Joint Meetings: Hunting the Wild Job

by Tom Wright

In a previous post on this blog, I listed and discussed a number of things not to do during a job search, mostly from the experience of having done them and then later wishing I hadn’t. However, I left off one of the most important categories: things you shouldn’t do at the joint meetings. Having recently completed a Joint Meetings of indeterminate success, I figured that now would be a good time to rectify that omission.

First of all, if you are on the market, you should absolutely go to the joint meetings. If you are looking for a teaching job, the schools will want to give you an interview, and let’s face it, face-to-face interviews are much better than face-to-phone ones; many potential employers go to the joint meetings for exactly this reason, so you should as well. If you are looking for more of a research position, you should go to the joint meetings and tell everyone you meet that you are on the market; even if Bob at University of Teaching can’t help you, he may be able to refer to his friend Robbie Researcher at Research Tech or give you some advice about what you should be doing differently or whom you should contact.

Moreover, you should sign up to give a talk. If a school is interested in you, giving a talk is a good way to show off your skills as a teacher and a researcher in one fell swoop.

Now, about what you shouldn’t do:

Don’t wait to contact schools. At the beginning of the meetings last year, I looked at the posted job announcements and thought, “Some of these look interesting – maybe I’ll leave my application with them in a couple of days once I get a feel for how the meetings are going.” Big mistake. By the third day (when I finally got around to dropping off some CV’s) many of the registered employers had gone home, and by the fourth day of the conference, there might as well have been tumbleweeds rolling across the floor of the Employment Center.

If you want to contact an employer at the meetings, do so right at the beginning. Employers aren’t going to wait around, and, particularly in this economy, schools aren’t paying for hotel stays that are any longer than necessary.

Don’t put your Social Security Number on your CV. Just trust me. I learned this one last year.

Don’t be in your hotel room during the day unless you have a good reason. If you need a nap or a quiet place to prepare for your next interview, you can go to your room, but you’re not going to improve your job prospects or improve your standing in the math community by watching “The Price is Right” on your hotel room TV. The same goes for hanging out in the grad student area or another a quiet corner of the meetings or in a circle of friends from your grad school at a nearby coffee shop. The meetings are aptly named for the fact that you get to meet people, which is the only way for you to become a part of the mathematical community; don’t waste the oppportunity. If you do want to hang out and chat with friends, at least do it in a high-traffic area in the middle of the meetings so that you may still have the opportunity to meet people.

On a related note, usually one of the hotels at the meetings is designated as the headquarters. If at all possible, stay there. It’s tremendously useful to have a place where you can quickly access extra copies of your resume or go take a quick nap. It’s also an easy way to network, since you will constantly be running into people in the lobby.

If you have a lot of interviews, don’t plan on going to too many talks; pick (in advance) the ones that are important, go to those, and skip the rest. After my fifth interview in a day, I tried to sit in a number theory session for a while. Given how mentally exhausted I was, it was an entirely fruitless endeavor; all of the talks sounded like they were being delivered by Charlie Brown’s parents. If you’ve got a whole bunch of interviews, your remaining brain capacity is going to be rather limited, so use it smartly.

In interviews, give complete answers but know when to stop talking. Answering the questions is important, but your answers can’t be rambling manifestos or else the interviewers lose track of the important points. Save the filibusters for D.C. where they belong.

Unfortunately, for those like me who refuse to use ten words when twenty would suffice, this isn’t easy. However, there is an antidote: think about your answers in advance. The AMS has all manner of articles on their EIMS site that will prepare you for the types of questions you will be asked on an interview; read and respond to them. Reread your teaching statement and learn how to summarize the important parts.

And finally…

Interviews don’t end when you get up from the table; sometimes, interactions you have with your interviewers outside of the Employment Center can change your prospects for better or for worse. In light of this, make a concerted effort to remember the faces of your interviewers and associate them with the correct school. This isn’t always easy; remembering what your third set of interviewers looked like when you’ve just gotten out of interview number twelve can be a bit of a challenge, but the Joint Meetings are a small place, and you will undoubtedly run into some of your interviewers in the hallways or at talks. Plus, even if a school doesn’t hire you, your current interviewers will be your future colleagues in the field of mathematics, and it’s always embarrassing (and a little demeaning) to forget someone you talked to for a half-hour the day before.

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3 Responses to Joint Meetings: Hunting the Wild Job

  1. Brie says:

    One thing to be prepared for is the following interview question: “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
    My friends and I were constantly asked this question. And you don’t want to be left staring slack-jaw at the interviewer or saying things that sound like you are writing a personal ad. Make sure you say things that highlight what MAKES YOU DIFFERENT from every other candidate. If you’ve travelled extensively, written children’s stories, performed in off-broadway play, done construction work, been the first in your family to get a doctorate, or run marathons, don’t leave that out.

    TW: Great point. There’s really no reason not to be ready for this question or its logical follow up, “Why do you want to work here?” Sometimes, the interviewer will combine the two and simply ask, “Why should we hire you?”, thereby forcing to explain both why you are interesting AND why you want to work there.

  2. Diana says:

    This is great advice. I was waiting to see what you would write in your update, and you did not disappoint! These are very useful tips, especially non-obvious ones like the SSN, not frying your brain with too many talks, and which hotel to stay in.

    TW: Thanks, Diana!

    It surprised me how useful that hotel advice was. In fact, even if you can’t get a room in the headquarters hotel, I still recommend making yourself at home there; hang out in the lobby and use their Wifi, use it as a meeting place to meet up with people, do whatever it is you’d normally do at a hotel (except sleep there, I suppose). It’s worth it for the sheer volume of people you’ll run into.

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