Job Market Advice

The following Job Market Advice is adapted from Timothy Morton’s blog.

Interviews generally have 2 phases: a long list of 6 that is interviewed via Skype and the short list of 3 who are then invited to a campus interview. If you are asked to interview: look up the folks in the dept — what have they written, what do they do, what do they teach; show that you are interested in what they do and what the department would be like for you…. Ask OTHER PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR WORK!!  Think about what this would be like as a department to live in.  

The Skype Interview

Okay, so you have an interview. So they already think you're smart. So don't spend the interview proving you're smart. Spend the interview modeling what it would be like with you as a colleague. This performance should be much more like talking with your PhD colleagues at a writing workshop, than either teaching or talking to your adviser. Don't talk up, don't talk down. Talk to equals. Do you have your ikebana sentences* (see below)? You will need them. The most pocket sized, accessible version possible.

What is the point of doing the interview? To get you a campus visit. How do you do that? You have to magnetize them. How do you do that? You have to let them cathect you. What does that mean? You need to talk less than 50% of the time. ALWAYS say less than you think you need. Inject some SPACE into the conversation. If they are talking more than you, you pretty much aced the interview.

They will ask you what your next project is. Have an idea! Your next immediate project is to turn your dissertation into a book/ develop your thesis show into the next exhibition.  Do you understand the difference between a dissertation and a book, or a thesis show and a professional exhibition? Don't you realize that a book/exhibition is a PRODUCT that you sell in a shop/gallery? And that a dissertation/thesis show is a TRANSITIONAL OBJECT that turns you from a student into an expert? So you have to think how you're going to turn your dissertation chapters into book chapters/ get your work shown. Don't just say “spruce them up and put in some more arguments” or send your slides around. Have a REAL idea of how this will happen. 

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.  

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!  Believe it or not, these are people you're talking with. You might even have a proper conversation with them. You are not on trial. You desperately want a job. Try to get into a zone where you're just sharing ideas with equals. You might even learn something for your work. Take that attitude into the room. These guys may be your colleagues for the next thirty years. They are checking you out, to see if you're an okay human being, mostly. Stay human. In our job the temptation to become a samurai battling all and sundry is overwhelming. Drop that.  (let them lead).

If you find yourself in trouble, try this paranoia buster: there's this person called (insert your name here, I'll use mine). They happens to have the same name as you. What a strange coincidence.  Anyway, this person, Natalie, has a job interview/talk to give/whatever. You are her curator. Your job is to get her there and curate her work.  You introduce her. You field questions for her. You enable the interviewers/audience to have a good, workable exchange with her. You basically shepherd her in and out of the room and guide her through the interview.  If she gets attacked or misunderstood, your job is to keep the conversation fluid—don't let Natalie get stuck there. Don't take the attack personally. It's about “Natalie”—not little you. There's no real need to fend off hostility or get involved in arguments. 

You are curating Natalie. You aren't proving she's brilliant. You're simply showing people around the Natalie Gallery. Chatting with them about the paintings. You are open minded, curious and welcoming. Dumb and cheerful with a bit of a sense of humor is better than sharp and deadly and joyless.  Just let people enjoy the Natalie Gallery. The way they enjoy it might not be your way or you might dislike it, or it might be discrepant with others in the room—don't worry. The more people get into the exhibits in the Natalie Gallery the more they might ask Natalie to do a demo exhibition in their home town.

The on-campus interview.

The first five minutes AND NO LONGER you should use to pitch your project. “So tell us a bit about your work” is a common starting question. This is where your three sentences, ikebana style* (see below), will be put to use. Have you been practicing them? You should now have them down to something you can write in invisible ink on the side of your right forefinger. Warning: now is NOT the time to reinvent the wheel, prove you're smart or go into huge detail. Sketch out the vision (Heaven), the archive (Earth) and ONE discovery (Child). Then STOP. Let them hear it. Then let THEM speak.

You are in the interview. You are in a heightened state of awareness--your amygdala is in full effect. Don't run with it, don't give in to fight or flight. Despite what your amygdala is telling you  1: you can't actually read minds, so stay inside yours and not inside that hostile looking professor's over there on the sofa, 2: you can't control what the other is thinking so don't try. If they don't like you because of what you're wearing or their ideas about Deleuze, tough, 3: there is no big other. Really. These guys are people. Chill. Use the frontal cortex. Use your mirror neurons. Focus on your ikebana.

The point is still to magnetize them. How do you do that? You have to let them enjoy you. If you're putting out loads of barbs and defensive walls, even if you're offering lots of candy, they won't have space to do that. So be passionate but with a lot of SPACE. Let them do the work. Listen. Perform thinking. Be thoughtful with them. This is where your ikebana scores BIG. You have just ONE child, remember? Once you've put that out there, let it start a discussion. Let Heaven and Earth take care of themselves. The interview is about the kids.

Make your job talk different from the writing sample and be sure to pitch it to whatever level they are asking for. Frame the talk within your larger work.

When they ask you “Do you have any questions for us?” they are saying “This interview is over. Whatever we say next will be a kind of dummy question-and-answer thing, not part of the interview proper.” So DON'T become all heavy and serious at that point. There are stock questions you ask that perform “Hi, I know this is the end, you've been great and it's been a proper interview”—like “Can you tell me more about your students?” or “What opportunities are there for interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching?” DON'T use the time as an opportunity to prove yourself once again. NEVER, EVER ask them anything personal AT ALL (“Do you *like* working at X University?”). ALL those sorts of questions ignore the rule that there is an unspoken signal that the interview is over. Questions about departmental vibes, politics, money and pensions are FORBIDDEN. As are questions about “What happens next?” “Will you call me?” “How did I do?” Swallow hard. Smile. Exit. Let there be space.

Have at least TWO classes you can talk about. Handouts work. They don't have to be detailed—in a sense a sketch is better since you can fill it in more easily. Don't get lost in details. Use a basic ikebana style approach. Let them know about ONE thing your students will take away from each class.

(1) intro 101 style class in your field or in your department's main discipline

(2) specialized “dream” type advanced elective

Be ready to talk about how your research works in your teaching. This is a chance for you to show how you will meet their needs.

CURATE yourself.


If you can turn your thesis into three sentences—three statements, more accurately—you can rehearse and learn and digest them, and then forget the words and just have the meaning, so you can expand, vary, say it upside down, falling off a cliff, sitting in front of Saatchi, whatever.

Think of your three sentences as an IKEBANA FLOWER ARRANGEMENT.

1) Heaven.
2) Earth.
3) Child. (What happens when heaven and earth have sex)

1) Vision.
2) Methods, archives.
3) ONE highlight.

Members of the hiring committee need to know:

1) what the big picture is in your work.
2) how you did it (ethnography, close reading, exploring ideas x, y, z, history...).
3) ONE discovery/original conclusion.

They need to know it in PARAGRAPH 1 or 2 of your job letter.

They need to hear it in the FIRST sentences out of your mouth at interview.

A publisher/gallerist needs to hear it in the elevator.

YOU need to hear it. You need to know what you do. Surprisingly few of us do.