Adventures in job-hunting

Have you ever had a job interview that didn’t go well? (I’m guessing your answer is “yes.”) Who’s had one that seemed doomed from the start? (Yeah, I see those hands rising.) You may not relate to the profession, but the situation I’m about to describe is likely familiar. You may not have had the very same experiences, but I’ll bet you’ve had some that were similar.

Back when I was in campus ministry, or at least trying to be, I set up a job-search file with an ecumenical organization that had a presence on many college campuses across the country. I was working as director of a local, non-profit service agency, when I got a notice that the campus ministry program at one small university in the mid-west had expressed interest in me.

They arranged to fly me out for an interview. For reasons I don’t recall, it had to be wedged in between commitments I had at home through a Saturday evening and a seminar nearby at which I was to speak on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. It seems possible that my schedule would’ve been more flexible from that Wednesday afternoon through the upcoming weekend.

They booked me on an odyssey that began early Sunday morning. I landed twice along the way, changing planes at the second stop, before reaching a large airport across the state from the school. There I was met by someone from the organization’s national office.

First we had to connect. He had me paged, but had my first name wrong. Hearing someone else’s first name, I didn’t focus on the rest of the announcement. But I asked myself, Didn’t the last name sound like mine? Could it have been meant for me? But why would he not have the correct name? As I pondered, the page was repeated. I went to the designated meeting spot. Yes, the guy didn’t really know my name.

Then we set out in his car, swinging by another big airport to pick up one of his colleagues. Apparently the plan was for them to get to know me along the way. One might think that a preferred alternative would’ve been for the two of us flying in to have landed closer to the school, and the three of us to have gotten acquainted there rather than in a car. But one who might think that didn’t make the plans. We stopped for a quick evening meal. At some point it started to snow. The campus was covered by the time we got there.

I went directly from the car into a building with a large meeting room for the official interview. Tables were arranged in a large circle and filled with people. My job interview would be conducted by 27 individuals. That is about two dozen more than ideal.

I had not heard of this school before the initial inquiry came. As I began the interview, I had taken less than a dozen steps on the campus, and my feet had not made direct contact, thanks to the blanket of snow upon which I had walked. I hadn’t even ever been in that state before. I knew nothing of the resources for and past programming of the campus ministry there. I had some experience and ideas on which to draw in a general way, of course, but I couldn’t lay out for them at that moment a program tailored to that community.

I had an assigned host for the brief visit. First he took me to my lodging for the night. I was put up in a private room with bath in a women’s dorm. It was on the ground floor and had its own entrance from the outside, apparently designated for guests. All the typical dorm-room furniture had been pulled away from the walls (for painting? cleaning?) — and not put back. The single bed was near the middle of the room; the other pieces were scattered about. It felt sort of like sleeping in a small warehouse. But I did sleep, after a welcomed shower.

My host picked me up the next morning, Monday, for breakfast and a day of gathering information that would’ve been useful in the previous night’s Q & A. There was a tour of the campus, including a visit to the campus ministry offices. The tour of the small town included stops at 2-3 key supporting churches. I met more people. Conversations revealed more about how this program looked, past successes and failures, hopes and expectations. A couple of hours of this activity on the day before might have been more helpful to me than riding across the state.

One person I met was the token Jewish faculty member, also known for his left-leaning politics (maybe a token there as well). My host seemed to regard him as a friend, but didn’t pronounce his name correctly.

A few people were selected to have lunch and dinner with me. So there was informal, but mostly pertinent conversation at both that day. After dinner, I was taken to the small airport in a neighboring town. I boarded a small plane that took me to a larger airport for the first of two plane changes. The overall route meandered eastward.

I was scheduled to get back in time for my Tuesday morning conference, fortified by whatever in-flight naps I could catch and, of course, plenty of coffee. Fog at the second connection, however, intervened. I missed the first day of my commitment, though those in charge were understanding.

The potential employer and I didn’t make good enough impressions on each other to proceed. File it under learning experience. At least I learned some things, and I have to think they did, too. The flight delay taught me that is is unwise to rely on an air-travel schedule with no wiggle room. I hope we both learned not to shoehorn such an occasion into such a tight time frame and to find a way for the candidate’s job interview not to be conducted before any orientation.

Another lesson would be to have 3-4 people conduct the direct interview and report to the larger body. (O.K., I had already known that.) The value of using a professional travel agent to book the flight is yet another potential lesson.

I thought about beginning this entry with something about having spent a week there one day. But that wouldn’t have been accurate. It was more like “2-3 days in 30 hours.” And the days were in reverse order.

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