tip: The more practice you have, the better you will do. And it doesn't have to be philosophy job interviews: ANY interview would be good practice (as long as you take it seriously). So apply for some local jobs, even if there's no chance you'd take them, just to get some interview time in. Who knows, you might even find a "back up" job to philosophy!

Anonymous said...

@ crankypostdoc - I went on a very limited search last year (the merits of which decision have already been discussed at length here) which netted one APA interview, for which I also got a fly-out. At both interviews, the SC seemed to have read my writing sample carefully and had questions about it that were not only intelligent and interesting, but actually contributed to the way I looked at my project. I suspect it is all luck of the draw wrt the preparedness and professionalism of interviewers.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that many people who find interviews unpleasant experiences are simply not prepared for a context in which several philosophers are tearing apart your work. I have been to only one interview; a post-doc position at my own university (I'm not in the US), and I was surprised by what how harrowing the interview was. 4 of the 6 people interviewing me had taught me at one stage or another, but that made it more of a shock: accustomed to a friendly discourse with these people, their direct challenges felt very aggressive. I felt I responded badly, but I don't think it was an inappropriate interview technique. Standing up under pressure is an essential part of the job - we've all seen painful talks in which the speaker can't take the heat of the question period. I'd rather learn at this stage in my career to take the pressure rather than continue to make a fool of myself in later life.

Anonymous said...

Standing up under pressure is an essential part of the job

Sure, just don't make the mistake of thinking that having a good/challenging question justifies asking it rudely.

Anonymous said...

Posters like Anon 3:33 tend to think the worst of people who post to this blog to complain. That's dangerous, when they don't know anything about the person they're critiquing.

In one conference interview (the only R-1 I've had), the interviewers kept interrupting me to ask questions that didn't make any sense, or to disagree with a point that I had only been answering for about 10 seconds, when I needed 20-30 seconds to finish the answer. Mind you, the interview was entirely on my research area, a small and new field in which there aren't many specialists (I'm one of them and none of my interviewers were).

So basically they were assuming they knew more than I did about my field, when they clearly didn't, and they were acting like asses in the process.

Anonymous said...

I would strongly advise against walking out of an interview. I had an interview at the APA that went terribly from my perspective. There were seemingly rude committee members asking very hostile questions with uncomprehending follow-ups. I never lost my cool, was pleasant throughout, and held firm on the points where I was correct. The interview was what ended up getting me the job. For years afterwards, I was told that my performance in that interview was the best my colleagues had ever seen.

Thinking that walking out of an interview is a good tactic is like thinking that Obama should have stalked out of the debates when McCain got hostile.