Post Academic

Interpersonal skills #1: Keeping up with your friends

We’re launching a mini-series here about the interpersonal skills you need to navigate the academic job market.  You might almost be through the initial stages which only require you to know enough about which formalities to include in a cover letter or introduction email.  But soon, you’ll probably have to interact with real, live people about what’s happening with your job search, from friends, family, and mentors on your side to search committees and administrators on the other end.  And sometimes, it might actually be harder and demand more diplomacy from you to talk to those folks who are cheering you on than it is with complete strangers with your future in their hands.

We’ll start with your friends, though I’m not exactly one to speak here, because I don’t think I’ve talked to or corresponded with any of my grad school peeps in months–if any of those folks are reading this, I’m not slighting you, but I’ve pretty much stopped using my cellphone to talk to anyone but family these days.  When I’m not AWOL, my friends are the ones who are not only my support system to get me through the ups-and-downs of the job application process, but also a source of good gossip and scoop, especially when we’re applying for the same jobs.  And I do my best to return the favor too.

The thing is, what’s a boon can also lead to some prickly situations.  And let me tell you, the job market requires interpersonal skills even with the people you know best, since I’ve definitely had a few friend flare-ups, though no friend break-ups as far as I know.  Below are a few aspects of relationships that develop or change with the whims of the job market:

Unconditional Support: While I’ve always considered myself a good friend and someone that people can rely on, I have to admit that I get peeved when I don’t feel that the give-and-take is mutual.  But in a lot of cases, I probably owe more than I’ve given, though my friends probably aren’t the kind of keep score like I sometimes do.  Pretty much everyone I’ve been close to has stuck with me through thin and thinner, and given me feedback that doesn’t hold back, but they can deliver constructive criticism in way that builds me up and gets me to work harder rather than bum me out.  Whether or not what they tell you actually means anything to anyone else is up in the air, but it doesn’t matter much when you need a pick-me-up.

More types of more complicated relationships after the jump…

Gossip Gathering: You know that many of your friends are gossipers too, because it stands to reason that the people who know the best dish know the most people and know the most people well.  I’m not above admitting that I can have semi-loose lips once in awhile — I mean, it’s not like I’m the most circumspect of bloggers.  But I pale in comparison to those folks who are tapped into everything and know everyone and can get their friends to share confidences even when they know it’s gonna get broadcast elsewhere.   Part of how this relationship works is that you’ve gotta give a little quid-pro-quo for whatever dirt you get about a given position you’re interested in or an acquaintance who got an interview you wanted or even totally irrelevant goss.  I know I always feel a little guilty when all the info flows my way if I don’t give at least a little back.  It’s a delicate balance that works for everyone in the system — plus, they’ll probably find out what they want to know about you anyway, so you might as well get something in return.

Unhealthy Competition: In many cases, your friends work on similar topics within the same field, since you got to know each other well based on shared interests.  And in the best of all possible worlds, you all interview for the same positions and end up getting offers from the different schools you’ve divvied up as your dream jobs.  However, it obviously doesn’t work out that way: When you line things up, you’re gonna have more or fewer options and get better or worse interviews than your friends, and comparing notes can make things harder.

The thing is, both of you probably want to know that the situation is, but it’s hard to be the first one to tell or to ask.  When you have good news, you wanna spread the word, but then you might end up biting your lip or let the news slip out awkwardly if your friends are still waiting on pins and needles.  For instance, I’ve been in the uncomfortable position of having my friend who has always had more interviews tell me that s/he wished s/he had the few interviews I lined up for semi-cush jobs.  What do you say in response?  Probably something disingenuous like, “Oh, I don’t have much of a chance” or “I just got lucky,” when, in fact, I don’ t mean either and don’t wanna jinx myself.

All in all, things are stressful enough without friends unintentionally psyching each other out, but you sure as heck better plan for it.  Then again, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be the academic job market.  And if you didn’t care, it wouldn’t be about your future and your friends.

One Response to 'Interpersonal skills #1: Keeping up with your friends'

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  1. gradland said,

    I feel lucky in that I’ve rarely, if ever, experienced any bitchiness or sense of unhealthy competition among my grad school friends. Granted, I’m not on the market yet, but I spent the past year applying for fellowships that lots of my friends were also applying for, and somehow we managed to keep each other informed without stepping on toes (from my perspective, anyway). I think one thing that helps is that most of my friends work on very different subjects, so I’ve never felt too much direct competition with them. When I do critique my friends’ work and receive critiques from thm, we do it respectfully but with the added bonus of not really being an ‘expert’ in the other person’s field, which takes a bit of the sting out. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through grad school without the support of my grad and non-grad friends–maybe at some point we’ll have flare-ups, but for now I just think of them as a vital and generous support network, and I hope I’ve given back as much as I’ve gotten.

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