19 January 2010

Interviewing Follies

Continuing on the theme of applying for jobs, I thought I'd share some interviewing follies that have happened to me, that I've observed others do, and that I've heard about. There is a moral to this story; if you want to skip the stories and get to the moral, scroll to past the bullet points.

  1. Missing your plane. I had an interview in a place that was about a 1-2 hour flight away. I flew out first thing in the morning and back last thing at night. Except I didn't fly out first thing in the morning: I missed my flight. Why? Because I cut flights close (someone once said "if you've never missed a flight, you're spending too much time in the airport") and the particular flight I was on left not out of a normal gate, but out of one of those that you have to take a shuttle bus to. I didn't know that, didn't factor in the extra 5 minutes, and missed the flight. I called the places I was interviewing at, re-arranged meetings and the day proceeded with a small hiccup.

    I ended up getting an offer from this place.
  2. Missing a meeting. I was interviewing at a different place, going through my daily meetings, got really tired and misread my schedule. I though I was done when in fact I had one meeting to go. I caught a cab to the airport, flew back home, and noticed a few frantic emails trying to figure out where I was (this is before I had an email-capable cell phone). (As an aside, someone once told me that they would intentionally skip meetings on interview days with people outside their area, figuring that neither the candidate nor the interviewee really wanted such a meeting. They would hang out in the restroom or something, and blame a previous meeting running long on the miss. This was not the case in my setting.)

    I did not end up getting an offer from this place.
  3. Someone interviewing here a long time ago was scheduled to give their talk using transparencies. Two minutes before the talk they realized that they had left them in the hotel room. The already-assembled audience was asked to stay put, the speaker was quickly driven to the hotel and back, and proceeded to give one of the best interview talks on record here.

    This person ended up getting a job offer.
  4. Someone interviewing somewhere I know left their laptop in their hotel, just like number 3. But instead of having their host drive them back to the hotel, they borrowed someone's car to drive back to the hotel. They crashed the car, but managed to get their laptop, and gave a great talk.

    This person ended up getting a job offer.
  5. I flew in late to an interview, getting to my hotel around midnight. I woke up the next morning at seven for an 8:30 breakfast meeting. I unpacked my suit, tie, belt, socks and shoes. And realized I had forgotten to pack a dress shirt. All I had was the shirt I had worn on the plane: a red graphic tee shirt. My mind quickly raced to figure out if there was a place I could buy a dress shirt in the middle of nowhere at 7am. I quickly realized that it was impossible, wore my tee shirt under my suit jacket, and went through the day as if that was how I had planned it.

    I ended up getting a job offer.
The moral of this story is that bad things happen during interviews. I can't compare any of my stories to the crash-the-car story, but we've all been there, done stupid things, and gotten through it unscathed. I think the trick is to pretend like it was intentional, or at least not get flustered. Yes I missed my flight, yes I forgot my shirt, yes I crashed your car. But it doesn't affect the rest of my day. You have to be able to relax and forgive yourself minor mistakes: the interviewers really are looking at the bigger picture.

That said, there are definitely things you can do to botch an interview. They have to do with things like giving a bad talk (my experience is that a huge weight is placed on the quality of your job talk) and not having a clear vision for where you're going in research life. Don't be afraid to disagree with people you're talking to: we usually aren't trying to hire yes-men or yes-women. Once you get a job, especially a faculty job, you are the one who is going to make things happen for you. You have a world view and that's part of what we're hiring. Let us see it. We might not always agree, but if you have reasons for your view that you can articulate, we'll listen.

But don't focus on the little things, and don't get flustered.


Erik Engbrecht said...

I had an interview. I explicitly scheduled it during spring break because I was already missing a lot of classes due to interviews. I flew in the night before, picked up my rental car, and went to the hotel. All these were arranged by the company where I was interviewing. The flight and the car were fine, but when I got to the hotel didn't have my reservation. Turned out it was for the following week. No problem, though, they had space available, called the travel agency, and made appropriate changes. This should have been a sign.

The next day I show up for my interview. I walked up to the receptionist and told her I was there for interviews. She said I wasn't on the list and called someone from HR. The person from HR said I wasn't supposed to be there, I was scheduled for next week. I told her that I explicitly scheduled it this week, because it was spring break, and that they had arranged all my transportation so if it was the wrong day I would have been physically incapable of being present.

She rushed to arrange to find interviewers for me. I received the job offers from two different departments. I accepted neither of them.

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Anonymous said...

Ahh...number 5 explains it. =)

Which offer are you going to accept?

Charles Sutton said...

HAHAHAHA! I love the red T-shirt story. They must have thought you were uber-hip.

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