A Candidate’s Perspective on the Meat Market
posted by Dave Hoffman
A candidate for a job at the AALS hiring conference (a.k.a. “the meat market”) has written me the following reflection on the process this year. For the time being s/he wants to remain anonymous. I thought it worth sharing with you. I haven’t edited it at all, except for inserting the appropriate hyperlinks, and adding the relevant picture.
Many people give advice about what you need to do to prepare for the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference. But most of those folks are already established professors. I just returned from the conference and I want to provide some general thoughts about what made my time at the conference happier and more productive for me. I know it is too late for this crop of young candidates, but maybe it will help on your callbacks or future generations of aspiring professors.
- Think of it as the “meet” market, not the “meat” market. The interviews are an opportunity to meet a bunch of folks who might one day be your colleagues, collaborators, and friends, whether you end up at their school or not. Likewise, this is an opportunity to meet your cohort of young profs. Take advantage of that time and remember that life is long and you may run into these folks again at future conferences once you are on the other side of the hiring process.
- Fight your baser fears and push yourself to be social. I – like many who are hoping to enter (or are already in) the academy – am not particularly comfortable at cocktail parties. Fight through your discomfort. Especially if you don’t know anyone at the conference, go to the Friday night party. Sidle up to some candidate you’ve never met and introduce yourself. As mentioned above, these folks might be your peers next year, but more immediately you will run into some of these people throughout the weekend. You will be more comfortable, happier, and perform better in interviews if you see a friendly face and can commiserate about the process with someone else. Go to the cocktail party on Saturday night (unless you have plans with a school for dinner or drinks). Force yourself to talk to both candidates and recruiters. Of course it is natural to scan the room for folks that might directly help you. If you see them, force yourself to go talk to them. Even if it doesn’t help this year, it might help in the future.
- Practice random acts of kindness. The pressure during the conference can be staggering. The furtive glances at nametags, the awkward waits in long hallways outside doors, the shameful self evaluating and unseemly comparisons, and the desperate message checking all contribute to a diminished sense of well being during the weekend. You’ll be surprised how much better you will feel if you say a kind word to a stranger or hold open an elevator door even if you are in a hurry. I tried to say at least one nice thing to a stranger in every elevator ride up to an interview. I immediately felt better about the process and myself.
- Think positive thoughts before each interview. Before each interview I tried to find a small quiet place to myself to reflect on the upcoming interview, usually a stairwell near the interview room. While there, I tried to imagine my best-possible-self participating in the interview. My mantra: you deserve to be there; you are as smart, charming, and witty; you have something to say that they want to hear; you can sell sand in the Sahara; you are confident, but not arrogant. It may seem hokey but it brings up your level of confidence and performance.
- Bring energy and humor into the interview process. The other side of the table may be less stressful, but it is no less tiring. Be empathetic toward your inquisitors and help them out. Try to keep them entertained. Show some energy and passion for your projects and for teaching. They want to know what you will be like in the classroom (even if they only want you to publish). If you can’t be passionate about your own work, can you bring passion to teaching the cannon? Don’t be afraid to be funny. You can lighten the mood.
- Follow the other advice given already. Show up prepared and with a gameplan. Have a macro and micro strategy. Your macro strategy is about you. Know your research backward and forward. Anticipate the questions about your research and think through answers. Be able to speak in 1 – 3 minute sound bites about your paper and your research agenda. On that note, make sure you have a research agenda to offer. Your micro strategy involves each particular school. Be able to answer basic questions like: Why “x” location? Why “y” school? What do you want to teach? Why academia? These answers might change depending on the school with which you are interviewing. Think about the school’s hiring needs, its philosophy toward teaching, and any connection you might have to the area. Don’t be afraid to be a little shameless in modifying your answers for each school. If it helps, think of it as alternative pleading. “I would really like to end up in Southern California because we have family there, alternatively we would really like to end up in Chicago because we love urban living and there are lots of opportunities for my partner’s career there.”
- Don’t be intimidated by other folks that are there. There may be someone prettier than you at the ball, but don’t let that phase you. You only need to find that one special someone to take you home at the end of the night.
(Image Source: Wikicommons)