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internet animal

"How would your friends describe you?"-- Maybe this was fine but it was during the pandemic so I hadn't seen many friends in a hot minute. It was also unclear what a good or right answer to this question with respect to a job interview is supposed to be.

A question about "assessment" that I interpreted as about assessing whether students/assignments meet departmental objectives and not (what I think they wanted) just assignments and grading. (This was an interview with no interaction so there was no way to correct the misunderstanding.)


Hi Trevor, thank you for the helpful post! Do you have any sense that those questions were targeted at you or that the committee asked the same questions to all candidates? Do you mind sharing whether you were offered a job or proceeded to the next level after the interview with those questions?

Trevor Hedberg

@curious. It varied the 1st and 3rd examples were asked of all candidates (I assume). The 2nd one certainly wasn't because it was an extremely specific question about my writing sample. I ultimately got offered jobs in cases #2 and #3; I did not advance past the 1st round interview in case #1.


"What are the main duties associated with this position, and what skills would someone need in order to succeed at them?" It sounded less like they were confirming that I understood the nature of the position, and more like they were genuinely asking.

It almost felt like they read an HR sheet listing questions that an interviewee might have for them, and thought they were supposed to ask the interviewee. I basically repeated some of the main things from the job ad, and said "beyond that, I was hoping you could tell me!"


I casually mentioned right before the interview that I play pickup basketball in my free time, and one interviewer asked something along the lines of "how does basketball fit into your philosophical thinking?" It definitely caught me off guard--I assumed at first it was a joke, only to realize that it was fully sincere.

Sam Duncan

Not quite one question but at a lfew Catholic schools I’ve interviewed at there were questions clearly designed to suss out if I was in fact Catholic and, if so, exactly what kind I was. For what it’s worth my opinion now is it’s probably best to flub those if you’re not Catholic or even if you were the kind of Catholic most of my Catholic friends are.

Caligula's Goat

1. If you could invite five philosophers to a dinner party, which would you invite and why?

2. Are you a believer?

This is an illegal question most likely but nonetheless I was asked it and, when I tried to dodge it artfully, I was asked again more forceully. It was asked during a one-on-one interview not during the interview with the committee.

3. Which professional organization's code of ethics do you think is best and why?

This one threw me off completely. I was utterly unpreapred for it and I think it was being used as a weeder question for a job about applied ethics.

4. Can you give us a specific experience you had that helps us understand your ability to work with students from diverse racial backgrounds?

former chair

A casual philosophy friend was asked a version of #2. As he told it to me, he had to decide whether to correct them and seem like an ass or let it slide and seem dumb. He figured he wasn't getting the spot anyway, so he chose ass.

former chair

Saw this on DN first. Posted this there:

I was once asked to describe and then discuss a philosophical problem that interested me but that I didn’t study. This was not about AOCs.

Quinn White

This was one that both surprised me and I thought was challenging and really really good: “what do you see as some of the more important trends in ethics [substitute your sub-discipline] right now?” One that is maybe less surprising but worth thinking about to handle (especially when mildly hostile): “why didn’t you cite so-and-so in your writing sample?”

Job Marketeer

"4. Can you give us a specific experience you had that helps us understand your ability to work with students from diverse racial backgrounds?"

Normally the question is about diversity in general, not just racial diversity, but I'd say number 4 has moved from an unusual to normal question. I've in fact had it in like 2/3rds of interviews I've exprienced.

I'd say if you're prepping for an interview in North America (especially where they've asked you for a diversity statement) you should be prepared to answer this.

Andrew Sepielli

Not a question, but I feel like sharing anyway: A very prominent philosopher fell asleep during my APA interview. Then at the "smoker", I went over to his department's table to talk to him; he turned away from me, otherwise refused to acknowledge me, and didn't say a word. It was easier to take it in stride because the market was a lot better in those days.

non-tt faculty

The teaching load is 4-4. Please let us know how you plan to continue to publish in highly regarded journals.


@Former chair,

The question is formulated in an unusual way, but it strikes me as just another way of asking: do you have philosophical interests beyond your areas of work & teaching? i.e. Beyond what you're required to do?

I'm not sure it's such a weird thing for a departmental community to value in someone they're thinking of hiring. In which case, it's probably wise to have an answer.

RIP nana

The strangest question I've gotten is, "How do you explain your work [in philosophy] to your grandmother?" My grandmother had been dead for about two decades when I got that question. As one might imagine, I did not have a good answer and did not get a second-round interview.


I've gotten a couple of "bad" questions too, some of which similar to the ones described above. (The weirdest one was about my age, which I could of course answer, but which really put me in a funky mood).

But in any case, I wanted to share two questions which I was pleasantly surprised by:
1. (for a research postdoc) If one of your collaborators for this project kind of checked out and would not show up for a while, how would you react to that?
2. (for a 4/4 teaching position) We've found that it is important that people teaching are happy. Do you have any hobbies or interests that have nothing to do with philosophy and that you make time for?

I think 1 shows that they care about finding someone who can support others (within professional boundaries) as they go through a rough patch, and 2 shows that they cared about work-life balance. I also thought it was fair to expect me to be able to answer these questions. (Didn't get either position, but I think it was for different reasons.)


"Which paper are your most proud of and why?"

- This one caught me off guard, as I don't often jump to *pride* when thinking of my published work. Tangible products of struggle, compromise, and symbols of progress maybe, but *pride*, I dunno maybe others wouldn't have had such a tough time with it. I think I said something like "I'm proud of all my papers, they each tell a different story" before joking that pride is a sin.

"If I gave you a million dollars, what studies would you run and why?"

- Again this caught me off guard. I do run studies but they're often only a few hundred or perhaps a thousand dollars. I don't need radically expensive equipment. I think I thought a bit too much about the dollar component, rather than getting at the heart of the question, which was something like "assuming no obstacles, what would you like to test?"

"What is the one course that you would love to teach but haven't had the chance to yet?"

- again, it's the emotional aspect that threw me off. I had lots of courses that I was prepared to teach, but *the one* that I *love* to teach? Similar to the "pride" question above, I think I spun my wheels a bit and went through a list of courses that I liked to teach and then created a chimerical course mixing and matching bits from each of them. I don't think the committee liked it.

Finally, and this was a long long time ago while I was still ABD (and truly had only maybe half of my dissertation written), a committee member asked me "Your work speaks to Hegel's x and y, doesn't it?" Reader, I don't know Hegel's x from his y from his z, as such I really didn't know how to respond and I went with "I don't think so."


I had a first-round interview at a department that turned out to be involved in a special university-wide program that wasn’t mentioned on their (out of date) website or anywhere in the job ad. During the interview, I was asked how I would teach a course in that program—a program that I had only heard of for the first time that second, about which I couldn’t reasonably be expected to know anything (the university isn't super well-known or prestigious). They actually only named the program in the question, didn't provide any details about how the program works, who the students are, or what the purpose of the program is. They just went ahead and assumed that someone with no affiliation to the university would know exactly what this program was.

I’m not sure what kind of answer they were expecting, but I can’t imagine that anything a candidate says in response, having about 15 seconds to think of a full curriculum for this secret initiative will be indicative of the quality of the candidate’s teaching abilities.

The cherry on the cake was that the faculty member who asked the question was visibly annoyed when I asked for basic details about the program. Bullet definitely dodged when I didn’t get invited back.


In my many runs on the market, I've come across a wide variety of weird questions. A few favourites:

1. How do your research/teaching/service align with the mission of our university? (Religious institution, but religious affiliation was *definitely not* a requirement.)

2. What is your experience in the liberal arts environment? (SLAC. I had a cheap government education, no experience in the 'liberal arts environment'. Did not get job.)

3. Can you explain why your research isn't boring? (Obvs one member of the SC had it out for me. Oh well.)

4.Are you married? (Yes, this was in the US; no, it's not legal. At least I think the guy was just genuinely curious and not up to anything more nefarious.)

Prof L

The oddest question I ever got was "What would you say to a parent who came to you complaining about a grade their child received?" I was dumbfounded, and said "I guess ... I guess I would tell them that I'm not permitted to discuss their child's grade with them ... I mean, isn't that prohibited?" They just laughed awkwardly and moved on to the next question. I still don't know what was going on there, if they were testing my discretion or didn't know that you can't discuss student grades with parents.

Charles Pigden

To JGL "Which paper are your most proud of and why?”

Surely this question is a gift! It’s an invitation to expand on your best paper and what’s so great about it. Indeed it provides an opportunity for a humble brag about your *two* top papers: ‘Well, I am pretty proud of paper X since I think I am on the way to solving an important problem Y. On the other hand I am also proud of paper Z as although it does not tackle quite such an important issue I think I manage to bring a dash of clarity to what is often a rather obscure debate and I think it is the most well-written of all my papers thus far. But on the whole the prize still goes to paper X for the reasons given’.

"What is the one course that you would love to teach but haven't had the chance to yet?"

Again not at all a weird question, What the Committee was probably testing for was breadth, which is a desideratum both from a teaching and from a research point of view. They wanted to know whether you have any interests or ideas outsides your stated specializations and areas of teaching competence. So you simply name a topic/famous philosopher that interests you but which you have not had the time and energy to focus on. ‘Well I have always been interested in X for the following reasons Y. But it is a little bit out of the main sequence/not something there was a demand for in the places that I have taught, so I have not prepared a syllabus and would have to think about it quite a bit before teaching a course on it.’ [Thus you do not have to concoct a syllabus for this imaginary course] You can (if you can do so truthfully) preface this with something like the following: ‘Well actually I have been lucky. I have had the chance to teach most of the topics that interest me the most, but there is just one thing …’ Even better if you can demonstrate your interdisciplinary interests but in a humble way ‘Well, I think it might be really interesting to teach a course on the Philosophy of Economist, but I would not feel happy about doing it except in conjunction with an economist for fear of perpetrating some dreadful faux pas.’

Finally the ABD question: "Your work speaks to Hegel's x and y, doesn't it?"

Like you JGL I don’t know much about Hegel, but there is an obvious strategy for dealing with this admittedly hairy question: ‘I have not read a lot of Hegel. Why do you think my work speaks to Hegel’s concerns?’ If your questioner gives even a moderately coherent response then you have the basis for a decent answer. More generally, it is useful to remember that you can usually question your questioner, hopefully elucidating enough information to give a reasonably coherent response to a puzzling question. [Most of the people you are likely to meet in an interviewing committee are likely to be fond of explaining themselves.]

Charles Pigden

To Prof L

"What would you say to a parent who came to you complaining about a grade their child received?"

Though it isn’t a problem at my university I have heard horror stories about Helicopter Parents, especially in the US, so this is probably a real issue at the college or university concerned and therefore not a particularly odd question. A lot depends on the local protocols, but a good answer might go something like this. ‘Well I am not sure of the local procedures so it depends. But I guess I might say something along these lines: I can’t discuss John’s/Joanna’s marks with you as they are confidential between the student and the university. However, if they think they have been marked unfairly we do have the following appeals procedure … that’s if you have an appeals procedure. Do you?’ This turns it around and may help you get at the issue behind the question.

Charles Pigden

To RIP Nana

"How do you explain your work [in philosophy] to your grandmother?"

This is not at all a weird question but a minor variation on an entirely predictable theme: ‘How would you explain your research to a reasonably intelligent but not necessarily well-educated person? ’ [Incidentally I tried out this question on my daughter, a recently minted PhD and Junior academic though not in philosophy, and on my 89-year-old mother who left school at 16 and they both said exactly the same thing. This is obviously what the questioner was trying to get at. ] If the grandmother angle throws you slightly, here’s how you answer: “I take it that you are asking me how I would explain my research to a reasonably intelligent person who did not know much about philosophy. Well here is my elevator pitch ….’ Since this is a pretty predictable question you should have your answer down pat so that you can reel it off without having to think very much. Then, to gain extra points , and having had a couple of minutes to ponder, you might try to customise you answer: ‘My nanna is./was a hospital cleaner, a munitions worker/a professor of astrophysics /a lawyer/ a left-wing voter so I might have to adapt my answer as follows ….’ However such a customised supplementary answer would perhaps be bridge too far and the first answer (if it is any good) ought to get you through.

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