Post Academic

Conference Etiquette: The Post-Interview Run-In

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 21, 2010
Tags: , ,

So here’s yet another reason why you should bolt from the conference site as soon as you can: What do you do when you run into your interviewers outside the headquarters hotel or on an escalator or at a restaurant?  Most people would say you should just act normally, like you would with any acquaintance.  OK, I think I can do that.  But I always end up feeling compelled to stretch out the small talk, which then gets me into trouble because I wonder whether this goes into the interview file or if I’m expected to show how much I want the job at every turn.  In the end, I imagine search committee folks would be even less psyched to be caught in these situations, having to be reminded of job interviews after doing a few whole days of them.

Here’s what runs through my mind when I see one of my interviewers coming right towards me when it’s too late to do anything about it…

"Bus Emergency Exit" by Sushiflinger (Creative Commons license)

No, I’m not a stalker: Rather than just assume that an interviewer would see a chance run-in for what it really is, a mere coincidence, I get too caught up in my own head and start to worry s/he might get the wrong idea.  One time, I found myself walking right behind the search committee directly after an interview, which definitely might’ve seem stalker-ish.  On a few occasions, I averted my eyes or dart off in another direction, hoping to avoid eye contact — I don’t know if this strategy works, since I’ve never looked back for fear of getting caught.  My own neuroses capture the mood swings of the job search process, which go from feeling completely miniscule to megalomaniacal, thinking that I matter *that* much to search committee folks who’ve probably set aside my file and put me out of their minds the instant I’ve walked out of that hotel suite.

More after the jump…

Really, I’m not prying — unless you want me to: The few times I’ve actually been thrown into a “friendly” face-to-face interaction with someone on the other side of interview table, I’ve found myself tongue-tied, either undoing whatever good impression I might have made or digging the hole I made earlier even deeper.  The thing is, I never know whether it’s proper to mention the job after the interview and what’s in bounds to discuss if it is.  What makes this indecision worse is that then I wonder if I really should’ve talked about the position or at least asked subtly brown-nosey questions about it to show my interest — as if merely applying, then prostrating myself in my job letter and in the interview were not enough.  In my case, even some of my friends have told me that I seemed aloof when they first met me, so I suppose I should’ve erred on the side of being more obsequious.

What else is there to talk about?: Then again, is there anything else to chit-chat about, considering you only know these people under these circumstances?  The last thing you want to do is to change the subject, where you could totally flub some arcane academic detail running your mouth or somehow rub someone you don’t know at all the wrong way talking about random stuff — I worry enough about this with people I know!  However you slice it, there’s an elephant in the room, so maybe the best thing to do is to find some tactful way to acknowledge it.

Elephant in the room; don’t want to flub it and get into more trouble

2 Responses to 'Conference Etiquette: The Post-Interview Run-In'

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  1. Gina Hiatt said,

    Maybe if you prepared some interesting anecdotes or jokes ahead of time? Like “A rabbi, a priest, and an imam walked into a bar.” No, forget that one.

    How about having some interesting facts about the city you’re in: “Did you know that there’s a great exhibit at the little known museum around the corner?” Oh, but then they might think you’re inviting them to go with you.

    The more I think about it, the more I think you should have your escape route planned ahead of time. Think about a disguise — fake glasses, a wig or a fake beard, with a quick change of clothes, or just adding a raincoat and low-slung hat. Then run like Hell.

  2. Well yeah, it pays be cool. This is totally an act, which is why it feels like faking it, but if you can smile breezily and project the idea that you have every right to be there too, it will make you look more confident and professional. If these people are anything like most academics I’ve met, they’re just as socially awkward as you think you are.

    But it’s true that an escape route really helps, especially if you frame it as another professional commitment. Again, this doesn’t have to be true, but what I’ve used

    –‘Oh, there’s x acquiantanceco-worker, I’ve really got to catch up!’
    –(Glancing at watch) ‘oh, I’ve got an appointment with a colleague’
    –(Glancing at watch) ‘oh, I’m meeting my old advisor at the bar.’

    Then run like hell, as Gina suggested.

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