As luck would have it, almost immediately after I wrote this post arguing that we should commit ourselves in our actions to making the discipline just a little bit better for those around us--in ways large and small--I came across a comment over at the Smoker that bummed me out. The comment reads:
First, I'd encourage drinking. I'm always put off if we have a job finalist out who declines a simple beer. I mean is this really someone I want to spend 30 years with? If I had to pick between someone who didn't drink at all and someone who looked like they had fun, I'd take the latter one every single time.
Second, let me reiterate the importance of researching faculty. I can't believe how many people show up and are like "oh hi, what do you do?" Well, it's on the website. And I have like 100 publications so, if you don't know, what are you doing?
But, basically, just be fun. Nobody wants to hire weirdos. You're obviously good at philosophy if you have a fly-out, just make sure that prospective colleagues know you're also good at life.
I try not to get too worked up over blog comments, but--in part because I am an unashamed introvert (you know, the kind of person that most of society seems to consider "weird":)), and partly because I've known more than a few good people who do not drink for good reasons--this comment struck me as all kinds of wrong. Our discipline, and reasonable parts of society, rightly condemn discrimination on a variety of bases: racism, gender discrimination, discrimination against people with disabilities, etc. Other forms of discrimination, however, are also insidious. Consider the person who doesn't drink, either on moral grounds (they know the statistics, they have seen alcohol ruin lives, etc.) or because alcholism runs in their family. The above commenter--a person who appears to have been involved in hiring decisions--has basically advocated discriminating against both sets of people, ostensibly on the grounds that if a person does not accept an offer for a beer, they are "no fun." While I am not a teetotaler myself, I totally respect those who are--and so, I think, should we all. We should definitely not label them "weirdos."
Similarly, consider the remark, "nobody wants to hire a weirdo" and the comment, "just make sure that prospective colleagues know you're also good at life." Although these remarks may seem innocuous--and I have heard similar things many times--it is all too easy to forget what kind of people can considered "weirdos": people who are introverted, people who have Asperger's syndrome, people who are solemn of mood, etc. Such people may be brilliant philosophers and great colleagues despite being "weird"--despite, in some cases, having a genuine medical condition (e.g. Aspergers)--and yet this person is suggesting that "weirdos" should be passed over in favor of people who are "good at life."
Now, look, I get the point that you don't want to hire someone who you are not going to enjoy working with--and you certainly shouldn't want to hire a person who will behave badly. Still, it is important to be careful. It is important to realize that a person refusing a beer, or being an introvert, or whatever, is not a good reason to think the person will be anything but a good, even fun colleague--and indeed, that judging a person as a candidate on such grounds may involve a kind of discrimination against people with certain personality traits, background experiences (alcoholism in their family), and medical conditions. Second, and just as relevantly, as I have mentioned before, there is a lot of empirical evidence which suggests that many of the things people in hiring positions tend to prioritize in interviews--extraversion, among other things--have poor predictive value in terms of job performance (notably, people consistently rate extraverts as more attractive candidates in interviews, but introverts actually have somewhat better job evaluations on average--one going explanation for this is that introverts actually spend more time working and less time socializing!).
I'd like to conclude on a more positive note. The commenter who wrote, "nobody wants to hire weirdos", is factually wrong. I would hire a "weirdo" in a heartbeat. In my experience, they keep life interesting, give a workplace character, and, often enough, bring a unique perspective to the table--all things worth valuing. Nobody wants to hire weirdo? Bah, humbug! (I know it's after the Christmas season, but I haven't had a good excuse to use the phrase until now). :)