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12/10/2020

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anonymous person

I rarely agree with Marcus but I mostly agree here. But a couple caveats:

--I think it depends what kind of disastrous the interview was. For example, on one committee I was on, someone we fully expected to bring to campus seemed to be totally just not interested in the job--he didn't even really engage with us, often giving one word or one sentence answers to questions, and was even a bit flippant at times. But it also didn't seem like he was at all nervous, and he was going up for tenure at the time and was very accomplished. That interview really did push that candidate to the bottom of the list, because he genuinely seemed not interested. My experience is that if someone is just clearly very nervous, or something, even if it results in a messy interview, it is less likely to be held against them or really shift their position in line. So: I don't think you just have to bomb, I think you have to bomb in a particular way.

--Second caveat: my experience is that very often we actually don't know who we want to bring to campus pre-interviews. (Indeed, the one time we had a very clear set of four people who we thought were best, we just skipped straight to on campus interviews--but that has only happened once.) In those cases I think interviews matter a lot more. And of course candidates have no way of knowing which kind of case they are in. I think it's probably more helpful psychologically to assume there's a ranking and that your interview isn't going to (likely) make or break you, and that's how I would encourage my students to think. But at least sometimes it's not as simple as that, because people are really torn (typically, because people just really LIKE all the candidates).

Jared

Is it possible to say something about what you have in mind regarding the tremendous quality of an interview? Does it have mostly to do with the candidate's winning personality, or perhaps enthusiasm for teaching particular courses (for non-R1 schools), or perhaps intangible chemistry with you and your colleagues on the SC? I realize there are quite a lot of factors, and varying opinions among SC members, but wondered if there was something to say in general. Thank you!

Marcus Arvan

Hey Jared: Good questions! I gave my own run-down here: https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2018/04/the-secret-lives-of-search-committees-part-11-interviews.html

But, as you note, as with most tings, search committee members probably vary significantly here. I think it would be great to hear other search committee members weigh in on your questions. Indeed, some of the comment by 'Anonymous person' above seems relevant.

Any other search committee members out there care to share answers to Jared's questions?

Jake Wright

If Marcus's experience is broadly correct (and I have no reason to doubt it), this leads to a natural question about how many people are being asked to participate in first round interviews.

Suppose that interviewees fall into one of three rough categories: FRONTRUNNERS that, as Marcus notes, would generally be expected to get an on-campus invite, CONTENDERS who, despite not being frontrunners, may benefit from a tremendous interview, and ALSO-RANS for whom even a "tremendous" interview will not be enough to move the needle towards an on-campus interview.

Further suppose, arguendo, that there is rough agreement among committee members about who falls into which grouping. If, via the interview process, the only new information provided to the committee is that which comes from the interview, and if, as Marcus posits, even a tremendous interview will not lead to an on-campus visit for also-rans, why are also-rans being interviewed at all?

One can see why frontrunners and contenders are interviewed; a disastrous interview may knock a frontrunner out of contention, while a tremendous interview may vault a contender into frontrunner status. But for the also-ran, the only information to be provided will not make a substantive difference. Thus, it seems like providing interviews to also-rans will both waste everyone's time and (perhaps more importantly) provide a false sense of hope to an interviewee when there is none.

Under normal circumstances, I think that providing a false sense of hope is problematic, but under our current circumstances, doing so seems obviously wrong to the point of borderline cruelty. One might argue that the opportunity to interview provides useful experience that might turn also-rans into contenders or frontrunners in future searches, but that seems (a) like that sort of training is not the search committee's job and (b) ought not come with the accompanying false hope. What, if anything, am I missing here?

Peter

I've been on 5 or so SCs at a school with a 4/4 load. I agree with Marcus's numbers. For me, a tremendous interview is one in which it is obvious that the candidate is good at perceiving pedagogical challenges, inventive about how to try to solve those challenges, and realizes that improving as a teacher is a lifelong project. In my experience at least 90% of candidates fail to communicate any of these things (and we do craft our questions, albeit it not in an obvious way, to try to bring these things out).

triple anon

@Jake, I'm early career non-TT and have not been on SCs, but FWIW, my sense of it is that the Also-Rans are being interviewed to meet quotas.

Colleges typically have institution-wide standard requirements for job searches, e.g., advertised in X way for Y amount of time resulting in Z number of first-round interviewees, etc. So Also-Rans are there simply to get the number to Z. (Anecdotally, a few weeks after one interview I gave, a friendly acquaintance from the interviewing institution not on the committee emailed me off-the-record through a personal address to apologize for putting me through a charade of an interview when the department already knew that it was between two other candidates.)

So my sense of it is that the Also-Rans are being interviewed because they're a "necessary" part of the process (because, of course, the process is broken). Unfortunately, it's difficult or impossible to know if one is an Also-Ran or a "legitimate" candidate.

Marcus Arvan

Jake and triple anon: I appreciate the concern. Here are a couple of thoughts in reply.

On interview quotas: yes, my sense is that sometimes administrations require search committees to interview some minimum number of candidates (e.g. 6, 10, or 12). If a committee has no choice here, then they have no choice.

On the notion of an 'ALSO-RAN', I don't think this descriptor (or implied descriptor) is quite accurate. As 'anonymous person' notes above, my experience is that search committees often like *all* of the candidates they interview (or, if there is disagreement in the committee, some candidates may be very strongly favored by some committee members but not others).

What this means in practice, I think, is that candidates 'lower on the list' (whether it's an explicit ranking by the committee or a general sense of how the candidates rank) do have a real shot: it's just an uphill battle, and a bunch of things may have to go right for people low down on the list to have a shot at an on-campus.

Here's one such scenario: suppose there are two clear front-runners heading into the first-round interview. Then suppose that one or both of those front-runners has an absolutely disastrous interview, the candidates 'in the middle of the pack' have so-so interviews, but someone on the lower end of the list (an 'ALSO-RAN') completely knocks the interview out of the park. My sense is that this scenario doesn't happen very often. But my sense is that it *does* happen from time to time, and that this may be one reason why search committees interview those people. This kind of scenario can be especially relevant, I think, if there are divisions among the search committee. For example, suppose an 'ALSO-RAN' is the #1 preference of some subset of the committee, whereas the rest of the committee is not so high on them. If that person knocks the interview out of the park, the two committee members who thought very highly of them can make a case to the rest of the committee ("See, what did we tell you? This candidate is *awesome*").

Again, I don't think these scenarios happen a lot. But I think they *do* happen from time to time, and that when they do they can make all of the difference in a career. See e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHXKitKAT1E

So, I'm inclined to think that even if the chances are small, it's better (from a moral point-of-view) to give them a shot in an interview rather than none at all--though I'll just add that I think committees can interview too many people (like, 12 just seems to me to be way too many!).

Evan

If you are nervous going into an interview, it might help to pretend that the interviewer is just as nervous or more nervous than you are. I say this because when I had a phone interview with two supervisors, the other person on the phone sounded quite nervous to me. His voice was a bit shaky. I asked myself, “Why does he sound nervous? I’m the one that should be nervous.” I was surprised, but once I had that realization that interviewers may be just as nervous as I am, I became more confident in my tone.

Job candidate

A bit off topic, but - following up on Marcus’s last comment - how many people are typically interviewed at the first round interview stage at R1/R2/other large schools? Is it typically 12 or fewer? Thanks!

Jonathan Ichikawa

In my experience in hiring departments, we do not typically have a ranking of shortlisted candidates prior to campus visits (which include talks, interviews, and various informal meetings). So there's not really a position to move people from.

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