One Word Would Have Made A Difference
Community college. Really? All this work, and all I could get was community college teaching work? You needed an M.A. to teach at a community college, and most of the instructors had that. Having two M.A.s and a PhD seemed like overkill, but they wanted to talk to me.
The first round of interviews went very well. I walked into the room smiling, and saw a rather large group sitting around a conference table. One chair was at the head of the table and I was asked to sit in what I jokingly called “the hot seat.” That broke the ice. People laughed and the questions started. I answered honestly and was confident in my demeanor. After the initial questions were over, I was asked to teach for 15 minutes in front of them. They supplied the topics, and I got up and performed what I thought was a so-so lecture on the WTO protests. I thanked them after it was over, and figured that it was good practice for future interviews. As I was leaving, I had a feeling I wasn’t even in the running, so my expectations for a call back were low.
A couple of days later, they asked me to come back for a second interview — which would decide if I got the job or not. I showed up to campus, and waited outside the president’s office. After about five minutes, I was ushered into another conference room (this one was pretty nice) and asked to answer questions that were on a piece of paper in front of me. It should be noted, in the interest of fairness, the committee asked the same questions to each candidate, so that was somewhat comforting. Things were going well, they showed me what I would make if I was offered the job (it was about $57,000), and then things were wrapping up — or so I thought. I was getting up to shake hands with everyone, when the college president said, “Wait. There’s one more question that needs to be asked.”
“Whoops. Okay, please ask away,” I said as I sat down.
The president read in a very robotic way, “If you were offered this job, would you take it.”
“Wow,” I thought, ” What a silly question. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t serious about the job.”
Instead of saying “Yes,” and moving on to handshakes, a passage from an academic career book I read flashed in my head. It was a section on job offer questions where no formal offer is on the table. I thought it was sound advice, but it was advice that cost me the job.
“Well, I grew up in this area,” I intoned. “I went to grad school on the east coast because I wanted to better my chances of teaching in California. I had a chance to walk around the school before our interview and I really like the campus. Many of the students I observed looked like they were dedicated to their studies, and all of you have been very welcoming. I am waiting on two possible teaching positions in other parts of the country, and if a formal offer came from you, I would certainly consider it…” I could feel a slight but noticeable recoil in the room.
A day later, I got a rejection from the division dean. She was quite cheerful when she called, told me how much they all enjoyed meeting me, and said I had real talent as a teacher. There was a pause, and I looked over at Julie — who was looking at me with such anticipation and a kind of “Please, please, please, I hope they offer you the job” look.”But we won’t be able to offer you at position at the college. Okay? Best of luck on your career,” she concluded.
“Um, before you go, could you tell me why?” I asked.
“Well, we decided to offer the position to another candidate,” She said with that annoying chirp in her voice.
“I see. However, I want to know if there was anything in my presentation or during my second interview that signaled I wasn’t the right candidate for the job? I’m asking so I can better prepare myself for future interviews,” I said.
“I don’t have anymore to add, because I can’t say anything further for legal reasons. Okay? Good luck.” She hung up, but her voice never wavered from that unusually upbeat delivery.
I hung up the phone, and Julie just looked crushed. I probably looked that way, too.
After that loss, I got rejections letters from the other two schools that looked promising. I was back at zero. If I only said “yes” how my fortunes would have changed. I felt like an idiot for relying so much on advice that wasn’t very sound.