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« Retaining late-semester student engagement | Main | Unconventional teaching ideas that work: Asking your students to perform 90 minutes of kindness for no reward (Eric Schwitzgebel) »

01/18/2019

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Marcus Arvan

Hi Helen: I think this is a great post. Interestingly, I think it also illustrates why interviews are so problematic, and why Princeton has it right.

Consider the following points you make: “This is why, I think, the Princeton practice of hiring people without interview is not widespread. We need to get a sense of how interpersonal dynamics are, and the interview (which has low evidential value for job performance, as is well known) does give some sense of that, as well as how you will develop, what your interests are, etc. If you pretend to be someone entirely different, the evidential value of the interview is very low, even lower than it already is under good conditions.”

This is exactly the problem with interviews. They don't merely poorly predict job-performance. They poorly predict job-performance in large part because they are unreliable measures of personal qualities and dynamics. Committees want to know the interpersonal dynamics, but interviews are a *terrible* way to measure those dynamics because they are (A) a performance, (B) under highly artificial conditons, where (C) candidates are incentivized to *not* be themselves, thus (D) giving committees poor information about the candidate’s actual interpersonal skills. I’m a good example: I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I come off very differently in interviews than I do in person—say, on a campus visit.

This is just one of many reasons why interviews are worse than having little evidential value: they actually have negative evidential value. The science confirms this. It shows that no matter how much hiring committees might *think* interviews give them valuable insight into candidates' personal qualities, interviews don't in fact do this with any reliability. Princeton is doing what the science clearly shows works best. It is shame that just about everyone else uses practices (screening interviews) that the science shows we shouldn’t use.

That being said, given that hiring committees do hold interviews, your advice is right on the mark! ;)

Helen De Cruz

Hi Marcus - I am curious what you think about on campus interviews. Given the length of these interviews, would you say they provide some evidence? (there is still a performative aspect to them but my sense is also plenty of engagements where people might get a better assessment of what the person would be like as a colleague). Would going straight on campus after making a shortlist be an option?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Helen: yes! There are many things that are problematic about short screening interviews—but two primary things known to contribute to how poorly they predict things is how short they are and how they don’t simulate actual job performance. The science shows that observations over much longer periods of tIme that involve job-like performance *are* good predictors of job performance. And that is exactly what on campus visits do. They give observers a full day or two to observe the candidate doing things that actually approximate the job: research talks and teaching demos, as well as lunches and dinners that enable the candidate to settle in and convey more of what they are actually like. So again, Priceton has the science exactly right: the best thing to do is to go straight to on-campus interviews.

JDF

Princeton does not 'go straight to on-campus interviews'. They just do not interview. They hire simply on the basis of the application file and written work.

Marcus Arvan

JDF: thanks for the correction. The science says that’s a good method too. Generally speaking, the science holds that past performance is the best predictor of future performance—and that it is best to hire people on the basis of their work rather than performance in interviews (see https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2016/01/on-academic-hiring-practices-and-the-science-of-selection.html ). The science just indicates that if interviews are done at all, the best kind are long ones that closely simulate on the job performance. So Princeton is still doing something the science says woelse. But thanks for the correction!

Paul

"in the US particularly, your colleagues will have to put up with you for years, maybe the rest of your career. So while things like teaching and research excellence matter, the internal cohesion of the department and how you add to that also greatly matter."

Interesting post and conversation, thanks Helen. I am also inclined to get rid of first round interviews, but do think that we still need campus interviews. But I agree that if I am going to potentially work with you for 30 years, I want to have at least some indication that we can work together. And I want to know that you can teach our students and that your research is hopefully something that we find interesting, but more importantly that you can convey that research clearly and compellingly to a broader audience. If you can't do that, you will have a hard time getting tenure since it has to go through the university tenure committee, which is drawn from across the university.

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