Saturday, April 24, 2010

Do You Have Any Questions For Us?

I interviewed for a faculty/media position a few weeks back at a university that shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say that the main campus is about five hours southeast of Longview. Its fans wear lots of purple and are considered quite rabid in their devotion to their athletic teams — football in particular. And the mascot is a large feline. You can take it from there.

Anyway, I didn’t get the job. Nobody got the job, as it turned out. I was informed that the search would begin anew, that the committee elected not to choose any of the three finalists, including yours truly. I don’t know who the other two finalists were.

I suspect money woes might have had more to do with the decision, or non-decision, since the job has not been re-posted. The entire three days I was there, the newspaper was filled with dire headlines about draconian budget cuts proposed at said university — a common practice these days, sadly. Lord knows the football program won’t see any real cuts, but most other programs at universities across the country face cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs.

This is the first time in more than 20 years that I have interviewed at a university. (I didn’t get hired that time, either) My Beautiful Mystery Companion, who has experience in these matters, had warned me it would be a grueling experience. Truth be told, now that I have endured such a session, I would rather eat busted glass with a bleach chaser. And actually, there were really nice people. But after two-and-half days of non-stop smiling and talking, making nice and continually being asked one question again and again, I was ready to: well, no matter.
Here is the question:

Do you have any questions for us?

My BMC warned me this is an academic trick. What she didn’t warn me is that I would be asked this by every dadgum person with whom I spoke, and I was flopped on the griddle with about 15 different people.

Do you have any questions for us?

I did all right the first couple of times when asked because actually, I did have a couple of questions. Except the two questions I really wanted answers to can’t be asked, I was told by folks in the know. Those questions are:

How much does the job pay?
When are you people going to make a decision?

It is considered poor form to ask either of these — which to my way of thinking are pretty darned basic questions that shouldn’t even have to be asked. They should tell you up front so if it doesn’t pay enough, or they’re not going to decide, being academia — which moves typically at glacial speed — until next Christmas, you can move on to the next job listing.

Newspaper jobs are usually up front about those key details. Not academia. You just have to wait until eventually the two main items you really care about — money and timing — are revealed from upon high. It is a goofy system, in my view.

Do you have any questions for us?

Good grief, I thought at one point. If I sent out a reporter on an assignment who sat there and asked the person being interviewed, “So, do you have any questions for me?” I would be looking for a new reporter quite soon. I am the one being interviewed. These people are the ones supposed to be asking the questions, and I am supposed to be dazzling them with my brilliant answers. Instead I am having to make up questions so as not to repeat myself.

At the final dinner, with the department chair, I broke the interview rule and had a glass of wine, since he did as well. The rule, again according to those in the know, is that the applicant should never drink, even if everyone else is downing tequila shots and licking the salt off each other’s wrists. By the final night, I bent the rule and had a glass of cabernet. Sure enough, he asked me:

Do you have any questions for us?

I looked at him and said I was flat questioned out. We spent the rest of the night talking politics and sharing war stories. We got along well.

On the way home I popped the question. Exactly how much does this job pay, anyway? He told me.

Of course, it turned out to be a moot point. But I had to ask.


  1. Oh I hate "Do you have any questions for us?" It seems such a trap, and as you said, the REAL questions needing to be answered are considered gauche. I once fumbled, "Is there a dress code?"

    Pretty weak.

  2. My favorite question was, "What time do you have to be at work?" And when I said, "Oh, about eight," the applicant asked, "In the morning?"

    She didn't get the job.