Sometimes I hear reactions to The Professor Is In, that my level of attention to details and minutiae (everything from what kind of bag you carry to where your voice rises in your delivery of a sentence) is excessive–even anal or obsessive. Sometimes people will huff, indignantly, “If they’re going to judge me on something as small as what bag I carry, I certainly don’t want to work there.” When I hear these reactions (I don’t always, since they’re usually out of earshot. But sometimes they come to the fore), I always take pains to clarify.
Will they not hire you because of the bag you carried? Solely because of your bag? Unlikely. No search committee is going to say, ‘she was excellent as a scholar and teacher–her job talk was path-breaking–but sadly we can’t hire her because of her bag. If only she’d carried a different bag…’
No, that doesn’t happen. Even when a search committee has a judgment about your bag (and they may well have none at all), it may not even rise to the level of discussion, or even consciousness.
What does happen is this: you are surveilled from the moment your application arrives, to the moment you step back on the plane at the end of your campus visit. At each point in between, you are being judged. The people doing the judging are using all of their senses–some consciously, some not–to evaluate you. They encounter you, take you in, and instantly begin to file away impressions, data point by data point:
- Good cover letter: data point
- Sloppy CV: data point
- Typos in the teaching statement: data point
- Quick, courteous email response: data point
- Strong response to publications question: data point
- In need of a haircut: data point
- Weak response to teaching question: data point
- Good idea for a second project: data point
- Querulous, anxious vocal patterns: data point
- Innovative research methodologies: data point
- Ratty backpack: data point
- Sketchy familiarity with campus programs: data point
And on, and on, and on… data point by data point. At the end, these will all be gathered into a larger general “impression” of the candidate. Again, some will be explicit — all elements of the formal record, for example — while some will be implicit. Things like haircut, clothes, bag, vocal patterns may be noticed by some search committee members and not by others, and may be weighed differently even when they are noticed. I make no claims that all search committee members will notice everything in the list above, or consider them significant, or evaluate them consistently. What I do claim is that someone on the search committee is likely to notice some of the above (and an infinite list of other such factors) and file them away in some form, to become part of the overall judgment that carries forward into the evaluation process.
So: will a school not hire you because of your bag? No, not likely. But will one or more search committee members observe a ratty backpack as part of the general impression of “professionalism” you make, and consider it (consciously or unconsciously) as part of your readiness to leave behind a grad student identity and operate as a faculty member…? I believe the answer to that is yes, and so urge you to attend to it and all the other details of your record and mode of self-presentation that I talk about at The Professor Is In.