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« Tips for dealing w/job-market burnout | Main | Mentoring project for early-career women* philosophers »

01/25/2022

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Rosa

So this is from 7 years ago when I was on the market, and it's something that was really good, but I think it's worth mentioning because the opposite is bad. At the job I took, on my fly out, the department chair told me (in addition to all of the stuff about the job and the university of course) a lot of things about quality of life, schools, etc - and prefaced it by saying that he wasn't assuming or asking me to share anything about my personal life, and that this was a conversation he had with all candidates on fly-outs regardless of gender. As a woman on the job market, it feels awful to always be unsure whether people are trying to suss out whether you have/want kids, assuming you're going to be more focused on family than your male peers, etc. So don't do that stuff with women, and if there is a way in which it would make sense to set them at ease like my department head did, please do!

TT

I can contribute something I think a hiring committee did *well* when I was on the market:

At the beginning of the interview, they signposted for me how long they expected to take asking questions about different topics (the standard research, teaching, etc.), and they gave me some "warnings" as to when we were nearing one of those pivot points in the interview. I thought this was a great practice. Signposting is always helpful.

anonymous associate professor

I think in general hiring committees should tell candidates as much about what is going to happen in an interview as possible: who will be there? are each of those people members of the committee? will you be asked to give a spiel about your research at the beginning, or not? will the research questions exclusively focus on your writing sample? what will be the general breakdown of teaching vs. research questions? If you're going to ask the candidates all exactly the same questions, why not... send them to them in advance? People might quibble with some of these, but in general, send more info, not less, about what is going to happen!

Postdoc Zero

One thing that could help job candidates prepare for interviews (and for writing the bits of their cover letters and other materials that refer to how they might fit in to the department culture) is to ensure that the department website is up-to-date, especially with information about the members of the search committee and current projects and activities in the department. It can be difficult to get an accurate vibe on a search committee member if their department web page has no information or old information. Similarly, pages on department events and research centres/projects/etc. should be current, or else a candidate risks looking silly by referring to a project that doesn't exist anymore as something they would like to join — or by suggesting something new and exciting that a department member is already doing.

and so it goes

I decided while still in grad school that community college teaching was the career path I wanted to pursue, so the following comes from my experience with interviews only for cc positions.

So this is also a thing done well: for each interview, I've been given a list of the questions that will be asked--sometimes the day before and once just an hour before.

A thing not so great: As Marcus wrote above, there is quite a lot beyond a hiring committee's control--and unfortunately that often includes timelines and notifications--but they do have control over doing what they can to make the interview itself, that experience, the best possible showcase for the interviewee. During a teaching demonstration for one interview, the committee was clearly half-paying attention and asked no questions.

Being on the other side of things now, I know they're busy and that this is another service task for them. But if you're in the interview your time is already committed, and being respectful and considerate should be a professional norm.

On the brighter side, this is a good way to find out where you *don't* want to work. Also, every other teaching demo I've done has been treated with enthusiasm, so I think that bad experience was (hopefully) an outlier.

anon

Not exactly on the interview process, but I got my first job offer with the note that I should decide whether to accept it within a few hours. Don't do that to people. Moving to another part of the country is a big decision that may affect more than 1 person, and should not be decided on the spot.

Plop

It's been said before, but asking for non-standard materials (or standard materials of a non-standard length) is, when avoidable, close to criminal. (And when it's not avoidable because HR requires it, why not just make clear in the add that although you require, e.g., a 600 word summary of my research written for the layman, it won't be given any weight in the process.)

Some places are great asking only for some number of the following: CV, writing sample of around 10000 words, letters of rec, research statement, teaching portfolio, diversity statement.

Some places are middling, requiring some or other of the following: writing sample *of no more than 8000 words*, research statement *written in this particular way*, teaching portfolio *covering these specific things,* more than 2 sample syllabuses, etc.

Some places are outright awful, e.g.,: tailor all your application materials (including your letters of recommendation) to the specific post doc. Are you mad? You want me to go back to my letter writers and ask them to rewrite their letters with your department in mind (one they probably haven't heard of and know nothing about)!

Every time a search deviates from some subset of the first list, they cause the applicant to sink effort into a tiny chance of getting the position. It's awful behaviour. Lots of people just haven't, e.g., written a paper of 7000 words: expecting someone to rewrite a paper (perhaps an excellent paper already published) in order to fall under some arbitrary threshold is outrageous. (If you get to the end of the first 7000 words and aren't interested enough to read to the end, then fair enough—you weren't going to hire that person anyway.)

(I mention the third list only to highlight just how bad some places are—thankfully, its not many.)

Tompkins

In interviews, don't ask question p and expect the applicant to know that when you do so, you're actually asking question q. The applicant's ability to make the transition from p to q will be highly dependent on their sharing sufficient cultural background with you, and whether they do will depend on factors way way out of their control and irrelevant to their ability to do the job or be a potentially good colleague.

I'm first-gen from a poor background and I can't tell you how many times I bombed interviews only to hear, on retelling the story to e.g. friends whose parents were profs, that it was `obvious' that when the committee said `p?' they were really saying `q?' Welp, not obvious to me. Ida thought that if you wanted to say `q?' you say it by saying oh, I don't know... maybe `q?'.

SC member

I was on a search committee in 2019-20 that ultimately got cancelled in March due to the pandemic, right as we were ready to make an offer. Here's the thing: if the chair had shown a little more initiative, we could have started the review process two weeks earlier than we did and made an offer before the pandemic hit. It still drives me nuts that some run-of-the-mill laziness cost us a colleague.

So, search committees should hurry, insofar as it's possible. You never know when a search will get pulled, and the longer you dillydally, the more likely it is that something could happen to undermine your ability to hire. It doesn't need to be something as extreme as a pandemic. It could just be that your topic choices all took jobs and you're not allowed to dip back into the interview pool. Or it could be that enrollment numbers come in and are smaller than expected. Strike while the iron is hot, folks!

rutabagas

I've also had search committees give me the questions ahead of time and let me know they'd be asking all the questions, in the same order, to all the candidates. I liked that a lot.

Echoing what others have said, standardizing application materials helps so much. So does standardizing your interview format--I've known of search committees who have tried to reinvent the wheel, and maybe their interviews are better, but it's so much more stressful for job candidates.

For flyouts, breaks, and making sure everyone knows to end meetings on time. I had one flyout where they didn't schedule nearly enough breaks, and all the meetings with individual faculty members ran over, so the few breaks I had mostly got squeezed out. I'm still grateful to the one faculty member who insisted we finish our meeting on the dot.

A teeny tiny little thing, and other people may not care, but if you're dining out on your school's dime...order dessert! I was very lucky to get flyouts, I'm not complaining about that, but it was always a bummer to eat at a decent restaurant and not get dessert because the search committee members weren't.

Two Cents (Only)

I'd love to see a larger discussion of the "go straight to flyouts" strategy. Sure, if you do a first-round zoom with 10 candidates, someone who didn't look great on paper might wow you and end up being your number one choice. There's no doubt that, conceptually this is possible. But it's also true that very, very often people of the committee have a very good idea of who are the most likely to get the job, and one of those candidates does, in fact, get the job.

I know this suggestion will get blowback, but I'd also love to hear from those at schools who go this route, as few as they are, and what their experiences are. Because, although I prefer this strategy from an applicant perspective (I've had many interviews in which it was pretty clear that I had no chance of moving forward, and I didn't), I imagine that schools that opt for this strategy do it out of their own self-interest.

Daniel Weltman

Along the same lines as Two Cents (Only), I have two rather controversial practices that I'd be interested in seeing implemented, at least on a trial basis. I'm less passionate about the first suggestion but on balance both seem to me to be improvements on the current methods:

1) Rather than Two Cents (Only)'s suggestion of going straight to flyouts, consider just doing online interviews.

2) Unless there are special considerations, like picking on the basis of who you think is most likely to accept your offer, just make a shortlist and draw lots to decide who to make an offer to from the shortlist. The differences between different candidates on the shortlist are typically either differences in kind that don't admit of ranking (e.g. one person has an AoC in one area, the other in another) or differences that are so slight and inconsequential that it's ridiculous to make hiring decisions on this basis (e.g. one person misunderstood a question in their job talk Q&A and the other person didn't) that it's not worth agonizing over which candidate to pick. You also get to skip a lot of haggling between search committee members over whether their favorite candidate gets the offer (and the consequent hurt feelings when someone loses out), etc.

These are both offered in the spirit of what would be better for search committees themselves, which is not the spirit in which the original question was asked, but I think they'd work out better for job candidates in lots of cases, especially job candidates who get nervous during visits and screw up relatively small things that they wouldn't screw up in everyday affairs, etc. I think those tiny screwups are often used to penalize people in order to allow members of the search committee to form some kind of ranking, when in actuality we should realize you can't rank a bunch of people who are basically equally good candidates.

Also, if we went with one or both of my suggestions, the process would go faster, which would overall often be better for candidates. (Sometimes it would be worse, but that's life.)

I might be slandering her but I think Nancy Cartwright is an advocate of my second suggestion.

anonymous associate professor

@Daniel Weltman that's not my experience with what decides between job candidates brought to campus. I think there's often pretty big things that come out in on-campus interviews/fly outs, including with candidates who previously were everyone's favorite and who everyone would be inclined to forgive small mistakes, etc. in. My experience is also that people can really shine in on-campus interviews who the committee might have previously had ranked lowest. And I think some of the things that come out really do matter to assessing what someone would be like as a colleague, teacher, life long member of a department that we all have to work with, etc.

lotteryplayern

Make first cuts on the basis of materials that do not have to be tailored in any way to your job. Expect candidates worth hiring will often be busy and (sorry to say) have much better things to do (e.g. mentoring their existing students, writing, and teaching) than pour over your website. As you become more interested in them, it becomes reasonable to expect them to become more interested in you.

Maybe skip the job talk. I doubt they really tell you anything important. Teaching demos and casual conversations seem more indicative of the kind of colleague a candidate will be

historygrrrl

1. Please do not tell candidates that you will get back to them by X date and then not do that. It is better to leave things open.

2. I really appreciate the standardized on-campus interviews, where every candidate has exactly the same schedule - even better if it is an efficient, one-day affair. Being stuck on someone else's campus for half a week is unnecessary.

3. Also on standardization, it seems appropriate for each of the candidates to interact with all and only the same people that will have a vote on hiring. I would expect, at minimum, that all voting members of the department would turn up for the job talk (or miss all job talks if they must miss one).

4. Please save disagreements between committee members about sensitive matters like politics and religion for times other than meals with the candidate. It is very awkward for the candidate.

5. It is good practice to give the candidate adequate time to accept an offer...but @SC member is right, that it is also good to move somewhat quickly. I've had offers as early as February, so when flyouts do not happen until March, candidates may have been pressured to accept another offer (thus turning down a shot at what might have been a better job.)

@rutabagas: Please order dessert. Keep in mind that some departments will only pay for the candidate's meal, leaving the interviewers to pay for themselves!

newly appointed

I had four interviews last year, and eventually got an offer and accepted it. The offer came from the job for which I think I interviewed best. But here's another feature of that interview: it was the only one where the hiring committee expressed (or affected, whatever) a genuine interest in me as me, aka an interest in particular candidate me, with my academic background and interests, instead of treating me like interviewee #8. It was just a better experience.

In general, seems like a good idea that hiring committee members try to act interested in the people they've decided to interview. It just makes the whole thing less stuffy and awkward.

postdoc 1

@anonymous associate professor, as a soon-to-be flyout interviewee I was wondering if you could shed some light on what sort of "pretty big things" might come up in a campus visit for a candidate who was previously the first choice?

just another postdoc

I have mixed feelings about what newly appointed says. On the one hand I completely agree: I had one interview this year and the search committee seemed genuinely interested in me as a candidate and as a person. It was a much better experience than the one interview I had last year where I felt like just another slab of meat.

On the other hand, the interview felt so good and natural I left it thinking that I aced it and had a really good chance at a flyout. I did not get the flyout. It was much more disappointing than it otherwise would have been because the experience felt so great.

(This said, I am willing to accept that my mismatched expectations about my chances based on how the interview went were largely a function of my inexperience on the market.)

newly appointed

just another postdoc: totally, that's fair, and I had very similar feelings. The job I eventually got was one where they dragged their feet, so for a while I did think: Well, that was weird: it felt great, and they don't like me? Bummer for me

Also, I'd like to join postdoc 1 in asking anonymous associate professor to elaborate on their last comment. I'd especially like to hear more about what's going on with this idea that the top choice is more easily forgiven for things on campus interviews. Like what?

No regerts

Having been on both sides of the interview table, I'd add to the above by suggesting that interviewers ask questions in a natural way, rather than reading it from a piece of paper that HR sent you that morning. Practice aloud saying the question and (most importantly) sloooooowwwwwww yoooouuuuurrrrr rrrroooolllll.

In a recent interview I had, an interviewer read the question so quickly that they were out of breath by the end of it. The question had three sub-questions attached, and I wasn't able to catch them all. So I asked the interviewer to repeat the question. On the second try, the interviewer read it twice as quickly. The interviewee is already nervous; slow it down by practicing the question aloud a few times before starting the interviews.

From an interviewer's perspective, I would suggest that candidates not assume the interviewer has had a careful look at your entire portfolio. One of the most frustrating interview experiences I had was when a candidate kept on referring back to their work without explaining to us what they were talking about. When one of us interviewers asked for more context, the candidate became noticeably irritated and said, "It's in my CV." Unfortunately, you shouldn't treat interviewers like members of your class ("It's in the syllabus!") because we've likely had to review hundreds of dossiers.

teachingdemos

For teaching demos, it'd be great if departments did not ask people to do an entirely new prep on a topic, but instead to be able to teach something they're familiar with or have taught before. A new prep on a new topic can take 10-15+ hours of work, especially if it's relatively unfamiliar and you need to read relevant literature!

anti-interview

I'm totally in favor of getting rid of interviews, especially interviews that try to find out how good of a philosopher you are or want to talk about your writing sample / work. The artificial context of interviews just doesn't make it possible to infer anything interesting philosophy-competence-wise, in my opinion. You get asked a question, but because time is highly limited and you 'don't want to ramble', you have 20 seconds to give an answer. Like, what data are we trying to generate here? There's no time to inquire together, or refine, to talk about background knowledge and assumptions, or have a constructive back and forth---things we usually do in philosophy. As a result, you're judged on things we usually never do and that don't seem of much value to be able to do. I'm all for having conversations and talk philosophy to the candidates to get a feel for them, but I don't see the point of doing it in this way. Go by CV, and if you want to find out whether they'll be smart and interesting colleagues or are 'good philosophers' beyond their CV, arrange long meetings with them, take walks with them or coffee or whatever, take time for conversations and discussions, and judge on that basis.

campus visit

I had a very weird campus visit this year. (Didn't get the job, so take this with a grain of salt, but still.) Maybe there are a few takeaways from it for others / for hiring committees.

A bit of background: I had a zoom interview as well beforehand. There was an 8-people hiring committee, all of them senior male scholars. So maybe I should have suspected something. It's an R2 school with a strong PhD program.

The campus visit had no "schedule". I was supposed to be just sticking around the department, which I did most of the time, but it was mostly awkward time, talking to grad students and the secretary. The only scheduled things were a dinner, and a job talk next day.
To the dinner, 3 of the 8 committee members came. They were pretty friendly, but were mostly talking to one another about departmental issues that I didn't have too much to say about.
What was more surprising is that 3 of the 8 didn't even come to my job talk. (I also happen to know -- by a mistake of the secretary... -- who the other candidates were. I was the only woman out of the 4 of us. I don't think that was the reason they didn't take me seriously, but you know, it's hard not to feel that way when you're there.)

Takeaways:
- Go to the darn job talks of the candidates, if you are in a committee -- even if you're not that interested in the topic or in the person.
- Give the candidates a schedule. A campus visit is a pretty anxiety-inducing thing anyway, but not knowing whether you're in the right place at the right time doesn't make thing easier.
- If it is at all possible, if you have a female candidate and an all-male committee (which, I think, you shouldn't, but I know there can be circumstances), invite at least a female colleague to the dinner. This is a small thing, but I would have felt a bit less out of place.

Half baked

Campus Visit
I hear you! I had one campus visit where I was left to walk back to the hotel in shitty weather by myself. And then they did not pick me up for the dinner. They sat around with each other for 1/2 hour before someone said "who is picking the candidate up"?
Surprise: I did not get the job. We have a word for these type of people, but I will be respectful and just call them silly geese.

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