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Michael Barkasi

"Why do you want to work here, at our university?"

I'm not sure I understand the purpose of this question and what a good answer is suppose to look like.

Is it just to weed out those applicants don't really want a job at your type of institution and are just applying to every possible job? E.g., someone who really wants an R1 job applying to a SLAC?

If that's right, then is something like the following a good answer: "Your university is a SLAC, and what I really want is to get to teach bright young students in small classes at a quirky school with lots of character"?

When I read this question, it feels like this isn't the sort of answer desired. It feels like the interviewer wants a more personalized answer, e.g. "your school has program X and philosopher Y, and I'd really love to get to work with them". But this sort of answer will be unrealistic for virtually all applicants, since it requires fairly deep insider knowledge---or at least tangible personal connections of some form to school. If all I know is what's on the website, it's likely I'm going to say something misinformed; problem X might exist in name only and philosophy Y never shows up to department talks and isn't one to collaborate.

As I write this out, some sort of middle ground is taking shape in my head. Maybe an answer like: "I really want to get to teach bright young students at a quirky small school with lots of traditions and character; plus your university is the heart of a hip urban area, and I just love being around the latest cafes and the bohemians that fill them up."

Am I roughly onto the right idea, or have I missed the mark?

Of course, I know it's probably the case that if you read this question and think "huh, why do I want to work there?", or, "because it's a job in philosophy", then you probably shouldn't be applying. So if you should be applying, an authentic answer should be on offer: I *really want* to work there, and because it's a good department, with good people, that's teaching focused, in a nice location, etc. (And none of these authentic reasons need to be terribly personalized to the department.) Also of course, this sort of advice goes against the "lottery" approach of applying to basically every job available. But still, even assuming authenticity, the answer isn't obvious. For example, if the job advertises a relatively high starting salary and that's one of your reasons, is it unwise or uncouth to list it when asked?


Even though the job market is awful, and most people just want any job, I think teaching colleges are looking to hire the sort of person that, for some odd idiosyncratic reason, really prefers their institution to many others. Now for most people on the market, most jobs with a teaching focus look similar. But then there are a few places that really stick out to each person. The search committee is hoping to hire the person who happens to really like their institution. Is this a realistic desire? Is there anything wrong with hiring someone who wants the job because they would be overjoyed to have any philosophy job? Well, the truth is it is a buyer's market and search committees can be very picky. They have little to lose by doing this.

Jonathan Tallant

I can't speak for all search committees (obviously), but whenever I've been chairing a search for a permanent post and we asked the "Why do you want to work here?" question, we (I think) always prefaced it with the observation that we know that the job market is terrible and that you want *a* job. That enabled us to ask what about this one particularly attracts you?

For the most part, that question wasn't intended to catch people out and we'd have taken Michael's first answer as absolutely fine. *Sometimes*, better answers focused on particular research groups within the Dept/University that the candidate had researched online, and sometimes they focused on a particular ethos that they thought the Department had. In short: it sometimes allowed candidates to show off a bit of research they'd done. But this question was mostly an opening ice-breaker kind of question and we didn't put much weight on it.

Of course, all Departments vary and I'd hesitate to speak for anyone other than myself.

One other question that sometimes caught people (and that I don't think Marcus lists above) was when we asked them to describe what they took to be the main pedagogical differences between teaching large groups (lecturing) and small groups (seminar leading), and how they modified their approach to suit.

Another is: if we offered you the job, what would be your plans to apply for funding in the next 5 years? For us, this was really asking about plans to apply for funding from external bodies like the AHRC/Leverhulme trust, both of which fund research projects.

Recent Candidate

Although I had one AOS, I was a candidate with a lot of research interests who settled on this AOS pretty late in my graduate career. I got a question like the following:

"We feel like we need someone in your AOS. Do you think that your research will still be focused on this AOS in ten years?"

In response I just outlined a new research project I want to pursue in that AOS, but I'm not sure there is a totally honest answer to a question about research projects ten years in the future.

Another teaching question comes to mind: Some universities have philosophically-inclined courses as part of their general education requirements (e.g., a course on Faith and Reason). You might get interview questions about this; I had an on-campus visit with a whole meeting devoted to it.

Michael Barkasi

To Amanda and Jonathan: Thanks!


Huh. I had a lot of interviews over the last two years (ranging from R1s to teaching schools), and I never got some of questions Marcus mentions. For R1s, I think there is a pretty standard expectation of research questions (you will get a chance to give the 2 minute dissertation spiel, then they will drill you about your writing sample and research statement) followed by teaching questions where the expectation concerns what would you teach. The more teaching focused the institution, the more the focus was on how you would teach, rather than what you would teach (I got questions like "how do you handle diversity in the classroom?"). SLACs and teaching schools of all varieties wanted to know how I would attract majors and do research with undergrads (the former of which is a variation on question 12). And, of course, many schools are mission-driven, so be prepared to answer questions about that (and those might range from schools where the mission is a formality to those that take it quite seriously, and it's often difficult to tell what type it is).


There will be lots of overlap between this list and Marcus's, but I prepared and practiced answers to these questions for my Skype/first-round interviews (answers that included both a couple of points and an illustrative story, where possible):

1. 30-second dissertation
2. 90-second dissertation
3. 30-second research (forward-looking)
4. 90-second research (forward-looking)
5. why is the study of diss topic important
6. how do you engage students who take your course to fulfill requirements
7. how would you teach cross listed courses
8 how would teach classes with students of greatly varying abilities
9. how does your research inform your teaching
10. what are your strengths as a teacher
11. what are your weaknesses as a teacher
12. how do you get students to do the reading
13. have you used technology in your teaching
14. how do you help particular students who are struggling in the classroom
15. how do you deal with a class where many students are struggling
16. how do you teach writing
17. how do you deal with a quiet classroom
18. how would you teach a larger lecture course
19. how do your classes fit into the broader university
20. how would you teach X (ranging across a bunch of AOCs topics)? what do you cover? historical or problems? primary sources or textbook? specific texts? [with richer answers for AOS courses, upper-division courses, and developed answers for courses from the job listing]
21. what's a memorable teaching story
22. what do you do outside of philosophy
23. why this job?
24. how would you explain the main argument of your dissertation to a smart undergrad
25. if you could design and teach your dream course on any topic, what would that be?
26. how would you help non-majors appreciate the importance of philosophy
27. how would you help first-generation students succeed with difficult coursework?
28. how would you contribute to philosophy club
29. questions for us? (always, _always_ department/institution specific answers, and answers that I thought would give the department members a chance to shine a little)
30. how might you contribute to departmental teaching (make sure not to compete with something someone else in the dept regularly does, though I did this and it didn't seem to hurt me too badly)
31. what kinds of bridges might you build to other parts of campus

These questions were teaching focused, because research discussions tended to be substantive questions that writing, presenting chunks of the dissertation had well prepared me for.

I almost never got asked a question that wasn't some version of something on this list.

Marcus Arvan

What Craig says about illustrative stories is right on. Fair answers to interview questions deal mostly abstractions (e.g. “I handle disagreements with colleagues by trying to find common ground”). Excellent answers tell short stories to illustrafe what you’ve actually done in concrete cases (e.g. “Once a colleague and I had a disagreement about X. I invited them out for coffee and we were eventually able to arrive at a happy medium. Specifically, we...”). Concrete examples are not only vivid and memorable (trust me, many interviewees speak in similar generalities). They also show that you have actually encountered and handled the issue in real life, not just thought about it preparing for the interview.

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