My Life in Interviews
Written by
Cece Box
July 2011
Written by
Cece Box
July 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011


         For some reason, I find myself thinking today about job interviews I’ve been on.  Job interviews are the first dates of the business/academic world, when everything hinges on first impressions.

         There are the pre-interview hurdles, of course; you’re lucky to get to an actual face-to-face meeting, and what’s on paper can’t possibly prepare either the interviewer or the interviewee.

         I recall interviewing for an academic position at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.  Spokane is a wonderful town, a place anyone in their right mind would love to live.  I, at the time a kind of Lapsed Baptist/Buddhist/Metaphysical Seeker, on the lam from traditional religion, found myself having lunch in the dining hall of Gonzaga with a group of earnest nuns and a priest or two.

         I didn’t get the job. 

         Academic interviews always seemed to involve, at some point, commuter airlines and flights to obscure airports, small towns and featureless hotels.

         There was a weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Deep South.  I desperately needed a job, my business position about to drain out from underneath me, and again, I looked good on paper.  The trouble was, what I was “good at” on paper (instructional technology), and what I was actually good at, yes, really good at (educational psychology), were two different things.  Unfortunately, the people looking to hire wanted what they saw on paper, on my resume.  Inexplicably, they were filling the position I’d applied for, not the position I actually wanted, which was already held by someone else.

         That someone else clearly detected my preferences, and it was he who ended up volunteering to take me on the obligatory tour of the community on a humid spring Saturday afternoon.  He spent several hours driving me around, showing me neighborhoods, and badmouthing the school, the town, the faculty, not so subtly trying to scare me away.  The very fact that I would be working with this man who believed (and rightly so) that I wanted his job, not the one I was interviewing for, was enough to slow any enthusiasm I had. 

         That dampening of enthusiasm was furthered by the, well, dampness.  The humidity of a coastal climate felt as oppressive to me as the undercurrent of lingering racism my tour guide was eager to point out.

         Nor did it help that at dinner the night before, in what I thought was a socially adept gesture, I had asked “what’s the local specialty?” and accordingly ordered the crab cakes.  I like crab cakes.

         These crab cakes did not like me.  Seriously did not like me.  All night long.

         In spite of everything, I was offered that job, and in spite of everything, I was about to accept, for the very good reason that I was losing the job I had, and had no other prospects.

         But then, sometimes fate intervenes.  The last day at work on the old job, with the contract in the mail from North Carolina, I received a call about 2 p.m. from a contact at the University of Wyoming.

         I had previously earned a campus interview at UW, even though on a preliminary conference call interview – at an ungodly 8 a.m. – I had been asked a question casually referring to a theory they just assumed I knew.   I’d never heard of it.  Feeling excessively stupid, I punted for a few minutes, trolling for elaboration, until I picked up enough clues to realize what the hell they were talking about, and then I was off and running in my usual articulate style.  They invited me up to Laramie.

         Flying into Laramie, Wyoming, on the first day of May: a gloomy gray sky, and light snow.  Actually, the 20-seater puddle jumper out of Denver nose-dived into Laramie at such a steep angle that all I could see, peering ahead through the pilot’s windshield (in the days before secure cockpit doors), was bare ground ahead.  The airport is out of town, set on a piece of turf I later learned was an eco-system like only one other in the world.  That one’s in Siberia.  No kidding.

         But Laramie, set as it is in a kind of large, arid wash where naturally occurring heavy metals leach into the water and the soil, everything about the place harsh and unforgiving, actually boasts a pretty little campus; at 7200 feet altitude it is enveloped in crisp mountain air.  It is heaven for lovers of the outdoors, and hell for lovers of culture.  Unlike the sticky, oppressive feel of Wilmington, though, Laramie felt open and welcoming.

         I didn’t get the job.

Which was why I was preparing to slink off to Wilmington, until the phone rang, and Laramie said hello again.

         The job I had interviewed for had indeed been filled, but then one of the professors in the department (coincidentally an academic friend of mine) had decided to decamp to Florida.  I had been their second choice for the first position.  Would I be interested?

         Yes. Yes. Yes.

         It would play out that two years in Laramie were enough for me.  Back to the applications.  Eventually, I got a call from just down Interstate 25. 

At my interview in Denver, I was being escorted across campus after my first hour of talks, and my escort confidentially whispered, “You already have this job.  We wanted you two years ago, but you had already accepted Wyoming.”

         I swear I don’t remember even submitting an application to Denver two years before.  However, it was certainly nice to be wanted.  And, as luck would have it, the friend who had serendipitously moved to Florida, now wanted to return to Wyoming, and in a neatness of logistics seldom seen in academia, I simply handed back the job to her, and moved to Denver.

         A few years later, a final piece of information came out, a casual confirmation that my choices had been correct.  At a conference, I ran into the Wilmington dean who had offered me the job there.  “It’s just as well you took the job at Wyoming,” he said blithely, over cocktails.  “We never received the funding for that position after all.”

         Sometimes life does work out.

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