Thursday, September 15, 2011


I'm reading through the comments on Brian Leiter's blog about APA interviews and whether they are worth doing or not. It brings back memories of the interviews I had, and brings up some surprises too. For instance: 
Even $1800 is a lot of money for anyone who does not have a tenure track job.
It's not a lot of money for anyone else? I guess what is a lot depends on what you get for it, and a job is a big deal, but still. Perhaps more to the point there are also comments like this:
The interview should provide the department with other kinds of information about the candidate, which may be important to the department. For example, whether or not the candidate is amiable, or presentable, or a confident public speaker, say. In short, what might be called a candidate's personality.
How important is it to be amiable, I wonder? And how much can be told about someone amiability in a job interview? Everyone will surely try to behave as if they are amiable, but some people are better actors than others. Likewise, some people will get help making them look presentable, while others won't. What does this tell about how the person will appear in future? Not much, it seems to me. And such things are very easy to fix. Why not just hire the un-presentable person anyway and tell them to get a haircut or whatever? The reference to confident public speaking worries me. Many academics are shy and rather un-confident, especially during stressful interviews. This does not mean they are bad teachers. All in all, the information interviews are being said to provide seems largely irrelevant, as some people have pointed out over at Leiter's site.

We will not be doing first-round interviews at all (i.e. we won't be doing any but on-campus interviews), for what it's worth, not because we are too smart to think such interviews have value but, I believe, simply to save money. But I haven't tried to fight this because I'm really not sure what value such interviews have.

My first APA interview was a nightmare that still haunts me. I probably was not a great candidate for the job, but the interview was a nerves-induced humiliation. My second one was better, although I did trip over an ottoman in the bedroom where it was conducted. I have not applied to any other jobs since getting the one I currently have, partly, if not entirely, so as to avoid having to go through that kind of thing again. The interview at VMI went better, but it was hardly an interview at all. I spent most of the day with the head of the department, who was not a philosopher. As I recall we pretty much chatted, and I think he liked my accent. I also had to teach a class, and because not everyone could make it at the same time I had to teach the same class twice. The first time went very well, the second time didn't. I was the same person presenting the same material in the same way, but with one group of students it captured their interest and with the other it didn't. I suspect that the people who only saw the second class thought I shouldn't get the offer. But I did.

From what I've seen of the process the key things are not to shoot yourself in the foot (e.g. by being rude to the administrative assistant or saying explicitly that the job you're being interviewed for is not your first choice) and hope that your teaching goes the way it goes on your best days. It really is kind of a crap-shoot though.  Good luck to everyone reading this who is on the market this year.


  1. <3 crass.

    i notice that aside from the discussion about whether interviews are worthwhile at all (say, structured or unstructured), a lot of people on the interviewer side on that leiter thread seem not to be wondering about the contribution made by their performance as interviewers. my experience being interviewed in different 'media' or settings (a hotel room, a public interviewing room at a convention, a conference call, a skype session) is that some interviewers are not good at their task, and that it's more unnerving to try to deal somehow with their performance, than it is to do the other expected things like present oneself naturally, be amiable, exhibit one's strengths convincingly, etc.

    academics who are rude to administrative assistants are disgusting savages.

  2. Yes, I'm sure many interviewers give little thought to how they should conduct interviews or how well they are able to do the job. My worst interview really went off the rails when I wasn't asked the questions I was expecting and had prepared for. I don't know if that really counts as bad interviewing (except on my part), but I do know how unnerving it can be to try to deal with interviewers who don't behave standardly.

    The good news about rudeness to administrative assistants, if there can be such a thing, is that it will destroy the savage's chances of being hired.