A pseudonymous Ph.D. candidate on the market for a History job wrote up his or her “Job Horror Story” for the Chronicle of Higher Education. The candidate recounts being “stood up” by an interviewer who (accidentally?) left for the day before interviewing the erstwhile candidate, the last interviewee of the day.
In this wired world we inhabit, our perspective on the job market has become skewed. Thanks to online forums and blogs, interviewing in academe has evolved into a series of sacred rituals. Tips for success have become hard-and-fast rules that can never be violated — at least, not if you want to land the job.
While a good percentage of the advice doled out to new Ph.D.’s is probably worth hearing (if I hadn’t done a little online reconnaissance, I would have never known the Interviewer had left the booth), some of it, and the sheer volume of it, serves no other purpose than to terrify job candidates. Stories of rude and unprofessional behavior during interviews are now considered the norm. Interviewers are no longer professors fulfilling a service requirement but villains out to trample the souls of those “lucky” enough to score an interview.
It is quite possible that the culture of the job market is as bad as it seems, but no one would dare try to deviate from the prescribed norms to find out. We have mountains of online evidence to prove that if you do anything the least bit objectionable in the interview, you can be replaced. When branch campuses of the University of Maine claim to have 260 applicants for one position, as happened last year, the tightness of the market takes on a whole new dimension.
The full story appears in the Chronicle here (subscription required – sorry).
This story caught my eye because it it echoes some of my own thoughts on the market for law teaching jobs. So many of the successful candidates have a “canned” quality — alumni of the increasingly-popular law fellowships are so rehearsed (and perhaps faculty so unimaginative in their questions) that it is a challenge to get a “real” (or even “real-ish”) sense of the candidate. I’m not even sure that an Appointments Committee safely may assume that a candidate is in fact interested in teaching the courses he or she listed on the AALS FAR form (or not interested in the courses not on the form). A candidate truly interested in clinical teaching, for example, does himself or herself (and potential employer and colleagues) a disservice by not stating the interest clearly because a faculty mentor “advised against it.”
What kind of advice are candidates getting and where are they getting it? Apart from the teaching fellowships (and the handful of professors at certain unnamed schools who, year after year, seem to have one of their “best 3 or 4 students of all time” on the market), could it be that the internet (including us bloggers) are responsible in part for the move toward the “generic” candidate?