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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On interviewing

For most of my professional career, I have operated under the assumption that I am horrible at interviewing.  This opinion is largely based on my track record for  academic interviews, which was pretty dismal, no two ways about it.* 
Lately, I have realized that I am actually pretty good at talking with scientists whom I have never met before, even those who aren't in my subfield of chemistry.  As an introvert, I'm not very charismatic, but I am good at talking science and one on one conversations. Granted, I was more nervous during those early interviews, but I don't remember too many instances where the conversation lapsed or got awkward.  Likewise, I don't remember any instances where I got grilled horribly during seminar or proposal talks.  It's easier to see that now that I am on the other side.
Just the other day, I decided to track my job search results as a function of whether there were any women influential in the interview process.  By influential, I mean either a peer or boss.  For academic interviews where they have you interview with lots of people, some of whom are not in your subdiscipline and may not have much say in the decision, I have kind of arbitrarily defined it to include both organic and inorganic chemists. The numbers are not surprising, but the outcomes are.
Between 1988 and 2010, I have gone on approximately 30 interviews (including on campus interviews, summer internships, and postdoc interviews.)  The majority of those were in the 90's. There has been at least one woman involved in the hiring process in just 8 of those.  Sadly, in all of those 8 interviews there was just one woman at my level or higher.  For those interviews, I received 3 job offers, one invitation to a full interview which I declined because it was not a good fit, two situations where it was a very close call and I was the second choice but people involved in the search still tell me they wish they could've hired me, and just two jobs where I got neither offer nor anyone telling me that it was a close decision.  (It should also be noted that those two interviews were overall quite pleasant.)  That's a pretty good track record.
In contrast, in the approximately 23 situations where there were no women involved in the hiring process, I received a grand total of 3 job offers, 2 of which I took.  To my knowledge, I was not a "close call" at any of the places who did not make me an offer, either (although I did withdraw my application early for some of them because I had taken another offer).  So instead of a 40% success rate and an 75% "close call or better", I was batting about 0.130.
I've decided to stop thinking of myself as a horrible interviewee and will henceforth work at improving my weaknesses and playing up my strengths, while acknowledging that it really wasn't a level playing field.

* The mid-1990's were not a great time to go looking for work as a synthetic inorganic chemist, either in academics or industry, so this may be one major reason as well.  The few people that did get hired for the academic jobs were mostly very application oriented.  About ten years later, the academic market really turned around, and  there are a whole slew of folks hired between 2005 and now. 

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