Today I share some remarks by a tenured client, who just completed a search at her department, and wrote to tell me about it:
“We just finished doing a job search here and an offer has been made. I wanted to share with you something the last candidate did because I was shocked.
The candidate walked around most of the time she was here with earphones in her ears listening to music. At one point she started dancing in the hall!
She was wearing a dress that looked like she was going out for cocktails. It looked like this, but in two tones (beige and black):
I am not very judgmental about dress, and it didn’t bother me at first, but then it did at the point that she was dancing down the hallway to her own music. I’ll be honest, it freaked some of my colleagues (the science types) out.
Also, she was left in my colleague’s office to prepare for her talk; when my colleague came back into the office she was on my colleague’s computer without permission, surfing the web.
She is very young, but…yikes. I felt like I was back in my son’s teen years.
The grad students also didn’t like her; she was very unengaged at the graduate student lunch.
By contrast, our first choice asked each student what they were reading at the moment at his lunch with them and commented on every book they named. He also asked them what they were working on and made recommendations for readings.
We were blown away by this guy. His job talk was excellent–even the [distant subdiscipline] people understood it; he was just a humble but brilliant guy. After he left I told my students: ‘take note, that is how you do a perfect interview.’
Meanwhile, the ‘dancing candidate’ is still the talk of the hallways. In a very bad way.
I truly wondered who advised her in grad school and almost feel compelled to call her after all is said and done to give her advice. Anyway, I thought you might want to add earphones, cocktail dress, and dancing in the hall to your ‘do not do this on a job interview’ list for grad students.”
Brent Chesley says
Be glad she danced in the halls during the campus visit and took over someone’s computer. By doing those things, she made picking a colleague easier.
To contrast this post, how about managing abhorrent behavior by faculty towards candidates? Ex: Department search committee members texting thoughout job talk? And then asking questions that clearly reflect that they have not understood a single word of your talk?
We had a candidate send her drink back during the interview dinner with faculty…not once, but twice! We were all quietly stunned, but everyone mentioned it in later discussions of the finalists.
Murray Anderson says
Thanks for sharing. It certainly is an interesting scenario. I can’t help but wonder if there was possibly something else going on for this individual. At risk of medicalizing the person, I would be curious if there was some mania emerging…
Brian Purnell says
What’s the point of this? How can this help anyone who is seriously on the market for an academic job? Honestly, the candidate who danced does not strike me as absurd as the academics who evaluated her. At least she was her total and honest self. Meanwhile, all these other profs critiqued her every move and probably never had the honesty to pull her aside and say, “hey, you might not want to do x, y, z.” So what’s the take away from this post: if you get the coveted campus interview, be on guard at all times; be an anxious, nervous mess; don’t be yourself; don’t dance if the spirit moves you; don’t serf the web, like every single academic does; and don’t try to impress boring graduate students. I used to recommend “The Professor is In” because it I thought it had helpful posts. But lately, I don’t know.
Amira Sims says
Reading this blog was interesting. I chuckled as I pictured myself as both the dancing interviewee and the perfect candidate. The point I took away from the story was that there is a time and a place for everything. In academia there is an idea that we promote individuality and freedom of thought and expression. However the reality is there is another side to the coin. Academia also pushes being “true to the norm” which from what I found is to be rather vanilla. I think its possible to tone it down for the interview and still be true to oneself. I wore a bright yellow blazer to the interview and hot pink high heels. I also toned down the ensemble with a navy skirt, white blouse and neutral make-up. I hoped that my colleagues evaluated me for my words and my dress. After all who we are seeps out in our words, deeds, and dare I say style (including dress).
It is starting to look like hiring faculty spend as much time on this blog as job seekers. It helps candidates prepare, but is also shaping expectations and possibly fueling the nonsense expectations you might run into at a campus visit.
Building confidence, being prepared, understanding what a department wants are all very important when you leave grad school. But the job application theatre is so bizarre. There are some of us who will never be completely likable, who cannot glide through the grad student lunch, the faculty meetings, the dinners without some of our less universally wonderful traits poking out here and there. No matter how hard you practice, or what you decide to wear. In my own field, a lot of the pioneers were famously odd. And it is sad to realize how they would have fallen through the cracks of the modern job application process.
I agree 100%. I believe firmly that there should be a place for the dreamers and the oddballs. (Many anthropologists know the story of Clifford Geertz’s famously bizarre job talk at Princeton). Academia was once that place. It is no longer.
Wish I could find the story of Geertz’s job talk! I tried looking it up to no avail.
Karen Kelsky says
An old prof in my department when I was a grad student told us the story in class one day.
So sad because I’m guessing a lot of us came into this field specifically because of the delightful quirks and oddities and off-the-wall brilliance of certain pioneers and other current department professors who inspired us. The ones who have staked a claim and are their true dreamer oddball selves while doing totally cool work. It’s a tough balancing act for those of us now performing a straight (suit) jacket in-the-box academic self while simultaneously trying to think path-breaking work. My best work is done while I’m kind of like dancing girl and oblivious of surrounds. The job market is such a long slog that one ends up changing incrementally to “fit” and this has got to affect research. Anyway, duly noted, will leave the cocktail dress at home on campus visits and hope the inner music doesn’t leak out. And am desperately trying to banish accidentally breaking into skipping while walking (I’m short–it’s usually to catch up) while I’m at it.
Thank you for posting.
I am completely new to academia and I have my first real interview in the morning (this blog was featured in the search results for interview expectations).
Not only did your blog give me an idea of what to expect, it was also pragmatic. It gave me ways to address challenging job interview elements successfully. I plan to adapt the graduate student question/response into something that will have the same effect.
But what, exactly, is a job talk?
I also found this totally unhelpful. Whether to judge quirkiness or not aside, this was pointless for the following reason: Yeah, we kinda get that one needs to be at best behavior during the campus interview. What one does not get is why they do not get the offer, when they have done everything right, socially and professionally, and have received no cues whatsover until they get the rejection.
well… they didn’t “[do] everything right, socially and professionally”.
Using people’s computers without permission? Not professional. Especially for a visiting academic. I can’t imagine seeing that happen with any professional I’ve encountered.
Being unengaged with the graduate students: not professional. Nor doing everything right socially. Part of the job is to engage, mentor, and support graduate students. If that ability isn’t demonstrated, it’s fair to judge a person less likely to be effective at the job.
Dressing in a cocktail dress to be a professor? It’s ok for institutions to have implied or explicit expectations about professional attire. Having no concept of what that means is a red flag. It’s not just about an individual. Academics join a group of faculty and a wider institution. This means being the right personal and professional fit for the team.
Spending “most” of their time listening to music and dancing? Unprofessional. It’s difficult to imagine an interview in any field taking someone seriously that is ignoring the people and space they are applying to join. It’s a display of disinterest.
This wasn’t a story about a quirk of personality. It was a story of not getting an offer because they *not* done everything right – socially and professionally.
Great anecdote ! The oddities strike me quite interesting (in a good way) until you talked about the candidate browsing someone’s computer. That is a strict no-no.
I would have enthusiastically considered the ‘dancing in the hallway’ candidate, despite her subtle interactions with the graduate students if her personality wasn’t rude and uninviting and her resume meets your preferred qualifications which I believe did, since you invited her for a campus interview.
Too long have we looked at grey dimensionless personalities as the norm. We are hiring candidates based on their potential contributions to the department and the university, not their ability to disappear in a room full of people.
I don’t know about criticizing a woman for what she chooses to wear …
It’s always the women who get critiqued for how they look and what they do with their bodies. So she wore a cocktail dress to a job interview. So what. At least she put care and thought into her appearance. Have you ever watched the TV show Suits? All the high-powered women go around the office–and to court–in basically cocktail dresses. Perhaps this young woman thought that that’s the height of professional attire? Or perhaps that’s the kind of clothes that make her feel confident and inspired.
As for the dancing? Maybe it’s her way to de-stress.
If that department didn’t want to hire her, fine. But to go around gossiping about what a woman wore and how she did not behave properly… that’s kind of gross and archaic.