Friday, April 07, 2006

Explaining the unexplainable

Yesterday's thoughts about questions we can't ask job candidates reminded me of the horrible questions I've been asked on job interviews. Three stand out, from least to most horrible:

1. "You are planning to wear something that looks professional for the interview, aren't you?" This question came from one of my helpful colleagues about a week before the biggest interview of my life. My answer was something like, "Um, I've been dressing professionally every day. At least I think I have."

2. "What are the disadvantages of taking seven years off between the Masters and the Ph.D.?" Well, um, let's see: here I am at the age of 39 applying for my first tenure-track job...but on the other hand, my life has been rich in real-world experience that will enrich my teaching blah blah blah. What I really wanted to say was, "What are the disadvantages of going straight through school from kindergarten to the Ph.D. without taking a single break for breathing or living or having a family?" But that would be rude.

3. "Do you believe in Satan?" This came from a member of a search committee, who, fortunately, did not allow me to answer; instead, she named a member of the department I would be joining and said, "That man is the spawn of Satan." And she meant it.

It's just as well that she didn't give me a chance to answer because what could I say? My candidacy was already doomed because of my unprofessional garb and my unconventional career path; how much damage could I have done by disagreeing? "Spawn of Satan? I don't think so. Maybe second cousin once removed on Satan's distaff side, but I don't know about Spawn of Satan."

Nevertheless here I am. I got the job. I still suffer from the delusion that my wardrobe is fine, and I make no apologies for taking a few detours before finishing the Ph.D. The Spawn of Satan doesn't work here anymore but I understand he's doing quite well in his new endeavor. "Some careers just can't be explained," says one of my wonderful colleagues, and she's right. So instead of explaining, I think I'll just enjoy.

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