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What should I ask?

I need collective wisdom.

Job called this evening. Job invited me to City, State for an interview, but Job said it wanted to fly me there a month from now. A month from now is not the next week for which I was hoping. Job said that, at the rate it’s moving, it would likely not begin until June 11.

On the whole I think this is very good. First, because Job is a nonprofit with decent, but not deep pockets, the equation, fly = buy, is more likely to be true than not. Second, it is to my benefit that they are pursuing me for as long as they are pursuing: by the end of April, who could want to have put two months of time and expense in a candidate Job was not very, very serious about?

However, I am also wary because I’ve been down this road before. Of course, that was local, and that job incurred no extra expense by them on my part save a few hours’ conversation; after that experience, I find it very difficult to trust what jobs say to me.

Yet I like Job a lot. K & I both believe we would love to live in City, State. So there are particular questions I want to ask, which I don’t know that Job can answer, and there are assurances I want to be given, which I don’t think Job can give. Still, Job intends to call tomorrow or Thursday, and when it calls, I want to have some questions ready.

So I appeal to you: at this stage, which questions are legitimate, and which questions should I leave unasked? Certainly, I know the necessary questions: What schedule are you using to make your decision?; With whom will I interview? But it’s the questions that come close to presuming too much about my position as a job candidate that I am unsure about. Below are the three most important questions I want to ask, but should I?

  1. Am I the only candidate?: I think it is safe for me to say the answer to this is yes, I am the only candidate. I say this based on evidence I’ve gathered from my conversations with Job, but Job hasn’t told me I’m the only candidate, and K worries that Job will get another application tomorrow and decide to interview that person, too. I find this scenario unlikely, but I have to allow that it’s possible.
  2. How much should K be looking for work in City, State?: This is particularly important. Because Job is taking so long, we don’t know what direction to go, but we also don’t have a lot of reason to move to State except for Job. So to look primarily in City really limits her job search. I don’t think Job knows she’s looking, but should it? And if I ask this question, then what am I asking for? A promise? A likelihood? A suggestion? What can I reasonably expect Job to tell me at this point?
  3. How important is this personal interview?: This ties in with #1 and #2, but it’s also different. And I do realize I can’t ask this question so tactlessly. I also know that the interview is very important—but there’s important, then there’s important: will I be meeting with someone who could scuttle this whole process at his or her whim, simply because she doesn’t like a joke I told? Of course I realize there are scenarios in which the whole thing could fall through; but how much can I dismiss the possibility of a trivial slip throwing everything out of whack?

Is there anything else I ought to ask that I haven’t included here? And let me say ahead of time, any thoughts or suggestions or observations that you have, I greatly appreciate.

1 Job has given reasons for taking its sweet time. The staff director has been traveling; in addition, Job is preparing to move into a new building in May, and Job does not want to deal with the added stress of training—not to mention paying a salary—while at the same time being preoccupied with the move; and most importantly, Job is not made of money, and it is cheaper to fly me in 3 weeks from an airport 112 miles away than in 1 week from an airport 20 minutes away ($500 cheaper!). All these reasons I understand, and if I were in Job’s position, I would probably say and do the same thing. To understand, however, is not to enjoy.



absconded here in my ivory tower… i don’t know much about the real world… i just tell the plebes how they should go about leading liberal, secular lives.

but, i will ask t, she not only kicks my butt when it comes to the game of b-ball, the stats of college b-ball, and college b-ball history, she’s very real-world and non-profit job savvy.

using b-ball as a guide, my expertise comes from being third, soon to be second if UCLA wins, in my university’s NCAA office pool, so…
I wouldn’t ask any of these questions, to be honest. I would be asking questions about the job, about the community (including questions about local industry and the economy that might give opportunity to mention K), about the organization, but the fact that they’re flying you in (when you are clearly not cheap) answers the questions above anyway (someone will probably let slip at some point whether there’s another candidate without you having to ask—and do you really want to give them justification to ask if they’re the only Job you’re considering?). Anyway, why wouldn’t K look for work in City at this stage? It’s not like she can’t just pull out of the market if you guys don’t end up going to City, State for Job. As for #3, there’s not going to be more opportunity for them to check you out—it’s not like they’re going to fly you out again!—so of course you’ll meet with the most important people, those who could scuttle you, etc.
But having only bball expertise and not non-profit, I of course defer to T on these matters.

At my most pragmatic, Mary, I agree with everything you say, and what you say is how I’ve gone about this whole search. I’ve no reason to show my hand to them, and I haven’t. Of the questions I will for certain ask, I’ll be trying to get as much information as I can so I can research as much as I can, about individuals and about the organzation and its issues, well before the flyout.

What I want to discover, but which isn’t really very easy to discover, is what kind of job search this is. I’ve seen organizations waste time and money on interviews they knew they wouldn’t follow through on. But most others don’t have the luxury of time or money to use on an interminable job search. I want to diminish the ambiguity by knowing this org’s more the latter than the former; I want the uncertainty to be lessened, especially given how long uncertainty is becoming.

I would tend to agree that asking the above questions (with the possible exception of #2, which could probably be worked in as Mary suggests) would be a bad idea.

The fact that they are flying you out says that they are very, very interested, and your time out there will be for both them and you to see if it will be a good fit.

There are some parallels here to my own experience, which I can go into more detail about, probably by e-mail, or feel free to call.

i think our impatience and worry-wartism is showing through even more than usual! we probably should err on the side of playing it cool…but it’s getting harder and harder to do that. and with neither of us working right now, you wouldn’t believe how much time and energy we can put into analyzing this subject, and worse, finding more ways to become paranoid about it.

thanks for the input!

Update, such as it is:

1) I’m flying out of a closer airport than I was last night.

2) There is/are other candidates—the line was “one, maybe two,” who will also be interviewed. I know no more about these people, except that they’ve never been mentioned, and and my contact specifically said right after he told me this, “you’d start approximately the first week of June.” He did not emphasize “you,” but he didn’t qualify it with, “Who we hire,” either. Projected end date for this search is right after I interview, which I take to mean that, if they can’t decide on me after we meet, then I probably don’t get the job. I’ll have to be charm and capability all wrapped into one two-day package. That’s not that different from what I’d have to be anyway, except that it’s a little more crucial now. How this factors into the fly = buy equation, I’m not sure, although I suspect I’m the top candidate, and the other(s) are safety nets.

I want to apologize if my earlier post was too bossy or grumpy—I made the mistake of posting a comment before having my morning caffeine. It really sounds as though they WANT you. Surely a nonprofit is not going to squander its limited funds on flying in job candidates just for fun, right?

t wholeheartedly agrees with the pre-caffine mary post.

your position as a job candidate is to be energetic, informed, likeable, and green to the core.

and i’ve not said jack… but there you go.

oh, one other thing… it’s an important one… they think they want you. they think they want you enough to fly you out there.

i know i’m only repeating what everyone else has posted, but there you go sometimes we need to hear the same thing time and again.

why else do preachers preach about hell so much?

Many thanks for all the replies and encouragements and advices today, both here and offline. I’m sorry to be short in reply—I’m foggyheaded tonight and will shoot for coherence in the AM—but for now, thanks.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that you’ve all reassured Greg in terms of how he already felt about this, which is that everything’s looking good, they must be seriously interested in him or they wouldn’t be flying him out, etc. You should all know that I am the source of 95% of all anxiety concerning this issue, perhaps because of my inexperience in “real-world” hiring practices, perhaps because of my natural tendency toward pessimism and anxiety, perhaps because I have too much time on my hands, or perhaps because I should be locked in a cage with baboons and/or komodo dragons.

It really does help to get analysis and advice from you all, though, caffeinated or decaf. Thanks!

don’t komodo dragons like to eat people’s feet?

though, i guess it’s faeces or feet!

You’re not the source of 95% of the anxiety—it’s more like 67%.

Again, thanks everybody for the advice. I promise I’ll be charming, informed, progressive, and quick with ideas when I get there, and I will have a lot of questions about Job and about City and State. I’m a bit surprised, actually, that I know so much about State already, but without actually envisioning it as The Modern Geograpy of That State, I did a not insignificant amt of reading about it when I was in graduate school. Its history is familiar to me.

The only thing I’m unsure about is what T means when she says “green to the core.” Does she mean bendy and hard to burn, or does she mean quick to recycle and leave minimal footprints? I suppose it doesn’t especially matter in this case—given what Job is, I figure I’ll need to be both. But in respect to the latter, I’ve got some adaptation to do: it’s not easy to explain that some kinds of literary studies indicate a natural greenness.

Oh, I thought maybe she meant inexperienced, but in a bendy way.

no, that was me and i meant tree hugger lover of nader’s soul to the core. so, yes, recycler avant la plastique

Being green I can manage, although a qualified green it will have to be. I’ve actually been counselled not to be a crazy wacko type, along the lines of, “nonprofits always get crazy wackos who apply, but they really need someone sane.” I think this is particularly true for this job, where persuasion comm and precise description of issues will matter more than baldly rhetorical hard sells.

so does that mean no hemp neckties?

Only if they match my new tweed.

On the subject of tweed, one good thing about the time I have before the interview, besides the opportunity it gives me to learn the lingua franca and research the org’s issues, is the necessary time it will take to upgrade my wardrobe. I know it’s only 3 days, but I am not going to make the mistake that I can relax in my jammies at any point (especially since I’ll be boarding at a volunteer’s, not a hotel). I found two good sport coats that will suffice; I have one good shirt, and I’ve some pants although the pants I have might be too dressy for every day: I’ll need something comfortable yet still showy for a) arriving on the airplane, or b) any planned dinners. So I’m checking out sales and stuff, went to outlet malls, that kind of thing. I haven’t found a lot yet, but there’s time.

One thing I’ve found is that j.crew has some meathead model right now who reminds me of all the guys I have ever instinctively not liked, probably because they’re better looking and obviously more alpha than me. This is he, very different from their usual skinny, almost-but-never-would-qualify-as-geek models.

Ugh. . . J. Crew, what have you done? Where have you put all the skinny guys with floppy hair? Clearly I haven’t been keeping up on my catalog perusing since college.

The only one who might qualify as floppy-haired is the black guy, and him, not so much. Meathead mostly looks uncomfortable in a sweater, but sweaters is all they pose him in.