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I usually can tell if I have a chance within the first 2 minutes. The vibe and level of interest/positive feedback is evident from the beginning. The ones who give me the negative vibe usually respond with blank stares and aggressive disagreement. Those with the other vibe are agreeable and show lots of interest. I really question the purpose of first round interviews.

Shane Ralston

"What would you do on your first day of work?" It's so open-ended that it totally stunned me. "Teach my classes" didn't seem like an appropriate answer. Neither did "Meet my colleagues." It's the kind of question that begs for a classy answer. It might have been the question that motivated me to pursue a Masters in Human Resources. If I were the interviewer, I'm not sure if I would ask it of a faculty candidate, unless I were trying to unsettle them. It would be a better question for someone who was interviewing for an executive leadership position, where they'd have to set the tone on the first day. I'm still boggled by how to answer it.

Marcus Arvan

I once got asked, "why do you think you've been on the market so long without getting a permanent job?" That was a fun one to answer.


"What's your wife do?"

I told the person asking that the question was inappropriate and that I preferred not to answer.

I got the job. And the person who asked became one of my closest colleagues. (They asked because they wanted to do everything they could to get me there--but still illegal.)

Job Candidate

I have had a bunch of first round interviews this year (with a few successes in landing on-campus interviews). Yes, there have been questions that have thrown me off. But I wouldn't worry too much about these questions. I think the best one can do is know that you will likely get questions you did not prepare answers for, and that you will be forced to think on the spot. Have a notebook and pen ready to scribble down some notes and gather your thoughts when these weird questions arise. Take a deep breathe, take your time, smile, fake confidence if you have to, and answer the question as best you can.

I will also say that my experience is very different from Amanda's. In interviews where I thought search committees loved me, I didn't land a second round interview. In interviews where I thought I was screwed, I was invited to campus. There is so much you don't know: the personalities of search committee members, what they are looking for, who else they interviewed and how they did on those interviews, whether the search committee is just more causal or formal by nature, etc.

Good luck!

anon faculty

One thing to note is that sometimes the person asking a weird question is known to his/her colleagues to ask weird questions, to be a bit nutty, etc. So even if your answer isn't spot on (and Job Candidate's advice is great), it very well may be that no one in the department other than the nutty questioner will hold it against you.

Sam Duncan

I had one committee member go off on a long stream of consciousness riff about what he thought I was trying to say in my writing sample. Apparently given the way he acted at the end of it there was some implied question there, but I still don't know what it was. (And for the record he was dead wrong about what I was trying to say, but I couldn't very well say that now could I?) My more general advice to applicants based on this experience and some similar ones is this: I'd recommend that you be prepared for the possibility that you will get some really weird questions about your writing sample, some that are flat out hostile, and some that get your point entirely wrong. Many of the people on the committee might not work in your area and at some SLAC's no one might, and they will seize on stuff that might not look important to you, dispute points that you and other people working on the issue might take as completely settled, and sometimes miss the point entirely. Figure out how you'll handle that sort of question without telling the person they're wrong or don't understand what's up. Look at the people interviewing you and try to anticipate how they might react to your writing sample. Get friends as far outside your area as possible to glance it and see what stands out to them. You can't anticipate every question-- and the committee might not have even read it-- but you can prepare yourself a bit.


I was recently asked during an interview what I thought about the role of philosophers in the world. I am ashamed to say I was stumped and stammered out a pile of nothing. Also, unless you are obviously diverse, you will almost for sure be asked about diversity (your own, how it contributes to a diverse university, and how you've experienced and dealt with it). If you are obviously diverse, I'd think this would be a rather silly question, but I don't know how much committees really plan for these kinds of contingencies...

snarky puppy

Winslow - I also had an interview with those two questions (probably the same school). I thought those questions were terrible.

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