In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, Amanda writes:
So I think it would be helpful/fun to have an "Interviews gone wrong" post where people share their stories of, well, interviews gone wrong. This might not only help people learn what to avoid, but serve empathetic purposes for those on the market.
I agree. Sharing stories of interviews gone wrong might not only help candidates learn what to avoid, and serve empathetic purposes. It might also give candidates a better idea of the kinds of unexpected things that can happen during interviews to cause them to go awry. Finally, it might also give search committees and hiring institutions important information on things to avoid, so as to better ensure that candidates get a fair shake to succeed in interviews. I suppose, then, that I will kick things with a couple of stories of my own - and then invite you to share your stories!
My first story isn't an "interview gone wrong" so much as it is a case of what I think was a rather unfortunate interview question. During my final year on the market, I was asked about halfway through a Skype interview, "Why do you think you've been on the job-market for so many years?" I gave what I think is the only right answer--basically, "The academic job-market is really tough." While I suppose the search committee thought it a fair question to ask, I have to confess that it took me off-guard, and that I found it vaguely insulting. Further, given that the search committee presumably didn't ask the same question of every candidate, it also seems to me a poor interviewing practice--as structured interviews (where every candidate is asked the same question) are known to be more objective and twice as reliable in predicting job success than unstructured ones. Still, in the grand scheme of things, it was more annoying that an "interview gone wrong"--and fortunately, I don't recall having many first-round interviews that seemed like total catastrophes.
My second story, on the other hand, is of an on-campus interview gone very wrong. During my second-to-final year on the market, I had a flyout at a research university far abroad, in a country I had never been to but had always been intrigued by. Unfortunately, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. First, although there were some decent flights available that (if I recall) were only a few hundred dollars more than the one the school arranged, the school purchased the cheapest ticket, which just happened to be (A) an overnight flight to London, followed by (B) a six-hour layover and airport transfer in London, followed by (C) another overnight flight to my final destination. Now, sleeping on overnight flights is difficult enough for many people. However, if that weren't enough, as I have explained before, I have a sleep disorder. While my disorder is fortunately quite well-treated, I couldn't sleep on either overnight flight--so I arrived at my on-campus interview without having slept in two days, and having to grapple with a 7-hour time change. Suffice it to say, I wasn't exactly on my 'A-game' when the on-campus visit began the next morning. As recent studies show, the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation are similar to being drunk--and I have to admit, that's pretty much what I felt like.
Anyway, the on-campus visit began at 9am next morning with the most intimidating interview I have ever had. I was taken into a board room and seated at a big long table with about 10-12 people, including the entire philosophy department and several upper-level administrators (if I recall, a dean, provost, etc.). I've never had an interview like that before or since, and it was a complete disaster. Immediately following that, I had my job-talk. Although I think I had asked in advance if there would be A/V equipment there, there wasn't any--only a smallish whiteboard. That made things a bit difficult, given that I was prepared for and accustomed to giving powerpoint presentations. Fortunately, aside from making a total mess of the tiny whiteboard, which didn't have nearly enough room for information, I didn't think it was a disaster. The teaching demo immediately afterward, however, was a disaster. They didn't have A/V in that classroom either, so all I had was my printed powerpoint slides. But I then made an inexplicable decision--which I can only chalk up to sleep-deprivation, or else perhaps to an subconscious desire to totally torpedo the rest of the flyout: I disregarded my lecture notes entirely and gave an extemporaneous talk featuring none of my usual teaching practices, such as short exercises to stimulate student involvement. It was a total debacle. Then we went to the most awkward lunch I have ever been to, where it was clear from the look on everyone's faces that the visit had been just as much of a disaster as I'd thought. Anyway, that was followed by two more overnight flights back home, followed by a full, six-hour day of teaching the day after. Good times.
Anyway, these are just two of my own stories. I'm not embarrassed by them. I prepared for both interviews for weeks, and (clearly) stuff happens. I also want to be clear that I'm not sharing the stories to embarrass the other individuals or institutions involved. I'm sure they were doing their best, and I've avoided giving any information that might reveal publicly which schools or individuals were involved. I share the stories simply for the reasons given earlier: I think it can be beneficial to learn how interviews can go wrong so that candidates, search committees, and institutions can better ensure that candidates are in a fair position to perform well.
Do you have any good stories of interviews gone wrong? If so, please feel free to share them! However, in the process, please be sure not to include any identifying information. This, once again, is a safe and supportive blog. Our aim is to help early-career philosophers, not publicly embarrass people!