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Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #4: The One I Didn’t Want to Have

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on December 9, 2010
Tags: , ,

You know the trainwreck I hinted to last time?  I’m gonna get to that for our series finale, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have more to write about.  The one I’m describing today was an interview I felt totally ambivalent about, not because the job, the school, and the people there weren’t fine, but because of a confluence of circumstances.  To blow the ending in advance — as if you didn’t know already — I didn’t get the job.  What’s different, though, was that I basically gave up on it before the interview, which I more or less tried to pull the plug on by asking the search committee to reschedule my MLA tête-à-tête as a videoconference.   The crazy thing was they agreed to it, which was very nice of them, although I almost think that I ended up just going through the motions anyway.

"Gesto Communications Videoconference Room" by Gesto Communications (Creative Commons license)

Here’s what went into my kamikaze mission decision…

Cost-Benefit Analysis: The main reason I begged off the convention interview was that I didn’t have any others lined up, so I couldn’t justify the $1000+ expense, multiple connecting flights, and days cooped up at a hotel for a single 45-minute meet-up for — let’s be real — a job that I wasn’t super-psyched about .   I know, I know, beggars shouldn’t be choosers, but still.  So when December 20-ish rolled around, I called an audible and emailed to ask if I could do a phoner instead, because there was really no reason to keep hope alive that a bunch more interviews were going to come through.  I guess the moral of the story here is that search committees are more humane and more accommodating than you’d expect, so you might as well tactfully ask for you’d like if you don’t really mind totally blowing it.

More factors below…

Almost Too Easy: As you probably figured out, I’m really good at overthinking things.  This interview seemed somewhat fishy to me, because it was offered to me on the strength of my initial letter, CV, and a casual, unsolicited word put in for me by a friend — I mean, they came to their decision without seeing my writing sample or a diss abstract or letters of rec.  Rather than just assuming that my actual credentials were reason enough for me to land the interview, I became suspicious of how it seemed almost too easy for me to advance  in the process, especially when I was striking out with everyone else.  I decided that it must’ve been my influential benefactor’s word that did the trick, which led to even more second guessing: Was my interview just a personal favor to her?  Did I really have any chance at this job?  On the flipside, were my chances good enough that I could dictate some of the terms, like canceling my MLA interview and doing the Skype conference instead?  That’s how warped my academic career had become, that whatever good things that happened no longer made actual sense to me.

Too Much Water Under the Bridge: I think it was the last point, subconsciously, that was the clincher for me.  Considering all the blown opportunities, I didn’t have any faith that things would turn out differently.  So why go to all the trouble and expense of the convention interview if it was all gonna end up with the same result?  After being on the market so many times and seeing no progress from one cycle to the next, having another flameout may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy for me.  So the way I handled this “Interview I Didn’t Want to Have” was either a preemptive self-sabotage or actually a case of coming to my senses at last — or maybe a combination of both.  In the end, it wasn’t like I could scrub my CV or turn back time so that my diss seemed newer and fresher when it was becoming older and staler.  At some point, I couldn’t fight the facts that the expiration date on my dissertation was either past due or getting there.

With all this baggage going in to the videoconference, would you be surprised that I was totally flat and gave more rambling answers than I had since my first *mock* interview?  To make me feel all the more self-conscious and uncomfortable, I was apparently projected on a giant screen à la the Apple “Big Brother” commercial.  If it was possible for the search committee to actually see how much I didn’t want to be doing the interview, well, they’d probably be able to on that big screen.  After all, that little bitty camera on my laptop doesn’t lie.

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One Response to 'Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #4: The One I Didn’t Want to Have'

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  1. David W. said,

    Wow, I’m so glad you posted this! One year on the academic market, I also decided to stay away from MLA: I had 3 interviews, then 2 schools said they weren’t hiring after-all, and the last I was so-so about. So I skipped because I was broke, was already working full time in a non-academic job, and was just discouraged. I’ve felt guilty about this for years, although I ultimately found a good career as a policy analyst. You remind me that the academic market sort of warps our perspectives on pretty normal, practical choices :)


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