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a philosopher

I guess it just strikes me that this is something you should be able to figure out for yourself, and if you can't, you probably actually *aren't* interested in the job or just don't know yourself that well. If you have some grasp of what's important for you (e.g., teaching certain courses, etc), and genuine interest in the department, then questions should just naturally arise.

I guess this fits in with Marcus' second point. If you're a well-developed professional philosopher (an equal to those interviewing you), you should have a developed personality, interests, professional persona, etc. There hence should be things that you genuinely care about, and so can/will want to ask about.

I know a lot of people probably try to strategize for interviews with the aim of appealing to committees no matter what, but this seems like the wrong strategy. In the end, you don't really know what's going to turn off a random committee member, so you might as well just put forward the most polished version of yourself possible. No "deep dive" into a department's (probably outdated) website will give you the kind of knowledge you need to ask truly skilful or penetrating questions. By asking genuine questions that probe the fit of the department for you (e.g., would I be able to advise undergraduate theses? -- or whatever) you may risk revealing (to yourself and the department) that you aren't a good fit, but at least you are projecting as a developed professional -- hopefully one with compelling interests and interesting work.

A common theme around this blog is that fit really can matter. A "decent" job at a school that's actually not a good fit for you really isn't better than no job at all. So, while obviously tact is required, I don't see the harm in asking genuine, perhaps risky, questions -- e.g. can I do X? do you offer Y? what about Z? --- if those things are important to you.

Recent committee member

From a recent committee member: let me second the recommendation not to ask about philosophy club! We get it, you're signaling that you would be willing to go above and beyond for our students. But the fact that everyone else asks that means you won't stand out as Marcus says, and worse it looks like you just perused the website, noticed there is a club, and that's it.

As a candidate I found it really hard to figure this out as well. It's hard to have a good sense of a program just from their website, so it's genuinely hard to figure out what will come across well. The other thing I would say from having been on a committee last year that this is another one of those things that is easy to stress over as a candidate, but isn't going to be a make-or-break moment from the perspective of the committee. Yes, don't just say "no questions" but the committee's overall impression from the interview (which, as Marcus says, may be problematic, but unfortunately that's one of the many things you don't have control of as a candidate...) So spend some time coming up with a unique, genuine question that will reflect well of you as a candidate, but try not to stress over it too much!


I think it's probably a good idea to have more than a couple of questions you could ask. Reason 1: Your interview might go more quickly than the committee expected, and there might be time for 3 or 4 questions at the end (I've seen this happen). I'm not saying it would look *bad* to only have 2 at that point, and end early, but I think it would certainly be better to have more. Reason 2: Some of your questions may get answered in the course of the interview. It would suck to come in with 1 or 2 questions to ask, and then by the end of the interview they've already been answered. That puts you in the awkward spot of having to say you don't have any questions when they ask. (You could say "I had questions X and Y, but you answered them, and that's certainly better, but not great.)


Marcus, thanks for starting this discussion.

I have a question about one of your concrete cases. "... if the ad didn't mention what the teaching load is and no one mentioned it in the interview, I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask what it is!"

This sort of example doesn't seem to follow the general advice - to make the question thoughtful, individually tailored, etc. Do you think that more technical questions about the contract should always be combined with one of the more interesting questions? (I'd be pretty surprised if teaching load had not actually come up, but there are always other details to ask about. ) Or do you think these questions are genuine replacements for the tailored questions, and also markedly better than "No questions!"?


There was a useful thread on this topic over at the old CHE forum which you can mine for ideas:


If you want to contribute to that discussion, or ask for fresher ideas and advice, that forum has relocated to http://thefora.org/

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