I’m not happy again. My interviewers may have made their promised decision-by-the-end-of-the-week about who they would hire, but they certainly did not inform me of the outcome of that decision. I’m pretty pissed off, more pissed off than I should be, and I’m sure it’s down to some sort of lingering subconscious resentment of the shitty treatment I got at so many academic interviews. Applying for non-academic jobs was supposed to be less fraught than the academic job market, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way at the moment. To remind myself I’ve made the right decision, I think some reminiscing about the horrors of the academic job market is in order. I will limit myself to the top five. Otherwise this post could go on forever—you don’t get as many positions as I’ve had without taking a lot of knockbacks.
1. My worst ever interview experience—and the only one that really, truly upset me—was for a fellowship, not at a university, but at another public sector institution that offered funding for a handful of academic projects a year. There were four people on the interview panel: two from the institution and two from an external governing body of the institution. The two from the institution, one of whom I’d met before, said virtually nothing and just looked embarrassed as one of the externals harangued me for the entire time allotted to the interview. Everything I was asserting about the material was completely unethical because I had just made it up and manipulated what scant evidence I had in order to try and prove an argument that was completely unfounded. I tried to defend myself, but everything I said was twisted into something I didn’t mean and then used against me. The whole experience was absolutely awful and I was completely unprepared for dealing with this type of behaviour. That was my first ever interview for an academic position post-PhD. I didn’t get another interview for a couple of years after that and I only went for more academic jobs because all my mentors promised that this interview was bizarre and inexplicable and would not happen again. The stuff that happened after this wasn’t as bad or damaging in such sharp degree, but taken as a whole, my interviewing experience hasn’t been that much better than this first horrible experience!
2. I’ve had lots of unsuccessful interview experiences where I do the painful—but supposedly useful and necessary—duty of getting feedback from the interviewers only to find that it’s not useful because they’ve clearly gotten mixed up about what happened in the interview and/or forgotten who I was and/or what was on my CV. One really takes the cake though. The interviewer got my writing sample mixed up with my presentation. I fail to see how you could mix up something you’d heard with something you’d read but she did. I corrected her, not impolitely in anyway, but by doing this I inadvertently got her back up and she became really defensive. She told me who got the job (someone I knew previously and that I’d spent a lot of the day with in the holding room at the interviews). At that point she became even more defensive, I think because she must have been aware of how unprofessional that little slip up was. So then she listed all the reasons why he was better than me and had done a better job in the interview. What I extracted from this patronizing spiel was that it mainly boiled down to a couple of aspects of his research being a better fit than mine, which put him in a position to answer the questions slightly better than me. I also got feedback from another one of interviewers a few days later, who gushed about how fantastic all the candidates were and about how they could have hired every one of us. So much for the usefulness of this feedback!
3. Here’s a horror story about an interview that didn’t happen. An interview I didn’t go, that is. I couldn’t bring myself to go. It was the last interview I was ever invited to and the end of my applying to academic jobs. I realized that I just couldn’t sink this low: the ‘selection process’ was going to include a 30 minute interview by a panel of students. I just couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t face that level of humiliation. I’ve spent years pandering to students desperately trying to get them interested in what I was teaching. I could not sink to a level where I was also going to have to pander to them to get them to give me a job. This is the extreme result of the sector’s mishandling of the massive increase in fees and the fear of competition that is going to be based on NSS scores. Certain universities are of the mindset that happy students (at any cost) will guarantee survival. It’s also the extreme result of a terrible job market. In what other profession would this be acceptable? Would a law firm have its clients interview its candidates? Would a doctor be interviewed by patients? Teachers don’t even have to face anything like this in their interviews! Clients, patients and students simply don’t have the expertise to be able to judge how a person would do in a highly specialized job and it’s so demeaning to make people undergo this sort of humiliating test. Further, if people are willing to be interviewed by students, we really are in desperate times. It’s so sad that people are in fact this desperate for academic jobs, which turn out to be nothing like the rosy picture that’s painted for PhD students.
So that’s three rather than five, but I’ve got even more to say than I’d realized. Maybe I’ll add another post on this in future. Those three examples are enough to remind me that non-academic interviews are easier to handle. Although there’s surely plenty of rude behaviour at or after non-academic interviews, at least these interviews aren’t dreadful affairs like those described above.