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In the search committees I've served on, each member often has significantly different views of what is important. I've served on committees in both liberal arts schools and research universities, and while there are general trends - LACs care more about teaching, research universities care more about publication venues, etc. these are just general guidelines that vary widely depending on the particular position and the particular search committee member.


I work at a well-regarded department in the UK and have sat on several SCs. In my experience, people at my institution tend to care a lot about the following 4 things:

(1) *Candidates fitting the stated AOS and AOC*. If we’re hiring in a particular area, then that’s usually because (i) we have specific undergraduate teaching needs in that area and (ii) we want to expand or build upon existing research expertise and attract more PGRs in that area.

(2) *Candidates being able to ‘have a conversation’ with us and fitting into our research environment relatively seamlessly*. This isn’t to say that we’re against hiring anyone who works on something that we don’t (far from it!), but only that we’re wary of hiring people whose work/ approach/ etc is so alien to ours that they may not thrive at our institution or fit into its research culture particularly well.

(3) *Publication record*: obviously, it’s difficult to avoid being impressed by Nous, PPR, etc. But we don’t insist upon ‘tip top publications’. In general, as long as someone shows that they’re research productive and can publish in places that are well-known / not obscure, then they can make it past the first cut. The UK’s REF-system makes it difficult for us to consider someone whose track record raises worries about research productivity, though.

(4): *Writing sample*: (1)-(3) will usually get a candidate past the initial cutting phase(s). (I say ‘usually’ because comparative judgments are sometimes needed as a cutting tool when the pool is particularly competitive.) But if the candidate’s writing sample is rubbish or even just very mediocre, it’s very likely to count against their application—sometimes significantly.

On everything else, there seems to be a fair bit of variance in opinion. We care about having good teachers, but I don't often hear someone's teaching skills (as opposed to experience) coming up in conversations at SC meetings. I suspect that's because (in my opinion, at least) it’s a little difficult to use this as a sorting tool. It’s very rare that you come across someone at the extreme ends of the spectrum; i.e., someone whose application suggests they’d be an awful teacher or that they’d be a stand-out brilliant one. Most people have decent teaching evaluations, and truly original pedagogical ideas are few and far between.

Speaking for myself, I couldn’t care less about the candidate’s PhD-granting institution. My thinking here is just: if someone has an excellent writing sample, relevant teaching experience, decent teaching evals, and a respectable publication record, then, well…who cares about the department where they gained the skills needed for those accomplishments? What’s important is surely the skills themselves. But there are definitely people in my department who disagree with me about this!

I also don’t personally care about recommendation letters. But (fortunately, to my mind) there are University-level administrative rules that prevent us from accessing these letters early on in the decision-making process.

Top R1

I am at a highly ranked R1. Publications matter a lot. Both quality and quantity. No one has made it far in any of our recent searches who did not have multiple publications in top venues (generalist or specialist). That's necessary, but not sufficient: the work also has to be excellent. To evaluate that we pay special but not exclusive attention to the writing sample.

Recommendations are mostly useless. They will sometimes be cited as providing interesting information about a candidate, or lead some people to give a closer look, or confirm our enthusiasm. But rarely do they matter in anything like the way that publications do.

No one cares where you got your PhD.

Daniel Weltman

I think one component that is important at many places is "fit," which encompasses lots of stuff, like "will this person turn us down if they get an offer from somewhere else, which is likely to happen," "will this person hate it here and leave immediately, possibly causing us to lose the faculty line," "does this person want the job or do they want an offer so they can negotiate a higher salary at their present institution," etc.

Mostly though I want to echo the comments that different things matter to different committees and even to different people on the same committee. I don't find letters important, for instance, nor do I go over writing samples with a fine toothed comb, nor do I think teaching evaluations or sample syllabi are helpful.


I’m at program with a MA. Some colleagues approach hiring like we were a SLAC (which we were when they were hired, and still have the rhetoric and mentality to go with it). Other colleagues approach things like we were a R1 school with a PhD program. But we’re a pluralist program, and no one talks about where candidates published. We do talk about how they respond in our research presentation/interview, and we took take teaching seriously. (While this is before my time, I heard of a fantastic candidate who bonded the teaching demo and didn’t get the offer.) Fit is also an important measure; we talk about how the candidate would fit into what we do and our mission. This is idiosyncratic to what we do, but I think it is also reflective of how a lot of schools operate.

Maybe not joking

In my experience, the following criteria are most salient—will you be an ally in department battles? Is it obvious from your CV and interests that you will be cooperative with members of the search committee and people like them? Will you be a thorn in the side of their enemies?

Joking ... haha.... ha.

SLAC Associate

Chiming in mostly to echo that every search committee member looks for different things, but I spend more time looking at teaching portfolios than anything else when hiring at my SLAC. Sample syllabi matter a lot as they loudly advertise what the candidate thinks is important both in terms of content and pedagogy (e.g., a surprising number of candidates write sample syllabi that treat lower-level undergraduate courses as if they were grad seminars, diving straight into the deep end of issues without any background introduction, or basing nearly the entire course grade on one major paper.) Sample assignments are also valuable for similar reasons, and we've definitely had candidates get to the interview stage largely on the basis of interesting assignment design. I seldom find teaching evaluations or teaching philosophy statements tell anything interesting in a positive sense because almost all of them are equally fine (I don't think most candidates realize that the vast majority of philosophy teachers have quantitative student evaluations well above college averages, so having a bunch of 4.7s out of 5 isn't wildly impressive) -- that said, subpar evaluations do tend to stick out.


@SLAC Associate: perhaps this takes the thread off the rails, but: I have consistently average evaluation scores relative to my university, although I often have many positive, sometimes glowing, comments which I try to highlight and which I try to show relate to my teaching mission and techniques. Would this count as "sub-par"?


Everyone above is correct.

*There is no Platonic search committee.* There are five or so people who are idiosyncratic and each have their own view of the ideal candidate and their ability to influence the other members. I have seen committee members who wanted to make sure that whoever they hired, was capable of teaching good philosophical writing. I have seen SC members who had irrational prejudices against ivy leaguers, and others who thought they would look better sharing a department with a Harvard grad. Some who counted publications, others who didn't care who they hired as long as it was the best diversity candidate the school could get, etc.

All this is to say, that Marcus is right. Present the best view of yourself you can, given what you think the institution wants and hope that version of you is the best fit for what they think they need. Make sure you come off as relatable to their students, to them, and to the administration. Make sure you come off as a good citizen: you will teach what they need taught, serve on the committees they no longer want to be on, publish enough to get tenure, and make the school look good in whatever way you can.

For better or worse, it is hard to "game" SCs by trying to give them what they value. You just can't know what that is.

Gambling Addict

After another job rejection after what I was told was a strong final round interview performance, I'm wondering how much performing well during the final round interview matters to search committees in comparison to some of the non-performance based "fit" considerations mentioned above. Is it often the case that some finalists have headwinds against them for these reasons or is it more common in your experience that the final round is a wide-open contest decided on the basis of interview performance?

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