During a humanities search at a regional state university, one candidate's CV and letters of recommendation pushed him to the top of the shortlist. His papers had won honors at national conferences; he had been awarded a prestigious fellowship; his ratings as a teaching assistant were high; he already had solid publications; and his references spoke of him as "our best student in decades."

At the campus interview, the young man was indeed as brilliant in person as he was on paper. But during the final meeting to decide which candidate to recommend for the hire, doubts arose. They were best summarized by a phrase that in the current academic-employment market can kill a candidacy: "I don't get the feeling he really wants the job."

So he didn't get the offer.