Today’s post is a Special Request post for Jon, who wrote very good-naturedly to ask, “You have much advice for women. Got any male-specific advice for the ABD, on-the-market sort of guy?”
Jon went on to ask, “did you ever meet a promising job or postdoc candidates only to watch him screw up…and think, ‘wow, that is a very guy-type of mistake?!’”
I have to confess, this one brought me up short. In the first moments of reading the email, I drew a complete blank. I even momentarily thought that perhaps I had no “guy-type” mistakes to discuss. Then, of course, I immediately admonished myself. Of COURSE there are guy-type mistakes. We just don’t see them as such because “guys” are the unmarked normal. So their mistakes are catalogued as “mistakes,” not “guy mistakes.”
Annoyed with myself for even momentarily participating in the discourses of male normativity, I set myself to the task of contemplating guy-type mistakes. And I came up with three.
The first is: a tendency to miss social cues and barrel through the interpersonal elements of the interview process in a state of cluelessness.
The second, and this is related to the first: a tendency to profoundly mis-read the reception of the research by the audience and to proceed in a state of blissful ignorance of any possible negative response.
And the third, and this one is kind of basic: a tendency to dress wrong.
It goes without saying (for astute readers of this blog) that the first two of these tendencies (which of course are not shared by all male Ph.D.s any more than the women’s patterns of behavior I discuss are shared equally by all female Ph.D.s) are reverse images of the problems that women generally face. That is, where women routinely over-censor and over-efface themselves from feelings of intense inadequacy, men routinely under-censor and over-inflate themselves from feelings of intense entitlement. And these feelings of entitlement are just as unconscious and unintentional as are women’s feelings of inadequacy. But they have real impacts.
The third problem, of dress, is merely an extension of gendered expectations of proper attire in American society—women are scrutinized, men are not. Therefore, men have little to no experience in strategizing their clothing choices, and have little awareness of the microscopic rules of fashion, and in particular, of proper fit, that they are breaking.
How do these play out in interviews?
The first problem, of missing social cues, manifests in a tendency to pontificate. Particularly in the awkward social settings of the campus visit—the poorly defined spaces of the candidate dinners, lunches, and receptions—male candidates have a tendency to mis-read the expectations, and treat the social interactions as extensions of the “job talk,” (ie, requiring more monologue), rather than what they really are, which is more like “water cooler chats” (ie, dialogic and informal).
This can also happen in formal interview settings as well. Male candidates are far, far more likely than female candidates to give in to the temptation to “hold forth” at excruciating length, entranced by the eloquence of their own words, eyes glazed over or fixed on a spot over the committee members’ heads, profoundly oblivious to the cleared throats and shuffled papers that signal the NEED to MOVE ON.
Interestingly, a closely related problem, less often seen, is a tendency to talk too little. This stems equally from a mis-reading of social cues. A remark such as “I can see how this line of research would raise interesting questions in the classroom….” must be understood as a QUESTION: “How does your research find expression in your teaching?” But not being asked directly, in the form of a question, led this type of question to be missed by male candidates with some regularity. I recall candidates who would sit quietly looking at us, moments ticking by, silence dragging on, until someone finally realized that a question had been indirectly asked but not recognized as such.
My guess–and this is just speculation–is that this problem is most common where a male candidate is interviewed by women, who may equally unconsiously be relying on indirection and suggestion, and body language and facial cues that don’t always translate well across genders.
Now, the second problem—the excessive confidence in one’s brilliance and unawareness of the audience reception— is one that afflicts the job talk in particular.
As I counted back through the many, many job talks of my faculty career, I realized that men and women candidates gave good and bad talks in equal numbers, and no gender predominated, in my relatively gender-balanced fields of anthropology and Asian Studies, in ultimate hireability (or offers). Nevertheless, one rule of gender and the job talk prevailed.
That rule was: women fail, but men bomb.
In other words, the good job talk was the good job talk. Gender played little role indeed.
But the BAD job talk? THAT was gendered. The bad job talks by women candidates were run-of-the-mill bad—They were dull, or poorly organized, or unoriginal, or unconvincing, or sadly presented.
But the bad job talks by male candidates? Well, those talks could be spectacularly bad. Flamboyantly bad. Memorably bad.
These were the job talks that lived on in departmental legend. “Remember ‘dog-boy’–the one who talked about dogs for an hour?” “Remember the one who talked about how the nuclear bomb wasn’t so bad for the plants and bugs?” “Remember the one who said ‘gosh I didn’t study any women’ when someone asked him to think about gender?” “Remember the one we had to cut off at an hour and 15 minutes?”
These male candidates had somehow managed to completely and totally fail to grasp the spectacular inappropriateness of their topics, their preparedness, and/or presentation styles. They had, apparently, blithely ignored any of the cautions or admonitions that they undoubtedly received from advisors, peers, and general well-wishers, and they proceeded with blissful abandon past the looks of shock, dismay, and outrage gathering on the faces of their job talk audiences.
I never saw a woman candidate bomb a job talk in this way.
Obviously, this is the flip side of male privilege. Women are not given the license to fail big because they aren’t given the license to try big. Women are disciplined (and punished) and circumscribed and admonished and chastised at so many levels, in so many ways, that men are not….that in the end it is by and large only males who have the opportunity to burst out onto the job market with wildly inappropriate egos and presentation habits intact.
This is not to say that all men do. I know well how many male candidates are filled with anxiety and insecurity, and a desperate desire to do well and be agreeable, and read the cues correctly. To be sure.
But the chances are higher, far higher, that a man may slip through the cracks of the graduate school socializing apparatus, meant to beat graduate students into a state of deference and submission and hyper-self-criticism, and emerge entirely unaware of the impression that he is making on his audience.
And that, readers, is the ultimate “guy-type” mistake.
Oh, and then there are the clothes. Guys, go out to Macy’s or Men’s Wearhouse and buy a suit in the $250-350 range. If you can spring for $500 do that, but it’s not crucial. Have the in-house tailor fit you, and DO NOT LEAVE with the suit until it has been tailored for you. This will cost around $40 more. Buy at least one new Oxford cloth shirt and one new tie. Buy a pair of decent quality leather dress shoes, and buy socks that match the shoes or the pants. Buy a good quality leather belt if you don’t have one—make sure it’s fresh and not cracked!
[Addendum: As noted in the comment stream below, for many contexts and disciplines, the suit is unnecessary and a sports jacket with pants and tie is more appropriate. Variables that will affect this decision include: is your discipline formal or informal (poli sci and econ tend to be formal, while comp lit and anthropology tend to be informal…), and is the campus formal or informal (the south and the northeast are more formal than the midwest and the west coast). Ask all the reliable sources you can, particularly successful young male faculty members. When in doubt lean toward formality.]
Practice wearing the suit or at least jacket around the house, and wear it out to work for a full day and to dinner at least once before you go on a campus visit, to get it broken in. Iron the package creases out of your shirts. Try the suit and the pants and shirts on in different combinations, and plan out day one and day two outfits for the campus visit, with day one (job talk day) being the full suit, and day two being just the pants and shirt and a tie. You can consider wearing a nice Ralph Lauren-style half zipper jersey sweater pullover, with the Oxford shirt and the tie, for day two, if it’s cold, or if it’s a casual, West Coast sort of place.
Invest in a quality dress coat! It is conceivable that this you can find second-hand. Second-hand is a good budget option for everything but the suit itself, and the shoes, which need to be fresh and fitted.
A cool looking watch can be a nice addition. The ties don’t have to be boring. Men’s attire expresses individuality in these small details.
DO NOT CARRY A BACKPACK! Get a quality leather or microfiber briefcase. These can be found cheaply at places like OfficeMax.
Have your girlfriend or boyfriend or mother study your options and give you a stamp of approval before you pack.
And then, put on all these clothes, and commandeer a classroom in your department, and for god’s sake, give a mock job talk to a bunch of people who will tell you the truth. Because, while not all job talks will succeed, there is no reason at all to bomb.