It’s hunting season! Those of us in the academic world know that August marks the start of the job hunt. So, in a small attempt to ease some of the stress and uncertainty of looking for a job in academia these days, let me introduce the cast of characters you are likely to meet during the tragicomedy that is The Job Hunt.
A job interview at your dream college/university or some institution that comes close enough (hell, you just want a job and you really don’t care where it is).
Cast of Characters
The Rock Star: This, as the name implies, is somebody who is well known in their field. But it also includes those who think they are rock stars but in reality fall short of being one. Regardless, they have the egos of rock stars and thus must be dealt with gingerly. If you really are in the presence of a rock star, or someone whose work you’ve admired or used in your own research, then come clean. Be humble, be honest. If you are in the presence of a person who simply thinks that he or she is a rock star, you have nothing to worry about. He or she will do all the talking (mostly about how great they are, how busy they are, and how important they are), so try to sit still and nod your head. This is your moment of zen. Check out for a few minutes, recuperate, think happy thoughts. By the time you’re done, The Rock Star will be winding down. The only time Rock Stars become difficult is if you get the Rock Star-Intimidator combination (see below for The Intimidator).
The Intimidator: I can almost guarantee that you will come across this character no matter where you are interviewing. This is the person who alternates between looking bored and wanting to jump out of their chair and rolling their eyes during your job talk. They always have a question for you which attempts to paint your research as insignificant or boring. The Intimidator is tricky to deal with for they can really make your blood pressure rise fast. But don’t take the bait. Chances are that most people in the room dread the moment when The Intimidator asks a question and at that moment they sympathize with you. The trick is to answer The Intimidator calmly and confidently. If you handle The Intimidator without getting flustered or angry, you will win over many friends.
The Friend: Every now and then, you meet a person at a job interview with whom you immediately click. This is The Friend. Perhaps they remind you of someone from graduate school or someone in your family. They are funny, easy-going, and very easy to talk to. But that can be dangerous. The Friend is so easy to talk to you may find yourself revealing things that you had not planned to. Still, The Friend allows you to show your more personable side—you know, the funny and charming side of you that is being stifled under that suit you bought for the job interview.
The Border Patrol: If your work is cutting-edge, inter-disciplinary, or sometimes even simply feminist, you will surely tangle with The Border Patrol. The Border Patrol is fond of asking such questions as “So, what is Sociological (input whatever department you’ve applied to) about your research?” or “Why is this Sociology (or X) and not International Relations (or Y)? The Border Patrol likes to defend disciplinary boundaries and the “good, old-fashioned way” of doing things. Your response should point out the changing nature of the discipline (if it is indeed changing), the advantages of interdisciplinary research and its effectiveness in the classroom, but also highlight those aspects of your research that are solidly embedded in that particular discipline.
The Historian: Every department has The Historian. This person has been at the institution for a long time and served in various capacities over the years. The Historian has the ability and willingness to answer any and all questions with ten minute lessons on how and why that particular thing you asked about came to be at the college. The Historian also likes to say things like: “We have always done so and so at this school and that’s because . . .”as if that somehow precludes thinking about change now. But, let The Historian talk. This is another chance for you to recuperate in between meetings.
There are other characters as well: The Fan, The Gossip, The Weeper, The Back-stabber. But I’ll save those for another post.
New London, Connecticut in the US
Afshan Jafar is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. She can be reached at email@example.com.