In keeping with an earlier post about the similarities between the secondary and collegiate job markets, I’ll start with the setting for the interviews. You know the “Pit” where many conference interviews take place for the MLA and AHA? (For those lucky enough to have avoided the pit, here is Daniel Kowalsky’s painfully accurate description from a CHE article:
The interviews take place in a massive convention hall which has been divided into hundreds of tiny, curtained cubicles. During the interview itself, you will hear swirling around you a symphony -- nay, a cacophony -- of voices identical to your own. If you don't know the answer to a given question -- for example, "How do you incorporate peer review into your teaching?" -- don't panic. In a moment or two, the answer will be supplied by a candidate sitting yards away, separated by that curtain.
Remarkably, the CSA meeting hall is worse: The tables are more closely packed together, and there are no curtains. Most horrifyingly, some schools held two interviews at the same table simultaneously: There would be two faculty members sitting across from two candidates conducting two interviews. I could only hope that the candidates were not applying for the same job. I never had the misfortune of sharing my table with another candidate, but without a doubt, the most difficult aspect of the interview was the noise. If the interviewer spoke in a soft voice, or if you had a loud-talker at a nearby table, half the questions were, “I beg your pardon?” At a few interviews, I found myself leaning across the table to hear a question, and half-worried that the interviewer might think I was coming in for a kiss. I should be clear that I do not mean this as a criticism – if there is a better way to conduct tons of interviews in a short time, I’ve never seen it.
The most surprising difference between the MLA and a CSA conference is that schools really do schedule interviews on site. When I arrived at the conference, I saw the table reserved by St. Prestigious Prep, and remembered that they were conducting a search in my field. I stopped by to chat with the guy sitting at the table, and found out he was the head of the middle school. It wasn’t ideal (I’m looking for an upper school position), but we talked for a while, and he suggested I set up a meeting with the head of the entire school for the next day. This would simply never, ever, ever, ever happen at a collegiate conference. The moral of the story is that my CSA Representative is right. If you want an interview, go ask for it. The chances are that you’ll get turned down – I was 1-for-12 – but all it takes is one.
As I said, more to come on this front, but right now I've only got time for small bites...