Interview with a woman

Chris Boake boake at
Tue Apr 4 15:59:00 EST 1995

In article <D6Gvy1.1FM at>, sferguso at writes...
 What's stupid when 
>you interview for a job is to not behave like you REALLY WANT TO WORK THERE,
>not because it makes your personal life easier.  I can tell you what turns off 
>committees when they ask why you want a job:
>"I like this city and want to live here"
>"My boyfriend is coming here and I need to find a lab"
>"Because I'm not making enough money where I am"

Yes indeed.  I have witnessed quite a few searches in the past few years, 
and I would like to add a few items to the list above, each of which was
a major factor in not hiring a candidate (most of the candidates who
weren't hired were men, but women have shot themselves in the foot with
some of these problems, too):

When asked about teaching, to say "I'm not interested in teaching 

When asked why they are interested in the job, to say "I've been working
really hard up to now and I'm looking for a less demanding situation."

When asked what attracted them to the interview school, to say that they
have reached the limit at their own place, and are interested in going
into administration.  Clearly this is a fine answer if you are interviewing
for an administrative position, but it is not what departmental faculty
want to hear from a potential colleague.

At the interview, to discuss trepidations about the location/institution.  
We are in the South, and we do try to explain to interviewees from other parts
of the country that one can live a civilized life here, but if you were
unhappy about the location we would wonder why you came for the interview.  
Similarly, if you feel the institution is too small for you (or whatever),
don't let it show.  

When giving the seminar, the following errors count badly against you:
   Not gearing the seminar to the department (e.g. in a math dept., put
some equations in your presentation; in an entomology dept., talk about
insects, even if you mostly care about their effects on plants).  My
interview in an ent. dept. was a fiasco, because even though I study
insects, I don't love them.  I was totally floored when the lunchtime
conversation turned to "What's your favorite insect?"
   Not appreciating the diversity of a department -- giving a seminar
that is understood by the small group of potential colleagues, but over
the head of the rest.  Your seminar should explain why your work is 
important so that anyone in biology can put it into context.  The really
flashy, detailed (& often exciting to you) work should go into a second
seminar for specialists, or else you should be exceedingly careful 
about the clarity of your explanation.
   Going over time.  For a job seminar, faculty will turn out in droves,
but most of them have other committments in the day, and  resent being
made to sit too long, or leave conspicuously.  Timing becomes a way of
assessing both your organizational ability and your consideration for
your colleagues.  (This is another reason why my ent. dept. interview
was a fiasco; it resulted in one-trial learning.)
  Getting testy about a seminar question.  You may think it is a dumb
question, but quite often, the question arose because you did a poor job
of explaining something.  Anyway, being rude to your hosts doesn't cut it.

The seminar is the main way that many faculty assess your teaching
ability.  If you have an off-day and give a lower quality seminar than
you are capable of, you need to hope that the other candidates are
equally weak.  Plenty of people who look good on paper have been sunk
by a lousy seminar.  Certainly it seems arbitrary to assess teaching based 
on one lecture, but on the other hand, this is the lecture that you are
supposed to have practiced until perfect.  If your slides, your ideas, 
your explanations are sloppy, or you run overtime, people may conclude 
that you don't care very much about or for public instruction.  I think
that more than 50% of the job seminars I have attended have been terminally 
sloppy.  Fortunately for search committees, it often makes their 
decisions easier.

I don't think that any of the above factors have intrinsic sex-bias in their 
application.  They can all contribute to why a particular individual is
not hired.  Sometimes other factors will override the reservations of
some faculty, but you can't count on that ahead of time.  Departmental
politics is/are complex & subtle.  The faculty with the loudest mouths
are not necessarily the most powerful (in fact, generally the reverse
holds).  Sometimes a search committee is over-ridden at the faculty
vote.  Being on the outside, you can't know what influenced the decision,
but you can certainly make sure that your interview shouts about your
excitement at the prospect of working at the new place, and about your
appreciation of the particular mix of disciplines represented in that
group of faculty.


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