College Job Interview Insights From Sorority Recruitment (Opinion)
As an undergrad, I was a recruiting officer at a National Panhellenic Conference sorority. After obtaining my doctorate, I applied for a job in the humanities and now, as a professor, I am often a member of a research committee. And I was struck by the similarities in the recruitment processes of NPC Greek letter organizations and academic institutions.
Rushing into a sorority and entering the job market are acts of rhetoric – what we present is ourselves. Perhaps surprisingly, however, for all its flaws, sorority recruiting is more outspoken about this fact than academics are with job searches. For example, in my many years of listening to job market advice, I have rarely, if ever, heard anyone mention the importance of chatting.
You probably think the stakes involved in securing a college position are much higher, and the payoff far greater, than securing a relatively trivial sorority offer. But for an 18-year-old as sold on the sorority system as most academics are on higher education, the decision may to feel as monumental as it is a choice that will have a significant impact on his future journey.
Although some colleges and universities are working to revamp or abolish Greek letter organizations or reinvent career development in higher education, most are tackling systemic issues in recruitment processes at such a glacial pace that they still have a long way to go. In the meantime, acknowledging the performativity of recruiting can help candidates take a little more control over the process now. As a lowly Midwesterner who avoided anything flashy, I was kicked out of sorority recruiting the first time around. I landed my dream college job 20 years ago because the college’s first choice turned down the job. So it took me a while in both cases to grasp the drift. But I’ve since realized that sorority recruiting has crucial lessons for recruiting in the job market — if academics don’t pretend they’re above the fray of their similar transactional natures.
Class and racial exclusivity often permeate the process. White sororities have long been called for their racist and classist practices. So has academia, as some people still try to pretend that the system is not skewed towards the standards maintained by those who are white and relatively well off. And for sororities and higher education institutions, the touchstone notion of adjustment exacerbates the problems.
For example, during my time at a sorority, we were taught the etiquette we practiced at formal dinners. And since then, where did I most need to use what I learned? During the often classist university recruitment process. At one of my dinner parties as a job candidate—at a fancy venue, of course—I was told all about the area’s award-winning art museums. What I wanted to know instead was “Where is the nearest target?” I didn’t ask because I was too busy trying to pass as nerd.
The next day, after an even more awkward visit to the art museum with a professor whose profile couldn’t be less similar to mine, I ordered the chicken fried steak in the faculty lounge while everyone else was chose the salad bar. It was like a little moment of resistance (plus, I was hungry).
Since then, I’ve come to realize much more of what Jennifer M. Goméz describes so well: you shouldn’t hide how much your own lived experiences are an advantage and you can make a distinct contribution, whether it’s to a sorority or a employer. If you don’t feel welcome or affirmed that this may be the case, it’s time to consider other opportunities. This is a mutual selection process. Candidates are made to feel that they do not have that option in this market. But you do.
It’s who you know, but not as much as you might think. It would be nice if you could just showcase your strengths to get a job, despite the terrible market. But to pretend that connections don’t matter or that only one type of connection – a VIP – matters most is too narrow a view.
During sorority recruitment, alumni complete recommendations for applicants that focus on academic, leadership, and service achievements. Any elder can write a letter as a member attesting to the potential of the rushing person, even if they don’t know them very well or have a lot to say. In a similar vein, I’ve too often seen grad students mistakenly think they should ask someone who’s a big name to write a recommendation, even if they don’t know them very well or maybe they are a dull writer.
That’s not to say, however, that you shouldn’t be looking for strategy recommendations just yet. But from whom? Consider the people you or your advisor know who can best describe your fabulousness. More importantly, how can they help you shape a profile that stands out? When I counsel grad students, we brainstorm seemingly insignificant contributions they’ve made—by volunteering on an assessment committee, for example—that specific people we know can amplify in recommendations. to potential employers. Identifying these connections allows you to conduct more than performative networking and is an opportunity for colleagues who have had particularly positive experiences with you to share details about those experiences.
Be interested as much as interesting. In sorority recruiting, potential new members know they have to shine. Being a wallflower is not the vibe to convey during an intensely social, multi-day, conversation-centric recruiting experience, however fabricated those conversations may be. The same goes for us when we embark on job interviews and campus tours. The difference is that we don’t recognize that we should play with these skills, or other people consider them irrelevant.
So much chatter and “casual” conversation is part of the recruiting process – those snippets of time riding together in a car to and from the airport or a restaurant. While you know not to view these moments as mere downtime, that doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be something you’re not. Instead, use it as an opportunity to showcase what you can contribute.
It means being mindful of the process and doing your part to keep the conversation going. I made the naive mistake during my first sorority recruiting process of thinking members would ask me whatever they wanted to know, from interviewer to interviewee. So I sat quietly rather than asking them questions about themselves and the sisterhood. But I’ve learned that, even if you’re the interviewee, such moments are a great opportunity to wonder aloud about the culture of a place and those in it.
In short: it’s not just about you, even if you are the one being interviewed. To be interested is a way of being interesting. And being engaging doesn’t mean you’re not a strong candidate.
Appearances matter. Academics often roll their eyes at sorority recruiting paraphernalia — matching Lilly Pulitzer dresses, Bid Day t-shirts, and the like. But similarly, before I entered the job market, I received all sorts of unsolicited advice on how to conform to dress expectations. I would have been told to wear a neutral suit, but not so neutral that it lacked pizzazz (maybe add a scarf). In the next moment, someone else would advise me that what I was wearing was irrelevant. I’ve had graduate students ask me if they should wear their hair up or down. More recently, I’ve had long discussions about how best to set the stage with Zoom backgrounds.
Again, awareness is key. It’s a job interview, and we’re certainly not the only industry that sticks to certain conventions, although we’re one that likes to think we don’t pay attention to such superficial matters. So yes, dress like a professional without conforming to the point of losing the sense of yourself that keeps you confident, professional or otherwise. Your appearance matters in a performative process, and you shouldn’t ignore it.
These are just a few relevant lessons I learned from my sorority recruiting days. In the end, what I’ve found most helpful to me and the grad students in the job market that I advise is to focus on what you can control instead of feeling hopeless about the market or any job and take the process less seriously. recognizing the absurdities. You want to be ready to adjust your expectations, but without neglecting your basic interests, needs, and goals. You don’t want to walk into the “perfect” sorority house or take the “perfect” job only to find that you’ve twisted yourself so much to become what you think the system requires you to be miserable. You can both criticize and resist while bringing some levity to the process to make it more bearable.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t scoff at sorority recruitment, as I hear many academics do every year (and how easy are young women?), considering our labor market efforts as more noble. We are participating in a more similar process than we care to admit. If only we could celebrate in a big way, like they do on application day, with t-shirts and accolades from our new department when we get the job we worked so hard for.