Saturday, December 1, 2012

Note to Hiring Departments

I know that since the APA is still several weeks away, it's early for hiring departments to be thinking about bringing job candidates on campus for second-round interviews.  But the tendency of academics in general, and philosophers in particular, for social ineptitude is so prevalent that it's never too early for members of hiring departments to begin thinking about their treatment of on-campus job candidates.  Here are some thoughts that might jointly be sufficient for a baseline of minimally-decent treatment.  For each, I know of multiple cases of violation.

1. Prior to the visit, provide the candidate with a detailed itinerary (in writing) for his/her visit.  Be as specific as possible about who will be met, for how long, for what purpose.  Make sure the candidate is able to determine when there will be meals, when there will be downtime, how much time will be spent outside walking from one building to the next, what kind of weather to expect, and so on.   Distribute this itinerary to all faculty members so that everyone knows where the candidate should be at any moment of the visit.  Include the cell phone number of at least one faculty member who has been designated as a go-to in case problems arise.

2. Prior to the visit, provide the candidate with a detailed description (in writing) of the presentations / demonstrations that will be expected.  If there will be a job talk, how long should it run? Will there be a Q&A afterwards?  Who will be the audience?  To what kind of audience should the presentation be pitched?  Will the presentation take place in a room with a computer and internet capabilities? If there will be a teaching demonstration, indicate whether the demonstration will be in front of an actual class.  If so, provide the candidate with a syllabus for the class, and instructions on what to prepare.  If not, be as specific as possible about what you are expecting.  Ask the candidate in advance if he or she will use handouts, and if so, offer to have a sufficient number of photocopies made in advance. 

3. Prior to the visit, ask the candidate if he or she has any dietary requirements, and ask what his or her food preferences are.  Also, if any part of the interview will take place at a faculty member's home, be sure to ask the candidate if he or she has allergies to things like pets, nuts, wine, etc.

4. Have a faculty member-- not a student, not a taxi-- pick up the candidate at the airport and drive him/her to the hotel. Be sure to schedule some downtime immediately following the candidate's arrival, as people need time to recoup and refresh after flights, especially long ones.

5. Before leaving the newly-arrived candidate at the hotel, be sure to ask if there's anything the candidate needs: coffee, breakfast, a toothbrush, etc. And do not simply drop off the candidate at the hotel, either.  Make sure the hotel reservation is in order.

6. Once the interview is officially underway, at no point should the candidate be left waiting to be picked up and taken to the next stop on the visit.  Designate a single faculty member who knows how to be punctual to be in charge of getting the candidate where he or she needs to be at any given time.  Provide the candidate with a safe space to leave his or her coat or briefcase if these will be unneeded for an extended period.  Do nothing to add additional stress to what is already a pretty horrific process. 

7. If the interview involves meeting with graduate students, be sure to instruct the graduate students regarding what is and is not appropriate by way of questions, comments, and discussion topics in such contexts.  Also, tell the candidate what to expect in that meeting, and whether she or she should prepare anything in particular for it.

8. If there is a job talk, make sure every faculty member is in attendance, and if some will not be on hand, explain in advance why this is so.  If the department colloquium runs by certain house rules governing, say, follow-up questions and such, make these known to the candidate.  If the candidate is to field his or her own questions, let that be known in advance.  Also, remind your colleagues in advance of the visit that the questions after the job talk should be direct, concise, and about the paper that the candidate has delivered. 

9. If there is the usual reception after the job talk, designate a few faculty to remain with the candidate for the duration.  The candidate should never be left alone in a room of strangers, wondering what to do.

10. For each meal, choose a restaurant with a varied menu [and] that's quiet, or at least not especially noisy.  Let the candidate know in advance who will be joining for each meal.  Get a sense in advance from the candidate about his or her usual bedtime.

11. After the on-campus interview, have a faculty member-- not a student, not a taxi-- drive the candidate back to the airport in plenty of time to catch his or her flight.


Anonymous said...

Amen! This post should be distributed far and wide. Last year, I was on an on-campus where the department failed at nearly all of these. What's the point of bringing people out and then treating them badly?

Anonymous said...

I think this is OTT. Candidates should be treated with consideration - and it is true that they often aren't - but they are also adults who should be able to look the weather up and find coffee for themselves.

Anonymous said...

"but they are also adults who should be able to look the weather up and find coffee for themselves"

I think the better way to put this is that candidates should not assume that departments will do any of these things. Prepare for the worst, and *hopefully* you will be pleasantly surprised. So, look up the weather and plan accordingly; make sure you have some funds available in case you need to make it to the department on your own, or book a hotel at the last minute, etc.; think about how you'll deal with the audience being different than you expected, or there not being a projector, or the projector not working, or....

While departments should be doing all of these things, if they don't it is in the candidate's best interest to roll with the punches and make the best out of a bad situation.

Oh, and try not to read anything into it! Don't assume that they haven't done these things because they aren't really all that into you. That might adversely affect your interactions with them. And chances are that they are just socially inept.

Anonymous said...

Noisy menus are the WORST.

Anonymous said...

And a set of recommendations for candidates:

1. Prior to the visit, spend some serious time learning about the department. Make sure you know about the people you will meet (provided that information is on the department webpage).

2. Be prepared for the presentations/demonstrations you will be giving. You may be completely immersed in your dissertation, but that doesn't mean you can deliver brilliance on the fly. Have a script. Practice beforehand. Think about possible objections.

3. Bring a snack and a bottle of water. You may - as a matter of scheduling necessity due to dean, provost, and president schedules - go several hours without the chance for a meal.

4. Despite what anyone tells you, the interview starts when you are picked up at the airport and ends when they drop you off at the airport. They may tell you to just relax; they may even believe it. But it isn't true. You are always expected to be on, and you are always being evaluated.

5. You're an adult. Pack a toothbrush. If you aren't adult enough to pack properly, let us know, and we will make sure someone holds your hand when you cross the road.

6. Don't be afraid to ask if you need a couple of minutes to yourself, to pee, to get a breath of fresh air.

7. If the interview involves meeting with graduate students, avoid the urge to act superior and lecture them on your dissertation topic. Some of you are still graduate students. This is your chance to learn about the needs of the graduate students, not your opportunity to test drive your proposed graduate course.

8. If not everyone is in attendance for your talk, don't take it personally. The work of the department and university doesn't come to a grinding halt for you. Remember that you're walking into a professional situation, and there is business to be taken care of. There just may in fact be something more important than you going on that day.

9. If there's a reception after the talk, mingle. Don't spend all your time sucking up to the search committee, the department chair, or the senior scholars. Meet everyone, even the junior faculty members you have never heard of.

10. Don't get drunk.

Anonymous said...

The bit on allergies is important. I did an on-campus where they planned a dinner and gathering at the chair's house on the first night. She had a bunch of cats and I had to leave after about 10 minutes. The rest of the visit was unpleasant.

Anonymous said...

10;16 am... perfect

Anonymous said...

I've been on both sides of this fence, and I think that the list of recommendations is extremely good. The only thing I'm not sure about is picking the candidate up at the airport -- I think that it suffices to meet the candidate at the hotel with the clear understanding that all travel expenses, including taxis, will be covered. There's no need, for example, for the folks at Indiana University to drive to Indianapolis to pick candidates up, when there is perfectly good ground transportation from the airport to Bloomington. But this is a tiny quibble with an excellent set of guidelines.

Anonymous said...

As a somewhat recent job marketeer (2009), let me say that I actually preferred it when I wasn't picked up or dropped off by faculty at the airport. Part of it is that I don't love flying, so I appreciated having some time to compose myself in the hotel before official activities began. But most of it is that more or less all of my campus visits had me scheduled to the hilt. And since one ought to be on any time a faculty member, grad student etc. is nearby, I liked having time to myself when I arrived and, even more, when I was done and on my way back the airport.

Anonymous said...

4 is important. I would add, even if it's most convenient for people to take public transport from the airport (sometimes it is!) send someone to meet the candidate, don't tell her or him to just figure it out on his or her own (that happened to me before), and if your school is a long way from an airport, don't tell the candidate to rent and car and drive on their own- go get her or him. (That's happened to me, too.)

At the restaurant for dinner, remember, even though you've been there 5 dozen times, the candidate hasn't, so she or he will have to actually look at the menu before ordering- don't launch right into questions until she or he has had a chance to see what they want to eat. (That's happened to me, too.) It will make it look like your department is full of jerks.

Anonymous said...

Also, I'd suggest putting the candidate up in a nice enough hotel that it is unlikely that s/he will look out the window at 10pm to find a man unrinating on the car parked in front of said window.

Anonymous said...


Do people who urinate publicly really consider how classy the hotel is before they let loose?

Anonymous said...

Well, I certainly do.

I know you think this is unimportant. But we care about it, and it's something grown-up urinators do. We try to be professional in our urination.

Anonymous said...


Must be a regional thing. Where I grew up, we consider how nice the car is, not the hotel.

Anonymous said...

I *only* urinate on the rich, or absent that their possessions.

Unless they are on fire.

PA said...

Whether or not you should, in fact, arrange to pick the candidate up at the airport, if you tell the candidate you will, make a point of remembering to show up.

Anonymous said...

Question about Rule #3 (i.e. "Prior to the visit, ask the candidate if he or she has any dietary requirements, and ask what his or her food preferences are.")

What if the candidate is, say, vegetarian or vegan, and the local culinary traditions are not hospitable to such dietary requirements? Will the candidate risk appearing a worse "fit" on account of expressing her honest dietary preferences?

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll grant you 1, 2, and even 3, but the rest are ridiculous. You're a candidate trying to get a job (in a field that has been hemorrhaging cultural capital for years, during a period of high unemployment), not a foreign dignitary.
This, this kind of self-important crap right here, is why so many people outside of academia think we're useless, overpaid, out-of-touch assholes.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for self-reference!

Anonymous said...

"This, this kind of self-important crap right here, is why so many people outside of academia think we're useless, overpaid, out-of-touch assholes."

Really? I hadn't really thought about it. I just assumed it was because we are useless, overpaid, out-of-touch assholes.

Anonymous said...


That one issue isn't a big deal for me, but the idea of fit does matter a great deal.

I teach in a rural area. We make it very clear to our finalists (in both phone interviews and on campus visits) that this is a rural, farming community. We don't have public transportation. We don't have a "night life." We don't have many restaurants. We have great access to mountains and the water, a rich and diverse sustainable living community, and a vibrant arts culture. For some, this place is a dream come true (I am one such person); for others, it's a nightmare.

If I can address the larger issue, fit means a great deal to me when I'm evaluating someone. I don't want to hire someone who I know will be miserable. I don't want to hire someone who asks (as one candidate did) if most of our students were "redneck local-yokels."

Anonymous said...

@5:55 you clearly have an uninformed view of what professional life is like outside of the academy. I have for the last several years found my home in a professional environment that is not academic, and when we are hiring professional staff, our department does every one of these things. Better than most hiring departments in philosophy, I would imagine. But then I guess that just goes to show you that professionals outside of academia are a bunch of "useless, overpaid, out of touch assholes" - just, assholes who care about making a good impression on those we might want to hire, and, you know, showing potential future coworkers a bit of respect.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. I have never interviewed seriously outside academia, but a close relative is in the middle of a grueling and long series of non-academic interviews. Not one of the OP suggestions is followed, except for (6). (Of course, some of them are obviously not applicable.)

PAZ said...

Some of the sub-maxims on offer here may be controversial but I hope the overarching super-maxim governing on-campus interviews is not: Don't be assholes.

Anonymous said...

Over the top? Fatuous. There glaring need for such a list for candidates and departments, and if there are items you choose to omit, omit them.

Anonymous said...

This applies not only to philosophy departments. I've seen candidates mishandled by a computer science department with which I was affiliated. Suggestion number 6, which apparently never occurred to my fellow aspies, and which has been disparaged by imbeciles commenting here, was entirely disregarded. We're talking about a postgraduate institution in a major metropolitan area in which the department is located on one floor of a centrally located landmark building (and, incidentally, whose philosophy department routinely ranks high on Leiter's philosophical gastronome list). But showing the candidate around in a single indoor facility was beyond comprehension. He was left to languish for hours at a time in a computer hub. He did not take the job.

CTS said...


If I can address the larger issue, fit means a great deal to me when I'm evaluating someone. I don't want to hire someone who I know will be miserable. I don't want to hire someone who asks (as one candidate did) if most of our students were "redneck local-yokels."


We had someone who asked me about a PHL/Poli Sci joint program. As I started to explain it, the candidate proudly howled. "No problem! I can blow away anyone in your little poli sci department!"

Anonymous said...

I'm relieved others had the same reaction I did to the suggestion that a faculty member--and not a taxi--pick up the candidate at the airport and drive her to the hotel. This seems excessively fussy. I arrange for candidates to take a taxi from the airport. We reimburse candidates promptly for the cost, we make it clear that we will reimburse them, and we provide detailed instructions for them to pass along to the cab driver. The reason for all this mirrors what 7:30 above suggested: I assume that candidates would prefer to take a taxi to the hotel one their own without having to be "on" the moment they step off the plane. I found that to be one of the most unpleasant aspects of interviewing.

I suppose it helps that we're in a major metropolitan area, the airport is lousy with taxis at all hours, and the Hotel we use is about a five mile drive from the airport (and in a very lovely part of town).

I think all of these suggestions in the original post are quite reasonable, but most are also defeasible when an alternative route for treating the candidate kindly and respectfully is to be preferred for some reason or another.

Anonymous said...

Here is an important addition:

* Do not ask the candidate illegal questions at any point of the visit. It doesn't matter if you preface your illegal question with "I know I shouldn't be asking, but ...".

Someone should compile a list of illegal or inappropriate questions theyve been asked on flyouts. Here are mine:

1. "Do you have a partner?"
2. "Is your partner an academic too? Do you have a two body problem?"
3. "Is your partner okay with moving to (insert geographic region)?"
4. "Do you have kids in school?"

exapologist said...

On another note: Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...


I kind of enjoyed that. What the hell is the matter with me? I guess it must be the end of the semester grading.

Katy said...

What 3:02pm said about illegal questions. Seriously. Also fishing expeditions of the same sort, e.g. "this is a great place to raise kids", "I don't see a wedding ring..." (either uttered with rising terminal) or "so, your partner... he? she?" , or "I'm not sure how living in [name of town] is for *single people* (said in whispered tone as though speaking of monster with three heads) --is that something you'd like to talk to someone about?" please. Have had both the direct question form of these, and the indirect, fishing expedition form, and either is bad form.
about the taxi/limo: meh. Getting to a new place by oneself is something every adult should be able to figure out. But from the candidate end, it is true that this can be done well, or poorly. At IU, the then Chair (Kaplan) arranged a limo, told me how to get to the limo in the airport, and it dropped me off at the door of the union. I was actually grateful for the chance to relax a little before being "on".

Anonymous said...

"Do not ask the candidate illegal questions at any point of the visit. It doesn't matter if you preface your illegal question with "I know I shouldn't be asking, but ...".

Also, if it is a department with graduate students, don't instruct your graduate students to ask illegal questions of the candidate during "informal" lunch meetings so that the faculty have some way of finding out the answers to such questions. I've been at those lunches and if one of the graduate students takes it on themselves to start asking such questions, it gets awkward very quickly, especially when the candidate recognizes what is going on.

Glaucon said...

If by "illegal questions" people mean questions the answers to which may be impermissible bases for hiring decisions and thus may prompt a lawsuit then okay. But if by "illegal questions" people mean questions that are illegal to ask, then it is my sad duty to report that the set containing such questions has as many members as (I surmise) the set of Billy Joel albums owned by Spiros.

Anonymous said...

Dear Glaucon,

A quick internet search would prove you wrong. I suspect many of the attorneys floating around here can substantiate, but I would consider Cornell Career Services a reasonably reputable source:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Spiros.

One area where opinions might differ:
If I land at an airport feeling shitty, tired and irritable then I would rather meet anyone other than faculty. A student would be good - he could give me a few tips about the department. A taxi would be fine.

Do double check the hotel reservation shortly before the candidate is due to arrive though...

Anonymous said...

Glaucon is correct.
That Cornell document does not say that there are questions it is illegal to ask.

(It is customary to read the documents you post as evidence, by the way.)

Anonymous said...

10.5. At said meals, permit the candidate an occasional moment or two to actually eat some of the food.

12. Regardless of the state of your budget, don't ask or require candidates to spend their own money on anything, even if they will be reimbursed promptly. You don't know how strapped a particular candidate might be, or how much of a credit/financial risk they're running waiting for you to reimburse their plane ticket. Taxi costs have been mentioned above; while I favor meeting the candidate at the airport (although I did have one interview myself where it was a 3.5 hour drive to the airport, which may be asking a bit much especially as it doesn't give the candidate downtime after the flight), you should be able to find a taxi or shuttle service that will meet the candidate and bill your department.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for #12, 12:24.

Let's talk about the time I spent $680 on a plane ticket and waited five months for the school to reimburse me. That charge sat collecting 29% interest on my poor people credit card, while I had to sheepishly explain to other hiring departments that I didn't have the money for any more plane tickets.

Granted, some candidates might prefer to make the purchase on a personal credit card and get reimbursed, particularly if they get points or miles or whatever. Still, it would be nice for hiring departments to offer to pay for things up front. An APA trip and a couple of flyouts can be quite expensive for candidates seeking a first TT job.

Anonymous said...

Great list. Any suggestions for someone who's a member of a department full of assholes who follow none of these rules? I sometimes try to provide a buffer between the candidates and the worst members of my department, but a) I don't want to be too paternalistic toward the candidates, b) I want the candidates to know what the department is really like, and c) I have limited time and energy myself. Also, #8 made me laugh. I'm trying to imagine telling my colleagues what kinds of questions they should ask at job talks!

Glaucon said...


I think you're confusing asking the question with using the answer as a basis for a hiring decision. As 9:53 points out, the site you reference does not provide the evidence you seek.

It's bad practice to ask these questions, because one might reasonably infer that their answers provided impermissible grounds for a hiring decision. But bad practiceillegal. (In any society with any respect for free speech, how could asking a question be illegal?) I understand why the HR folks say the questions are illegal -- it's a useful falsehood.

And it's one that "quick internet search[es]" are likelier to replicate than to repudiate. Reading your state's fair employment law and/or asking your institution's affirmative action officer, especially if s/he has a J.D. and is trained in employment law will likely prove more reliable.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering about strategies for when one encounters such a question during an on-campus interview.

How would it go over to simply smile, look the person in the eye, and ask (sincerely, not ironically), "Why do you ask?"

This seems like a non-confrontational and polite way to point out that unless there is a reason for wanting this information, there's no real reason to ask the questions in the first place.

I imagine that the success of such a strategy would depend quite heavily on how well one could manage to seem charming and innocent, rather than offended and snarky, when asking the question.

Anonymous said...

The airport suggestion really depends on the nature of the location. We are about an hour from a major airport, so we generally send a limo. It costs only a few dollars more than a taxi, and almost everyone likes to get picked up in a limo.