Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just not that into me: on the job search

In dating, I learned to recognize the signals of "just not that into me" even before the book came out. Even over email, a flat tone was evident in the correspondence and delays were palpably longer. Of course, it's obvious when they are into me. So it's particularly sad when there is clear interest and then it suddenly drops off.

The exact same form of "just not that into me" shows itself on the job search. Early this fall, I had an interview with what was possibly the perfect postdoc: in the small field where I've done most of my research so far, past postdocs have gone onto become faculty at the same university, great city, prestigious, and they had clearly thought about the professional development and mentorship issues, and the director was clearly considerate and respectful of her research assistants. Everyone seemed thrilled to meet me, and their enthusiasm was not even dampened by the fact that on arrival I was completely drenched due to a torrential downpour en route. As the last meeting of the day, I met again with the director, and we spoke about starting dates; she liked that I could leave my current position early, and she said that perhaps they could even let me know before the application deadline they'd issued. She also asked one question, "What's your work style?" I answered truthfully that I like to start and finish things early, though deadlines are always helpful. Totally true! I don't manage to, but I do like to, and that's definitely my goal.

Right after I got back, I sent a thank you note by email and a hand-written note as well. A couple weeks after I got back, I sent her an update with my defense date and saying that I could even start slightly earlier than I said at the interview. No response to any of this. Somehow the relationship soured. It's not mysterious: she must have spoken with someone that I used to work with, to whom I owe a paper, that I'm finishing as we speak (this week?). Maybe she even decided that I fudged my description of my work style. Once she decided she didn't like me, she could pluck little things from the interview to not like, and in the few months I was waiting to hear (having not applied to very many other things) I have assembled about three other things, including my miscalculation of the weather. I put my expected defense date as October in my cover letter, and it turned out that we couldn't find a date that everyone could meet then, so it had to be deferred to November. I miscalculated the weather and ended up wet. I acted like myself and gave my actual opinion and experience.

Similarly, this fall I had a phone interview with an academy associated with a branch of the military. I know this is controversial among some, but some of my best friends are former ROTC and I didn't have any qualms about accepting the interview, although I did repress the urge to ask when asked if I had any questions, "Just out of curiosity, do you hire lesbians?" But it seemed like a decent enough job, and certainly worth interviewing for.

For some reason, the phone chemistry simply did not work. I had been spending the morning hard at work, in a bit of a work trance, and my eyes were a bit bug-eyed from looking at my computer too much when the call came. It was my very first phone interview of the year, and I hadn't thought about the job market for several months. The very first question that I flunked was how the weather was. "Very hot," I said. Which I thought was a fine answer. It had been a bit cool, and it was pretty late in the year to still have hot weather, so I liked that it was hot. I suppose that I could have answered at greater length, but I was after all still a bit spacey from doing work. My interviewer said, as if contradicting me, "Oh, the weather here is cool and quite nice."

The job turned out to be one that I didn't want because of the teaching load, but somehow it stings that the reason they didn't pursue things with me was because I failed the small talk.

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