“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 11—the interview (hostile questions)

If you are asked a question that feels hostile, SLOW DOWN. Do NOT defend yourself, don't go on the counter-offensive. Inquire about the background, context, motivation, bigger picture behind the question.

Involve OTHERS in the room. This is basic group dynamics 101. Sometimes the hostile questioner is also perceived as hostile in the department her/himself. So refer the hostility outwards to the group. But make sure you're talking in the THIRD PERSON SINGULAR. “Would it be possible to get some clarification from others on this issue...?”

Don't let one person single you out and get into a dogfight. Then, at best, you lose the rest of the group. And other, more wrong, stuff can easily happen.

Once upon a time I got into a tussle like this over Deleuze and Guattari. It wasn't even about my work! Suffice it to say, I didn't get a fly back.

Remember the golden rule: they ALREADY think you're smart. You are there to show you can be a GOOD AND INTERESTING COLLEAGUE. For 20-40 minutes. Use them wisely!


C. Durning Carroll said...

Thanks Timothy.

We don't know one another but I'm really grateful for this. I think I might be even worse at interviews than you are, and glad to know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Had a difficult interview just the other day and in my nervousness (and resistance to authority) forgot the all-important colleague thing.

Timothy Morton said...

Hi--you couldn't possibly eff it up worse than me! Really--I had over a hundred rejection letters before I landed a proper job.