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Monday, February 6, 2012

The Once and Future Applicants

The past two weeks working in my department have been dominated by faculty candidate interviews.  Old Professor Granderson is retiring after this semester, which means the department must find his replacement.

I was working in the same position last year when we hired two professors and a new chair so I know the routine.  It is a routine for us, a gauntlet for the candidates.  Interviewing for a professorship is very different than interviewing for most jobs.  It’s a three-day marathon where after each candidate arrives at his hotel, he steps into a 72-hour-long interview.  Contestants on “Who Wants to be a Career-Academic?” have personal interviews with the department chair, each faculty member, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and two or three sub deans aside from meeting with the graduate students and the staff—that’s me!—over lunch-ins where all we care about is the free food.  

Visual depiction of the interview process.
They must present their research to an assembly of faculty and students, guest-teach a class, even their meals and “free time” are choreographed “we just want to get to know you better” sessions with different faculty members tagging in and out to probe the candidates for red flags in their personalities.  Their two nights of sleep are their only respites from this onslaught of professional judgment.  It’s an exhausting process and an unfair trial to subject potential co-workers to, yet every contender pushes through it with plastered smiles shellacked on their faces.  I guess that must mean that being a professor is awesome and definitely worth going through all that crap?

In the past the department has selected two or three applicants to invite to interview, most of them being 40 or 50-something veteran educators from other schools.  But this time we brought in four applicants fresh off of earning their doctorates, and by “fresh”, I’m talking like 28 or 29, or a year or two older than me.

Typical candidate
For those of you with scorecards out there, a 28-year-old doctor is someone who’s just spent the last 25 consecutive years in school.  While I was playing in the woods with AmeriCorps and being generally baffled by life, they were buying new trapper keepers and putting the final touches on their dissertations.  As I watched them this week being paraded around the campus in new suits still too big for them that neatly covered the tattoos that were surely up their arms and on their ankles, I couldn’t decide if I was insanely jealous of them or sadly sympathetic of their deaths of lives.

Typically, every transition between meetings is an orchestrated mini-interview with a designated moderator, but after a professor called in sick one day this week, I was asked to drive one of the candidates back to his hotel. 

The fifteen-minute drive to the hotel felt a little like how I imagine sitting in a deep sea depressurizing chamber must feel like before the divers are allowed to return to the surface world.  This guy was pulled tight, clenched, maybe only held together by the stock pleasantries and forced compliments he had been reciting all week.  Apparently, I lived in “what must be one of the greatest cities in the world!” 

But somewhere along the way, maybe after officially getting off of campus and before grabbing the Sublime CD from my visor rack, this guy declenched and normalized a little.  He told me he was glad for the experience, and though he didn’t think he was going to get the job, he also wasn’t sure if it was right for him.  Now he was just looking forward to getting some actual sleep, but he had a flight back to California with two layovers to get through first.  When I dropped him off he thanked me and said he hoped to see me around the halls in the fall.

The ultimate equalizer, apparently.

Crazy.  This guy was totally prepared to move cross-country, leaving behind whatever friends and assemblance of a life he had there, for a job that had just spent the past three days poking him in the face with the judgey stick, and he wasn’t even sure that he even wanted it!

So yeah, can’t wait to hear back from those grad schools…


  1. That's hilarious!! I can't wait to go to 72 hour interviews (in 10 years) where I can absurdly fake my professionalism. Can we be Profs at the same college someday?

    1. yes we can, and mr. feeny will be our dean

  2. wow, this is genius! i'm going to keep this in my back pocket for, uh, no reason at all...