Monday, December 15, 2008

Mock Interviews Mocked

Last week, my department conducted its annual round of mock interviews for the hopeful job seekers amongst us. This year, I threw my better judgment to the wind and participated in the festivities. What an eye-opener.... Here's a snippet of one of the interviews. If you're a job seeker, file this under "Don't be this dumb."

Interviewer: As you know, we're a small liberal arts college. Part of what keeps our philosophy department in business is our ability to offer six sections of "Critical Thinking" every semester. "Critical Thinking" is a required course in our General Education curriculum. So, each member of the Philosophy department offers at least one section of "Critical Thinking" every semester. Could you describe to us how you would teach such a course?

Candidate: Critical Thinking?... hmmmm... Well, that's not my area.

Interviewer: Well, I realize that this is not your area. It's not mine either. But, as I said, we all have to teach it. So, could you say something about how you would construct the course.

Candidate: Well... I'd rather not teach that kind of course. Couldn't I just stick to "Intro" and upper-level courses?

Interviewer: Well... No. As I said... We all have to teach "Critical Thinking." It sounds to me as if you're saying that you're unwilling to teach it. Is that right?

Candidate: Yeah.


imipolex g-unit said...

holy. fucking. shit.

I hope you did what JUSTICE demands and killed this person. Or at least leaned across the table and swatted them very firmly across the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

Spiros said...

No joke. And never fear, JUSTICE was served.

Another mock candidate indicated that he *refused* to wear a jacket and tie. His claim was that "I don't think what I wear matters."

My reply: "If it doesn't matter, then wear the fucking jacket and tie!"

Anonymous said...

How funny --- and how freaking arrogant. With answers like that, they ought to be saying "would you like fries with that?".

I have to say, in some people philosophy grad school encourages that arrogance. I do think it is pretty funny when I find out that those folks from my grad program are still doing one-year jobs and I have tenure.. someplace that teaches a bazzilion critical thinking sections per year.

729 said...

I believe that mock interview counts as a "FAIL" (and would be "EPIC" if it was a real interview).

Free Advice (FWIW) for Job-seekers: A helpful response to interview questions about critical thinking courses is to ask the interviewers whether they want (or do not want) any formal logic taught and what sorts of gen ed needs the course fulfills (is it, for instance, a writing intensive course?). Departments are different about this, gear the course towards different skill sets and serve different student bodies. For instance, in my dept. CT is really a basic logic course, but this isn't the case at other colleges and universities, where things like informal argument and writing skills are emphasized. Our Intro to Philo. and Intro to Ethics courses carry the gen ed weight, so our CT can be more formal (and appeals to a lot of computer science students).

I suppose what I'm suggesting is that when it comes to interview questions about "service courses," questions about how the department handles these courses can develop into interesting discussions about the student body, gen ed requirements, department learning objectives and curriculum development. Say, for example, you specialize in philosophy of law. Maybe you can develop a critical thinking course geared towards students interested in or in pre-law? If there's an Honors program or College Prep program, does a department want to develop service courses geared towards these students? Service courses are very often the way that philosophy departments attract majors and minors (besides "serving" the institution), and having interesting questions for the interviewers about their service courses is not a bad idea.

A Grad said...

Stories like this give me a little hope as I get ready to enter the market. I like teaching, I'm good at it, and I am working hard on my research. And while I joke that I don't have social skills, apparently I'm further ahead than some.

I found more hope at the Philosophy Job Market Blog for more: "I think this nonsense about cover letters needs to stop. Frankly, I am tired of hiring committees putting the onus on me to tell them what a great fit I am for their department over and above the shit I put in my dossier."

*sigh* I won't be the last pick of a hiring committee!

Thanks for the relief.

Spiros said...


Good advice. Let me give you one additional bit of jaw-dropping madness... A job-seeker who did pretty badly on the mock interview asked afterward what she could do to better prepare for the real thing (a small lib arts college). I said, "Well, you could go online and check out the webpage of the department you're interviewing with, noting what the other people in the department do, what courses they teach, how they teach them, how often they teach upper-level courses in their own areas of interest, what role Philosophy plays in their gen ed curriculum, and so on..." It was as if I asked her to donate a kidney. She replied "All that? *Really*?"


The Brooks Blog said...

It sounds like this person has no hope! If you're asked what you do on a course you would have to teach if hired and you refuse to teach on it, then you effectively are refusing to be hired by the department. Madness.

If this grad student is unhappy with what s/he must do at a college or the level of preparation required, s/he should not think of applying.

Anonymous said...

How funny --- and how freaking arrogant. With answers like that, they ought to be saying "would you like fries with that?".

Agreed, but 'ought' doesn't imply 'will' and the sad fact (for me) is that I'll probably be serving this guy fries after this year. Spoiled shit though this kid may be, this kid will still probably get interviews with a good enough pedigree and I'm still stuck in 1 year hell. The only interview I've ever had apart from the interview I've had for the 1 year that won't end is a mock interview.

When our department does fly outs, candidates have to teach a course. I remember one coming into my course and giving a guest lecture that included at least four uses of 'Fuck'. He aggressively asked one student, 'What the fuck are you talking about?' in response to the students (admittedly) stupid question. He later said that we couldn't justify eating meat for health reasons because the 'fat fucks' would be better off going vegetarian. There were more than a few obese students in the room. He was offered the job that afternoon but turned it down for a better offer.

Anonymous said...

What does this mock interview say about your department? I hope this is not the norm.

Spiros said...


It says we have a lot of clueless grad students.

tell said...

But who is to blame for your students' cluelessness. Certainly part of it is your students' fault, but part is the department's fault. Your grad student advisor should be preparing these students for the job market. It sounds like he/she is doing a piss poor job of this.

cold but employed said...

A pursuit once characterized by critical self-reflection. Yet a profession producing thirty year olds as lacking in common sense as when they began the PhD at 22, who think that being able to teach a little philosophy is qualification enough to be a philosopher, who bemoan the unfairness of the job market when they've done nothing to distinguish themselves from three hundred other applicants. Sign of doom? Or just delightfully amusing to the cranky employed?

Spiros said...


Wholly agreed. But my department hasn't even convinced itself that it needs a grad student adviser, or a placement committee, or anything official like that. Students apparently are supposed to get their job-market training from their diss committee. Or not.

729 said...

Sign of doom? Or just delightfully amusing to the cranky employed?


Anonymous said...

Speaking as a former clueless grad student who chose a life outside of academia, very little of this surprises me.

Grad school is a very coddling world. I imagine the switch to from student to faculty can be pretty harsh.

P. Pig said...

Seconding 729's comment about the variety of Critical Thinking courses out there: at my present one-year gig, CT is informal logic and satisfies the university's general education Speech Requirement. Luckily, I've taught value theory courses elsewhere that also counted as speech classes.

Spiros said...


Nice on the 'or'! That joke never gets old!

djw said...

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the notion that a trained philosopher thought she couldn't teach an intro gen ed course called "Critical Thinking" because it's "not her area". IMO, anyone with a PhD--at least in the humanities or social sciences--ought to be able to teach a course like that.

Graeme said...

It seems to me that if you answer such an clear question with "It's not my area", then you have demonstrated the truth of your statement. Rationality has been lost in self-absorption. Why bother with more expressions of inadequacy?

Anonymous said...

What popped in my head in response to the question:

"ALL my courses are critical thinking courses--my efforts as an instructor are not primarily to deliver philosophical course content, but to make my students philosophical about the content of the course."

Even more amazing? It's what I've actually tried to do my entire career (28 years). BTW, I've had exactly one interview in my career, and I beat out an internal candidate for this position. Some grad students these days must really be performing a lot of auto-colonoscopies.

vishnuprasath said...

Thanks once again putting in the context its opportunity gain through an user if you find a jobs in india to post your CV you got a dream job.
openings job in india

NameLevelPhilosopher said...

All I can say is, this adequately demonstrates that the candidate was not lying when he or she said 'critical thinking' was not his or her area.

And I know what institution Spiros is at. I've met the grad students there. They ARE clueless.