I've written a bunch of times on why empirical research suggests hiring practices in academic philosophy need a dramatic overhaul, and why first-round interviews specifically appear to be "worse than useless." Allen Wood's new post on interviews at the APA Blog very nicely illustrates the many problems with interviews and subjective evaluations of dossier materials. Wood writes that:
- When it comes to judging dossier materials, "Bigotry and philosophical sectarianism become major factors."
- "A search committee member who imagines that he or she has been smart enough to spot a philosophical error in an otherwise exemplary paper may become obsessed with this self-conceited crotchet, ignoring the paper’s excellence and voting in such a way that the best candidate gets the shaft."
- "Horse-trading between search committee members may also influence the process: two excellent candidates may each be unacceptable to one member of the committee, and a third inferior candidate may be selected as a compromise."
- "interviews are the most artificial kind of human encounter imaginable."
- "My grisly similes may give you the impression that most interviews do not go well for the candidate. In fact, most are utter calamities...The catastrophe is often the fault of the interviewers (or just of the artificiality of the situation). Interviewers are fallible human beings who may have good intentions but fall prey to their own intellectual limitations or unconscious prejudices."
- "Envy and fear of being shown up may make them not want to hire you precisely because of the same high qualifications that forced them to interview you. They are usually nervous about interviewing you because they probably haven’t read your dossier and would not be competent to judge your work even if they had."
- "A few manage to succeed, by not showing they realize what a gruesome disaster the whole thing is, and then somehow infecting the interviewers with this total misperception of what has just happened. How do they do it? I wish I could tell you."
- "Careful preparation, practice, and innate talent for interviewing are perhaps necessary conditions for an interview that impresses people, but it always seems to me to be mostly a matter of dumb luck."
Prof. Wood, in my view, has done a very good service in drawing more attention to all of these problems. As I recently argued in detail, these problems--and decades of empirical research--show that we should take candidate selection more out of the hands of subjective human judgers, and instead prioritize more objective, algorithmic narrowing processes. Fortune 500 companies and the US government are increasingly overhauling their selection and hiring methods in precisely this way. The science tells us, and Wood's post nicely illustrates, why we should follow suit. The "human element" does not improve the selection process. It turns it into an ungodly crapshoot.