Why was I interviewed: a hypothesis

Posted: December 7, 2015 by jennysaul in Uncategorized

Several years ago, I was on the job market for the very first time while still a grad student. I had a nearly non-existent publication record, I didn’t have a PhD, I had almost no teaching experience, and my school is pretty low in the rankings. I was young, I was inexperienced, and that meant I was a horrible candidate. And yet, I got a fair number of interviews. I got more first round interviews for TT positions that year than I did for several of the following years, despite more experience, better CV, etc. I view this as a puzzle.

What I also view as puzzling is the atmosphere I encountered at these interviews. They were… dismissive. Over and over, I was interrupted, belittled. I got the whole “How does your work even count as philosophy?” question at one of them. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a single second-round interview out of any of them.

Now, I’m okay with this. I was a bad candidate; I needed experience in NTT positions to be a better candidate. But I have been left with the puzzle: with the market as terrible as it is, with the field flooded with so many great applicants, why did I even get those interviews in the first place?

There are a number of potential explanations. I can’t know what the search committees were thinking. But I keep coming back to these facts: I was a woman, and I was obviously not the best candidate in their pool of applicants. I was a woman, and it would be extremely easy for them to justify not hiring me over some other candidate. I was a woman, and, as I later saw, every one of those positions went to a man.

I paid money to attend the APA that year, to make it to those interviews. I put work into preparing for them. I suppose I should be grateful that I got practice interviewing. But I am left with the suspicion that I was a prop for those search committees. Given everything I know now about how job searches are run, I can’t help but think that those search committees used me to make their searches look gender equal, knowing they wouldn’t have to work hard to justify not actually ruling me out after the first round.

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