How to interview for un-dream job
October 18, 2010 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I have an interview next week for a job I desperately don't want (or at the very least do not feel qualified for). I need a job. How to prepare?

The husband of a dear friend has recommended me for a teaching position at a nearby university where he teaches. The program is housed in the Business/Marketing faculty, about which I know less than zero (the interviewers seem to be aware of this). I was told that they want me to teach my specialty, which is a handicraft discipline which has been around for centuries (sorry, I don't want to be more specific). I originally balked, since my personal study has been the craft itself and its history (nothing to do with business), but I'm coming around to the POV that if that's what they really want me to teach, and if they really feel there is some benefit to their students, I might be able to make a go of it.

Now (day before yesterday) I'm told that they want me to teach my thing in the first semester, and "Art" in the second semester (also to Business students). From what I can gather, this is a kind of Art History/Arts Contributions to Culture type of class; I took a couple of Art History classes as an undergraduate more than 20 years ago, but I don't have the knowledge required to actually teach it. I remember taking classes from clearly unprepared grad students; I felt ripped off then and I'm not comfortable perpetuating what I realize may just be "the way the system works". The capper is that (in both cases) I would be teaching (and the interview will be) in the local language (not my native language). The prepwork that would be required to even be passable feels just so incredibly outside my capabilities.

I need a job. I feel like I'm "supposed to" JUMP at this opportunity. I'm scared I will self-sabotage – consciously or not – the interview. How should I proceed!? Any thoughts welcome. I've probably left out something important; anonymous because I'm ebarrassed I can't deal with this on my own; throwaway email here:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say be entirely honest. It seems that you're ambivalent (at best) about this opportunity, and you'll probably resent the job if it turns out to be as ill-suited for you as you think it will be, so go into the interview with an open mind, but don't gloss over your concerns.

Worst-case scenario? The job isn't for you. Best-case scenario? It's much different than you thought, and you were able to specify how you think the position should be filled, and get the job, and have a good time at it.
posted by xingcat at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2010

I met an Oxford university professor who sits on many such selection boards last week at a conference and she gave me some great insights. Body language counts, apparently and your ambivalence will come through. She shared an anecdote about a very tough interview/teaching demo she'd been in where later the toughest interrogator told her that it was highly obvious and apparent that she loves teaching, the energy and passion were palpable.

So.. take a deep breath and step back from the podium. Think about it - what is making you nervous? The lack of experience or knowledge (google is your friend for the latter and everyone starts somewhere for the former) or that you are not actually comfortable transferring your knowledge to others? If its the former two, then take your most comfortable topic - your handicraft passion and make that the core of your interview, your passion for your subject will (hopefully) make you forget where you are and why and convey your love and enthusiasm for your subject matter.

If the aspect that concerns you is actually teaching - that is sharing knowledge or transferring a skill to others - then perhaps "needing a job" isn't worth the agony of doing something you don't actually care to - that's worse in a "teacher" than being unprepared, which is the sense that students will intuitively pick up "OMG I so don't want to be here"...

I figure if I'm caught unprepared, I'll simply say I don't know but lets find out, we have a powerful set of tools to deal with the unknown don't we? ;p
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

You say you are somewhere between "not qualified" and "desperately don't want." In your shoes, I'd take the time in the interview to be honest about your concerns with regard to your qualifications and goodness of fit. They may be able to lay your concerns to rest, or it could end up being a productive, mutual decision that the job is not a good fit.

On the other hand: I taught writing at the college level for 13 years, despite not having studied the teaching of writing. My first semester they basically handed me a syllabus and a textbook and sent me in there. It took a couple of semesters to get my feet under me (and I do feel sorry for those first students) but eventually I got good at it. And now, having taught, there are a lot of introductory-level things I could probably do a half-decent job of teaching if I had a strong textbook to work with. This is going to make the job of teaching sound easier than it really is, but one of the jobs of the teacher is to help students make sense of, organize, understand, and jump off from the material--you might find that with a strong textbook, you actually could muddle through in a one-chapter-ahead-of-them way (I also have friends who have started teaching in this way). Part of becoming a teacher is learning to teach; some of the deficiencies you have are ones that any beginning teacher would have even if they knew the material, and if you take the job and stay in it for a few years, you will both learn the material and learn to teach.

I'm not sure how the language issue might affect this, or whether the employment situation where you are is so dire that you really should grab even a bad-fit job. But I wouldn't write the job of completely yet.
posted by not that girl at 11:19 AM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

My last job interview, I spent half of the interview talking about why I didn't want to take the job, and the interviewer totally understood and did a lot to assuage my concerns.

I guess it depends how badly they want you to work there.
posted by empath at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe you should take the job and put them on probation, rather than the other way around. You don't have to tell them that, but if it doesn't work out, at least you tried.

One time I was also desperate for a job. I had been taking some classes in the meantime, which involved a lot of math. A job opening came up for a city position, in the engineering dept. It involved a sit down test and an interview.

The day of the test, I went into a room filled with people(!), I sat down and took the test. It was REALLY HARD, and I quickly realized that it was a bust for me. I just filled out the questions, they were mostly multiple choice. The test took most people about 2-3 hours, but I was out of there in 20 minutes. I knew some of the other people taking the test, since we were in classes together. And they really were very qualified. And I thought that was the end.

Two weeks later I got a letter telling me congratulations, I qualified! There was no way that I really could have done that job, it would have been a disaster for both them and me. I couldn't figure out how to get out of it. I actually went to the job interview, but I wore this weird sweater covered in kittens. I know it sounds stupid but I wanted to do the right thing, short of telling them I couldn't do the job--in case in the future maybe I did want a city job.
posted by chocolatetiara at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, one thing about the "not qualified" part is that you can say that although you are an expert in the handicraft discipline (which is why they want you), you are new to teaching about the handicraft discipline within their desired context, but nevertheless, you enjoy a learning curve while bringing your expertise to the table.

I'm right this minute taking an AskMe break from a job I started late last month. And I used a variation of what I said above to get it.

And several years ago, I used the "enjoy a learning curve" bit in a thank-you note after an interview for a job I was eventually offered.

But, I do enjoy a learning curve, and I really, really wanted both jobs. So, of course, MMV.

Back to work! That curve will only bend so far...
posted by jgirl at 11:45 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

That sounds like a dream job... Why not take it and do your best and see what happens? Teachers are asked to teach subjects they know nothing about all the time, no kidding. Take a language class, develop a curriculuum, and study art hx on the side. I think you CAN do this.
posted by xammerboy at 11:55 AM on October 18, 2010

Consider that it really may not be what you think it is, or specifically as bad as you think it is.

Teaching is a skill that you learn, but it's much easier to pick up (and, easier to do) when what you're teaching is something that you really love.

I think that you're better suited than you think you are. Trust in your knowledge. If you think about it that way, you'll do fine in the interview.

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 11:59 AM on October 18, 2010

My goodness gracious! Go and do the best interview you can. You would at least learn something (what skills you need to improve or learn in order to get a job, for instance), practice how to interview, meet new people who can become referrals for another job, etc. YOU DON'T NEED TO TAKE THE JOB if it is offered to you and you don't like or want it.

A job interview is a great opportunity and you should cherish it. If they want you it would be a wonderful caress to your ego and would give you security. If they don't offer it, you would have cut a good figure with your friend who recommended you. YOU HAVE NOTHING to lose. Make it a win win situation.
posted by dupedyestafada at 12:13 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind the hard stuff - teaching "art" generally instead of your chosen craft - doesn't crop up til the second semester. So you have even more time to prepare for it!
posted by Pomo at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with xammerboy, how are you unqualified to talk about the history of art, as a trained artist? Maybe you simply don't see yourself as much of a teacher as a doer, but that doesn't mean you're unqualified. I don't think you'd be ripping them off if even you took your syllabus directly from the Wikipedia page for Art, since as business students they would typically not seek this knowledge out on their own. Sure, you may be thinking you're teaching "bonehead Art 1A," but you're also teaching art. It sounds like you're in the catbird seat as far as freedom in the position goes, but if you're not comfortable doing it then that's that.
posted by rhizome at 12:55 PM on October 18, 2010

Just do the interview, and see how it goes. If you blow it, it's obviously not a big loss, you don't want, but if it turns out to be totally cool and rockin', you win. Even if you don't blow it, and they offer the job, you can always decline.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:28 PM on October 18, 2010

The best thing about a job interview for a job you don't want, is that you can totally relax. You don't care if they don't want to hire you, so it doesn't matter much what you say. So go in there open minded, ask totally honest questions about what the job involves and why they are interested in you, and be completely upfront about your reservations. You might find they can do quite a lot to set your mind at ease. Or you might find that it's as bad a fit as you suspect, and oh well, at least you tried.

If you do get offered the job even after being completely honest with them about your reservations, and lack of experience, then you at least won't have to feel like a fraud, and they will be expecting you to need assistance and support, which you won't have to feel bad about asking for.
posted by lollusc at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

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