Sep 20, 2007

Hurry up and wait

Job hunting is a strange, drawn out process. You spend hours preparing for an interview or series of interviews that the prospective employer wants to take place ASAP. After the interview, you send personalized notes--within 24 hours of the meeting--to everyone whose path you might have crossed during the interview, thanking them for meeting with you and a) gushing about what a fine organization it is; b) restating your interest in the job; and c) demonstrating how you're the perfect person for the job. Then you sit around for weeks, possibly months, waiting to hear the outcome of said interview.

I remember once going to a job interview in February only to be told that the employer didn't expect to hire anyone until September. Did they expect that I would hang on until then in the hopes of getting this not-terribly-interesting entry level job?

Academia is particularly prone to dragging things out. They'll advertise for a position in January with a closing date of April, interviews will begin in June for a job that should start in September but will quite possibly stay open until the following semester. That is, if they don't reopen the search and start all over from scratch.

My most unsatisfying job searching experience was for an academic job. The process took forever: I interviewed in March and found out that I wasn't hired in August. But that was by far the least of it. No, it was necessary that I jump through about six dozen hoops before I was rejected.

It started, as these things often do, with a conference call. A three-way. A week later I received a packet in the mail advising me of the next steps. The evening before the actual interview I was to get a tour of the campus led by my would-be boss followed by dinner with her and her second-in-command. At 8 am the following morning came breakfast with a couple members of the department. This was followed by an interview with the HR person, followed by a tête-à-tête with the director of the whole shebang.

After I chatted with the director, I would give a short presentation of about 20 to 25 minutes to the entire library staff--about 50 people. The presentation should end with a question-and-answer session of about 15 minutes, so I should take pains to make the subject provocative to ensure that the audience would have questions. After a group interview with seven staff members, I would lunch with three other people.

I was to have a 15-minute break after lunch to compose myself before setting off across campus to the building where the lucky candidate would actually work. There, I would meet for about 20 minutes with the entire group, and then meet individually with each of my would-be colleagues, about 5 or 6 people. I would then meet with my would be boss again. And then her second-in-command would let me know what the next step in the process would be. It turned out to be another conference call with her and someone else whom I hadn't met in the first marathon session.

I won't bore you with every detail (especially since I've already bored you this much), but it was far from an outright disaster though there were a few glitches.

Dinner went swimmingly; it was convivial yet restrained. Both my dinner companion took great pains to tell me that they were very interested in hiring me. They kept saying "We wouldn't make you do all this if you weren't a serious candidate for the position."

But the next morning my car stalled out on I-95 and so I missed breakfast. Perhaps this was the nail in the coffin, but I don't think so.

The presentation was fantastic and I'm not bragging. My would-be boss was giving me the thumbs up from the audience. The thing broke up only because the audience kept asking questions way past the alloted time period. Afterwards, my would be boss pulled me aside and told me how fantastic it was and reiterated: "We wouldn't make you do all this if you weren't a serious candidate for the position." This was the mantra of the day and I believed them.

During my final encounter of the day, I was assured that they wanted this position filled yesterday. Again, I was told "We wouldn't make you do all this if you weren't a serious candidate for the position." Within a week, I had the second conference call. Five months later, I was informed that I didn't get the job.

What happened? Beats me, though someone told me sometime that day that the decision on whom to hire was done by consensus. And that even those people who just sat in on my talk had a say in the matter.

So someone I would probably only see once a year at the annual Christmas party could veto my candidacy if she didn't like my haircut, my face, or my choice of footwear.

You just never know.

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