I recently had an interview for a job I really wanted, but didn’t get. It was a job that would have given me two years of time to dig into my new project, develop some cool public engagement programmes, make interesting connections with other scholars (both in and outside ancient history), and think about what interdisciplinary collaboration looks like for an academic (like me) whose research is not interdisciplinary (spoiler: interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaboration and training is still valuable!). It’s a great sounding position and the person who got it is going to have a great time. But, that person wasn’t me – and so, here comes the next round of dealing with disappointment.
It’s one thing to not get through to interviews. I actually find those rejections quite easy to deal with – either I had not fit what the selection panel was looking for, or had not sold myself very well in my application materials. It’s difficult when the feedback you (rarely, at this stage) receive points to the fact that there is a huge population of un- or under-employed PhDs and there are people going for entry-level jobs who have significantly more experience than you – a relatively fresh PhD. That’s something important to talk about, but a topic for another time.
But this job, that I didn’t get. I have to admit I did not handle not getting this job very well. I think my interview went really well, and I am happy with my performance. Although I didn’t get this job, as my (non-academic) sister tells me, interviewing is like football. You only get better with practice. You can obviously never tell what anyone else’s interviews, projects, or ideas are like, but I don’t feel like I totally bombed mine. When I got the email, I cried. I am sharing this low moment with you because I know I cannot be the only person who has cried after not getting a job they were invested in getting. Or even one they were less invested in getting.
While I only apply for jobs I actually want and believe I can do well, there are obviously some jobs that are more attractive than others – jobs that will give me time for both teaching and research are number one on my list, because I really enjoy doing both, I’m good at both, and I want to be in academia so I can do both. But, I am also realistic about my position as a (very new) early career academic, so I give each application as much attention as I can. That’s why it always difficult to be unsuccessful. But in times like this, when I am feeling low and help/hopeless, I try and remember that each application – the time, effort, and care put into each document – isn’t a waste. It’s all good practice, it’s an opportunity to think more clearly about my research plans and teaching philosophy.
And, that’s doubly true for falling at the last hurdle – getting to interview, imagining how you and your research and ideas would fit into a position and a department. All that is good practice, all that is good preparation.
For a few tips on making sure these unsuccessful interviews are good practice: try to write down the questions you were asked, as well as a few points about your answer and your performance, as soon as you can after coming out of the interview. Remember what you felt went well, what connected with the panel members, and things which you felt you didn’t answer so clearly. Then, ask for feedback (if it’s not offered up), and see if that matches up to your own notes.
Let yourself cry, if that’s your style. Let yourself feel rubbish, and eat ice-cream, and lay in bed watching reruns of House. And then, pick yourself up and make the next application, next interview better. You’ll get the job you’re meant to get, and so will I.