Post Academic


Setting Up Interviews You Don’t Want to Have

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on December 7, 2010
Tags: , ,

"No cellphones Southside Place TX," by WhisperToMe (Public Domain)

You’d think the hard part was actually doing the interview — but, if you assumed that, you haven’t been reading Post Academic for long enough!  Because those of you have would know that I’m the sort of person who even has trouble setting up the interview when I get ’em.  Basically, I learned my lesson to just let any calls from unfamiliar area codes in early December go to voicemail.  For someone who’s not great at thinking/talking on my feet, it gives me time to gather myself and collect my thoughts.  And since I’m paranoid, it also gives me confirmation that what I heard was true, that I got the interview in the first place.  Better yet is corresponding by email, since it’s all in writing.

I only learned these lessons from some awkward experiences that left me nervous and antsy after I actually succeeded in getting the interview….

Driving ‘n Calling: In a lot of place now, you can get a ticket for driving and calling.  But before they made a law about that, I used to make calls while I was in the car and I don’t think I was so much of a menace.  One call I wish I didn’t take while I was driving, though, was an interview request, which ended up being the one that I had to hike up the stairs to get to.  What happened was I received a call from an unknown area code and decided to answer it because of the curiosity factor; I had just received another interview request earlier in the day, so I couldn’t leave well enough alone.   Of course, it was just what I wanted, except I was even more flustered answering the call than I would’ve been because I was on the road.

More after the jump…

A number of problems arose.  First, I wanted to act like everything was normal, even though I imagine the caller could tell I was probably concentrating on something else, like, driving.  Second, I was making plans without my calendar or a pen-and-pad to write down exactly when I scheduled the interview; I’m already paranoid enough that I got the right time and place without having to trust my memory.  Third, I was distracted enough by the interview plans and making some chit-chat that I thought I may have run one of those traffic light cameras (which I luckily didn’t).

Lobby in the Lobby: Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine life before the cellphone, especially when you’re on the road and you have the convenience of calling on a whim instead of being at the mercy of the exorbitant hotel service charges.  Still, that doesn’t mean you should just answer the phone anywhere all willy-nilly.  Maybe a worse place to answer your cellphone than in the car is in a hotel lobby, where it’s loud and your reception might be spotty.  That’s what happened once the night before an interview.  I answered  a call from an unrecognized number while poaching the free Internet in the lobby.  It was a call confirming an interview, which was nice enough, I guess.

The problem was that the caller was probably in a loud hotel lobby with a staticky phone connection getting in touch with me in a loud hotel lobby with a staticky phone connection.  In effect, I started talking and answering as if I heard what he was saying, hoping that I understood what was going on and that my yes-no-mmhmm responses were actually being made to questions.  In effect, I was in a situation where I was taking the call blind — or, deaf, in this case — and just bluffing it.  I think it ended being okay, but I felt a little uneasy that one of the first impressions I was making could’ve been totally weird and awkward.

House Calls: It’s easy to forget that your interviewers are people with families and homes.  In one case, I returned a message to set up an interview with what was pretty much my dream school, only to be caught off guard by a surly teen on the other end.  I was getting all ready to talk to the search committee chair, only to end up hemming and hawing like an awkward adolescent — with an awkward adolescent.  What made matters worse was that the search chair picked up the phone in the midst of the weirdness after I had already been thrown off my game, leading me to wonder if I came off like a total dork in my first personal interaction with the dream school folks.

In the end, it didn’t really matter, though, because this interview turned out to be a nightmare and (most of) the search committee turned out to be impolite, unpleasant, or totally flaky.  How’s that for foreshadowing the Worst Interview You Don’t Want to Have, which is coming whenever I write it up…

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3 Responses to 'Setting Up Interviews You Don’t Want to Have'

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  1. Eliza said,

    This is why I try not to answer the phone in Dec. until the answering machine has enabled me to pre-screen the call. Same thing with the cell phone. I only pick up if the call is from someone I know. My partner thinks I am a paranoid, anxious dork but there you go.
    In the past I’ve answered the phone while cooking/driving/bathing my kid and then been completely surprised to hear a SC chair (or the entire committee on speaker phone) on the other end. One particular call resulted in a badly burned meal. Plus, when you share a house/phone with another academic on the market, there are bound to be SCs calling, if you’re lucky, and it’s pretty awkward if you answer and the call is for them and they’re on the potty or something.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      I can definitely commiserate with answering the phone–or even just talking on the phone–with kid in tow. You never know when some kind of loud interjection will occur which might totally throw you off your game and shatter the illusion of professionalism, even if it’s only in your head.


  2. Cell phones are an obstacle to communication. You are wise to let it go to voicemail, for your sanity and safety. (Then again, this comes from someone who accepted a job while outdoors … but I was really, really excited, and I would not endorse talking with anyone interview-related or HR-related while on the go.)

    I am also such a dork that I carry a notepad around with me at all times. This has come in handy when I can’t access my phone calendar, and at least I capture the information in the true GTD-style.


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