Fighty Squirrel recently ran into one of her forest friends from another realm of the academic woodlands who has been serving on a fancy schmancy hiring committee. Asked how things were going, Squirrel’s normally chipper buddy’s face formed a scowl, and a groan escaped. “Ugh!” the critter sighed, “it’s a disaster. All the candidates all look great on paper and should be good fits with our department, but they are such jerks! No one wants to offer the position to any of them.”

Pressed for details, our woodland buddy went on to share that only one of four or five candidates was an overt jerk during their two-day interview (note to self: do not roll your eyes at students questions during your talk and tell them you just went over something). The other applicants were roundly thought to be jerks based on calls made to applicant’s colleagues, home institution, and trainees. Turns out, these folks were straight up unbearable. Arrogant, demanding, pretentious….all the things you don’t want to welcome into your neck of the woods. So no offers are being made. Which is a big darn deal in this case because this is no run of the mill job offer….it’s a hard money, endowed chair with ample money from administration for recruiting other folks into the team.

Surely these folks know they are shooting themselves in the foot, or worse yet, checkbook? But when was the last time you asked people who matter if you’re a jerk?

Looking through Fight Squirrel’s self-evaluation from her most esteemed department, I realized there are no questions that would lead any of us academics to check themselves about this essential part of life. No matter how much you’d like to think that you are the special snowflake everyone wants to collaborate with, hear from at meetings and give lots of resources to, there is a solid chance this is not the case, friends.

People don’t have to like you, but they have to view you as approachable, fair and honest. At your next annual evaluation with your chair, team leader or center director…be brave. Ask any one of the following questions to figure out if you’re a jerk.

Am I viewed as approachable and collegial by my peers?

Are there ways I can be a better listener/academic citizen/mentor?

Then, do the impossible. Listen. Thank them. Don’t get all fighty squirrel about what you hear. Your boss’s candor is a gift. If you make it painful for them, they won’t share their opinion again, much less offer to help. It doesn’t make what they are saying right, but you need to hear it. It’s better that you hear it now than I hear about it from a friend who is telling the forest critters why you weren’t offered that snazzy endowed chair.

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