I recently applied for a short-term academic post. Ironic, given some of my previous articles about moving on from academia. I’ve worked outside academia for some 10 years now, but this post drew me back in. In my head, I was the perfect fit. It required core skills that I had built up over the preceding 10 years outside academia. I got an interview but did not get the job.
It left me asking why on two counts? Firstly, why did I let my guard drop, like a liaison with an old flame, I re-entered a world I had left behind for a reason, why was I drawn back? Secondly, why didn’t I get the job? I could not imagine how there would have been a more qualified person for a three-month role.
So what went wrong? Did they take offence to my northern accent, my larger than life beard or perhaps the cut of my suit? Of course, they had their reasons, of which, I dwelled on every word, not able to recognise what they were saying. It felt like high-level tosh. I felt swindled. But in truth, I was offended, but not disappointed.
I recalled the out of place feeling I’d had in their new glass-walled, concrete clad building, wondering how it had recently been awarded for its sustainability? The feeling I had when I entered the high gloss interview room, electric blinds and other gadgets (had I entered the set of the apprentice?) – academia felt like it had become exclusive and sharp-edged. It didn’t feel like home. Perhaps they recognised my misgivings?
My interview experience got me thinking about how to rationalise this experience, how to deal with this rejection and what I could pass on to others who are also feeling the post-interview blues. Here are my words of wisdom:
You didn’t fail
First and foremost, you did not fail. You won because you were fearless of putting yourself on the line, opening yourself up to acceptance or rejection. You are a brave soul, and you should celebrate the fact you took the chance. The outcome was always a lottery, but you put yourself in the frame. Be proud.
Don’t be bitter about not getting the job. But equally, don’t be afraid of asking questions and trying to unpack their reasoning, especially if you feel like it will help you in the future. You don’t have to accept what they say, add a pinch of salt and always look for the positives.
The interview process is not neutral
It’s important to understand that the interview process is not neutral and can be skewed by bias and subjectivity. Of course, respect your interviewers, but remember they are human and will get things wrong. You didn’t get the job, but that does not mean you were not the best person for it.
Sometimes interview feedback does not seem to add-up and leaves you wondering whether you have a communication problem. It’s common for potential employers to provide fudge feedback, possibly overemphasising some of your weaknesses to justify not employing you, despite the possibility that you outperformed others in the key areas.
It’s not acknowledged much, but the truth is, interview success often comes down to personalities, backgrounds – a sense of shared culture and experiences, but it’s not a losing battle, and I would like to think most interview panels are beyond discrimination nowadays.
Be aware of the internal candidate
Universities may identify internal candidates for a role prior to advertising the job. If you are an outsider you have a big mountain to climb. This practice should be carefully looked at and more robustly regulated to ensure nepotism within the interview process is removed.
Nevertheless, I have witnessed internal candidates lined up for posts, only for them not to be offered it because their interview did not go well. If you are up against an internal candidate, it does not mean they are guaranteed the job. You will often have a good chance, but the reality is they often have a major advantage.
You need to feel at home.
If you don’t feel comfortable within a certain institutional setting, you’re getting bad vibes from a place. Then you must be prepared to accept that perhaps that place is not for you. Don’t be afraid to turn down a post if you don’t feel at home there, but don’t forget that sometimes it takes time to settle in a new environment. In other words, that feeling has to be pretty strong for it to affect your interview performance, or indeed make you decide to turn down a role.
Accept it was not to be, but don’t give up.
You will get better at interviews and much quicker too if you can stay open hearted and open minded, don’t take things too seriously and learn from previous efforts. It’s very easy to be disheartened by the interview process, especially in the highly competitive world of academia. But to keep going forwards you need to keep level-headed, stay focused on your interest and where you want to get to.
It sometimes takes time to accept, to remove the negativity, and be positive post-interview. But if you understand these emotions are normal and will evolve with time into more positive thoughts, you will be a much stronger person and better placed to go through the interview rollercoaster again. Stay positive, because your chance will come.