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Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #3: You Need an Entrance Strategy

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 30, 2010
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This installment of “Interviews You Don’t Want to Have” actually recalls one of the best interviews I’ve had at MLA.  I thought I hit my marks, got my dissertation spiel off as cleanly as possible, and received compliments on the nice bright pink tie I wore.  I really did my best, but, contrary to what they say, my best just wasn’t good enough.

So why am I writing up this relatively positive experience as an “Interview You Don’t Want to Have”?  Well, it began as a comedy of errors which may have thrown me off my game without me even knowing it — after all, I couldn’t exactly judge how well I did, could I?  Take it from me, you need an entrance strategy to your MLA interview.

You can kinda see the Philadelphia Museum of Art from the Embassy Suites, aka the site of the IYDWTH #3 ("Philadelphia Museum of Art" by su1droot, Creative Commons license)

Don’t get there too late — or too early: I’m chronic worrier about time, especially when it comes to making it to appointments.  First, I worry about whether I actually got the date, time, and place right, after one of my friends from grad school actually missed one of her MLA interviews because she missed transcribed the info.  Second, I hate uncertainty when it comes to directions, so going to a city I don’t know and having to be at a place I’ve never been always puts me on edge.  As a result, I tend to overestimate how much time it takes to get to the hotel where an interview is taking place.  The one thing I’m not is cheap about these things, so I always take a cab to get me where I’m going — which also means there’s less of a chance that the nice bright pink tie will be bird-pooped on or my suit will get messed up by whatever.

The problem is that getting to the MLA interview hotel early isn’t exactly the most relaxing thing in the world.  While you might think that having a little extra time before the interview to unwind might help, it doesn’t when it comes to any MLA hotel lobby, since there’s a bunch more more nervous people stressing themselves — and you — out.  What’s even more nervewracking is running into people you know, either the dept gossip who wants quid pro quo about interviews or someone in your field who may or may not be interviewing for the same positions.  At this particular MLA, 2006 in Philly, the situation was particularly bad, because the Embassy Suites was pretty much the only hotel with suites and was housing most of the interviews.  So the concentration of nervous nerds was even denser than typical.

More about the structural problems of the Philly Embassy Suites, after the jump…

Get potty trained: Plus, the earlier you go, the more likely it is you have to go…to the bathroom.  The Philly Embassy Suites had a particularly cramped and spartan men’s room, especially compared to the fancier, roomier ones at the posh convention hotels, so there were high odds of potentially peeing yourself at a urinal while holding your portfolio, overcoat, and whatever else you didn’t have to bring.  Figure out the potty situation at any location you’re interviewing, because, when it comes to convention hotel bathrooms, size does matter!

Make the call already: I mentioned being tongue-tied calling up to the interview room before, right?  What makes this process all the more nervewracking is timing the call perfectly.  If they don’t tell you otherwise, how early is too early to call?  Plus, there’s only, like, two in-hotel phones in the lobby at the Philly Embassy Suites, so you better stake out a space at each hour, when the next cattle call comes through.  In this case, I think it’s better to be a little early and make sure you get the call off.  The worst thing that could happen is that they’re not ready for you, but at least you know where you’re supposed to go.

Wait for the elevator: Here’s really why this was an “Interview You Don’t Want to Have” situation.  The rush that I anticipated for the phone actually ended up being a stampede for the elevators, all four of them servicing who knows how many floors of the Philly Embassy Suites, each of which probably stopping at each floor going up and down due to the overbooking of interviews at the hotel.  So I got tired of waiting before I even waited for the elevator, and had the bright idea of taking stairs to something like the eighth floor.  I’m fit, I pride myself on walking, and maybe I could work my nervous energy off as well?  This idea made sense for maybe three stories, but then I was just huffing-and-puffing, hoping to make it to my interview without being drenched in sweat.  When I finally did make it to the interview suite, I had exerted myself enough that I couldn’t help but to pant when I met the search chair at the door.  Even though I explained what had happened and even got some understanding sympathy points, I can’t imagine that looking like a semi-damp mouth-breather is exactly the first impression you wanna make.

Bring your own water: Oh, about that water I talked about when I mentioned the potty.  I really needed it now after hiking up all those stairs, but I had tossed the bottle I had with me because I was too worried about peeing!  As a result, I had to take the glass nicely but haphazardly offered to me that looked like it had already been used.  A lot of times, the search committees will be ready to offer you something, but they don’t always and it’s better to be prepared than thirsty and panting and worried about getting bird flu from a dirty cup.

Again, I think I recovered pretty well from the frantic start, no matter what the ultimate results were.  But it never hurts to stage manage your entrance, less because it’s important to make a dazzling initial impression, but more because you don’t wanna make a bad one.

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